A Desert Bighorn Sheep tag is one of the rarest in the world. An honest to goodness once in a lifetime hunt. Watch as my brothers and I have one of our greatest, grueling days of our hunting lives, tagging a trophy ram in the extremely rugged Paria Canyon Wilderness Area in Unit 12B, overlooking the magnificent Grand Canyon National Park.
The Delta Clearwater river is about an hour and a half southeast of Fairbanks Alaska. The canoe trip consists of: Eight miles of paddling and fishing on the brilliantly clear D.C., then into the massive glacier fed Tanana River for three miles, then a mile and a half up stream paddle through a slough and finally another mile or so across Clearwater Lake to the takeout. The river trip by itself is spectacular but when you add world class fishing for trophy quality Arctic Grayling, you have wilderness perfection.
Join me on a trophy Antelope hunt in the grasslands of the world class Unit 10 in Northern Arizona. Watch Jen, Collin, Daylon Keisling and I as we bust our butts chasing Boone and Crocket class Prairie Goats and finally get the job after eight action packed days.
Although the Striped Bass boil season was pretty poor this year, I did manage to get a little video of the action. For some tips and tricks on how to catch them check out the latest installment to my You Tube channel.
I got this Bobcat on the Kaibab last fall. It was toward the end of the 31st turkey hunt in a row that I would go home with no turkey. I would say that I have spent over ten thousand dollars, drank 72 thousand beers and killed 97 and a half million brain cells in my life chasing around a friggin bird that may tip the scale at 11 pounds. So anyway, I looked out in between the oak thickets and saw the tips of his ears sticking out above the grass, I put down my breakfast beer and jumped out of the truck. His old age must have been a factor because he just laid there and when I raised my shotgun he raised his head. Fatal mistake on his part! I think he might have been senile. He is one of the biggest bobcats I have ever seen. He was dumb too.
I got this deer on the Kaibab archery hunt. I wouldn’t normally shoot such a small buck on the first day of my hunt but I was denied my leave requests for the entire two weeks of the season and I was happy to just get something in the freezer. I hunted for a total of an hour and half. At first light I hunted the burn and found a good spot for my tree stand. I only hunted for an hour that morning because upon arriving at camp the evening before, Kristin and I realized that we had forgotten the baby formula for Harper. So instead of a peaceful morning of tip toeing through the burn I was driving road #22 back to Kanab. Once we got back to camp and got Harper fed I jumped into Kevin Grimm’s Rhino with my tree stand and headed out to put it up. Kevin’s 16 year old son Cody had a tag and was sitting shotgun, I was sitting in the back. Twenty minutes into the drive I spotted three little bucks beaded down in a little aspen grove.
It’s funny how adrenaline affects the mind and decision making. The simplest, most obvious tasks become complex and obscure. To a layman the act of aiming at your target would seem like an important step in killing an animal but to a hunter tweaking on buck fever it can be a superfluous task that can be easily traded for a shooting at random. The experienced hunter knows that the fever can make loading a shell on par with playing a Jimi Hendricks riff. He knows that it can make a man do wildly stupid things that he would never do in a normal state of mind.
So anyway, I tell Kevin to slow down and I begin to jump out of the Rhino and notice that Cody is jumping out with me. It is important at this point that I tell you my history of hunting with my buddies/family. In our circle it is every man for himself. The quickest draw gets the shot. The fastest to the fishing hole gets the first cast. I’ve actually seen my brother Conz throw an elbow into Jacob’s ribs as they both drew down on a forkey buck simultaneously. So Cody and I are jumping out of the rhino together, my mind firing off like it was a rival jumping out with me and I bark, “I got it”!. Cody, being the obedient adolescent that he is, hops back into the Rhino and they continue down the road, completing the perfect Compton Drive By maneuver. The dumb little three point stands there looking at me as I draw and release. The arrow drills him through the neck and he drops in his tracks. I jump up and start war whooping and fist pumping. I’m still in Neon Deion celebration mode as Kevin and Cody drive up. I look at them expecting to see equally stoked attitudes but I get a full dose of the “you just put a booger in my beer” look. What’s their problem, I think to myself. Then it hits me. The reason for their somber look filters through my adrenalized brain. I just pulled the ultimate asshole move on my 16 year old cousin, a cousin who has never killed a buck with his bow. A cousin that was sitting shotgun in HIS rhino and was giving me a lift to my tree stand spot. My heart sank. My chicken salad had just turned to chicken shit. I just fell into a bucket of roses and came out smelling like a turd.
There was only one thing I could do……. Teach Cody how make a sincere apology.
The Baboquivari Mountains lay shrouded in a dense fog as George and I glassed through the first rays of morning. Beams of sunlight shot through the misty clouds creating a hypnotizing array of color all around us. The Senora Desert was at its finest.
I had taken a week off for the hunt and was prepared to squeeze every bit of hunting, out of every minute I had. I wasn’t worried when we didn’t see any deer at our first glassing station.
The colors of dawn had given way to the soothing warmth of sunny November as we made our way up a ridge to our second station. I drifted back to my past coues whitetail hunts. Both of them had resulted in brutal beatings to my hunting ego. In fourteen days, not only did I not see a buck, but donated nearly half of my flesh to the native shrubbery. I shuttered at the thought and offered up a little prayer to the Good Luck God, that this year would be different.
Fifteen minutes later, it was.
“I’ve got a buck, a good buck”! George whispered.
My heart skipped a beat. Finally my drought was over. One look at the buck through my binoculars confirmed, that it was over in a big way.
It was hard, at a half mile, to get an exact count on him but there was no doubt that he was a whopper. As quickly as we had spotted him, he disappeared into a large patch of ocatillo.
We had to make a quick move to cut the monster off. We ran full throttle through the desert, stumbling over loose rock and dodging cactus. We dove under a barbed wire fence and headed up a ridge that would, hopefully, give us a view into where he had disappeared.
Suddenly, I heard something from a gully to our right, roll some rocks. We skidded to a stop and turned to see another buck jogging through the thick mesquite, 50 yards away. I could tell he was shooter, so I shouldered my trusty .270.
A quick survey of the situation revealed that my only hope was a small opening in the mesquite just ahead of him. He was in extremely thick cover, moving fast, and whitetail deer never stop once they get going. It looked grim.
All at once, it was like the hand of the Good Luck God himself reached down and pulled the buck to a stop in the center of the opening. I couldn’t believe it.
He didn’t even flinch.
“You missed,” George blurted.
The buck stood stone still. I jacked another shell in and just before I could get the crosshairs on him again, he was gone.
Desperately, I chased after him, hoping in vein, that I would see him running up the ridge. When George finally caught up with me I was walking in circles, kicking rocks and screaming obscenities. I was having a temper tantrum that would make any pre-schooler proud.
“He was 50 yards away.
“I could have hit him with a rock.
“ How in Gods name could I have missed a shot like that?” I yammered.
“I might as well give it all up right now.
“$#@& this trusty .270.”
George politely, didn’t say a word. There was nothing he could say that could make it better.
“How big was he?” I finally asked, after the twenty minute tizzy fit.
“I don’t know, it was fast, but I do know he was big enough to shoot on the first day,” George answered.
“I botched it, didn’t I.?”
“I’m pretty sure you botched it Ky.”
“ I must have knocked my scope off when I bumped it in the truck this morning,” I said. “There is no way that I could have pulled off of him at that distance.”
“Maybe we should go back to camp and sight your gun in and come back later for the that other buck we saw before you shot,” George replied. “I didn’t see where your bullet hit but he didn’t move a muscle when you shot.”
I agreed, and defeated, we began to hike back to the truck. As we walked, my mind churned. No matter how I replayed it, I could not convince myself that I could have missed. I had felt so steady when I squeezed the trigger. It finally got the best of me.
“Let’s go back,” I said, “just to make sure.”
“I think you missed but it’s definitely worth a look.”
We spent a good 45 minutes trying to relocate the spot where I had taken the shot, but because I had run so far up the hillside, we couldn’t.
“What are we doing,” I asked rhetorically.
“This stuff all looks the same.
“We’ll never be able to find my shell casing in this mesquite jungle.”
I was absolutely disgusted with myself. I would have to add yet another tale to my “Couse Deer Failure” book and this one was going to be embarrassing to tell the boys back home. 50 yards standing still, 50 yards standing still, 50 yards standing still, kept running through my mind.
“George we’re just wasting time here.
“ I blew it.
“Let’s go get a sandwich,” I groaned.
George agreed, and once again we were on our way back to the truck. This time it took a half-mile for the torrent in my brain to turn me around.
“I’m sorry I’m being so wishy washy George but if I don’t make absolutely sure that I missed, it’s going to drive me nuts.”
“I’m just a hitchhiker on this hunt.
“We have all the time in the world,” George replied reassuringly.
Another 45 minutes of searching went by and I still couldn’t find my shell casing. Just as I was about to give up for the third time, I saw the golden glitter of my brass shinning in the sun. It was a small victory, but was little consolation for missing the easiest opportunity I’d ever had, at any big game animal. I looked across the arroyo and immediately picked out the opening that the buck was standing in when I shot. All that remained was to confirm my miss.
It didn’t take long to find the deep hoof marks that were left behind when he jumped into the mesquite trees. My eyes scanned every crease of the rocky ground around the prints. First left, in the direction he had run; nothing. Then, I scoped back to where he was standing, no blood. Slowly, I focused on the dirt that lay beyond the hoof prints, and there it was, a small spot of pink, frothy blood.
Light headed with amazement I screamed to George, “I hit him, I hit him!”
“No way! Really?” George yelled and ran over to help me track.
The blood trail was sparse at first, and then pinched off completely. Once again my head swam with visions of failure. It wasn’t missing at 50 yards anymore, it was wounding at 50 yards, and it made me sick to my stomach.
“What an emotional roller coaster this has been,” I whined “ If I lose him now, it’ll haunt me forever.”
“Hey, look Ky,” George said smiling and pointed to a beaver tail cactus high on a ridge above us. It was saturated with blood.
The buck was lying dead under a cholla, 100 yards beyond it. Two dime-sized holes penetrated both sides of his rib cage. The 140-grain bullet had passed perfectly between two ribs on one side, ripped through both lungs, then passed perfectly between two ribs on the other side, not once, hitting bone. The bullet never expanded. I doubt that he even felt it hit him.
By noon, opening day, we were back at the truck with a buck that was more than I could have ever hoped for. In two hours I had been as high, low and back again, as a hunter could get. I was in complete ecstasy, not because of the size of the buck but because I had experienced and learned, something that I would never forget. I had almost let that beautiful 6×5 rot in desert and thankfully, listened to my inner voice. Or maybe it was the voice of the Good Luck God that I heard, who for once, decided to grant me one wish