I was hunting with my guide and now good friend Darin Dickey, in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado, and Hugh, my brother. While traveling there, all I could see were wheat fields and wheat field stubble no trees and no deer. Colorado always had been known for its mule deer, however, in recent years, quite a few whitetails moved in out there. When we first met the Dickeys, they had some rather large mounted white tailed deer on their walls. So, I assumed there must be some deer out there somewhere. We started driving around country roads and glassing fields, looking for horns sticking up out of the grass. We started seeing some deer, and Darin showed us some pretty good bucks. We knew bad weather was coming in, but we decided to hunt anyway. A hailstorm hit us. The skies were getting darker and darker on the first morning of the hunt. So, we went back to town and had lunch. Then Darin said, “Let’s go see if we can take a deer.” But, as bad as the weather was looking, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to hunt that afternoon. Then, I decided if Darin wanted to go, I’d mentally get myself ready to go. The afternoon started off with rain that turned into hail and then became sleet. When that hail and sleet hit my hands and ears, they were really pounding my body. The wind was howling. As we went up to some CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land that had some native grasses growing on it, we went around a little corner. Darin, who was in front of me, dropped to the ground. He’d seen a big set of horns above the grass and pointed them out to me. I said “Holy cow, that looks like a pretty good whitetail.” I told my brother, “Okay, you go stalk him.” My brother, who lived in Colorado, said, “No, you’ve driven all the way out here. You go stalk him.” I said, “Okay, I’ll go stalk that deer.”
So, Darin and I made the stalk. Well, stalk isn’t the proper word – actually we belly crawled. We occasionally would look at the antlers while crawling and could tell the deer was a 9 point. Each of the antlers looked like a banana. They were easy to spot, due to the deer staying out in the open fields all day where the sun bleaches them out since there were few trees. I crawled as close as I could. I felt the wind would hide my movements and cover the sounds I made, while I was crawling. Finally the buck saw that there was something coming toward him and stood up. I’d gotten to my knees, just before the buck stood up. Since there was so much wind and noise, I was able to draw on the buck, and he never recognized what I was. I had crawled about 150 yards on my stomach in the rain, sleet and hail. I was muddy and wet, and all those factors may have been why the buck didn’t recognize me as a human. When I drew the bow, I was 60 yards away from the buck that was facing to my left. With the crosswind, I aimed my PSE Nitro just in front of the deer’s shoulder, figuring the wind should push the arrow at that distance right into the buck’s heart. I aimed about 1 1/2 feet in front of where I wanted the arrow to hit. I could tell when the arrow hit him I’d made a good hit. The buck went over a rise. When he was out of sight, we collected our thoughts and decided we should go ahead and go after him, because in the wind and rain, the blood trail would disappear quickly. We hustled up to the little rise where I had shot the deer. Then as we peeped over the rise, we could see the buck had gone down. I’d thought he was a pretty good buck, but, I didn’t know how good he was, until we walked up to him, and I looked at his antlers. Darin wasn’t really all that impressed when we first saw the buck, because the largest number of hunters that he guided took mule deer. But Darin looked at me and said, “That looks like a pretty good buck.” I looked back at Darin and announced, “Buddy, that is a really good one.”
When we got the whitetail back to town and put him on the scales, he weighed 222 pounds field dressed. As we began to skin and quarter him, we got to thinking this buck was a really nice deer. Then we caped him out, cut the horns out of the skull, set them down and looked at them. They appeared to be even bigger. Finally we put the tape on his antlers. He had one brow tine that was 9 inches long. The rest of this rack had big, fat, banana looking points. He grossed over 174 inches as a 9 pointer. After we got him taped and measured, I couldn’t believe how big this buck was.
Tomorrow: PSE’s John May’s Yukon Moose Hunt
I’m originally from Indiana, so when I got to Arizona, I teamed up with Gary Cooper, Danny Yount and Brian Helm, who taught me how to hunt Coues deer. I was basically a tree stand hunter at that time and had little experience in stalk hunting. They helped me get set up and learn how to use tripods, binoculars and spotting scopes to find game. Brian Helm had found an area when he was quail hunting that had a lot of deer sign in it. For me, the Coues deer were very elusive. Just about every animal wants a Coues deer for dinner. Mountain lions, coyotes and bobcats have caused these deer to become very skittish and nervous.
The place I was hunting was full of oaks – which made spotting and stalking tough. I decided to do some still hunting. I thought to myself, “These Coues deer are different but they are still whitetails. So, I will sit still and do some rattling and some grunting.” On this particular hunt, Brian, Gary, Danny and I split up and went in all different directions to hunt. When I reached the oaks, I sat down, did a rattling sequence, waited about 15 minutes, rattled again, waited 15 minutes and then decided to get up and leave. Overnight, we’d had a pretty big snow. When I got ready to change positions, the sun had come up, and the snow was beginning to melt and fall out of the oak trees. I looked down in the oaks and spotted the profile of a bedded Coues buck that had a doe standing off to his right. I took out my old range finder – one of those you had to dial in the distance. Then I pulled my PSE Fire Flite bow back and shot and missed. The arrow landed short by about 2 or 3 yards and buried up in the snow. But, because snow was constantly falling out of the trees, the buck didn’t know I’d taken a shot at him. He didn’t even look around at the arrow. I didn’t know how big the buck was, but I knew he had antlers, so I made the decision to shoot him. I nocked another arrow and decided that my range finder had lied to me. I decided to aim a little bit over the back of the buck and released the second arrow. This arrow hit the buck in the ribs, and the buck jumped up and ran out of sight. But, I knew I had a good hit on him.
I returned to my truck and loaded up my camera and my frame pack. I spotted Gary coming back to the truck. “Did you get a deer?’ Gary asked. When I answered “Yes, I did,” Gary asked, “Where’s the deer?” I explained that I’d shot him, but I hadn’t retrieved him yet. Gary asked, “How good is he?” I replied, “I think he is a little 3 point but I don’t know for certain.” When we got back to the spot where I’d arrowed the buck, we began to follow the blood trail and found that buck dead under some oak trees. When Gary saw the buck he just about attacked me, because the buck was a lot larger than I thought he was. The buck was an absolute giant of a Coues deer and scored 122 non typical. At the time, he was the biggest Coues deer taken with archery equipment in the Safari Club Record Books.
Tomorrow: The Colorado Banana Point Whitetail Deer with PSE’s John May
I tried for 6 years to get a tag for a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Colorado. I felt really lucky, because I know a lot of people have applied for that tag for 20 years or more and never have been drawn. I was one of two nonresidents to draw an archery tag that year. I was hunting unit F 32. I had read a lot about this unit in hunting reports, and I knew it contained a lot of sheep and mature rams. There were a very limited number of tags given for this unit, and the unit had produced a large number of high scoring rams. I had an outfitter who did a lot of scouting for me. I arrived at the unit a couple of days early, so I could glass the area I would be hunting with a spotting scope and large binoculars like the Swarovski 15×56. I also spent 3 months with a personal trainer, Bert Seelman, before I went. Eric Shum was going to accompany me on the hunt and film it, so he trained with me. In those 3 months, we were able to put on some muscle, lose some weight and get our legs and lungs in shape to try and tame the mountain. But, regardless of how good of shape you think you’re in, mountains always will take their toll on you. We were hunting between 5,550 feet of elevation and 14,000 feet. We hiked for about 7 days.
I’m often asked, “Why did you think spending 3 months with a personal trainer was important before your hunt”? My response is, “I’ve always worked out and tried to stay in shape.” But, when I was lucky enough to draw this once in a lifetime tag, I wanted to give myself the best possible chance to take a ram.” In sheep hunting, the first consideration is, can you physically get to the place where you need to be to take the shot? When you do a lot of mountain climbing at steep elevations, you have to be in really good shape, able to endure the terrain and mentally prepared for the hunt. By that, I mean climbing at steep elevations for several consecutive days means you’ll be tired and often mentally whipped. So, the better you can prepare for a hunt like this, the better your odds for success are. I realized this was a once in lifetime hunt. Even though I’d always done my own training, I knew I needed someone to push me to the outermost limits of my physical conditioning. Too, I wanted help with the dietary supplements I’d need to get my body to perform at a high level of physical activity over an extended number of days. After 3 months of working with the personal trainer, I felt like I was in the best physical and mental shape I could be in to go on this hunt.
When we finally arrived at the area and started glassing, we could see that most of the sheep were holding right at the tree line. We drove into Georgetown, Colorado, and went across the interstate from the unit I had drawn, to get up to some really high elevations to look for the sheep. If we saw a sheep we wanted to go after, we’d have to go down the mountain, cross the interstate, come into town and get on the other side of the highway to get into my unit. Then, we’d have to hike or ride horses over the top of a mountain, so we could see the base of the mountain where most of the sheep were holding. Each time we glassed, we usually saw about 8 or 10 rams. One time, we found a band of rams, and in that band, there was one ram that we guessed to be about 180 inches. He eventually got in a bachelor group of about 25 rams. I had a couple of stalks during the 7 day hunt, where I got in close to several different rams. However, then either the wind would switch and take my scent to the rams, or the thermals would change, and the rams would smell us and blow out of the area.
On the sixth day, I stalked in close to six rams. The big 180 class ram I wanted to take was in that group of five other rams. But, before I could get close enough for a shot, the ram winded us and went over the mountain. The next day, we had to spend half a day trying to find that band of rams again. Once we finally located them, we watched them feed and finally bed down. We used the terrain to hide our movements, as we moved up through some cracks and crevices in the mountain. Finally, we reached a spot above the rams. When we peeped over the top of the mountain, we saw a 160 ram standing on a rock outcropping. We’d hunted so hard and been so totally unsuccessful, that I was ready to shoot and take this ram. Although I would have been pleased to take that 160 ram, the ram I really wanted was that 180 incher, which also was with this band of rams. The 160 ram was well within range and looking straight at me from 40 yards away, but he was downhill. So, I realized I couldn’t shoot him with my 40 yard pin, but would have to shoot at him with a much closer pin. I aimed with my 20 yard pin. As I waited for that ram to turn his head to take a shot at him, the ram got nervous, and the 180 class ram pushed the 160 class ram off the rock where he’d been standing. Then the big ram stood in the very same spot as the other ram and looked down the mountain and away from me, while slightly quartering away. My 20 yard pin settled behind his shoulder, and I released the arrow. The big ram went about 30 yards down the mountain and piled up.
I was shooting the PSE Nitro at that time. I couldn’t have asked more of any bow. The shot was perfect going behind the shoulder and down and taking out the ram’s heart. My Nitro I was pulling was 70 pounds, I shot the PSE 300 arrow shaft, and the broadhead was a Rocket Hammerhead. When we reached the ram, we skinned and caped him, put the meat in game bags and hung it in trees. We placed the cape and horns on a pack frame and carried it back to camp about a 2 1/2 hour hike. Then we returned the next morning and packed out the meat. The ram scored 178. The year I took him, he was the largest Rocky Mountain bighorn harvested with archery equipment in Colorado.
Tomorrow: PSE’s John May Hunts Arizona Buffalo After Waiting 20 Years for a Tag