Utah Sportsman's Tag Mule Deer 2013
by Zach Mikesell
“You’re full of it. I can’t believe my own son is trying to blow smoke up my skirt. Prove it. Send me a pic of your email.” This is how the journey of the 2013 Sportsman Mule Deer tag began.
My own Dad did not believe me when I called him. In fact he hung up on me. I frantically took a picture of the email notifying me of the incredible luck that was on my side. While waiting for a response from my dad, I began calling everyone that I could think of. I started with one of my best friends Zeb and his family. Their unbelief was almost as great as my Dad’s, and that’s when I declared the following: “We are doing this thing the right way by making memories of a lifetime. There is only one way everyone can be a part of it, and that’s by not hiring a guide service or outfitter.” I wanted to learn how to hunt monster mule deer, and that only happens by doing the hunt ourselves with the people that make hunting so memorable. From the beginning I have said I would rather harvest a 210 inch buck hunting the way I wanted, than harvesting a 230 inch buck using an outfitter. That is just how we are.
From this point on I knew right away in order to hunt the way this tag allowed. I was taking the 2013 Fall semester off, and I knew I was going to need to live even more poor as a college student so I could save up the money that I figured I needed. I got a second job at C-A-L Ranch figuring if anybody would understand what caliber of tag this was it would be them. All throughout the summer I was working 50-65 hour weeks until I had saved up six months worth of rent, truck payments, and enough money to pay for the food and gas for every summer scouting trip and four months of hunting.
During the spring I watched countless videos of prior Sportsman tag hunts along with other monster mule deer that had been harvested. I knew I would love to have all of the memories of my hunt on video, and this is what led me to contact Kelly Cox of i-Video Wildlife to see if he would be interested in filming my hunt. He was more than ecstatic to be able to film my hunt along with every scouting trip and make a memory of lifetime with my family and friends. At this point, all of the pieces had come together, and we were ready to get the show on the road.
Starting in the middle of July and throughout August we had found some great bucks, but nothing that made me think, “That’s him!” That all changed the weekend of August 22-25. This was a special weekend because my Dad and I were able to talk my Mom into coming, along with my sister who flew up from school in Arizona to see what scouting was all about. I also was able to be joined by one of my best buddies Colby who I met while serving an LDS mission. The week prior to this good family friend Brad Binkley got in contact with Reed Stevens who owned a little bit of private property. He got permission for us to be able to access his property and take a look around and pass through to the public property which was located on the other side of his property.
Friday night we decided to go check it out and see if we could find a monster buck of my liking. Once there we decided to split up and go onto two different ridges to glass. My Mom and Dad were on a four wheeler headed up to one ridge and Colby, my sister Sam and I headed up another in my Tacoma. As we were glassing, Colby noticed the four wheeler that my parents were on was struggling with the loose rock that they needed to get across while headed up to the ridge. As I turned to look for myself, I saw the four wheeler begin to roll backwards, it turned sideways and then rolled over my Mom and Dad. In my rush to get to my truck I accidentally brushed my tripod with my spotting scope on it and it fell 30 feet off the ledge, but it thankfully landed in the only bush at the bottom. Colby and I rushed over the aide of my parents and upon arriving my Mom was in tears and my Dad was trying to console her the best he could. Once calm we assessed the damage. My Mom broke two fingers, chipped a bone off in her elbow (found out later), and her right hip was severely swollen. My Dad was more shaken up than anything. I told my Mom we were headed back to camp and she very sternly declined that option. I told her once again we were headed to camp and she replied, “I will not hurt any more here than I will there, plus we are here in prime scouting time to find a big buck so that is what we will do!”. I learned early on in life that what Mom says is what goes in life, so we stayed to glass.
Once on the ridge we were all glassing over one side and my Mom excused herself to go off to the other to try and calm down a little bit more. After a few minutes my Dad went to check on her and she implied that she thought there were some deer on a hill side across the ravine below the ridge. My Dad figured he better look and that is when he laid his eyes on this giant buck! He asked my Mom to go get me out of fear of lowering his binos he would lose him. My Mom was too sore to move so she started calling my name and once I heard I turned to Colby and said, “ I hope my parents found something big worth filming, especially if it’s the buck I had be dreaming of.” Sure enough once I found where my dad was looking it was the buck that I had been picturing in my head since the news of drawing my coveted tag. What a special moment it was to be able to say that my Mom and Dad were responsible for finding my dream buck along with my sister Sam and my buddy Colby. I knew then that on opening day the next weekend I had no problem taking him and ending my potentially four month long hunt in the first few hours.
On Saturday August 31, 2013 after a week of pacing and not being able to concentrate while working, the opportunity of being able to hunt my dream buck on opening morning had come. We arrived in the area of where we had patterned him the weekend before just as light was breaking through the clouds. Five minutes after we started glassing and locating many of the bucks that had been hanging out with my buck, Zeb located my buck. We all broke out the spotting scopes and prepared a game plan. He was 867 yards away feeding up onto a ridge so we decided to watch him a little bit to see which route he would choose from his ridge-line position. After what seemed to be an hour but only minutes, we decided on a game plan and the stalk was on. Kelly Cox, my Dad and I started hiking towards our first checkpoint while Zeb, his brother Jake, brother in-law Scott Brown and good family friend Brad Binkley went to the location of where we found him the first time the week prior. With them on point and us three hiking in I realized I was living the dream of every sportsman who loved monster mule deer. After about 20 minutes of trying to get to a location where we could see the buck, we became pinned down for a few minutes. They started feeding back on their steps and could see over the ridge toward our location. It was really awesome as we sat waiting on their next move just seeing their horns over the ridge top looking every which way sensing something just wasn’t right. Finally they began moving in the opposite direction allowing us to continue with the original plan. Once we arrived at the ridge we thought would give us a pretty good vantage point we were shocked to see my buck with 18 other bucks only 75 yards away!
This is when I met Buck Fever and he let his presence be known! As we contemplated what to do we realized the bucks were preoccupied with something happening away from our location allowing for me to get to a pile of rocks and get in the prone position. Once there, my heart began to thud instead of pound. I heard Kelly whisper from behind me, “He is the lower right,” and once I put the scope on him the thud of my heart became a trampoline as I could feel my chest bouncing off the Henry mountain floor. As I prepared to shoot for some reason the following thought ran through my mind: “I bet Zeb is saying to himself if Zach misses he is and idiot!” This actually made me smile and calm myself and allow me to really enjoy the moment as I waited for my buck to turn broadside. As he pivoted his back legs, I realized there he is, take him. I pulled the trigger and the 300 WSM Double Tap round made lethal contact as the buck went horn first into the dirt as the bullet pierced his heart. In one moment the stress of possessing such a coveted tag was lifted, knowing that this was the buck that I had always dreamed of and realizing I was able to accomplish this the way I had wanted it since the beginning: with family and friends, just some good ole’ boys (and girls: my mom and sister) putting in the work necessary and harvesting a buck worth every bump and bruise!
I am so blessed to be able to say every came together like I wanted it to. Special thanks to everyone who joined me on a scouting trip or in some way made it possible for me to make a memory that will last for the eternities!