When you least expect it
“Draw results are up!” This was the big news on that July day. Arizona had finally posted the deer and sheep results. Hoping to discover that one of my kids had finally drawn a youth hunt for deer, I began to search the website. To my amazement, the kids did not draw, but next to my name it read “successful.”
I had drawn a coveted archery permit for the Arizona Strip — the greatest and worst place to hunt deer on earth. The deer densities in this famed region are a far cry from high, but the outside chance to find a giant in the Strip is second to none. This would be my third opportunity to make good in this unit, and this time it was with a bow.
Arizona posts its deer and sheep results in July, leaving the archery deer hunters with only one month to scout and prepare for their hunt. I live only one hour from this unit, and since I spent time in the area over the previous nine years, I figured I could be ready for opening day if I planned to make at least two scouting trips per week.
Two days after results were posted, I was setting trail cameras and glassing at first and last light.
After the first two weeks of scouting I had a small hit list from trail camera photos, but my glassing had yet to unveil a buck worthy of this tag. The long days were accumulating many miles, flat tires and hot hikes in the sweltering Arizona desert.
It was midweek during a scouting trip, with about two weeks before the opener, when my glassing sessions started to produce better bucks. My target was found!
It was late in the morning when I saw him with two other bucks. I repositioned to get a closer look to confirm what I thought was a great deer. I rolled video and instantly I could not wait for opening day.
The next two weeks were frustrating. I decided to spend a couple of the remaining morning glassing sessions prior to the season looking for the new buck that I nicknamed “Splits.” I could not find him again in the glass or on a trail camera. Although I had a few other solid bucks that I felt were in a predictable pattern, I felt that I needed to pursue Splits on opening morning, regardless of the fact that I had yet to see him again.
My brother, Pat, and good friend, Morgan, were willing to lend a hand on this hunt and spend some time behind the glass to help find the target buck. They arrived two days before the season helping to glass from high points, but we came up short. Opening morning arrived, and we each went to a different vantage point to put in hours behind the glass. Several good bucks were located, but I only had one buck on my mind. If it were not for the three-minute video of Splits from two weeks prior, I may have started to wonder if he really existed.
Being stubborn, the decision was made to return to day one’s location. I just knew that he had to be there. One hour into glassing, I spotted a solid buck with a split main beam. As I watched him feed at under 1,000 yards, I could tell that he would score over 190 inches. The buck then bedded in a perfect spot for a stalk. Although it was tempting, I passed the opportunity at a great buck while holding out for Splits.
The morning began to turn hot, and the glassing was over. I reluctantly decided to head to camp for an early lunch. Sometimes great things happen at times when we least expect them. I saw movement on a hillside. It was a lone buck on the move, and there was no mistaking him. I quickly tried to move into position for a shot. At 45 yards, I came to full draw, and he stopped as he saw my movement. I released before he ran, but hit him further back than I wanted. Knowing that he was not hit in an ideal area, I found first blood and made the decision to pull out.
We returned a few hours later to resume tracking. The blood ran out and my stress level was on the rise. The deer tracks were also mixed with cattle tracks, making it impossible to track. We continued to track in a direction that he would have travelled, looking for any sign of blood. After several hundred yards without any sight of blood, Morgan found the trail. Soon after we found him still alive, and after a few stalks, the finishing shot was made.
As we walked up to Splits, I was able to get my hands on him for the first time. His mass exceeded my expectations and I could tell that his inside spread was going to be better than I originally thought.
He had an outside spread of 32 ½ inches and 46 5/8" of total mass. His main frame was 199 3/8ths with 20 5/8ths in extras for a gross score of 220 0/8ths.
Regardless of all that, we just pulled off something special. Even though it did not happen the way I envisioned, I just shot the buck I found during my pre-season scouting. He was the best buck I found scouting, and I had passed a respectable buck that morning in hopes of getting a chance at him.
It all came together thanks to a lot of help and support from good friends — and a lot of good fortune. Because of that, I am truly grateful!