A story 16 years in the making before finally drawing the coveted tag
It all started in late June when the unwavering excitement came over so many hunters across the state—myself included—as we anxiously awaited the draw results. I sat there with my information typed in, waiting to press the login button in hopes to finally see that “selected.” I held my breath like I do every year, expecting to see “not selected,” but after 16 years of applying and never drawing a deer tag, I finally saw it, SELECTED!
I knew I had my work cut out for me as I had very little experience in the unit but, as a school teacher, I knew if I ever drew the tag I would have a lot of time to scout in the summer in hopes of making up for that.
I made it out for my first day of scouting on July 21 and spend the better part of the next five days scouring over different areas in search for a mature buck. Yet, over the course of the next five days, it began to sink in that this wasn’t going to be an easy hunt. I really wasn’t seeing the number of animals I had hoped and it was 100+ degrees out every day by lunchtime.
After a week or so of only seeing a few scattered bucks here and there, I decided it was time for a new game plan. Not only to keep checking other areas but essentially I wanted to start gridding the whole unit. I figured that eventually, I’d have to run into some big deer somewhere, right?
It wasn’t until my ninth day of scouting that I had finally found an area where I was seeing consistent numbers of deer, but not “the one.” About this time I was thinking, there’s got to be big bucks in this area. Where are they?
I encountered a beautiful tall 4 point that was probably a 170” deer. That got me extremely excited as it was the first “shooter” I’d seen. I thought, “Well that’s a buck I would be proud to take,” but it was getting later in the morning and now I was eager to keep following these big deep draws and glassing into them in hopes to see some more deer before it got too hot out. Within the next 10 minutes, I had traveled maybe another 500 yards and ran into a bachelor group of six bucks.
“Whoa, that’s a nice buck, there’s another nice buck, and another and then a couple smaller ones…” I was really starting to feel good about finally seeing some nice bucks! Then, out of nowhere, a different deer stood up and immediately caught my attention. I thought, “Whoa! That’s a really big buck,” but it wasn’t until I pulled up my binoculars for a good steady look that my jaw instantly dropped. Oh my god, there he was! The biggest, most majestic, beautiful deer I had ever laid eyes on in perfect velvet at 150 yards looking right at me. All I could see was a massive body, massive frame, and points sticking out everywhere! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I instantly called my best friend and hunting partner, Trevor Dallman, and told him I just found the buck I want to shoot, I tried to explain to him what this deer looked like but just couldn’t find the words. Giant….he was a giant.
Over the course of the next two weeks, I can’t even count how many hours or how much time I spent driving out to this area in hopes of seeing this deer again and possibly start trying to figure out his pattern. My hunt started in exactly two weeks. In the next 10 or so trips I had made out there (not to mention countless hours’ worth of gas money), I was able to narrow in on this buck’s home but wasn’t able to figure out his pattern.
He was a wanderer; he rarely would get water from the same place or even be working the same trails. Often, he was with a couple other nice bucks, constantly watching one another’s backs. I finally concluded that my best option would probably be to spot and stalk him after he had bedded down in the morning after he was done feeding.
I glassed and glassed and glassed—so much so that I thought some days my eyes were going to bulge out of my head, but I just couldn’t stop looking at this buck! I tried to keep tabs on him every day leading up to the first day of the hunt, rushing home after work to grab my gear and head out to the hills and coming home in the dark. It made for some long tiring days, but I knew it would all be worth it if I somehow was able to get it done on this deer. I was infatuated; obsessed. I would lay in bed at night thinking about hundreds of different scenarios that could happen, losing countless hours of sleep at night thinking about this buck and waking up the next morning for work extremely tired, but looked forward to going back out in search of him again that evening.
Fast forward to opening morning. I was exhausted as soon as my alarm went off because I literally don’t think I was able to get even five minutes of sleep the entire night. Restless, the scenarios played over and over in my head as I couldn’t stop thinking about hopefully being able to harvest this buck. As the sun started to rise on the first day of the hunt, I began to see a few deer popping up and about 15 minutes later, there he was. I watched him feed for a couple hours before finally watching him bed up in a draw by himself!
“This is too perfect,” I thought. For once, he was by himself, but then again, so was I—without a spotter. I left the truck for my first official stalk on this deer and he was in a prime location. As I approached closer and closer to the top of the brushy draw he was bedded in it began to sink in. I just might pull this off on the first stalk on opening day! At this point, I figured that I had to be within 100 yards of the deer, but he was bedded in some thick stuff and I couldn’t see. Even so, I had pinpointed the bush that he was laying under or so I thought. I ranged the group of sage at 70 yards.
“Alright, this is good,” I thought. “I have the wind at my face and need to cover another 20 or so yards.” I was going to stand him up at 50 yards. I took that first step to close that last 20 yards and out of nowhere, he stood up behind a different sage at 30 yards! We locked eyes. I tilted my head down as subtle as I could and got my release on the string. I pulled back to full draw and as soon as I got to full draw he took off, gone, not stopping and not looking back.
I sat down as quickly as possible to watch and see where he might go only to watch him disappear two ridges over. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I had blown it. I had ranged the wrong bush and had no idea I was within 30 yards of him at that time.
“Wow,” I thought. “That might be the only chance I get.”
For the rest of the day, I looked and looked for him until nightfall with no sight of him at all. My stomach churned over and over all day; I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t eat or even drink anything as I replayed my screw up over and over in my head. As I drove home that night I was having a little bit of a pity party for myself until it dawned on me that it was only day one and I had a lot of time. This wasn’t the time to feel sorry for myself or give up. I was determined. I would find this deer again. And I did.
The following ten days
For the next eight days, I played cat and mouse with this buck; often times, getting within 100 to 120 yards of him with no play. I often ended up sitting in a bush for hours, roasting in the sun only to see him get up and feed over a nob and out of sight. Some days I would glass for hours before he stood up and showed himself; other days I would find him in 10 minutes. Most of the time he was with three other bucks and I had no play. They would bed up out in the open with no play or be strategically bedded to where there was no way to get in close enough.
I decided I wanted to play this one the right way; it would have been easy to just go put a stalk on him every time I saw him, but I knew I needed to be smart and patient and wait for the perfect moment, especially after already bumping him pretty hard that first day. I prayed to god I would just get one more chance to find him by himself again. I wouldn’t screw it up again. I couldn’t screw it up.
September 10, day 10 of the hunt, I got to my usual glassing spot and spotted something sticking out of the brush that just didn’t look right. As I looked closer, I could see it was him with a bright blood orange colored rack from freshly rubbed velvet towering out from behind the sagebrush. He had rubbed most of his velvet off throughout the night and it was as fresh as it gets. I watched him feed, then rake his horns on and off every five minutes for the next two and a half hours. It was amazing how he darkened his horns up in such a short amount of time. I then realized this just may be the perfect time to get him since he was by himself!
As I went to leave the truck for my stalk, I spotted a doe and a fawn feeding right where I needed to walk in the bottom of the draw. Not good. I waited for another 10 to 15 minutes and luckily, they fed up and to my side of the draw above the buck about 20 yards.I knew I had to slip below the does first. If I could make it past them I would be able to get close enough to the sagebrush that I had marked to shoot from.
The moment of truth
Trevor and I discussed the game plan as I had perfect wind coming up the mountain and I needed to stay right at the bottom of that draw. It was time! I made my way down the mountain, staying out of sight, and noticed I had a steady 5 to 7 mph wind coming up the draw I was working down. Perfect. Once I figured I was about 150 yards from the buck I took my shoes off and continued inching my way through the bottom of this brushy draw, ignoring the cheatgrass and stickers burying themselves in my feet; I kept going. I crawled on my hands and knees just low enough to slip by the does. I could literally see their ears as I belly crawled below them, moving about an inch a minute. After 10 agonizing minutes, I had made it. I ended up passing them into a deeper pocket of the draw and I was able to stand and take a breath to try and calm my nerves. About that same time I glance over and noticed the bush I had marked to shoot from; I was only 15 yards from it!
Now, the adrenaline kicked right back in and I could feel my heart pounding and beating my ears. As I took my first step toward that bush all of the sudden a jackrabbit exploded out of a bush right next to my foot and took off down the draw, running right by the buck! I stood still praying that the deer wasn’t going to blow out. Luckily, he was still there, but had his head up, alert.
I waited another minute or two for him to relax. As I snuck up to the bush just uphill out of the draw I could see his antler tips, but couldn’t get a range on him because there was too much brush in the way. Secondly, which I’ll admit, I was shaking like a leaf.
I decided this wasn’t going to work. I saw a little sagebrush on the opposite side of the draw and was able to range it at 43 yards. I figured the deer was right at 40. OK, here we go.
I pulled back my bow while crouched behind the bush and then stood up and took a half step out from behind it. Immediately, the buck whipped his head right towards me. We locked eyes, but I was still pretty hidden by the bush. We had what had to have been a 10-second stare down. All I could see was his head and rack with my 40-yard pin right between the eyes. There was no way that I was taking that shot. I was starting to get shaky and wasn’t in the best posture or balance for a shot. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting for the buck to stand, my bowstring tried to jump on me!
Instantly, in that moment, I thought, “This isn’t going to work.”
I picked up my left foot from behind the bush to get a firmer stance, stood up tall and planted myself rock steady at full draw, knowing he might dart out of his bed and I’d have no shot. I stayed locked in on my 40-yard pin and he stood up and stomped his foot down. As soon as he did that I let it fly with a perfect broadside, slight quartering away shot. I watched my arrow fly true, hitting perfectly right behind his shoulder and disappearing! I smoked him! Perfect shot!
I was pretty sure it was a perfect lethal shot but realized it wasn’t all said and done as I had hoped. The deer took off like a rocket, showing no signs of being hurt whatsoever. I called Trevor. I told him that I smoked him and I thought it was for sure a lethal hit, but if anything it might have been a bit low. “Better a bit low than high,” I thought.
For the next half hour, I searched all over in the draw for my arrow and blood. I didn’t see anything. Now I was really starting to get in my own head and second guessing what I knew I had seen. I never found the arrow, but I did spot the tiniest little specks of blood towards the top of the draw; now I was getting worried. Trevor asked if I was sure that I hit him because he was running so hard but then said that he seemed to slow down and look hurt right before he lost sight of the deer going into this sagebrush over a little knoll.
I was still second guessing because my spotter hadn’t seen the deer go down and a bit paranoid as I thought of the worst possible things that could have happened like I missed his vitals or something. I knew what I saw though; it looked good. I told Trevor I was going to wait 30 more minutes to make it a full hour since I shot. Then, at 12:30 p.m. (I shot at 11:30 a.m.) I had him lead me down to where he last saw him. After the longest hour of my hunting career had finally passed, I decided it was time to go find this buck.
I followed an almost non-existent blood trail for about 250 yards. I was getting close now and tiptoed my way in, hoping the deer would be dead and I wouldn’t bump him into the next county. I got to 20 yards from the sagebrush pocket and knew if he was alive he should have got up or I should have seen him. I took a few more steps and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There he was—even bigger than I had ever dreamed of him being. Laying there under a sage was the buck of my dreams. I looked back up the mountain to Trevor and raised my arms. I had done it! I had finally harvested the buck I had been dreaming of and spent so much time with. After all the video, pictures, and time spent behind the spotting scope glassing this deer he just kept growing on me. I was in shock. I was overjoyed and I felt so many emotions I didn’t even know what to say or think. He was a giant—an absolute giant of a buck and I was so thankful I had the opportunity to harvest this deer, let alone even see him and be able to hunt him.
Trevor made his way down to the deer and I gave him a giant hug and we just stood there in astonishment looking at the deer. We couldn’t stop smiling and laughing and re-telling our perspective of the hunt. After taking what seemed like a hundred pictures, it was time to get to work as I am very particular about making sure to take care of the meat quickly and properly. We were able to get the buck packed to the truck within the next hour and a half and it was all done. This hunt will be forever etched in my memory as I got to share it with my hunting partner. We have been fortunate enough to share a lot of success over the years and I look forward to hopefully much more in the future, but I think this one will always stick out. A true Washington State public land giant. I am so very humbled and thankful I was even given the opportunity to hunt and harvest this deer. This was the hunt of a lifetime; the buck of a lifetime.
The buck was scored by Todd Peyser of Peyser Taxidermy the day it was harvested on September 10, 2017. It gross scored at 234 7/8". Three inches of deductions put it at 231 7/8" green score net. It had 45 ½” of mass. After the 60 day drying period, the buck has an official net score of 229" which makes this the new Washington archery state record nontypical!