A Canyonlands Mulie

When I received the limited-entry, archery, Utah mule deer permit in my mail, I knew I was holding a ticket to a great time in my hands.

The San Juan-Elk Ridge unit of southeastern Utah is well known for harboring good numbers of mule deer, including a fair amount of mature bucks. Since my hunt would take place in mid-August, the bucks would be together in “bachelor groups,” thus finding them would be a feast or famine proposition.

Pulling into the area, I immediately set up camp in a centrally located area. My first few days were spent driving around the area to get a feel for the different types of habitat that comprised the unit. From almost desert-like country in the lower reaches of the unit, to aspen, pine and oakbrush covered mesas in the higher reaches of the unit, there certainly were many options. Deciding to focus on the north facing sides of the higher mesas, I hoped to still-hunt my way into some big buck encounters.

The Canyonlands country of Southeastern Utah is well known for producing top-end mule deer trophies.

Moves To Mesa Tops
After a few days of this approach, I’d seen many bucks, though nothing above 160 inches. Moving my efforts to the mesa tops, I spent another three to four days slowly making my way through the broken cover. Once again, I encountered many bucks, and once again, nothing with large antlers. I was beginning to second-guess my tactics. Maybe it was time to go out-on-a-limb and try something different?

Moving my camp into the low country, I set about slipping through the rocky, thickly vegetated canyon bottoms. I soon found the going to be tough and stealth almost impossible. Also, deer sign was minimal, though I did find an occasional, huge track. It was clear that there was the proverbial “needle-in-a-haystack” monster buck in this country, though the thought of ever finding him, much less sneaking into bow range, was depressing. I even thought maybe I could find a waterhole where one was drinking. I tried it, but had no luck.

Running Out Of Time
So, back to the higher country I went. I was fast approaching the point in my trip where I was going to have to make an important decision. I had a New Mexico elk hunt starting in about a week and in order to go home, gear-up and get there on time, I was going to have to call it quits on this hunt soon. The other option was to forget my elk hunt and simply stay here, hunting for a big buck.Man, am I an elk fanatic!

The Canyonlands mule deer the author harvested was a 5×5 in the 150s class.

The following day after moving my point of attack back to the mesa tops, I was slowly stillhunting along — the decision about the “elk or deer thing” still running through my mind. Movement ahead brought me back to the task at hand so grabbing my bino’s, I peered through them at a group of four mule deer bucks — one being a 150s-class buck. Deciding that I’d lower my original standards, I slipped my shoes off, I had my heavy socks on, and then began sneaking ahead. Moving from tree to tree. I was soon close. Using my rangefinder, I determined the larger buck to be at 43 yards, which was close enough.

Holding my 40-yard pin slightly high, I touched the trigger of my release. Moment later, I admired a beautiful, velvet-antlered trophy. He didn’t have the class of antlers that this area was famous for, but this bowhunter was darn sure proud of him —and that’s all that really mattered.

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