My Greatest Bowhunts: My First Crack At Mule Deer: Part 4

Part 4: Patience, Perseverance And Luck

After my initial close encounter with the group of bucks, I was more determined than ever to make something positive happen from the golden opportunity that I’d been afforded. 

The bucks had never really known that I had been in their area after my botched stalk — they’d never seen or smelled me. Hurrying on down the mountainside to their permanent bedding spots on the willow-covered bench, the group had casually retired for another alpine day. Backing away from the area, retreating to my base camp, I mulled over the fate of my first stalk attempt. Though the effort had resulted in a close encounter, I knew that “close” only counted in a couple of things, bowhunting not being one of them. Seeing some flaws in my planned approach, I immediately started to come up with a new idea. But could I pull it off without running the bucks completely out of the country? Time would tell.

You must be prepared for all types of weather — even in August — when hunting alpine habitat.

The herd of elk that were bedding in the timber at the head of the drainage was clearly a thorn in my side. I needed to get the elk out of the picture so that I could approach the bucks from directly below. But how could I do that? I soon had a wild plan formulated in my mind. Putting it into practice however, was going to be where “luck” came into play. I’d need some good luck to pull off this wild maneuver. Knowing that I had a lot to lose if my plan failed, I decided to give it a try anyway — nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Slipping away from my spike camp at midday, I carefully sneaked into the head of the drainage well above the area where the elk were bedded for the day. The prevailing wind was down the drainage, and I hoped and prayed that my scent would make it to the elk, while remaining away from the bucks’ noses. I hid and waited for the show to begin. Shortly, I saw elk moving excitedly through the timber below, clearly headed downslope — they were definitely getting my scent! 

Glancing far uphill, toward the lofty perch of the bucks, I soon spotted a couple of the bucks intensely surveying the situation. I prayed that they would not panic, choosing inaction as the best action. As the exit of the elk eventually became complete, miraculously, the bucks had remained on their bench — I was thrilled! But now, what? I was pinned down in the bottom of the basin, with numerous eyes surveying my surroundings. With nothing else to do, I melted to the ground and took a nap.

This is the alpine country where the author was hunting those big mulies.

Waking toward early-evening, I was amazed to yet see the bucks carefully surveying their lower surroundings from above. Wow! These guys were sharp, and extremely diligent, and for the next few hours, I lay in my hide, watching for a chance to make an exit. Finally, toward late-evening the bucks began to exit their fortress, headed uphill once again to spend the night feeding on their favorite patch of tundra. Slithering away from my hide, I spent most of the evening making it back to base camp undetected. Though I’d not hunted this day, I’d accomplished much toward making an effective hunt possible in the near future. Now it was time to plan the next step of the hunt.

The more I planned strategy, the more I realized the likely failure of any stalk attempts I could make in the open, steep habitat above the bench. As I contemplated the daily movement pattern of the bucks, the one place that kept coming back into my mind was the bench where the bucks bedded for the day. Such being the case, I slowly began to devise a plan for possibly ambushing the bucks on the bench as they returned from their nightly feeding junket — such a maneuver was going to take some dedicated effort, and a whole lot of luck! Always a lover of a good challenge, I prayed for the “luck” part of the equation to smile on my effort. My plan would be put into motion well before daylight, next morning.

Please read the conclusion in Part 5.

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Eddie Claypool provides tips on bowhunting, with an emphasis on whitetails. Claypool has harvested 63 Pope & Young-class recordbook animals including 35 whitetails (Coues included), 16 elk and eight mule deer. All the animals were taken on do-it-yourself hunts. Learn more about Eddie on his Facebook page at!/eddie.claypool


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