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August 2021
Story by Dusty Bulloch
State: Utah
Species: Deer - Mule

My hunting dream of an encounter with a huge buck started as a young teenager at my family’s mountain property in Southern Utah. It took 18 draw applications, or half of my life, to get the news that all hunters want. At the end of spring, my credit card was pinged by UTAH BIG GAME PERMIT. I had drawn an archery mule deer tag on the coveted Paunsaugunt unit in Southern Utah. Growing up, I heard people talk about how this unit was the holy of holies for mule deer. I could hardly believe it was my time to see the awe this unit held!

I knew that in order to capitalize on this rare opportunity I would need all the help I could get from the best hunters I knew, my brother-in-law, Colby Batty, and brother, Derek Bulloch. The three of us began putting in the work. We made many weekend trips to learn the unit, scout deer, set up cameras, move cameras that weren’t producing, and did a whole lot of driving. After two months of this, we felt like our scouting efforts should have produced a lot more. To no avail, a target buck had not been acquired.

Colby caught a quick glimpse of a monster midday checking cameras, and we tried hard to turn him back up, but he eluded us for over a month. We decided to give up on him the week before opening day. A couple hours later, one of Colby’s cell cameras downloaded a picture of one of the best bucks we had evidence of. This newfound success came because of some advice from one of Colby’s good friends, Garth Jenson. He told Colby that if you’re not getting bucks on your camera you know are in the area or aren’t getting them during the day, keep moving your camera a couple hundred yards and see what shows up. This current camera location was the fourth spot in this area. Thank you, Garth, for the game changing advice when we needed it most!

We also found out that we had an awesome non-typical that Derek and I had glassed up a few weeks prior, and he was coming in consistently at first light. Our new number one would be between this buck and the cell cam buck, depending on one’s taste in style. The one that we had on camera for a couple weeks had a more narrow/tall frame with awesome cheaters. The cell cam buck had a wider, boxy frame with better tine length. Colby thought the cell cam buck had a better chance of breaking 200". My initial decision was to go with the safe pick, which was the cheater buck. I didn’t know enough about the cell cam buck’s pattern to feel comfortable putting all my eggs into that basket, even though I liked his look most.

Mid-week before opening day, Colby sent me multiple pics showing that the cell cam buck had come in frequently during the day and a couple times at night. I decided to roll the dice and go after the cell cam buck and move the cheater buck to number two. There was just something about the frame of my new number one that more closely resembled the type of buck I’d been dreaming about for most of my life. It was game time!

The day before opening day, my dad, Derek, and Colby set up camp by 3 p.m., which was the same time I was getting off work. I arrived at camp and got settled by 6 p.m. The rest of the evening was actually more peaceful than I was expecting. It probably came from the knowledge that we had done everything in our power to be ready.
We hung out the rest of the night waiting for one of my best buddies, Danny Crosby, to arrive after a 12-hour drive from Oregon. He grew up in Kanab, so the Paunsaugunt has a special place in his heart. He showed up around 11 p.m., and we chatted about game plans and looked at trail camera photos until 1 a.m.

Since deer seemed to be near our blind throughout the night, we had to choose the right time to minimize detection. Colby felt our best chance was around 4 a.m. Never had waking up after a couple hours of sleep felt so easy. Every move was calculated heading into the blind. Colby got a picture from the cell cam at about 5:30 a.m., and our buck was 25 yards away. We couldn’t even see him! When we pulled up the binoculars, there was barely enough light to make out his rack, but once I laid eyes on him, my mouth dropped. Looking at a big buck that close was scary awesome, even if the light wasn’t optimal. As we sat staring into the darkness, we could only hope this wasn’t his one trip in that morning or that he would feed off to some other hunter’s blind.

When it got light enough to make out objects, there were a few bucks by the camera, but the big buck was not there. At 6:45, Colby leaned over and said that he could see our buck bedding down 80 yards away. I pulled up the binoculars and got a clear view of the biggest buck I’d ever seen on the hoof. As we sat there and watched him for 10 minutes, I noticed another buck 15 yards away off to the side and looking right at us. We must have been moving just enough or making just enough noise that he was on full alert. As we tried not to scare him off, we noticed our buck stand up and start walking our way.

He came in full sneak right at us, which made his rack look even bigger. Colby said he could hear my heart it was beating so loud. Once he got to 25 yards, he met up with the other buck that was keeping an eye on us. I was terrified to move even a hair because every time I did both bucks would snap their heads up and look right at us. I decided to draw below the opening so they couldn’t see that movement and held it for what felt like minutes. The other buck turned and looked like he was going to start leaving, so I knew my window of opportunity was closing fast.

Once both bucks put their heads down, I raised my bow and the rest felt like an out of body experience. No matter how many times I’ve shot my bow or visualized this moment, nothing could have prepared me for what I was going through. Adrenalin was as high as I’ve ever experienced. I was in uncharted territory and praying that I wouldn’t screw this up. Time was about up, and once things aligned to the best of my ability, I let it fly. The buck jumped, kicked, and took off. As I came back to reality, I noticed I was shaking uncontrollably. Trying to make sense of what just happened, we watched the video to assess the damage. The arrow didn’t go all the way through him, but it was deep as he ran off. We hung out for 15 minutes and then Colby thought he heard a distant death cry. We got up and found the blood trail. We followed it for about 80 yards and then decided to let him bed down. The last thing we wanted was to spook him off somewhere we wouldn’t be able to find him.

We headed back to camp to relay all that had just happened to the crew. After an hour or two, we loaded up to go find my buck. We picked up on the trail where we left off. The trail was harder to follow now that the blood was dry and dark. It was this way for 50 yards and then it looked like someone with a bucket of paint started to pour it on the ground as they walked. Fifty more yards of that heavy blood trail and then the hollering, high fives, and hugs began! So much time, preparation, planning, and luck took place to tag a buck of this caliber. He exceeded our expectations. He was 31" wide and scored 208 5/8".

Huge thanks to Derek and Colby for being with me every step of the way and sacrificing their families’ time and money to help me. Thank you to all who were behind the scenes who allowed this to be an unforgettable experience. Special thanks to my wife for supporting me through the ups and downs of life and allowing me to make my hunting dream come true.

Utah Mule Deer Hunting