In 2017, after applying for 16 years for the famed Arizona Strip, I was lucky enough to draw an archery deer tag. I harvested a nice 208" non-typical buck on the first day of the hunt. Imagine my surprise in 2020 when the results were posted on my Portal account and it read, “Successful – archery deer unit 13B.” I could not believe I had drawn another archery Strip tag with only 3 bonus points!
I immediately began looking for an outfitter. The Arizona Strip is big country and requires big glass. Unit 13B is roughly the size of two Rhode Islands. While it is known for producing giant mule deer, deer densities overall are generally low and going days without seeing a deer is not uncommon. Deer hunts on the Strip can be a grind, and hiring an outfitter who specializes on the Strip was a must. A good friend of mine, Dave Stepp of the Mile High Archery Shop, told me about Bob Dykeman and Shadow Valley Outfitters. After doing a little research and chatting with Bob on the phone, my mind was made up and I booked the hunt.
As the hunt date grew closer, Bob kept me apprised of scouting efforts and antler growth. Compared to 2019, 2020 was a down year due to ongoing drought conditions. Bob was honest and forthright about what to expect. Scouting efforts produced a handful of 200"+ bucks worthy of wrapping my tag around. One deer in particular caught my eye. He was a nice mainframe 4x4 with matching drop tines. Bob also shared pictures and videos of a nice 3x4 nicknamed “Snake Oil” which he said had the largest body he had ever seen. I was initially unimpressed; however, Bob suggested I reconsider and trust him.
A few days before the opener, I arrived at camp and met my guides, Trevor Davenport and Joe Brochu. Shadow Valley Outfitters provides two guides per hunter on all premium deer hunts, which proved invaluable. Both men had a slew of scouting photos and videos they showed me. After some discussion, we agreed that we would try and kill Snake Oil on opening day.
Over the last week prior to the hunt opener, Snake Oil was hitting one water in particular and running with a smaller 3x4. He typically hit the water every other day. Opening day, the plan was to sit the water and wait for Snake Oil to come in; however, he watered the day prior. There were two other blinds on the water, and another hunter who was adamant about hunting the water on the first day agreed to let us sit it the second day. We agreed and decided the plan would be to try and hunt a nearby chaining and spot and stalk if an opportunity presented itself.
Early opening morning, Joe was atop a high peak overlooking the vast landscape while Trevor and I were positioned near a large chaining that the deer frequented. The morning hunt was slow. Midday, we located a nice 190" buck, which I decided to pass on. Later in the day, Trevor and Joe located the smaller 3x4 that ran with Snake Oil in a nearby chaining. Snake Oil was nowhere to be seen. Our plan was to keep Joe atop the high point while Trevor and I slowly worked in the chaining, making our way toward where the small 3x4 was feeding earlier, hoping Snake Oil was somewhere nearby.
As the light began to fade and we began discussing plans to head back toward the truck, we spotted the smaller 3x4. We knew there was a good chance Snake Oil could be nearby and decided to make a move. As we closed the distance, slithering through the trees out of sight and carefully dissecting the landscape in front of us, Trevor froze. There he was! Snake Oil finally stepped out into the chaining with the smaller 3x4. He was only 89 yards from us. I calmly drew my Hoyt Defiant Carbon bow, settled my 90-yard pin, and sent the Victory TKO arrow. Crash! For a minute, I thought I hit him well, thinking the arrow passed cleanly through and hit some trees behind him. Much to my surprise, there were a couple of small branches that I did not see which deflected my arrow. Trevor said it was a clean miss, but the buck didn’t spook much. He had moved further into the chaining, and Trevor and I disappeared back in the trees and skirted around trying to close the distance and cut him off.
We closed the distance fast, and as we eased back out, there he was. Trevor ranged him at 49 yards. I drew my bow, settled my 50-yard pin, and released the arrow, which flew true. Thwack! The QAD Exodus 100 grain broadhead hammered him. He only went about 20 yards before we heard a big crash and the telltale sounds of an expiring animal. The celebration chants began! Trevor was so excited that he hit me in the arm seven or eight times, and Joe was whooping from the top of the mountain. It was quite the exciting moment.
As we approached Snake Oil, I couldn’t believe my eyes! As I eased closer, he kept getting bigger and bigger. Although he was only a 3x4, he was giant. He was a true representation of the famed Arizona Strip. After an extended photo session, we drove back to camp and the celebrations continued.
The next day, we drove Snake Oil to a local taxidermist. He, too, was amazed! He ended up taping Snake Oil at 235" as a 4x3. Had he been a straight 3x, he would have topped the 215" mark, which was insane! I found out later that the double drop tine buck I was interested in scored 218". This reminded me of the invaluable lesson to always trust your guide. I’m extremely glad I did.
Thank you again to Dave Stepp and Bob Dykeman, Trevor Davenport, Joe Brochu, and the Shadow Valley Outfitters crew!
Arizona Deer Hunting