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June 2024
Story by Brian Watkins
Hunters: Trevor Embry
State: South Dakota
Species: Deer - Mule

When you find a hunting partner who supplements your skillset, keep them for life! Back in 2017, I met Trevor Embry through the Alaskan Bowhunters Association. We had mutual friends within the organization and linked up to hunt caribou together. Since then, we’ve hunted caribou, moose, deer, goat, sheep, bear, and antelope together. Our styles of hunting are opposite. Trevor likes to sit back and assess the situation. On the contrary, I like to make things happen in the moment. Both are beneficial, and together they’re lethal. Both of us grew up in the lower 48. Trevor was born and raised in Kentucky, and I was born and raised in Pennsylvania.

We have had awesome adventures over the years and have pushed each other to accomplish goals set out from our youth. My goal to complete the North American Big Ten was dreamed up over a decade ago when I realized it was something I could obtain. The North American Big Ten is an animal out of each subspecies that North American has to offer – deer, bear, caribou, mountain goat, moose, sheep, elk, muskox/bison, antelope, and mountain lion (chronological order of when I took each species). Having met Trevor prior to the muskox, he pushed me to complete the last three. Without him pushing me towards my goal, I would still be chasing it.

I mention the Big Ten because of Trevor’s influence on me to obtain said goal. Trevor has had goals for his hunting career as well. This past season, he accomplished one leg of that goal. He wants to obtain each deer species in velvet.

One of those species is the mule deer. In 2022, Trevor was able to harvest a mule deer in velvet, although his main achievement was a nice 4x4 buck. We set out this season to hunt together again for mule deer, having each drawn a tag. Neither of us has extensive mule deer experience. I had never hunted them prior to 2022, and Trevor has hunted them just a handful of times. We left Alaska to hunt down south. Some people question leaving Alaska to hunt the lower 48, but we are both avid hunters and like to switch it up to keep the fun alive. Hunting deer in Alaska is a blast, but being able to hunt deer when the sun shines and on easier terrain is attractive. Our Sitka blacktail are smaller, and we typically get caught in heavy rain while chasing them, par for the course in Alaska.

The style of hunting deer is much different in Alaska as well. Each has their advantages, but sunshine and easy terrain win out every so often. Our style of hunting mule deer came from reading and researching past hunts online. We would wake up prior to sunrise and get to a vantage point where we can turn deer up at first light. The bucks are leaving their evening feeding grounds and returning to a bedding area to beat the heat. We would find a high point and glass, finding deer on the hoof. We turned up a bachelor group of bucks. Trevor’s 4x4 dream buck was a part of that group, along with a wide buck that caught my attention. Each morning, the deer would feed out of nearby fields and bed in cut banks in the mountains. Our first morning, we found the bachelor group and made our move. The wind was against our favor and our scent blew into the deer, busting them out. Excitement turned to self-pity, and we messed up an opportunity.

In my head, I was certain these deer left the country. My thought process was to find more deer elsewhere. Trevor assured me, “You don’t leave a good buck to try and find another good buck.” We set out the following morning with the same plan and that quote in mind. Luck on our sides, we turned the group of bucks up again! The deer bedded back in a cut bank that would offer good stalking opportunities. We made our moves. Trevor having stalked the first day, I was up to bat. We used the wind and terrain in our favor to hide from the group and slip into distance. As I crawled within 25 yards, the entire group busted out of the cut bank and high-tailed it out. Trevor lay on the top side of the bank in their escape route. Unfortunately, he hadn’t quite got set up yet and the huge 4x4 was on a b-line straight for Trevor. It locked up at five yards just before running Trevor over. The buck turned and took off. Again, we had busted this group. Our shoulders sank low.

The following morning, luck was once again on our sides. We found this group about half a mile away. Trevor was back up, and everything seemed perfect. The wind was in our favor, and the deer were tucked into a cut bank that Trevor could get within shooting distance. He started out as I watched from the spotting scope. As Trevor made his was, I watched the deer leave their bed and head out. They weren’t spooked but just finding a new spot. We lost sight of the deer.

We spent hours trying to find where the deer made their way to. No luck. We went back to the truck for lunch and to get water since the temperature hovered around 100 degrees. That’s quite hot for us Alaskans. Hunting mule deer blindly (without watching them go into their bed) hampers the odds significantly. The chances of finding them prior to them seeing you are slim. We glassed coulees, bushes, cut-backs, and anywhere else they could lie. Our luck was fading. I crested a valley that looked promising, and much to my surprise, the group was changing beds for the evening to get better shade. The chances of that happening at the exact moment I popped the ridge were slim to none.

We watched the group file into a small valley. Once they bedded, we realized everything lined up. We could see the big 4x4 and picked a route that would land within 20 yards of his bed. It was my turn to stalk, but remember how I said we pushed each other to achieve our goals? That’s what great friends and hunting partners do. With the big 4x4 in range of our stalk, I told Trevor to go again. Yes, I passed the opportunity at a giant buck. I would say I regret it, but Trevor has let me take his stalks before and he did push me to obtain the Big 10.

As Trevor made his way on the stalk, I glassed from the opposite ridge. He’d need my hand signals to ensure the buck was still there and move himself close to the area. Everything looks different when you are on the move. I signaled Trevor into the spot we had talked about. The buck was still bedded, and Trevor was in position. We just needed the buck to feed out. As I watched, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The wind had changed directions and blew my scent right to the big buck. I couldn’t see what was happening, but the big 4x4 didn’t waste any time. He took off away from Trevor. The big, wide buck I was after stood from his bed at the same time and was within 30 yards of Trevor. He shot the big, wide buck before he blew out. Yep, the buck I was after. The buck was a dandy! Trevor got his dream buck, still a 4x4 and wide. He was 29" wide and should make Pope and Young after the 60-day drying period.

Trevor’s childhood dream of a giant mule deer in velvet was solidified just six months after me having accomplished my Big 10!