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July 2024
Story by Colette Schaper
State: California
Species: Deer - Mule

It all started back in June 2023 when my dad got a call from Huntin’ Fool telling him I had drawn a Junior J-15 Anderson Flats mule deer tag. This was my second year hunting and my first time applying for this tag. Not understanding how rare this tag was and how difficult it is to draw, my dad had to explain it to me as most adults apply for 20 years to get this tag, and I got it the first time.

Finally, after months of prep and anticipation, the day came. We were lucky enough that my dad took us out of school for the whole week of this season to go hunting, but we still had homework to do. It was boring! I was hoping to get out of that, but my dad kept us on the school homework in the evenings. It was definitely better to hunt instead of sit in a classroom all day. Friday, November 24th, could not come any faster. We loaded up and were finally on the road. Not more than 30 minutes on the road, we got a flat tire on our car trailer. Hunting trips are always an adventure. An hour later, we were back on the road and on our way to our campground. Later that evening, Mr. Daniel Sanchez (we call him “Uncle Danny”) showed up after doing some pre-scouting that evening. We did not want to waste much time, so we made dinner, put a plan together for tomorrow, and hit the hay.

We woke up at 5 a.m. in a cold motorhome to Uncle Danny bouncing around with excitement and making his coffee while waking us up. Everything was covered in frost when we walked outside. Then, after eating breakfast, we hit the road for our 30-minute drive to Anderson Flats. Once we got there, we met a couple of other junior hunters with the J-15 tags. We were on the move, and our first glassing spot was great. We saw four does and one small buck. Beatrice (my twin sister), my dad, and I were in one truck, and Uncle Danny and my two younger brothers were in another.

The following Sunday, November 26th, Uncle Danny got up and started talking to himself in the mirror, “We are going to get a big buck for Colette today.” We just all stared at him like he was crazy. Then he told me I had to do the same thing each morning. I laughed at him, “No way! I’m not going to talk to myself in the mirror.” Again, we had the same routine – breakfast, loaded up, and back on the road. This day, we did some hiking to see if we could bump something out of the brush we could not see from the roads. Sure enough, we bumped two does. It was a good sign to know that they were around and that we must get off the main trails more often. After lunch, glassing till sunset, and doing a little photo hoot with beautiful scenery, we headed back down to the RV campground. Seeing as it was Beatrice and my 15th birthday, we sang “Happy Birthday” over pumpkin pie. Unfortunately, Uncle Danny had to go back to work on Monday, but before he left, he told me that I could not get a buck until he returned Thursday night.

For the next four days, we continued the grind of a 5 a.m. rise and glass until sunset. We turned up three small bucks and a dozen or so does. Interestingly enough, we spotted one buck with only one antler and three points, so we called him “Eliot,” like in the cartoon movie Open Season. One of the days, we took a break and drove into Yosemite to admire the amazing views it has to offer. Each morning was getting harder and harder to stay positive, but I could not stop thinking about what Uncle Danny said about looking at myself in the mirror and saying, “We are going to get a buck today,” and how weird that was.

Friday, December 1st, we woke up at 5 a.m. again but happily jumped out of our beds knowing Uncle Danny was back hunting with us. Walking outside, we saw how much frost was everywhere and how thick it was. Our dad said that there was a bit of snow at the top of Anderson Flats, and that’s exactly what we needed, some weather to push the deer from Yosemite to our zone. We split up when we got to the principal spot that everyone goes to, and sure enough, there was snow there. It was beautiful! We kept moving from spot to spot, glassing for about 20 minutes and looking for a big buck.

For lunch, we decided to go to a different area, and when we were almost there, my dad got a call from Uncle Danny saying there was a big buck over there and to get there fast. We turned and went up the hill where Uncle Danny’s truck was parked, grabbed our packs, and started hiking up the trail. One mile in, my dad got another call from Uncle Danny saying, “It’s bigger than we thought! Hurry up!” Over an hour later, we finally arrived at Uncle Danny’s location. This buck looked huge through the spotting scope at 900 yards away.

Uncle Danny, Papa, and I left Beatrice, Gerard, and Victor there to keep eyes on the buck while we hiked in to close the distance for the shot. Once we got within 200 yards, Uncle Danny made a clear shooting lane for me. While I lay on the ground with spots of snow, I could feel the warmth being sucked out of me, which left me shivering, and then to make matters worse, I had to go to the bathroom. After we were all set up, my dad lay beside me with his binoculars and asked if I was good. I told him no, I had to go to the bathroom and I was cold. He chuckled and said we were going to make some noise to see if he would stand up and give us a good shot. Twice, we yelled at the buck, and each time, he got up but lay back down. I was frustrated. Well, the third time was the charm. The buck got up and turned, facing towards us with his neck in full view but not his body.

While my dad and I lay there, I whispered, “I can make this shot!”

My dad whispered back in disbelief. “Are you sure?” I confirmed, “Yes, I can!”

My dad said, “Okay, whenever you are ready then.”

I lay there with my dad’s 30-06, breathing very slowly. As I got to the end of my exhale, I pulled the trigger. Bang! First shot and he was down. At the top of his lungs, Uncle Danny yelled, “Smoked him, baby! You dropped him!” He was so excited that he could hardly contain himself. He came over and gave us a huge hug, and we all started crying with happiness. Next, I had to run and go to the bathroom. Once Beatrice, Gerard, and Victor met up with us, more hugs and high fives were shared. We packed up, and we went to find the buck.

When we saw him, he was just a monster of a buck, and I stood there in amazement without saying a word. When I grabbed his antlers, we realized that he had two cheater points, making him a legal 6x4. I just couldn’t believe that I got this beautiful buck. Just in time for the sunset, we took our photos, which came out amazing. Uncle Danny was right, we got our big buck on Friday. After my dad and Uncle Danny gutted and quartered the buck, we packed it up into our packs for our 2.8-mile hike back to the trucks in the dark. We barely made it back to the trucks in time to drive down to the local restaurant for a nice celebration dinner.

I want to thank Huntin’ Fool for helping my dad get this tag through their License Application Services because this was an amazing tag for me. I also want to thank my dad for putting this hunt together, getting all the right gear for us all, and the weekend pre-scouting. I want to thank Uncle Danny, who made the mornings awesome, making us laugh and teaching us how to hunt successfully. I want to thank my twin sister, Beatrice, for ensuring I put enough exclamation points in this story. To my two younger brothers, Gerard and Victor, thank you for the free entertainment and for being there to watch the buck every step of the way. Last but not least, I want to thank my mom for letting us go on these long hunting trips to make memories-of-a-lifetime.