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March 2024
Story by Cody Keisel
State: Utah
Species: Deer - Mule

I took off for the hunt with high standards and low expectations. The buck I set out for was going to be a trophy-of-a-lifetime, but it was going to take a lot of luck to beat the competition that was after him.

Opening morning came, and I made my move to stalk the notorious “Drop Tines Buck.” There was one problem, though. Another hunter in the area had unintentionally cut me off. My only good approach was taken. I opted to back out and move back to my spotters, and maybe, just maybe, the buck would slip the hunter and work his way back to his bedding ground in my direction.

I sat back with my dad, brothers-in-law, and father-in-law, and we spectated as not only the hunter I had seen earlier made a move, but two other hunters as well. The only problem for them was the Drop Tines Buck and the bucks in his bachelor group were also watching. It was obvious that no one was going to sneak in on the herd. The deer moved and steadily worked our direction. A few smaller bucks led the way and jumped the fence just down from our position. When they cleared, I separated from the group and moved to that same spot, anticipating the other deer to follow. The rest of the herd closed in, and I ranged them at 130 yards, 105, 89. I figured a clear shot between 40 and 60 yards would present itself. My backup plan was unfolding perfectly.

As the deer moved closer, so did the other hunters. The pressure eventually pushed the deer into an alternative path than the first two who had crossed the fence earlier, making my easy shot not so easy. I ranged the lead buck through the sagebrush at 70 yards and adjusted my sight. He casually jumped the fence and walked by. The next two jumped and followed suit. The Drop Tines Buck was next; here was my shot. He gathered his feet, shifted his body weight to his hind quarters, and jumped like the rest. However, when he landed, he hit the ground running. The surrounding hunters pressed him to make a run for it and had left me there standing fully drawn with no shot. He had slipped us all.

The hunter to the south of me immediately dove into the thick trees in pursuit. I didn’t waste my time. Instead, I walked back to my family to talk about the morning events and come up with a new game plan. Not quite giving up on the morning hunt, I got a ride about a mile up the road. I was going to try my luck sneaking into the trees from the north end.

I went in completely blind to the area and somehow wandered onto a game trail that gave me great access without making a ton of noise. I wasn’t all but 20 minutes into my hike when I came across another great buck. I figured he was a 180-190" typical 4-point. He was a great deer but wasn’t a first day shooter for me. I watched him for a couple minutes. Then, out of nowhere, wandered the Drop Tines Buck. He had switched groups from earlier that morning and had caught me by surprise. I nocked an arrow, but there was no shot. The group kept their distance as they walked. My presence was known, but they felt safe in the cover of the trees and brush. I trailed, hoping for a window of opportunity. Eventually, I spotted a shooting lane.

This time, my heart was racing. Buck fever had set in. The smaller lead buck stepped out. Shaking, I ranged him at 58 yards and adjusted my sight. Next in line was the Drop Tines Buck. I drew as he stepped into the opening, but he immediately turned and faced away from me. There was no shot. After what seemed like an eternity, he took an additional step to his left and revealed a quartered away broadside shot. I anchored, held as steady as I could, and pulled the trigger. The shot felt good, and I watched as the buck ran into the trees. His reaction, though, didn’t comfort me. There was no hunch or a jump, he just bolted. Afraid that I had shanked my opportunity, I went to look for my arrow. To my surprise, it was on the ground broken with about 14 inches of blood on the shaft. It wasn’t a passthrough, but I had hit him somewhere.

After about 45 minutes of waiting, I worked my way back to the impact area and started scanning for blood. I looked through the thick ponderosas and spotted the Drop Tines Buck. He was standing, staring right at me. He then turned and gimped away. I quickly fell in pursuit, hoping for a follow-up shot with no luck. He was hurt, but he didn’t seem injured.

After failed attempts as a group to locate the buck in the thick trees, we decided to search the open sagebrush area. My brothers-in-law and I took to the field, and my dad hit the surrounding roads for some high ground. After some time, Colton had glassed the tips of some antlers bedded under an oak tree. He suspected it was a large 3x4 we had seen earlier in our scouting season. Knowing there was a possibility that the wounded Drop Tines Buck could have joined in with this buck, I evaluated the wind and made my move to investigate.

I found my way into position to see the antlers of the bedded buck. From what I could tell, this buck was alone. With no intention of shooting this deer, I edged in for a closer look. I finally got to an angle where I could fully see the front forks of the bedded buck. It looked familiar. The parallel and upward curvature of the front tines looked similar to that of the Drop Tines Buck. I pulled out my phone and reviewed my scouting pictures. It had to be him. I still didn’t have enough evidence to completely verify, so I kept sneaking in closer. Eventually, I got a better angle and could see his right back forks. The two smaller kickers confirmed it was him!

At this point, I was 80 yards away and could only see a partial view of his antlers. I had a bunch of trees between the buck and me. Even if he stood up, I had no shot. I had to get into a better position. I needed to get through the rest of the oaks to increase my odds. I slowly worked my way there and finally found myself at the edge of the last oak tree that was between him and me. I was in a great position in the shade and only 35 yards away from the unaware Drop Tines Buck. I was comfortable but still did not have a shot. With the sun blazing and moving across the sky, I knew sooner or later he would have to adjust to get back into the shade of his tree.

Ten minutes later, I watched him gather his feet to stand. I drew back and was immediately spotted. He stood there out of curiosity at my movement. I was anchored, my grip felt great, and I was steady. The only problem I had was the grass unexpectedly covered half his vitals. I had to decide, stand up for a better shot angle and risk him busting or shoot and hope the grass didn’t deflect my arrow. At only 35 yards, I chose to let the arrow fly. When I pulled the trigger, a deep wallowing “Whack!” followed. He immediately turned 180 degrees, showing me his right side. Again, no blood. Did I miss? I stood up and drew back again. His front right leg halfway covered by the oak tree offered a slim window for a heart shot. My anchor set and my front hand steady, I settled in to finish the job. Aiming inches off the oak tree into his heart, I let the arrow fly. This time, the buck reared and took off running. He didn’t go all but 40 yards before he stopped and started to wobble. It was over; he was going down!

Knowing right where he lay, there was no need to follow a blood trail. We walked right to him. Amazingly, his antlers grew as we got closer. He was an absolute monster. We were all in shock as we saw the mass. Taping out at 223", the Drop Tines Buck story is going to get told around future hunting camps for a long time. I want to thank my late grandfather, Boyd Keisel. He was an avid writer and hunter and inspired me to share my story. I also want to thank my dad, Scott, Travis, and Colton. Thanks for all the time and miles scouting. We still have a lot more memories to make! I also want to thank my wife, Jessica, and my children, Quinn, Didrik, and Zenna, for being so supportive for this hunt.