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July 2024
Story by Gary Harris
State: Utah
Species: Deer - Mule

This entire experience began back in 1999 when I decided to start applying for mule deer in Utah. From the time that I began applying to now, I have been through many life experiences that have produced countless amazing things. I’ve witnessed my three oldest sons marry the loves of their life. I’m now a grandfather of 13 beautiful grandchildren, I built up and sold the family business, and I’ve been able to now retire with my wonderful wife, and many other experiences that are too many to count. A lot has happened over the past 24 years, including building a point year in and year out for mule deer here in Utah, and it finally happened on the right year, in the right unit, and at the right time!

Fast forward to the spring of 2023. I received a call from my oldest son, Josh. He told me to wait a minute as he added my youngest son, Scott, to the call. The moment I saw both of their names on the phone, my heart sank. Could I finally be drawing the Paunsaugunt on one of the better moisture years the unit had seen in a very long time? My oldest let the suspense build for long enough and finally blurted out that I had drawn the tag! We laughed, we screamed in excitement, and honestly, I think a couple of us maybe even shed some tears.

As we were talking about plans, timing, locations, etc., I heard a ding in the background, which was Josh’s computer notifying him that an email had arrived. It was his Utah draw results email. Josh had drawn an elk tag a while back and started over building mule deer points, so he was in no-man’s-land for points, only having 13. He proceeded to repeat over and over the words, “You’re never gonna believe it!” Josh had applied separately for the same hunt but with only 13 points. It was a prayer to say the least, and that prayer was answered! He had actually drawn the exact same tag that I had drawn. We now had two once-in-a-lifetime tags in one family.

The things that made this entire experience what it was and what it became were when my wife and all four of my sons committed to being there for me without even glancing at their calendars. That means more to me than each of them will ever know.

The day finally arrived, and my son, Scott, and my wife and I traveled side by side in separate vehicles. My son, Jeff, got on a plane, leaving his home state of Alaska, and my son, Tipper, picked Jeff up in Las Vegas and they drove to Kanab. Josh was already on the unit scouting and planning for the next 10 days we had together. We also had Brady Harang, Promise Smith, and George Rowley there. We greeted each other with hugs and pure excitement and then settled in for the long haul.

Nighttime came, and opening morning was finally here. The plan that we all agreed on was that spreading out would give us the best chance at finding the biggest buck. We didn’t see any shooters opening morning, but we did see 14 bucks and that kept us positive. Days one through five were well spent making memories with family, sharing stories of the day at camp, and planning for the next day with just as much excitement as the first day. We saw some very respectable deer along the journey up to that point but nothing that screamed “shooter.”

On day five, my wife, Diana, and two sons, Jeff and Tipper, left camp to take care of work and family needs. That left Josh and me as hunters and Scotty, Brady, and Promise as glassers. Camp felt a little lonelier after the three comedians of my family left, but we were still having a great time and the hunt pushed on. As Josh and Scott had repetitively said, the Paunsaguant eventually turned into a ghost town. At times, it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

Day six arrived, and this day was a game changer! Scott and I were glassing from the truck when he suddenly grabbed my arm. He was fixated on a sea of sagebrush. He looked me in the eyes and mentioned that he might have a shooter buck. He quickly got his scope and began filming and evaluating the buck. The excitement grew as we watched the buck through his spotting scope, waiting for confirmation on what he was. He was tall, heavy, lots of character, wide, and had a hook cheater off his left side. He was what most men dream of in a deer. There was one problem, though. He was a 3-point on his right side. Scott all but pulled his hair out when I told him that I didn’t want to shoot that buck. It was a 190" class buck, but that 3-point side turned me off, and it was easy for me to pass. I wanted a 4-point! We watched this deer slowly feed off into the cedars, never to be seen again by us.

The truck ride back to town was a little quiet. Scott couldn’t believe that I could pass a buck of that caliber, and I wondered if I had made the wrong decision. It was an amazing deer, just not what I had wanted. After what felt like hours of not talking, Scott and I realized that our moods needed to change. We realized that was not the buck we came here for, and the excitement slowly started to build again in the truck. We ended day six with high hopes for the next four days.

Day seven was magical! At daylight, I passed on a 3x4 that was 28" wide and heavy. He was lip curling and looking for does. Twenty-five minutes later, another nice buck stepped out. He was a 4x5 and about 25" wide. Scott didn’t even ask if I wanted him because he knew I was set on harvesting a wide buck. We then decided to move locations to glass the shaded side of a large canyon system we were hunting. While driving to the new spot, Scott spotted a group of does about 250 yards away. The sun was in our faces, and it was hard to pick out much detail. In that moment, our calm truck got very serious. Scott told me to grab my gun and slowly open my door. By the time I was out of the truck, there was a lawn chair set up and my rifle was being clipped into a tripod. I didn’t know what kind of deer I was going to be looking at, but I knew it was going to be big. When my crosshairs rested on the deer, the first thing I noticed was how wide he was. I then noticed he was heavy and that he had four points on both sides. That was all I needed to see. I settled the crosshairs behind his shoulder and pulled the trigger. The recoil pulled me off the deer, but I heard the sweet “thud” of a good impact. Scotty was filming the shot with his spotting scope and was able to confirm it was a good hit. He watched where the buck dropped in the sage, and we knew the buck was done. Twenty-four years of applying and waiting for a moment just like this, and it was over in an instant!

After the long overdue hugs and high fives were over, we slowly made our way to where we last saw the buck. Inching our way through the sage, I saw what I had been waiting to see for what seemed like a lifetime. He was heavy, he had eyeguards, he was a 4-point, and best of all, he was wide. The craziest part, and the icing on the cake, was this buck was also in full velvet, and at the end of October! It made the buck even more special to me.

After long and painful photo and video sessions, we loaded the buck into the truck and headed back to take care of the cape and meat. By midday, everything was complete and we now had the rest of the hunt to focus on Josh’s buck. Little did we assume or expect, but Josh tagged out that evening on a great double kicker buck, buttoning up the hunt as an overall success on so many levels, from the very beginning to the end.

I want to thank my boys and my wife for such an amazing experience that I was able to share with them. It was one for the books and will without a doubt go down as one of my favorite memories and experiences. When it’s all said and done, it comes down to family, and that’s what means the most to me. What I found out is that experiences with family are just “that much sweeter” when you can factor in pure joy and huntin’ big bucks at the same time.