This story started eight years ago when my ranch manager and friend, Jared Johnson, got to talking hunting with a buddy of his, Buskin Wilson, who runs the rodeo in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Buskin also owns Hidden Basin Outfitters, and when Jared told him I might be interested in a mule deer hunt, he gave Jared some photos to send to me. When Jared told me it was a true high country wilderness horseback hunt, I knew I was interested. Then, when I looked at the photos of the bucks they had killed, I knew I had to book that hunt.
The 2018 hunting season came around, and we arrived in camp on September 14th. Buskin had done a lot of pre-scouting and had some great deer located. After seeing a fleeting glimpse of one particular big buck on a hillside the first evening, we decided to focus on him. On the evening of the fourth day, the buck stopped just long enough for me to make the 400-yard shot. He turned out to be a great buck that scored 185".
When 2021 application time came around, I called Buskin to see about booking a mule deer hunt only to find out he wasn’t running the outfit anymore, but he told me to call the new operator, Wade Miller. After a great conversation with Wade, we got everything set up for the 2022 mule deer hunt. Now I just needed to draw the tag.
Draw results came in, and I got a call from Austin Atkinson at Huntin’ Fool with the good news that I’d drawn the tag.
On September 14th, I flew into Idaho Falls, got picked up by my friend, Jared Johnson, stopped by our ranch to shoot the rifle, and headed to camp in Wyoming. Upon arrival, we met Wade and assistant guide Jeremy Kirkland. Wade had done quite a bit of pre-scouting and found a couple of great bucks to go after opening morning. The only thing was, they were a three-and-a-half-hour horseback ride away.
The next morning, we were riding out of camp at 3:30. Unfortunately, we could only locate a few does and small bucks. We knew there was a storm coming in, so we headed back to camp. We hunted along the way with no luck.
We had rain off and on for the next two days, and it was getting really discouraging because we weren’t seeing any mature deer. On the fourth morning, Wade decided to mix things up a bit and check out a spot that had brought him luck in the past. We headed out in the dark, and after about an hour, we parked the horses and started glassing just as there was enough light to see. Right away, Wade spotted a buck on the hillside about 600 yards away. He looked at him in the spotting scope and told me this wasn’t the 190" buck I was after but a really respectable 180" class deer with an extra kicker on one side. He asked me if I wanted to try for him, but I was really hesitant. My philosophy is that you’ll never shoot a giant if you shoot the first good buck you see, even if that means going home without a deer.
After some discussion, Wade said he wanted to crawl up the hill another 100 yards to get a better look at him. I was talking things over with Jared when Jeremy got our attention and told us we should move up the hill to where Wade was. We came around some trees and Wade was waving his arms and telling us to quickly get up to where he was. We got about halfway to him and he started freaking out, pointing up the hill at a deer we hadn’t seen. Jeremy immediately looked at me and said, “See that deer? Kill it now!” The buck was 170 yards away, standing broadside, and I was trying to find a rest. Just as I was getting on him, he turned and started walking straight away. He wasn’t spooked and didn’t know we were there. I was solid, so when he turned again and stopped quartering away, I squeezed the trigger on my Gunwerks 28 Nosler. We all heard it hit with a big thwack! He humped up, hobbled towered the tree line, and disappeared. He was hit hard. We gave some high fives, but I didn’t want to get too excited until I had my hands on him.
We got to where we saw him last and found a small pool of blood, so we knew he was hit hard, but he wasn’t there. Wade had seen where the buck had turned around and backtracked to the open sidehill when he heard us coming up. Wade and Jared followed the tracks while Jeremy and I looked around where the blood was.
Suddenly, Wade started waving us over. He had the buck spotted about 200 yards away, bedded on the sidehill and looking back at us. Just as I was getting him in the scope, he jumped up and started bounding toward a tree line where I lost sight of him. Jared and I ran down to get a better view if he came out the other side, and when he did, I took a shot at him running across another opening, but I shot just over him and missed. I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t stand the thought of losing this deer. Jared and I worked our way back up to Wade, and he told us that the buck took two bounds after I shot and immediately bedded in the next patch of trees.
We worked our way around those trees, and Wade spotted him bedded on the next sidehill. Just as I was getting steady for a shot, he jumped up and bounded into the last patch of trees with no chance for a shot. I was trying to hold my composure when Wade said the next hillside was the last opening before it got really thick, so we had to kill him there. Wade and Jared decided to stay behind while Jeremy and I went up high above the patch of timber to look down on the hillside.
We worked our way along the hillside slowly. At about the last bit of open hillside, Jeremy said, “There he is, and he’s dead!” I was so excited and relieved all at the same time. Wade and Jared came out of the trees below us, and we all walked up on him together. I let out the biggest celebratory yell! Until that point, I hadn’t got a good look at his rack. Now, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. It was my dream buck! Wade looked at me and said, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that he’s not 190 inches, but the good news is that he’s way over 190!” I was looking at a legit 200"+ buck. I’d been dreaming of a buck like that for 40 years and had been hunting hard for one like that for 25 years.
After some celebrating, we put a tape on him and he green scored 203”. He truly was a giant with deep forks, good mass, long beams, and a few extras. It was the hunt-of-a-lifetime surrounded by old friends, new friends, and gorgeous mountain scenery.