Close Search

A Little Good Luck

December 2018
Story by Tony Tolbert
State: Arizona
Species: Deer - Mule

Many people believe if you hunt the Henry Mountains, Paunsaugunt, the Arizona Strip, and other famous units that there are 200" deer around every turn. However, that is so very far from the truth!


Going into the 2017 hunting applications, I carried several points for deer in different states. I was pretty sure I’d draw in Utah and planned my hunts around that. Not only did I not draw, but my kids were unsuccessful as well. I decided with draw odds and point creep, chances of ever drawing a late hunt tag in Arizona were slim, at least while I could still hunt since I was crowding 53 years old. I took my 14 bonus points and rolled the dice, applying for an early Kaibab tag. I knew the hunt was a week later this year and hoped it would help the odds to kill a good deer.


After finding out I had drawn, I contacted a few friends that lived near the unit. I was basically told I had wasted my points. Talking with others who had hunted the unit the last few years, the results were pretty much the same. This was my only tag this year and I couldn’t turn it back, so I decided to make the most of the opportunity and planned to hunt hard for 10 days. I purchased maps and chips for my GPS and learned what I could from others who had hunted my unit. Then, talking to a good friend of mine, I got the break I needed. He told me of a close friend of his who had grown up on the unit and guides hunters every year. He also said what a great guy he was, which was an understatement. The friend’s name was Alvy Johnson of Johnson Brothers Guide Service. Not only did he return my calls, but he also took a whole day of his time to show me places to hunt. We laughed and told stories of friends we shared and past hunts. It was an awesome day for me. He said I wouldn’t see a lot of deer but had a chance at a great buck if I would glass hard and put my time in.


After 17 years, my brother-in-law, Wes, had drawn a Paunsaugant rifle tag. When I arrived Thursday morning, the day before my hunt started, he still hadn’t killed a buck, so I spent the first couple days of my hunt with him and his boy. I had a nephew come spend the next couple of days with me, and we mostly checked the waterholes for deer and tracks since it was hot and dry with that same forecast for the rest of the hunt. We saw few deer but did find a nice velvet stag buck living in a pocket, a great end of hunt buck if needed.


My sister’s husband, Mike, met me the next evening to hunt until I killed or ran out of days. We had hunted together a lot in the past. Mike is a good hunter and a fun guy to have around as well as handy when the work starts. The plan was to hunt the desert and glass until we turned something up. Shortly after the sun came up, I spotted a small 4-point alone and on the move. After glassing a bit, we moved on.


A while later, driving down the road, I got a gut feeling to pull over and glass. Mike asked what I was doing, and I said let’s get up on this hill and take a look. I grabbed my 22-250 off the seat, walked up, and sat down. I had been glassing a few minutes when I found what I was sure was the back fork of a buck’s horn. He was in thick brush and never would move. I tried showing Mike where he was, but it was even hard for me to find him if I took my glasses off him. I decided to move a little higher up the hill to get a different angle, and when I did, he got nervous and headed out. Mike said, “He’s leaving, and you might wanna look at shooting that buck.” Still looking through my glasses, I could tell he was heavy and had some extra points and started thinking I better trade the binoculars for a rifle.


The brush was so tall that I could find his horns but not much more. When he hit a small opening, I shot and watched him go down in my scope. Learning from past experience, I told Mike to watch him and got up higher to see better. Just as I was getting settled behind the scope, Mike hollered and said, “He’s up and leaving!” I quickly found him again and sent another one through a small opening and watched him drop again. I had Mike come up where I was sitting while I watched and then took time to reload before slowly walking out to a spot I had picked out as a landmark. What I found made my legs start to shake to the point I had to sit down. I’d hunted Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho,and my home state of Utah several times. I had the honor of watching my wife kill a 215" buck some years back. I’d been privileged to help my kids kill several nice deer as well as many for myself, but to kill a deer like the one laying at the side of me fulfilled a lifelong dream.


This was not a two-day hunt. My friends and family who know me well understand the time and effort spent shooting, exercising, and studying that I put in, and yes, sometimes we all need a little good luck.


Thanks to those who helped make it happen and to Mike for being there to share in the moment, one I won’t soon forget.

Arizona Deer