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A "You Just Know" Deer

May 2023
Story by Nick Bockwinkle
State: Wyoming
Species: Deer - Mule

Putting my hands on a 200" mule deer had always been my dream since I first became obsessed with deer hunting. Living in Wisconsin, this wasn’t going to happen near home, so every year since I was 17, I was throwing applications all around the West to accumulate points. Fast forward about nine years and I had a tag in hand. I was flying with my dad to the Jackson, Wyoming airport to meet with Tre Heiner of Double Diamond and Greys River Outfitters to make that hunt happen. Tre had kept me updated over the summer, saying it was going to be a good year and the quality of the deer looked very promising, so my anticipation was very high.

After six hours, 1,300 miles, and putting my rental car through all it had to offer, we were pulling into our wall tent camp nestled deep in the National Forest. While we sat in camp that evening, we went over the game plan for the following morning. Another hunter named Bill and I would go after a 190"+ typical that was known to be living in a basin. They had attempted to kill this buck the last two seasons but to no avail. We planned to set up on opposite sides of the basin and hoped one of us would have an opportunity at the deer, knowing there would be other hunters after him. Kelby, our guide, had made sure to get eyes on the buck the morning before we arrived. The spot was a ways from camp, so the 2:30 a.m. wakeup call came early. We ate a quick, delicious breakfast and then we were saddling and loading horses and pulling out of camp what seemed like shortly after just falling asleep.

At 4 a.m., we were on horseback making our way up the mountain in the dark. My dad, the second hunter, Bill, our guides, Tyson and Kelby, and I all made our way up the mountain to get in position for daylight. The sudden bugles of some bull elk no further than 50 yards from us was a surprise as we crested the ridge. The herd busted out all around us in the darkness, and the screaming bugles continued as they made their way down the mountain. We rode the last hundred yards and quickly tied off the horses as daylight was getting closer. Tyson and Bill split up from us and made their way to their vantage point. My dad, Kelby, and I worked our way around the opposite side of the basin. We scurried along the shale edge, trying not to skyline ourselves, to get in position before daylight.

As daylight appeared, we could see another hunter making his way into the basin. The deer had not yet shown himself, so all of us were intense knowing there would be competition for this deer. Suddenly, the deer made his way out of his bed that was in a small pocket of pines and offered Bill and Tyson a 350-yard shot. Hearing the shot ring out from across the basin, I was happy to know that one of us had gotten the deer.

We watched for the next 45 minutes to see if any of his comparable buddies would make a surprise appearance, but there wasn’t any excitement besides a large bull moose making his way through the basin. Figuring that with all the excitement something would have shown itself by now, we called it and everyone made their way down to the bottom of the basin.

We found the buck at the edge of the small island of pines with his heavy-horned, typical frame towering over the brush. Everyone was pumped about the buck being down, and a lot of hugs and high fives were exchanged. Bill had killed one heck of a buck. The deer was quartered, and we made our way to the horses.

The mentality of the hunt quickly changed, and we were putting together a game plan on where to go for the evening. Kelby asked if I wanted to stay in the area and hunt the other buck that was very comparable or go someplace different for a deer that Tre had kept tabs on throughout the summer. Having a gut feeling about the second option, we opted for that. With all the excitement, noon came quickly and we were trailering the horses into a new area and made our way back up the mountain. This time, the ride was a little more adventurous and we were bushwhacking our way through the pines to reach the backside of the mountain that the deer would be feeding on in the late evening hours.

We crossed the ridge and dropped down below. The horses were tied up, and we all tried not to look behind us at the rainstorm approaching. Thirty minutes later, Kelby, Tyson, my dad, and I were all sitting under a big pine with raingear on and eyes glued to the steep slope above us.

A couple hours passed, and the rain dwindled to a drizzle and deer started to appear. A forked horn and a clean 170" buck made their way across the slope. He was a good-looking deer but not the buck Tre had described to Kelby. As we continued to glass from our vantage point, some does and two bucks appeared high above the trees. My dad pointed in the direction, and everyone looked at the deer. We all looked at each other and knew it was a “you just know” caliber deer that you don’t think twice about. With my heart feeling like it was going to break through my chest, I set my rifle up and dialed the turret for the 530-yard shot. I steadied myself for the steep shot. I shot, and the deer jumped. Everyone started coyote howling to keep the deer in place, and I squeezed off two more shots, which sent the deer rolling down the hill. Of course, I was concerned that I had missed, but everyone reassured me the deer was down. Then the question came, “So, how big do we think he is?” The reply was, “Uh, 190 minimum with some junk.”

We didn’t waste any time as we made our way up the slope to get our hands on the deer. My legs were absolutely burning and cramping the final 100 yards, to the point that I was crawling on all fours. Tyson and Kelby, who were a little bit better with the elevation and terrain than I was, managed to get there first. I saw the looks on their faces and their body language as they spread their arms wide open, saying he was huge. The first thing I saw was the stickers and cheaters coming off both sides, and I felt like I was dreaming for a moment. It was surreal to have the buck-of-a-lifetime in hand. The deer had a 33.5" outside spread and 18 scorable points. He checked all the boxes for being the deer I dreamed of. Everyone was ecstatic, and we set up some photos and made quick work of taking care of the buck.

The four of us made our way back to the truck on the horses in the darkness, and I reflected on the fact that I had thought about taking a deer of this caliber my entire life and it finally happened. We made our way to the wall tent camp, and the tape measure came out. My deer went 200" on the dot, and Bill’s was just over 190" and some change. What a day!

After a couple days of hiking and fishing in the area surrounding camp, I made my way back home and ended my Wyoming adventure only to dream of coming back and doing it again. Tre Heiner and his crew are truly the best in the business.