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April 2020
Story by Josh Hartig
State: Wyoming
Species: Deer - Mule

The weather on the horizon was not good. We had just arrived at camp, and we were looking down the barrel of a storm for the majority of our hunt. This was a Wyoming high-country mule deer hunt, and visibility was crucial. Our plan was to spot and stalk basins. With the prospects of limited visibility on days two through five of our hunt, we knew we needed to make day one count. Get it done.

That evening, we met our guides. My guide was named Matt, but I preferred to call him Mountain Goat. I considered myself in shape and more than prepared for the high-country trekking ahead, but as soon as I saw him step out of the truck, I could tell Matt walked on springs. My stepdad’s guide was a tall, soft-spoken young man named Spencer. He was somewhat local, and it was clear he knew mule deer. Speaking with the guides in camp, it was clear they all knew mule deer, and more specifically, the inventory in the region with pictures to prove it.

My stepdad, Bill, and I were well prepared and expecting to shoot long distance if necessary given the terrain. We each spent countless hours practicing various distances out to 1,200 yards. Being that I am on the East Coast, it took a considerable amount of effort and time to seek out places to practice. For me, all the practice would be well worth it for the hunt. Bill was another story.

The first morning of the hunt, I was put to the test. We had just dropped in to our first basin. We bumped a large bull moose on the way in and spotted multiple black bears on the other side and a herd of elk with a 330"+ bull tending his cows. I felt like I was on an American safari, and the sun had barely cleared the mountains in the distance.

We posted on one side of the basin and scanned for mule deer. We spotted multiple bucks but nothing we were after. My guide, Mountain Goat, decided to check out the next basin while I kept my eyes on the current one. Before he left, he made it clear, 166 “Keep an eye on that hillside. You don’t know what pops out.”

In a moment made for the Sportsman Channel, I saw what looked to be the tops of antlers coming out of the brush 800 yards away through my binoculars. I rushed over to the spotting scope to get a better look. Shooter. Balancing my decision to run and get Mountain Goat or stay on the deer, I decided to get under the scope and prepare for Mountain Goat’s return. In what equated to a five-minute wait, it felt like an eternity as he finally returned.

Within seconds, I was given the OK and was behind the scope. This was our deer. By the time I shot him, the deer had come in to roughly 650 yards. I had been mule deer hunting before, but this was my first time pulling the trigger on one. All these years I had held out, this was worth it.

After the work was done, I decided to head to town. I had texted back and forth with Bill, and he had seen multiple bucks that morning, including one with a kicker that would really be tipping the books next year. I took my deer to town to be boned out with the expectation of picking him up a week later, after my stepfather had harvested his and we were both tagged out and headed home.

I pulled out of the processor and got a text. It was a grainy picture of one ugly mug but a beautiful buck. I hope you’re reading this right now, Bill! My stepfather had tagged out on a slammer. Two big bucks were down before noon on the same day, the first day of the hunt.

Bill’s guide had put him to work. Bill had fully expected to take a cross basin shot on a buck, 300 to 600 yards was the expectation. However, Spencer had other plans for him. He knew the big boys were laid up in the trees and knew from experience roughly where they would be. On hands, knees, and often bellies, they crawled in to 80 yards. One well-placed 180 grain bullet did the trick, and Bill’s buck was dead where it lay. “I should have brought my bow.”

Our hunt took place in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been with one of the most impressive outfitters I have ever hunted with. Tre Heiner and his crew at Double Diamond Outfitters know what they are doing. Thank you to Mountain Goat Matt, Spencer, Tre, and all the guides and hunters we shared camp with that week. Hunt for the hunt, not the kill.