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June 2024
Story by Hudson Lopeman
State: Arizona
Species: Deer - Mule

There’s nothing in life more exciting than accomplishing your dreams and goals. For me, it happened in the fall of 2023. At the age of 15, I may not have as much hunting experience as many others, but the adventures I’ve shared with my dad and his hunting buddies have made me feel like the luckiest kid alive.

Now, I want to share with you why hunting deer is my favorite time of year. I believe it’s because of all the months of pre-scouting with my dad and being able to join him on his hunts before I ever turned 10 years old. These experiences are easily some of my best memories. Having witnessed my dad’s success in harvesting big Coues deer, I have always wanted a big one of my own. In 2022, I drew a youth deer tag which allowed me to hunt before the adults could. Finding a Coues deer that would break the magic number of 100" was my goal. All the scouting and preparation prior to my hunt eventually resulted in harvesting a dream buck that scored 105 3/8". This only fueled my passion even more for hunting big deer.

The anticipation for the deer draw was inevitable. Drawing back-to- back youth deer tags seemed impossible, but as luck would have it, my name was drawn again. This time, it was strictly for mule deer. Fortunately, my dad’s best friends had hunted the same unit I had drawn. When they heard the news that I drew, they were just as excited as we were and offered their assistance and expertise.

When a team of killers gets together that includes Brett Reyes, Tyler Mott, Arthur Gonzales, Tate Rhoton, Jeff Tysoe, and Marc Darris, you know you are in for the hunt-of-a-lifetime.

Tyler and Brett had been hunting a specific giant typical for three years, encountering numerous unsuccessful hunts with their bows. The opportunity to hunt with them and potentially harvest one of the bucks they had been tracking was at the top of my wish list. The decision was made to go after the biggest buck known in the area, despite the thick terrain he lived in. We knew this could pose a significant challenge. I remember Brett saying, “I hope you have ICE in your veins to kill a buck like this one if you ever get a chance.” I jokingly said, “Of course I do!”

Numerous days of pre-scouting were put in, and they finally located the giant buck, later nicknamed “ICE,” and excitement filled the air. However, the hunt quickly became a test of patience and persistence. Opening morning welcomed us with an amazing sunrise, and within minutes, my dad had glassed up some deer on the hillside. We all turned our optics, and before we could figure out what they were, my dad had already thrown his spotting scope on his tripod and whispered, “They are all bucks.” The top buck in the opening was just a little 2-pointer and the buck on the bottom was a MEGA! My dad instantly said, “It’s him! That is the buck we are looking for!” Blood started to rush down every vein in my body when I heard it was him. However, the thrill was short- lived as other hunters unknowingly disrupted the scene, causing the bucks to vanish quickly into thick cover. Our team faced the daunting task of trying to relocate the giant buck and figure out a way to close the deal.

Days passed with no sign of the elusive buck, prompting strategic discussions on what to do next. A good friend, Marc Darris, later joined us on the hunt. He offered us a fresh perspective and new hunting areas to try out the next day. Despite our best efforts, we were unlucky locating any more shooter bucks that morning.

That afternoon, my dad got a call from Brett saying he was done with school and would love to help us. Brett’s readiness to join the team for the evening provided a welcomed boost. Plans were adjusted, and a return to the hunting grounds was set in motion. The excitement heightened as we returned to the proximity of ICE’s last known location, hoping to glass up the giant buck before dark.

The unpredictable weather took center stage, presenting a dilemma for us. The decision to stay or leave hung in the balance, influenced by the approaching rainstorm. With uncertainty in the air, we were committed to get after it one more time. The anticipation built as we climbed the hill and resumed glassing right after it poured on us. Honestly, the familiar landscapes offered little hope, but the team persisted, driven by the belief that at any given time we just might get lucky and locate ICE.

Amidst the challenges, my dad once again spotted a deer with only 30 minutes of daylight left. The tension rose as Jeff and I turned our optics towards the hillside to locate the same deer. Within seconds, Jeff told my dad, “It’s a little 2-pointer.” My dad said, “ICE has to be here, too, if that’s the same little buck he was with opening morning.” To our amazement, a giant buck entered a small clearing from the thick canopy of junipers into full view just minutes later. The excitement was almost too much to handle as my dad confirmed, “It’s ICE!”

Panic quickly set in as my dad instructed Jeff and me to stay calm while he prepared the gun. The urgency of the moment was heightened by the fact that the gun was stowed away in a cover due to the recent rain. Despite the pressure, Jeff and my dad stayed calm, and my dad quickly put me in the perfect position with the .300 Ultra in hand. The critical moments felt like an eternity as I took my position on the shooting rock, guided by my dad’s instructions to get my breathing right. Now faced with strong winds, chilling temps from the recent rain, and the buck staring directly at me, my dad told me I needed to make a perfect shot. The intensity was insane! A decision was later made to take the shot despite the challenging conditions. This proved that they had confidence in my shooting abilities and that calmed my nerves for whatever reason.

As I focused intently on my crosshairs, I could feel every vessel in my body pumping full of blood. I closed my eyes for a moment to calm my breathing. When I was back in the crosshairs, I slowly squeezed the trigger. The shot echoed through the air, and the immediate impact of a solid hit filled the team with euphoria. Although the buck was hit hard, he remained on his feet. A quick reload and I was right back on ICE for a split second before he disappeared into the junipers. The suspense and nervousness began to rattle my soul.

We held our breath, scanning the area for any sign of movement. The little 2-pointer remained stationary, providing a hopeful indication that ICE was nearby, possibly fatally wounded. Brett, alerted by the shot, reached out on the radio, seeking details of the unexpected turn of events. Excitement and anticipation filled the air as we awaited further developments.

Remaining on high alert, my dad and I maintained our positions. Jeff moved 100 yards down the ridgeline to get a different view. The confirmation from Jeff, who had a clear view that a dead deer was visible, unleashed a wave of unbelief. Christmas morning had arrived once again, filled with unexplainable screams, hugs, and high fives.

Eager to see the giant buck for ourselves, we rushed down to join Jeff and confirm the fate of ICE. I’ll never forget what I saw in Jeff’s Swarovskis, a majestic sight that exceeded all expectations.

Tyler and Tate, notified by Brett, promptly joined the celebration in a matter of minutes. Reliving the events of the hunt, talking about the challenges we faced, and appreciating the triumphant moment of harvesting a dream buck unfolded in animated conversations. The importance of having good friends was never more evident than it was that incredible night. Everyone shared true joy and laughter that I’m sure echoed through the landscape.

As we gathered around the giant typical for some photographs, Brett acknowledged the remarkable feat. “Hudson, you definitely had ICE in your veins to pull off a perfect shot on a buck that big!” The significance of closing this chapter for Tyler and Brett and killing my first mule deer will always be special to me. “Breaking ICE” became the symbol of both challenge and triumph.

Reflecting on the entire experience, from the anticipation of the draw to the final moments of the hunt, gratitude overwhelmed me. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to my dad and his buddies for turning my dreams into reality. The memories of this once-in-a-lifetime deer will forever hold a special place in my heart. The journey back home was filled with exhaustion and a sense of accomplishment as we relived the highs and lows of the hunt. As I look forward to future hunts, I carry with me the lessons learned, the friendships strengthened, and the realization that sometimes dreams do come true in the form of a once-in-a-lifetime buck we called ICE.