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Once-in-a-Lifetime Buck

February 2022
Story by Brendon Rosales
Hunters: Antoinette Rosales
State: New Mexico
Species: Deer - Mule

As a professional New Mexico hunting guide, I’ve been able to be a part of some special hunts all over the country. However, none have come close to this specific hunt. Running a professional hunting company in New Mexico, I apply most of our hunters. Before deadline time approached, I asked my wife, Antoinette Rosales, if she wanted to apply for anything. We talked about it for about five minutes, and to her knowledge, she wasn’t applying for anything. I talked to our little girl, Reighlyn Rosales (aka Rynni), and she said, “Dad, let’s just go deer hunting,” so that’s what we did. Putting Antoinette in for all tough draws, I put her third choice in a unit that I’d grown up in all my life and had killed some amazing deer in. When draw results came out in mid-April, overwhelmed with hunters calling and scheduling, I overlooked our personal draw results. About a week after results posted, I broke the news to Reighlyn and Antoinette. They were both filled with excitement being that we could all hunt together and that she drew her third choice first season rifle. This was a hunt we could do right from our house and not have to go camping.

We immediately started scouting in preparation for the hunt. We had a few target bucks that we had hunters pass on from the previous year. We were faced with a horrible early summer drought that really moved deer around. When our rainy season finally made an appearance in July, I had lost track of our #1 and #2 bucks. As hunting season began, our scouting trips were put on hold. About every two or three weeks, I would have my cousin check cameras and sign of bucks. With little to no luck, we were starting to get worried.

About three weeks prior to the hunt, one of the elk guides spotted a mid to upper 180" buck. We were trying to target a buck that would be north of the 180" range, so we were being very selective. We donated a lot of our time trying to lay eyes on the buck that had been seen. We came up short after looking at about 8-10 bucks, none being the right deer. Our muzzleloader deer season was the week prior to Antoinette’s rifle hunt. I had to guide a hunter that week, and we started in the area where the big buck was last seen. We started glassing that morning and turned up a group of bucks. We made a move down and found ourselves 300 yards away. We made quick work of the shot and had ourselves a 170" buck. When we showed up at the lodge, Antoinette and Reighlyn were there to greet us and look at the buck. They were convinced that was the big buck that had been seen. We then found out from the elk guide that the buck we had shot was not the deer that he had seen the week before. With four days before the hunt, we wasted no time trying to locate the buck. Every day after school and work, we would spend a lot of time on the glass trying to locate the big buck.

With two days left before the hunt and a shooter buck not yet located, we were starting to second guess our decision on a deer bigger than 180". Reighlyn was very motivated and confident that we could turn up the biggest buck, so we stuck to our guns. We found ourselves the night before opening day without a buck located. Antoinette decided to spend opening day at the last location where we had seen the big 4, our #1 buck. July was the last time we had laid eyes on the deer.

After the morning hunt, Reighlyn wanted to go eat at our favorite lunch restaurant. After our bellies were full, we returned in search of a shooter buck, but we later headed home with sore eyes from 9+ hours on glass.

The next morning, we woke up one hour later than we had hoped due to daylight savings. We stopped by the gas station and everyone got something for a quick breakfast. Reighlyn got her chocolate donuts and miIk for the drive. We parked the truck and jumped on the side-by-side for about a four- minute ride. We showed up to our glassing location and turned up a buck in the first five minutes. He was about four miles away, and we decided to get a closer look. We packed up and hiked down the ridge to the buck. Antoinette, Reighlyn, my brother, Brice, and I found ourselves 75 yards from the buck we had seen. After looking closely, we knew he wasn’t a buck we wanted to harvest on day two of the hunt.

We regrouped and started turning up a few more bucks. We found a buck in a group of five that we were contemplating on shooting when Reighlyn whispered, “Dad, Mom, look at that one on top of the hill.” We all shifted our attention to that area and noticed a deer with his head down so we could not see antlers. When the deer raised his head, we knew that he was a shooter. We quickly made an attempt to get a shot before the deer bedded. We were not quick enough.

The deer bedded, and we knew we would be there for a while, so we asked Reighlyn (aka Rynni) if she was good to miss lunch and stay out all day. She was a trooper at 8 years old. She opted to stay so that her mom could kill the deer. As we sat there on the bedded buck at 570 yards for three and a half hours set up in a prone position, the other bucks started to get up out of their beds and feed around. Finally, the big buck decided to stand and feed. By this time, we were getting a 10-mph wind at our location, so we held for wind. The buck presented us with a shot, and Antoinette fired a round. The bullet hit true, a clean miss about 5" in front of the buck’s shoulder. He ran about 20 yards and started feeding. Before she could get a follow-up shot, the buck bedded again. We made the decision to back out, and we made the trek back to the Ranger and headed out. Reighlyn was pretty upset because she wanted to come hunting with us the next day and not go to school.

We woke up early that morning and headed out. We parked the Ranger and made it to our glassing point. As the sun began to come up, we started to turn up deer but not the big buck. As minutes turned into hours with no sign of the buck, everyone started getting very anxious. At around 12 p.m., Reighlyn and I hiked over to the opposite ridge and turned up the big buck feeding up the ridge that we had left Brice and Antoinette on. We hustled over to them. Once we reached them, we saw the bucks feeding to the place where he had bedded the day before. We made the stalk down to a flat spot where we could take a shot. I was watching through the spotting scope, Antoinette was behind the gun, and Rynni was behind the phone recording the whole thing. Boom! The gun went off, and Rynni yelled, “You smoked him, Mom! I wasn’t plugging my ears.” We watched the buck tumble down the ridge, coming to a standstill before a rock outcropping where we were able to get a follow-up shot.

When we walked up on the buck, we were all in shock that there was no ground shrinkage. In fact, it was the exact opposite. We sat back, and Rynni ran up to the buck and said, “Mom, this is a bigger deer than everyone’s!” We all laughed. We took the tape out, and it was no surprise the buck was north of the 200" mark. The true memory of this hunt was not the size of the deer but the memories we spent with our 8-year-old daughter who spent the hunt with us from start to finish.

It’s with a very sad and broken heart that I write this story with tears rolling down my face. Our little girl, Reighlyn, passed away in a car accident with my aunt who raised me like a mother “Aunt Tooter.” This puts a whole new meaning to a buck-of-a-lifetime. The time spent with Rynni on this hunt will be with us for the rest of our lives, and she will be with us forever in our hearts. Life has changed as we knew it, and we never thought this would be our last hunt together as a family, but we are extremely blessed for the time we spent together on the mountain. We live life to the fullest every day as Rynni did, like a ray of sunshine. #radiantlikeRynni. She loved life. Thank you to all of our family and friends who made this hunt possible and cheered us on.

New Mexico Deer