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By Joe Lewis

Hunting Mule Deer in Goat Country

The alpine meadow glowed with the moonlight reflecting off the granite cliffs all around. A quick chill ran down my arm and through my sticky fingers. My pack lay next to me loaded with meat and horn. The sweet familiar smell drifted in the air as I looked out over the mountain tops. A light bugle whistled below – down towards the valley floor where I stared this adventure.

Two days ago I was just another anxious Bowhunter wearing through the soles of my Danners on a typical back-country trail. I had a place in mind, a special place, so I just hiked right on in.

Five miles past, I spotted a bear on the right side of the valley. He was coming down to the creek for an Joe Lewis Mule Deer Huntingevening drink. I had already filled my bear tag, so pulled out my camera instead. The wind was perfect as I sneaked in behind some young alpine fir trees.

I passed the trees at 30 yards and continued on to 15. The bear munched on leaves and picked at the ground while I filmed. As the sun went down, I realized I didn’t want to be this close after dark, so I let him know I was there. He scampered off into the trees.

The next morning started out with a quick inventory of my things to make sure that bear hadn’t got into anything. I was lucky. After a quick breakfast, I began the grueling climb up the side of the mountain. It would be a 2,500 foot climb up shale ravines, dried waterfalls, and faint goat trails. Coming over the top of the mountain I saw a nice 4x4 buck running across a steep slope. He must have smelled me since the wind was going downhill on his side of the mountain. No way to catch up with him so I went a bit further and set up to glass for the evening. A herd of elk with several energetic calves played in a meadow below as the sun went down.

I got an early start the next morning to do the final 7 hours of the hike before the temperature would spike. The final climb up the backside of the ridge, I wanted to glass from, had me breathing pretty hard. I Goat Joe Lewis Mule Deer huntgot to the top by noon. I was hungry and sore and the sun was beating down already – but I was finally there. I took a jar of peanut butter from my pack, grabbed my spotting scope and bow, and went to find my buck. Peaking over the cliffs at the first spot I didn’t see anything so I went to the next. Bingo! 5 nice mule deer were bedded under some Alpine fir trees out on a steep ridge finger. They all faced different directions.

A doe wandered around them, constantly on guard. Between me and them were a hundred feet of cliffs and several hundred yards of loose rock. I was more than intimidated.

Sitting up in the cliffs, playing the situation in my head like a chess game, I came to realize two things: one, they were in the least terrible of all the terrible places they could be, and two, I needed to move now Joe spotting trophiesor they just might go somewhere really bad. It was all or nothing. I raced back to my pack, drank some water, ate all my food, and rubbed dirt on my arms and legs.

I descended the cliffs rock by rock, not making a move without first thinking about it. The bucks were at ease when I reached the loose rocks and weeds at the bottom. I plucked weeds and stuffed them into my waistline to break up my outline as I slid down the mountainside on my back. I positioned myself in the middle of the meadow at nearly the same elevation as the bucks. The bucks occasionally came out to eat, never quite coming close enough. The velvet had just come off their antlers so they wrestled and fought over beds all afternoon.    

Laying out in the meadow, the high-elevation sun blistered my lips and ears. The rock I wedged under my butt to stop me from sliding down the hill was wearing in a bruise. Hours passed. Thoughts of the bucks never coming into range were killing me. If they didn’t come, I would be hiking back to the truck.

Two mature Billy goats soon popped out of the rockwork. They worked themselves within 80 yards and bedded down. I told myself I was fortunate to be there, the experience was enough, even without a kill.

Without notice, all five buck jumped out of their beds at a dead run; luckily straight towards me. I propped up in anticipation. They soon stopped running and began feeding.

Unreal, they continued to feed my way and crossed below not 40 yards away. There were three nice 4x4’s, a 3x3, and the buck I decided to shoot – a huge 3x4. My buck was the last to come into range. He stood broadside at forty yards downhill so I set Joe Lewis Trophy Mule Deermy thirty yard pin on his chest and let her fly. At the last second he moved, but he was too late, the arrow was already on its way. Crack! The arrow plowed right down the top of his neck and straight through the center of his heart. I yelled out in victory into the high-mountain winds. It was an all-or-nothing hunt - and I took it all.