Base Circumference: 4 7/8 Inches (Right) / 5 Inches (Left)
By: Brett Ross and Boone and Crockett Club
Most do-it-yourself (DIY) hunters understand inconsistencies from year to year. Some years you can tag out on opening morning. Other years, you get skunked.
Enter, the mountain. This mountain has always been the one constant in my life — the thing that has always been there and has never changed. I’ve been roasting marshmallows in the same fire pit for almost two decades now, and my family has many years of history on what we affectionately call the “hunting hill.” Our family photo album has several old pictures of my grandpa on the ol’ hunting hill. Pops has been hunting the area for 42 years, and I’ve been up there with him for 16 of them (minus the four I spent in the Marine Corps).
The weekend before every hunting season, we head up the mountain, set up the tents and cut firewood. The night before opening day, we all sit around and make a game plan for the morning. This year was no exception. With a game plan laid out and a hot breakfast in our belly, it was finally time to go fill the freezer. Pops and my little sister headed off in one direction while my fiancé and I headed off in another. Levi and Nate split the difference.
We didn’t have much luck on that outing. Later on, Levi, Kirstie and I rode into an area where I felt the pressured animals might be hunkered down. It was a spot with good water and thick vegetation.
Less than a half mile into our hike, I spotted a few deer — eight does and no bucks, so we continued our hike. Already on the alert, I suddenly stopped for a second and turned in Levi’s direction to see him frantically waving his arms at me. I slowly maneuvered over and kneeled next to him behind the pine he was using as cover.
Levi pointed and whispered, “There’s your buck.”
I swiftly brought my rifle to my shoulder, rested my cheek on the cold, wooden stock and looked through the scope at my target. Almost instantly I saw him. Then came the adrenaline. Levi had already told me it was a buck, but I still wanted confirmation. The deer’s head was completely hidden behind the branches, making the investigation difficult.
Levi came over and started taking off my pack. I released one arm at a time from my rifle, keeping a bead on the deer’s shoulder through my scope. I asked Levi to range the deer for me. He grabbed the range finder out of my pack and slid the pack to my side. As he was ranging the buck, I plopped the pack on a small, downed log in front of me and got a good rest in the prone position. Just as Levi whispered, “He’s at 230,” the deer turned its head slightly.
I took one last deep breath and slowly let it out, settling the crosshairs on my target. With a slow squeeze of the trigger, the quiet woods erupted with a loud boom from my muzzle.
Levi’s words of confirmation soon followed, “You got him. You got him good.”
After the shot, I saw a quick flash of the deer before he disappeared behind the tree. I asked myself, “Did he drop just out of sight? Was it as good of a shot as I thought? Is this deer hurt bad, or is he long gone?”
Moments after hearing the shot, Kirstie appeared from the trees.
“What’d ya get?” she asked.
Before I could respond, Levi fired back saying, “Brett just killed his buck.”
We slowly made our way over to where the deer had been when I shot. As we got closer, it was very apparent that the buck was not where I had shot at him. I kept questioning, “Did I hit him good, or miss him altogether?” We stopped and glassed several times along the way to watch for any movement, still hoping he was hit and hadn’t made it very far.
All at once, the three of us saw him. “He’s down!” I said, giving Levi a fist pound and Kirstie a big hug. He had made his way downhill, but only a few hundred yards before crashing.
The entire front end of the deer was hidden in the pines, so all we could see was his hind end kicking. Not having a clear follow-up shot, we sat and waited until it appeared he had died. At that point, Kirstie said she’d hike back to get the pack frames from camp, while Levi and I got to work on the deer.
We were grinning from ear to ear the whole way down to the deer, excited to have gotten a shot, and excited to see the buck for the first time. As Levi glassed to catch a glimpse of the deer, I saw a reaction that could only mean one thing. All at once he spun and looked at me with utter shock on his face and choked out the words, “He’s a freaking toad.” Instantly, my heart rate went through the roof. I’d never seen this level of excitement from my best friend of 14 years.
“Come here,” he said. “You’ve got to see this.”
When I came around the trees and saw the giant buck on the ground, I couldn’t help but drop to a knee. There was no way this could be real. With my pack on my back and my rifle slung over my shoulder, I had to place a hand flat on the ground to keep my balance. I couldn’t speak. I could hardly breathe. The deer I shot only had three points that I could see through my scope; the deer I was looking at now had a massive nest of tangled antlers reaching out in every direction.
After a few moments, I gathered myself only enough to look over to Levi and see that he was crouched down just like me, clearly experiencing the same shock. At my feet was a buck of every hunter’s dreams. The buck and the situation leading up to this moment seemed unreal. It was a feeling of shock, disbelief, overwhelming happiness and honor. With a huge smile painted on my face, I traced every tine with my hands, in complete admiration.
Once the photos were taken and the deer was gutted and quartered, we began the pack out. We devised a plan to get everything out in one trip. Levi took half of the buck and our hunting packs on his pack frame. I carried the other half of the buck along with the head and cape. Kirstie grabbed all three rifles, and we started our hike back to the four-wheelers. It had been dark for a few hours now, making every step on the steep, unforgiving Colorado terrain even more difficult.
I couldn’t wait to show Pops my bloody hands and what I had just harvested. As we pulled into camp, I knew they could only slightly make out what was behind me on the quad when I heard Pops shout out, “You’re not supposed to shoot the babies!” I pulled right past him into the light of camp and came to a stop.
When I looked back at him, I saw a look on his face I had only seen twice before in my life — the day I graduated boot camp and the day I arrived home from Iraq. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. Kirstie loves telling the story about how Pops and I didn’t sleep a wink that night.
Looking back on the events of that day, I can’t help but have a sense of pride. The real reward for me, though, isn’t that I killed a world-class deer; it’s that I killed a world-class deer on my family’s hunting hill while hunting for meat. For generations, my family has hunted to provide food. We’ve never hunted for taxidermy mounts. I now realize the magnitude of the situation. I have joined a group of very few hunters throughout history that have harvested a mule deer of this caliber.
In a sense, it’s a victory for the everyday public-land hunter who goes out year after year without a governor’s tag or trophy unit landowner voucher. Hopefully it will help keep their hopes of harvesting a giant mule deer alive. Here I am, an average Joe who is telling my story about the unmatched satisfaction of an ethical public-land DIY hunt.
Editor’s Note: The Boone & Crockett Club has long been a conservation organization that stands and strives for the preservation and well-being of all big game animals, but especially the mule deer. As one of America's most popular game species, it carries a storied history and a promising future.