My girls enjoying the 2012 Deer Hunt.
There are a lot of way’s to determine whether or not a hunt is successful. At the beginning of the 2012 Montana deer hunting season, I had my sights on having a successful deer hunt. My definition of success had a huge rack of antlers attached to a huge Montana Mule Deer buck. This hunt started all the way back to March of 2012. This is the month where all the Montana hunters, with big dreams in their heads, put in for the special draw for deer and elk. Now, I being new to Montana, and not knowing the best or worse areas to try to get drawn for, had placed me at a little disadvantage. I took some time talking with a lot of people about where they would recommend to hunt. Some were not very willing to give me their “secret” spots or the areas that they have hunted for year. Others had some great advice and were very helpful. I did not want to travel very far away from my residence in Billings, but if any of you know anything about Billings, you would know that there is not a lot of public land to deer hunt around the area without a fairly decent drive. After taking some time looking through the hunting information and considering the information gathered from friends and others, I decided to put in for three locations. Two of those areas were highly recommended by those I talked to. The third was a personal decision based on percentage of drawing the tag and it’s close-to-home location. I placed that selection as my third choice and sent in my application. One thing I love about Montana is you don’t have to wait long to get your results back. Unlike other states where you apply and then do the waiting game for months. The day finally arrived and I received my very first Montana Deer hunting tag. Sadly, I was not successful for my first two options, but my third option was marked as being successful and I couldn’t have been happier. I was drawn for the Pryor Mountain Region. The Pryor’s sit at the very far Northwestern end of the Bighorn Mountains located in Northern Wyoming. They are located on the Southwestern edge of the Crow Indian Reservation and approximately 35-45 minutes South of Billings, Montana. I was very excited for the opportunity to get to know this area better. I spend a lot of my time traveling to Cody, Wyoming for work, and have a chance to drive past the Pryor’s with each trip. The area covers a very large area and it has so many different types of topography and habitat. From high alpine mountains to low sagebrush desert, it seemed to me as being a Mule Deer hunters dream location. Many of you may be familiar with the Pryor Mountains due to its very unique heard of wild mustangs. These mustangs were made famous by a documentary done quite a few years ago on PBS, I do believe. With the horses names, such as cloud, etc. You can find this documentary on YouTube. With one look at this you will be able to see the very different habitat it provided. A few days had passed when I bumped into one of the gentleman I had received some good information and suggestions on where to hunt. I told him about my successful draw for the Pryor’s and his immediate response was, “There are NO deer on the Pryor Mountains”. After clearing my head of loud sirens going off and the thumping sound of my heart landing solidly on the ground in front of me, I asked him to repeat what he had just said. He then looked at me with a smile that speaks louder than words, not to mention more hurtful than words, and said “why in the world would you put in for the Pryor’s when you have so many other choices? A standard over-counter deer tag would have been better than hunting the Pryor’s”. Well, needless to say, I was crushed. My hopes of having a successful deer hunt was instantly crushed, and I was getting upset just thinking about waiting another 12 months before I could put in for the 2013 deer hunt. But, it was done, I had a tag and there was nothing I could do to change the area that was typed on that tag. After a few weeks of feeling bad for myself, I decided to make the most of this experience and begin my scouting. My first call was to the Montana Fish & Game office here in Billings. My very first question that came out of my mouth to the nice young lady on the other side of the phone was, “are there any deer on Pryor Mountain”? The sirens were not as loud as they were before and my heart didn’t drop all the way to the ground this time, even though her answer was the same answer given by my friend. I then asked her for the name and number to the local biologist that covered that area. I immediately called the biologist at his office in Red Lodge, Montana. I’m sure you can guess what my first question was to him as soon as he answered the phone. I found myself seeing a very small spark of hope with his comments about the area. He first told me that the Pryor Mountains are considered a very low deer population area. But, the buck/doe ratio was fantastic! The maturity of the bucks was higher, on average, than most other units in the state. He also said that the genetics were such that the bucks grew very heavy antlers with high chances of being non-typical. This gave me hope. All I had to do now was find where there were some deer, and from the sounds of it, if I found deer I would find bucks, and if I found bucks there was a very good chance they would be mature bucks with a good chance of having a heavy-set of antlers with the possibility of being non-typical. After a few months of scouting, calling the biologist and driving by, heading to Cody for work, I was once again slipping back to being frustrated as I had not seen any bucks and only a hand full of does. With one of my trips to Cody I began seeing something that I had not seen, or at least noticed, before. Just before reaching the Wyoming border along highway 72 (the most Western edge of the hunting unit), I noticed huge farms along the Clarks Fork River on my right and some descent sized mountains and ridges on my left. I then thought, there has to be field deer that come off of those hills to come feed and water at night then go up and bed along those ridges and canyons. I immediately called my new friend, the biologist, and talked to him about these thoughts. After a small pause and the sound of his voice reflecting a smile, he told me, “If I were you, and I had your tag, I would hunt those exact hills, draws, and canyons”. He then told me, out of all the deer he has seen alive or at check stations in years past, that area has produced the largest bucks in the entire hunting unit. After I hung up, and after my smile was slowly going down, matching my heart rate, I thought; why didn’t he tell me that before? Then with a smile and a soft laugh, I thought maybe he wasn’t as good of a friend as I thought he was. With that revelation followed by the confirmation from my so-called biologist friend, my hunt was set. First thing opening morning, with two of my daughters in tow, we had driven to our predetermined starting point and began to hike. The morning had a good stiff wind so my initial thoughts were, these deer hate the wind just as much as we do and will want to get out of it as quickly as possible. The wind was blowing from West to East and we were hiking up the East side for this exact reason. After about an hour of hiking we were at the top of the ridge looking down towards the fields along the river to our West. The wind was just horrible and it was difficult to look to the west without the wind burning the eye’s and making tears flow. I decided to walk North along the ridge to find a spot we could sit down, get out of the wind, and allow us to see a huge canyon on the East side of the mountain. My hope was the deer would file their way up the saddle and cross over to the East side and drop into these canyons to get out of the wind and bed down. Now, keep in mind we have not seen a single deer all morning. We had not heard any shots, or seen a lot of sign, so my confidence was shaking a little. In reality, I was starting to turn this hunt from a successful trophy buck hunt into a great time with my two girls. We finally found a perfect spot that allowed us to be out of the wind and yet, watch a large deep canyon. Directly in front of us was a step, or a flat area before it dropped into the canyon. There was also a fairly used deer trail that ran along this step that went left to right. We hadn’t been there for any longer than 30 minutes when the girls were getting a little board. One of my daughters had fallen asleep, only 2-3 feet to my left, and the other had slipped over the top of the ridge behind me to have a look around. So, I decided to get into my pack and find me an apple to munch on before I slipped off to sleep. As I was digging for my apple I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. Looking up, there was a nice 3×3 buck walking along the deer trail directly in front of us. I reached over and tapped my sleeping daughter on the head. She woke, looked at me, and turned her head to see what I was pointing at. She instantly plugged her ears thinking I was going to start shooting. Now, this buck was walking just 30 yards in front of us with a fat belly full of alfalfa, corn, and whatever else was growing in those fields. He had only sleep on his mind and he was headed to his bed. Wanting both of my girls to see this buck, I turned around to see if my other daughter was seeing this. As I turned I saw that she was kneeling on one knee watching this beautiful buck walk by in front of us. She had a huge smile and was loving every second of it. She then looked at me and asked me to shoot him. Although, fewer things make a dad more proud than hearing those words from your daughter, this buck just wasn’t what I was hoping for this early on in the season. But then my other daughter joined her in asking/begging me to shoot. But I kept saying no and allowing this buck to walk slowly to his bed. Then the thought came to my head as to what my true definition of “successful Hunt” really meant. My thought of a huge, heavy horned, non-typical trophy buck was quickly replaced by having my daughters with me, experiencing this incredible moment of this incredibly beautiful buck walking in front of us. What would define a successful hunt better than having this moment with my daughters, and to top it off, allow them to experience me harvesting this beautiful animal. So, the decision was made to go ahead and shoot this deer. The time it took me to decide to take this buck , gave this deer time to go from being 30 yards in front of us to now nearly 130 yards. Making sure my girls were safely behind me, I took a good solid rest with my Browning A-Bolt .270 and set the Redfield scope cross-hairs just behind his left shoulder and squeezed the trigger. This beautiful buck hit the ground and my two beautiful girls jumped in the air screaming with excitement. Once we reached the animal, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of having a very successful hunt. Yes, a trophy buck scored on size of antlers is a wonderful thing. But, a trophy buck scored on the experience, those you are with, and the blessing of having two of my girls to experience it all with is a trophy that will never be topped in my record books. I am so grateful for the opportunity to live in a place where these types of experiences are possible. We are a blessed people in a blessed nation. We need to always do everything within our power to protect these rights and to protect this incredible heritage that we all can experience each and every year. By the way, stopping at the local check station, this buck was aged at 8 years old. Just incredible!