Regrettably, I had no one in my family to mentor me into the hunting world. Since the college years left me little time to hunt, it wasn’t until after graduation that I really began to pursue opportunity in the field with bow in hand. Mule deer is Chapter One of my award-winning book, BAREBOW!, for the simple reason that a muley doe was the first big-game animal ever to succumb my fledgling hunting skills — some 51 years ago, back in 1964.
After that, I started having a bit more success with my hunting efforts in the years that followed. “Breaking the ice” had not been easy, but each of the next two seasons yielded me a Columbia Blacktail doe as Chapter 2 from BAREBOW! makes mention of those modest successes, while at the same time recounting a few tales of misadventure and/or outright failure. I have found over my hunting lifetime that “hunter’s luck” is a slippery commodity — a diaphanous intangible that comes and goes like pockets of early-morning ground fog in late autumn.
My run of good luck picked up again a few years later, in 1971, by producing my first Pope and Young Records Book animal. It was my second mule deer, but my first buck of any kind. Thanks to John Roser, an old friend from Mercer Island, Washington, this exciting adventure took place on Antelope Island, in the Great Salt Lake of Utah. John’s father-in-law, the late Bill Olwell of Salt Lake City, owned the island back then and used it for himself, his family and friends as a private hunting preserve. Neither Bill nor John was a deer hunter, but both were nimrods passionate about hunting waterfowl, as well as chukar partridge. Antelope Island held (at least back then) a very healthy population of that wonderful upland game bird. A few years later, sometime during the 1970s, the island was sold to the state of Utah and it has been a state park ever since.
In September of 1971, however, John talked his father-in-law into inviting me on one of their bird-hunting expeditions to the island — with the clear understanding that I would be free to hunt either chukars or deer, but only if I agreed to limit myself to the bow-and-arrow for weaponry. Since I had no interest in hunting any other way that condition was easy to accept. I was thrilled, to say the least!
There was only one house on the island and that was inhabited by the fellow Olwell hired to live there year-round as rancher, caretaker and watchman for the property. The caretaker was allowed to take one deer per year off the island, but — other than that — the entire, healthy deer population went completely unhunted. It all seemed much too good to be true!
On the first morning of the hunt, the three of us arrived in two vehicles via the old dike road, which served as an unreliable land-bridge, because — at certain times of the year — it was somewhat underwater when the wind was blowing in the wrong direction on the lake. By the time we were able to start hunting, it was quite late in the morning and I figured I might as well go after chukars during the middle part of the day, while the deer were all hunkered down in their beds.
I remember that the weather was hot and the hillsides quite brushy in places. I purposefully went off in a different direction from my hosts, but we agreed to meet back at the trucks around 2pm for lunch. They were already at the rendezvous spot when I showed up a few minutes late. They’d each taken several birds and wanted to know if I’d had any action.
“Not much,” I replied, trying to mask the smile that wanted to spread over my face. “I didn’t bring back a deer, but I did bring you a chukar to add to the pot.” I watched my friends’ jaws drop open in disbelief and as the words “You’re kidding!” assailed my ears, I quickly slid a fat partridge out of my daypack and dropped it on the tailgate. The broad grin could not be restrained any longer and, as two hands thrust toward me in congratulations, the questions began to fly.
“Guess I just got lucky,” I started out, knowing full well that this was the actual truth of the matter. I explained that I had practically stepped on a covey of birds before it broke cover. When the flurry of feathers (and my startled nerves) had settled down, I noticed there was one straggler who’d stayed behind.
Strutting back and forth under the spread of a low, compact sagebrush bush, he must have thought he was hidden from my view. It seemed he was having a hard time making up his mind whether or not to take flight and rejoin his departed companions. I decided to help him put an end to his lack of resolution and with one well-placed shot, taken from about 15 yards, I spitted him on my arrow. Within five seconds, the matter was resolved for good.
Thus began, most auspiciously, my first-ever bowhunt in Utah. After lunch, Bill Olwell headed back home to the city and John and I drove in the other direction to search for a good place to set up camp. While assuring me he could erect the tent without any help, John urged me to climb on foot toward the top of the island and start glassing for the deer that would soon be up and feeding again in the late afternoon. I needed no second urging.
I don’t think I’d been climbing for 10 minutes before I picked out, with the unaided eye, two fine bucks about 150 yards away on the far side of a shallow draw. At first I thought they were traveling together, but their feeding activity soon took them in different directions. The heavy-horned 4×5 fed toward me for a while, but then turned away and fed straight up the hill and out of sight. The other buck was just a 3×2, but he was definitely “high, wide, and handsome!” More importantly, he was continuing to feed in my direction.
My position on the rather naked hillside provided virtually no cover, so as the buck fed across the bottom and up onto my side of the draw, I simply dropped to my knees and waited to see what drama might unfold. Before I knew it, opportunity was knocking — my quarry broadside to me, just 20 yards below. When he turned his head downhill to take a nip of grass, I came to full draw. Before I could even refine my aim, the buck swung his head around and began feeding on his uphill side. That immediately placed one antler directly over his rib cage, effectively denying me the shot I really wanted. Nearly half a minute at full draw, with no further movement on the buck’s part, forced me to let down in silent frustration. There was no air stirring and I was amazed he hadn’t caught my motion — OR heard something!
Eventually he took a step forward, straightening out his neck and I ever so slowly returned to full draw. The buck had already rubbed all the velvet from his antlers in preparation for the upcoming mating madness and his freshly-polished rack glinted beautifully in that golden sunlight which only the magic of certain, special, early evenings can produce. When I finally released my arrow, there was no doubt in my mind but what it would find both lungs and prove quickly fatal. What really surprised me was the thonk I heard as my broadhead buried itself in a hardwood log, 20 yards beyond the deer, at the bottom of the draw. Even though it had passed right through the animal, I still needed my hunting knife to dig it out.
The handsome buck ran off downhill, lickety-split, dead on its feet, but not knowing it for perhaps 60 seconds or so. I lost sight of him within moments, though not long after that, I thought I heard him “crash” in the dry autumn leaves of the gulley below. In my excitement, it certainly didn’t take long to get back to camp and recruit John for the recovery search.
It was, however (with darkness coming on), a search I wanted to postpone for a while, just to play it safe and not take any chances on pushing a wounded deer out of the bed he would die in — or more likely, was already dead in. So we made supper first, over which I recounted my story for John and then we grabbed our flashlights and headed up into the nearby gulley. I don’t recall the search lasting for more than 10 minutes. And I shall never forget my initial feelings of gratefulness and joy (in that order) when the buck’s lifeless form suddenly showed up in the bright circle of light from our search-lamps.
For records-keeping purposes, both the Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club stipulate that a trophy animal’s skull, horns or antlers must dry naturally (at ambient room temperature) for 60 days before being measured by an official scorer. Once back home in Bellevue, Washington, I began to think about my splendid Utah buck and wonder if he might possibly score high enough to make the minimum of 140 inches required (at that time) for entry into the Pope and Young Records.
Minimum entry-level scores for the B and C “Book” are significantly higher than P and Y minimums for most species because rifle entries are accepted as well. In fact, Boone and Crockett set up its records-keeping program over a century ago for scientific purposes: namely, to register, for each type of North American big game, the largest and most magnificent specimens that Mother Nature has managed to produce over time. Even the skulls, horns and antlers of deceased animals found in the wilds on the ground are entered in the B and C Records, provided they score high enough for entry.
Indeed, several World Records (including the Grizzly Bear and the Desert Bighorn Sheep) are listed as “Picked Up.” In the case of so-called “pickups,” no hunter’s name is referenced — only the owner’s name. The Pope and Young Records, on the other hand, accept only qualifying entries that have been harvested by legitimate archery hunting under the canons of Fair Chase. Crossbow entries are not accepted.
On the 61st day after taking my Antelope Island buck, I drove over to the home of my friend, Mark Haugen, who had recently become an official P and Y Measurer. Mark came up with a score of 140 1/8 and I was thrilled to think that my “trophy” buck had “made book,” as the saying goes — albeit just barely! The rack had measured over 27-inches wide. Its main beams were around 25-inches long and in addition to a pair of respectable brow tines, there was a 14-inch G-2 tine coming off each main beam. This was definitely a trophy-class set of antlers in terms of its basic frame, but its overall score was badly hurt by the fact that the nine-inch G-3 on the left side didn’t have any G-3 to match it on the right side. Since both the P and Y and B and C scoring rules penalize antlers for any lack of symmetry, this meant that my buck had to be scored as if it were a forkhorn. That beautiful third point might as well not have been there at all, for all the help it gave the final net score!
Roughly two weeks after I mailed off Mark’s official scoring form, along with my application fee and the requisite photographs, I received a surprise phone call from — of all people — Glenn St. Charles. Glenn had been the driving force behind the founding of the Pope and Young Club, but aside from being one of quite a few official Measurers spread around the country, he had nothing to do with the records-keeping back east in the Club’s home office.
“Congratulations, Dennis!” Glenn began. “I understand you took a really nice buck in Utah this fall.”
“Yes, I got lucky,” I replied, not knowing what to expect next.
Glenn continued, “Say, I hate to put you to a lot of extra trouble, but would you mind bringing those antlers down to my shop sometime later this week so I can rescore them?”
Rather stunned by the question and feeling just a twinge of anxiety, I said, “Sure, I can do that, Glenn, but was there some problem with Mark Haugen’s score sheet?”
“Not that I know about,” Glenn responded, “but I got a call today from headquarters, and our Records Chairman asked me if I would re-measure your buck, since Mark is a newly appointed Measurer without much experience under his belt yet. They are also concerned back there because your head scores so very close to the minimum for entry. You see, we just raised the minimum score a few months ago for the Typical Mule Deer category from 135 to 140 — precisely so that no forkhorn could ever ‘make book.’ At least that’s what we thought!”
“OK, Glenn,” I said, now really starting to worry. “I’ll bring the horns down tomorrow afternoon. See you then!” As I replaced the phone in its cradle, I found myself wondering if perhaps Mark’s inexperience might have caused him to make a mistake in the scoring that could cost me my records-book animal. One eighth-of-an-inch, after all, didn’t allow much room for error.
As things turned out, however, my worry was for naught. Glenn’s final net score on my buck turned out to be 140 3/8”. Mark was vindicated and I was much relieved. It was with quite a chuckle that I read a few months later in the next P and Y Newsletter an article about the Records Committee voting to raise the minimum entry score for Typical Mule Deer from 140 to 145 (which is where it remains today). My “trophy” would go in the Club’s Records, all right, but henceforward it would take an even better buck than mine to get there. And, quite frankly, I had to agree that that was probably the way it really ought to be.
The BAREBOW! Sagas – Adventure and Misadventure in the Wilds of North America
Dennis Dunn doesn’t just tell hunting stories; he shares his dreams, his victories, his disappointments, his wisdom and he teaches from his knowledge and experience. The BAREBOW! Sagas will not only acquaint you with the sweet taste of success and the bitter agony of defeat; they will convince you that well-regulated hunting sustains the use of wildlife and gives the animals increased value to justify their conservation and preservation. In this series, Dennis takes you along on his quest for the North American Big Game 29 Super Slam. A bow, a string, an arrow – no trigger, no peep-sights, no pins – just fingers, guts and instinct. That’s hunting BAREBOW! To learn more about Dunn’s award-winning book (from which the above story was taken), or to order a copy of BAREBOW!, you may visit the author’s website at: www.barebows.com.