By Mike Deming
Two hours into our first morning of the hunt, my guest, Justin Leesman of ALPS Outdoorz said, “I’ve seen more mature whitetail bucks today than I’ve seen in 10 years of hunting at home in Missouri”. That’s a pretty bold statement, but one I would have to agree with. We were hunting prime rut dates in November and had seen well over 25 mature bucks since daylight. It was obvious that we were in for a great week of hunting.
Choosing a destination, as well as an outfitter to burn your hard earned bonus points with, can be a daunting task. When you only get one point per year, per species and you want to make the most of it, you definitely want to make the right choices. Big Horn Outfitters was our choice for this prime whitetail hunt, but we weren’t leaving this decision up to chance. Big Horn Outfitters was previously known as A Double J Outfitters and when the old owner decided that it was time to move onto other things, his head guide, Rich Sweeney was a great fit to buy his operation. He had already worked the operation for nearly half a dozen years and knew the ins and outs of how things operated. He also grew up in the area and had connections the old owner hadn’t tapped into yet. He partnered with longtime friend and hard core hunter, Dustin Decroo. Dustin had been in the outfitting industry for a number of years and their combined vigor to run a successful operation turned out to be a mixture of drive and quality not often seen in this industry and something I looked forward to experiencing.
I already knew the Bighorn Mountains were home to some quality animals. I had hunted with the previous owners for whitetail, antelope, and even elk. In 2012, I was able to harvest the largest archery bull taken in the state of Wyoming, due to the hard-core scouting done by Rich Sweeney. My bull stretched the tape at over 370 B&C Inches and was a true trophy of a lifetime. So, I knew that a change in the business name wasn’t going to give us any difference in a hunt. At least this is what we thought.
We arrived in Buffalo, Wyoming in the middle of November. Dustin and Rich informed us that the rut was in full swing and that they had been out pulling trail cameras the past couple of days to see where the big boys were concentrated. I had no idea that these guys had leased so much property to chase these rut crazed whitetails on, but by the looks of all the pictures, we were going to have our pick of some pretty good bucks. This area isn’t known for Boone and Crocket whitetail, but sheer numbers and good mature animals is the norm. Killing a buck in the 150’s or even the 160’s isn’t out of the question, but you have to weed through a lot of 140 class deer to get to them. You will have the opportunity to see these guys out in fields nearly all day long.
Justin was chomping at the bit to get out and hunt the first morning. We pulled off of the county road and onto a lookout, which gives an elevated view of a couple miles of river bottom. It was still dark, but the glow to the east said that we would be legal enough to shoot in the next fifteen minutes. There were literally hundreds of bodies moving in and out of the corn and crossing the river to the thicker cover. You could finally start to make out the antlers on the bucks and see which ones were possible shooters and which ones weren’t.
By the time the sun crested the hill, we had already seen fifteen mature bucks and one possible candidate. He was rutting a doe pretty hard and had crossed the river. He was still on property we could hunt, but at this point in time, we were still taking an inventory on the deer we had to hunt. I’d never seen this many deer out and active except in a controlled environment. Since Dustin and Rich manage for a high quality experience and good opportunity, this is a pretty controlled environment as well, but without the fences – just lots of private property.
An hour after the sun was up, we decided to move locations and check areas of the ranch not visible from our previous lookout. When we pulled up to the lookout, Dustin immediately spotted a big, mature buck laying on the edge of the river. He tried to peak through the bushes as if to hide even more. It was obvious that he was exhausted from the nights rutting activity and would rather try to hide than break from cover. He had great main beams, long tines, but was only an eight point. Justin was squirming in the back seat of the truck and affirming with all that would listen that he was more than willing to put his tag on this deer. The old buck just wouldn’t break his discipline and stayed in the cover. We scoured the terrain for other bucks and they seemed to be everywhere in the timber chasing does. I’m sure that some of these bucks were ones we had seen in the corn at first light, but I’m sure many were not. We decided to check out another ranch since this was only our first day of hunting.
As we pulled away from the bluff, Justin just shook his head in disbelief. He said, “I can’t believe we are letting that buck go!” That was followed by the statement, “I’ve seen more mature whitetail bucks today than I’ve seen in ten years of hunting at home in Missouri”. It made us feel pretty good about endorsing Big Horn Outfitters as one of our Platinum Approved Outfitters.
Dustin wanted to give us a bit more time to find one or two specific bucks that he really wanted us to tag out on. He knew that there were a couple of bucks approaching that 160” mark in the area, but he hadn’t seen them since the rut got into full swing. We knew that we had four days to hunt, but it was obvious that letting the ‘Big 8’ walk was really starting to bother on Justin. He truly wanted to shoot it from the minute we saw him, but none of us wanted the hunt to be over that soon. We were filming for an episode of SNTV and it’s just too hard to produce a show with only an hour of footage.
After a short trip to another ranch and not finding one of our big target bucks, I asked Justin if he still wanted to tag the Big 8. He assured me that if we were to head back to that ranch and find him, he was more than willing to put his tag on the buck. We drove back over to the original ranch and pulled up onto the bluff where we had originally spotted him lying next to the river. I was sure he would be gone by now and we could focus on another deer. However, Rich spotted him back in the trees. He had risen from his bed and was watching some smaller bucks chasing does in the bedding area. With no foliage on the trees, we could catch bits and pieces of antlers, but it didn’t take long for him to step into an opening that revealed those long main beams.
Justin confirmed that he was still ready and willing to fill his tag on the first day of the hunt with this mature warrior. He grabbed my .26 Nosler out of the truck and settled in behind the scope. The buck needed to give us a clear shot to send the 127 grain Barnes bullet his way, as well as a little time to get some good footage. As if on que, the buck took a few steps to the right and presented a perfect quartering away shot and Justin dropped the buck in his tracks. We had filled our Wyoming deer tag in a matter of three hours of hunting and had passed on thirty plus mature bucks. There aren’t many places you can do that and especially at a very affordable price!
Over the next few days, we had the opportunity to see several other ranches and fill plenty of whitetail doe tags. Corn and alfalfa fed whitetail does are one of the very best table fare you can ask for and when the ranchers are happy to see you manage the herd, it is a big win for all.
Rich and Dustin run a fabulous operation for antelope, deer, elk, turkey and moose. Since the majority of their operation is on private property, you can draw tags for most of the species without any sort of bonus points in the drawing. Elk hunting is their true passion and big bulls are what these guys live for. However, this game will take a few points and as many as maximum to be guaranteed to draw. But, they are worth every bit of points you want to spend on them and this is truly a place I will hunt again as soon as I get enough points built. For your opportunity to hunt with Big Horn Outfitters, look them up online at www.bighornoutfitters.com or give them a call at 307-620-0390. We have purchased a whitetail hunt for two hunters for our Pro Membership Sweepstakes Giveaway and this drawing will take place May 10th, 2016. The hunt will take place during prime rut dates again in the fall of 2016.