New Mexico Mule Deer Success!

bigeasygator

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I was travelling solo this time from New Orleans to Taos, New Mexico. New Orleans to Shreveport, Shreveport to Dallas, Dallas to Amarillo, Amarillo to Taos...that's pretty much it. All in all, it would be about 1200 miles and 16 hours of driving...and plenty of this!
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I left on Wednesday, October 24th and arrived the in the evening on Thursday, October 25th. There I met my good buddy Griz. Griz was my guide the year earlier on my elk hunt in the Valle Vidal, NM and we've remained good friends since. He invited me on this deer hunt and I jumped at the opportunity to spend some time in camp and in the mountains with him again.

All in all there were four of us in the hunting party -- me, Marcus (who was also our camp cook last year), Arty (a friend who turned Griz onto the unit), and Griz. All of us drew tags with the exception of Griz, so he was there as an extra set of eyes and an extra back and set of legs should we get one. Arty and Griz hunted the unit the year before (again, Arty had a tag and Griz was there for the fun of it) so they knew where the deer were likely to be and also knew they left a monster in there from the year before.

Thursday morning found us loading up the campers with the necessary supplies before it was off to Capulin which would be our homebase of operations. Ready to head off.
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Once we settled into the RV park, we took a quick drive through the area we'd be hunting. The unit is in the very northeast corner of NM and right on the border with Colorado. The unit is predominantly private, and it takes a great deal of research and effort to know where the small plots of public land are and how to access it. Luckily, most of that legwork was done the year before. The drive through the country got everyone's spirits up. We saw well over 100 deer...albeit on private that we had no chance of hunting. Still, it's nice knowing there were animals in the area...and it was also clear they knew what was private!! The place was like a zoo! Here are some shots of the "scouting".
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We had a dinner of lasagna and toasted to a successful hunt. Arty and Marcus enjoying some wine.
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bigeasygator

bigeasygator

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The next morning found us at our hunting location as the sun was cresting the horizon. The area was classic rimrock country, and unlike anything I've ever hunted. It was absolutely gorgeous. Essentially, the plan was to climb the various finger ridges coming off the rimrock cliffs (the rimrock runs east-to-west right along the border of CO-NM). These ridges would lead up to benches below the base of the cliffs. From there we would walk the benches and look into the various little drainages and canyons coming off the finger ridges. From where we parked the car, Marcus and Arty headed east and Griz and I went west. Here's some pics to give you a feel for what the country looks like.
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We were quickly into deer. We saw five does as we were working our way up to the bench we planned on hiking, and not long after that we spotted our first buck. Griz spotted him and told me to come up for a look (FYI...Griz can hike these hills at about twice the speed I can so I'm always trying to catch-up to him!). I set up my tripod and spotting scope and managed to get a few pictures of the buck. He appeared to be a 4x3 with backs that weren't very deep. Here's the best picture I got (kinda hard to judge them as they're walking away).
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I decided to pass on him, knowing there could be better deer in the area and it was only the first morning. We let him feed off, hoping there were other bucks with him, but if there were they were in front of him and we never got a look.

We stopped and glassed some of the country, giving the deer time to move off ahead of us. It was not long after that that it sounded like WWIII started. Shots started ringing out east of us in the direction Marcus and Arty were likely to be. It seemed like 6 or 7 in total. We eased on up the bench to a point where we were looking down into a canyon and saw Marcus below us.

Turns out the deer we saw as with two other bucks, and as we let them feed off they fed right to where Marcus and Arty posted up. Marcus was hunting for meat, so he wasn't going to pass on anything and Arty, well, let's just say Arty gets a bit excited when something legal comes into view (despite wanting to hold out for something bigger!). Marcus took a shot at the deer I let past, hitting it back. He put another round in that deer and hit back again. At this point, the other two (smaller) bucks ran, but actually ran closer to Marcus and Arty (I'm guessing the echoing of the shots had them confused as to where the shooting was coming from). As one got to around 100 yards from Arty, he put a round in him, and then fired off a few more shots for good measure as the deer ran off.

We searched for Marcus' deer for awhile to no avail, and then made our way to Arty where he had made quick work of his deer and was packed out ready to go. Can't say I've ever seen one quite loaded up like this, but Arty's a big boy and he made it work!
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We searched some more for Marcus' deer but never turned up any blood and decided to give up the search, hoping that maybe the birds would let us know where he was. Marcus left to catch up with Arty to help him get his deer to town, and Griz and I continued walking along, down and up canyons, to try and catch up with three other bucks that Arty and Marcus saw crest a far ridge before the shooting began.
 
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bigeasygator

bigeasygator

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We hiked along, and ran into a group of five does.
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We let them continue on ahead of us before we started up behind them. We crested the ridge that you see the top doe in the previous picture, and decided to post up there and glass the bowl below us the remainder of the day.
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Our glassing turned up the does, which I managed to try out the digiscoping on. The Tines-up set-up really takes some good pics!
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We managed to spot some deer (some does and a few small bucks) far off on the other side of the bowl, but nothing worth chasing (it's nice letting the spotting scope do the walking to find that out!). We called it a night and headed back to the truck while there was still light. We made another pass through the canyon where Marcus shot at the deer and didn't turn anything up. We made it back to the truck (about a 3 mile hike one way) just as the last light was fading...
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A dinner of elk backstrap and tortillas and a few beers hit the spot and sleep came easy that night. The next day found Griz and Marcus hunting together and me teamed up with the tagged-out Arty. Marcus was gonna pass through that canyon one more time hoping to find his deer, and if not, head on to the bucks we spotted yesterday afternoon. Arty and I were going to hunt a bowl a bit off the road that we didn't touch the day before.
 
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bigeasygator

bigeasygator

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We parked the car at 6:30AM, and started hiking up the first little ridge a few minutes later. We stopped to glass ahead of us and on the ridge to the east about halfway up. As I was glassing the ridge to the east, I quickly picked out the white rump of a mule deer coming out of a bush. I couldn't see whether it was a buck or a doe, but upon closer inspection I saw the rack of a different deer protruding above the brush. As I'd never taken a mule deer buck, I wasn't going to hold out for a "monster", but I also wanted something that I considered a respectable buck. What's respectable?? Well, I figured if I saw it I'd know...and once I saw this guy I knew. I quickly ranged him at 300 yards. As they were just feeding along and had no clue we were there, I told Arty we should back out, use the ridge as cover, and we could sneak in about 100 yards closer. We quickly did just that. After cutting the distance, we crested a knob and picked up the deer feeding along. I dropped my pack and took a prone position and ranged the deer again...225 yards. As my Sako A7 in .308 was zeroed at 200 yards, I felt this was a great distance to take the shot. I zoomed my scope in, settled the crosshairs of the Swarovski Z5 just behind the shoulder, and squeezed the trigger.

The silence was broken by the report of the .308 and I lost the deer in the sight picture as the gun recoiled, but it looked to me as though he fell in the bush he was feeding on. I peeked up and noticed what I figured was the second deer running off. Arty saiid, "There goes one running off!" I asked him if he saw the other one and he said no. Arty said he's stay up on the ridge to get a vantage point in case something jumped up as I crossed the drainage and moved over to where the deer were.

As I began making my way over, a mule deer buck started moving back into the spot where I shot my deer. I assumed this was the second buck coming back to look for the one I shot at, still confused as to what happened (it's clear these deer don't get shot at too much!). I took this as a good sign (although there was some doubt as to whether this was the deer I shot at, as they were both close in size). I worked my way up to the bush I thought the deer fell in and nothing. Panic started to set in a bit until I realized I was looking at the wrong bush. I moved up the side of the ridge a little further and there he was. He didn't go a yard. The perfect heart-shot from the Federal Premium 150-grain Barnes Triple Shock X dropped him in his tracks. Looking at the watch it wasn't even 7AM yet.

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Arty and I quickly got to work caping and quartering the deer. A few hours later and we were packed up and headed back to the truck, only about 800 yards away. I've been waiting to take one of these pictures with a pack loaded up with not just meat but some bone too!
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We were back at the truck by 10AM, and after a few beers we headed back towards the campsite. Marcus and Griz showed up around 5PM. They weren't able to find Marcus' deer from the day before, but they did connect on one of the other bucks we spotted. Three tags filled in a little over 24 hours of hunting. Not bad at all.
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robby denning

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Killer thread!

Arty is a man's man. He don't even care if he gets blood in his hair!

Seriously love the photos and the story. I think your plan to hold out until you "knew" was perfect. That is a great first buck and bigger than many of our 10th bucks.

Thanks for taking the time to share your hunt and tell Arty he is welcome at the gut pile any day around here.
 
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bigeasygator

bigeasygator

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Thanks Robby! Yeah, I didn't want to be too selective with my first, but I also wasn't ready to take the first one I saw. For me "knew" it meant decent length and a spread at least just outside the ears. I passed on the buck Marcus shot cause I didn't feel it, and when he brought the rack back and it fit inside my buck's I felt good about my decision (and good that I could judge a deer at a half mile away!). Consider me bitten by the mule deer bug! This hunt and my earlier high country hunt in Colorado where I took that doe with my archery deer has me hooked for life!
 
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