It all started during my first semester of college when I met who is now one of my best friends, Shonn Roberts. Shonn was the one who introduced me to some new hunting locations and ideas for hunting mule deer. Once we became better friends, we started to plan a scouting trip in mid-August to locate giant high country velvet mule deer in Montana. The plans for this scouting trip changed multiple times throughout the summer as we debated where we should go and how long we should camp. Weeks before the scouting trip we spent hours on the phone talking about what new areas we thought looked good on Google Earth, whether we should scout multiple areas, what mountain ranges we wanted to explore, if we had the right equipment to stay for four to five days in the backcountry, and how far we wanted to pack in to locate a 180” plus deer. We eventually made up our minds on what area we wanted to scout with some help from Shonn’s dad.
Finally, the day came: our first attempt at locating high country mule deer in Montana. I remember feeling excited and scared because, for me, this was the first time I had ever stepped foot in the gnarly and steep mountains full of grizzly bears. Shonn and my other buddy, Kaleb Gravelin, grew up in northwest Montana and have been exploring this country for years so it was familiar territory to them.
During the rest of the scouting trip we ended up locating five to seven more deer; two being smaller three and four points. We knew we had found a potentially awesome hunting spot for the upcoming season and seasons in the future.
As the second weekend approached, Kaleb and I decided to try a different spot in the northwest portion of the state. We walked all day to reach the top of a peak and found 10 to 15 does along with one wide 3 point that we decided to pass on since it was still early in the season. Walking around seven miles that day we knew we had found a good spot with plenty of mule deer in the area. This would be a spot to return to during the rut.
As college students we had Thanksgiving day, Friday and the weekend off to hunt for the last time that season. Shonn and I left Great Falls, MT on Tuesday after class with hopes of hunting hard all weekend. On Wednesday, Nov. 23, we went up to another new spot only to find out that it would be foggy all day. The fog only lifted once all day, but when it did, we managed to locate a small 3 point buck that looked to be rutting after some does. On the way out we noticed a large deer track crossed over our footprints. We decided to try and track this deer because we thought it could be a shooter. After tracking it three-quarters of a mile, we finally caught up to it only to find out it was a small 2 point. Disappointed once again, we headed off the mountain with nothing on our backs and no antlers to show off.
Thanksgiving morning came and Shonn and I headed up to the same spot, figuring that if it wasn’t foggy, we would locate some deer. As the sun came up, we were already at our glassing point and found two does very early. We were excited and hoped there would be a buck nearby. The temperature was around 10 degrees that day with wind chill into the negatives. After glassing for two hours in the morning and not seeing any bucks, we decided to head back toward another basin that had looked promising on Google Earth. On the way down, we once again noticed a buck track that crossed over our footprints in the snow. Exchanging glances, we knew we should try and follow this buck to see if it could be a shooter. It was tough, tracking this buck through thick alder and straight up the mountain, but we finally got to the top of the ridge where I looked up and saw a neck and one tall dark antler. Knowing It wouldn’t be long until the buck took off I flipped my scope covers off and squeezed the trigger, hitting the buck. I fired again and once again connected. Shonn and I watched the buck start trekking through deep snow going downhill. We followed the blood trail until he piled up about 300 yards down an avalanche shoot. I remember Shonn saying “We just shot our first high country mule deer.” I looked at him and smiled, knowing it was a fairly large buck. Grabbing onto his antlers and pulling them out of the snow was surreal. Looking at each other with very little words coming out of our mouths we just smiled and let it all sink in.
The following day, we set out to try and harvest bucks for Shonn and Kaleb. Little did we know that this would also be a day to remember. After we got to our glassing point at daylight we became frustrated not spotting any deer. On the walk out, I decided to take one more look. I spotted a bachelor group of six bucks; one was a shooter. I ranged the buck at 592 yards and Kaleb dialed his scope and squeezed the trigger, dropping the buck in its tracks. After Kaleb shot his we spotted a different buck that we hadn’t seen before; this buck looked giant even from 600 yards away. Shonn then dialed his scope and dropped that buck in its tracks also. Two high country bucks down with two shots at 600 yards both dead within 50 yards of each other. We all managed to fulfill one of our goals (harvesting a high mountain mule deer) in a matter of two days.