by Nathan Sullivan
Short and sweet…that pretty much sums up my Mule Deer hunt this year. As any Mule Deer fanatic can attest to, it’s not often that you are able to put your tag on a buck on the very first stalk of the year. But, as I have learned the last couple of years while using Heads Up Decoys and hearing stories from others who have also, opportunities can be created when conditions are less than ideal.
This hunt began at first light checking some areas that have held big bucks in the past. We were hoping to turn up one of the shooter bucks that my hunting buddy Justin had recently found. Shortly after sunrise we spotted a small buck running a doe about a mile away and drove around on another road to get a better look and to see if any other deer were nearby. While glassing the smaller buck and doe from a closer vantage point we looked up just as a big buck was coming over the hill. It was immediately obvious that this buck was a shooter as he headed down the hill looking for a hot doe. By now we realized we had come a little too close to the action as the small buck was now pushing the doe within 200 yards of us and we could not get in a better position to make a move on the shooter buck that was now closing fast. As luck would have it, the doe wasn’t hot and the young buck quickly lost interest and they parted ways. As the big buck dropped into the draw he watched the smaller buck leaving and heading down the valley just below our position.
The stage was now set for deployment of the Mule Deer doe decoy. When the big buck briefly disappeared in some thick weeds I quickly popped the decoy into the bow mount and used what little cover was available to crawl down the hillside to get to the bottom of the draw. When I reached the bottom I quickly realized that the weeds were much taller than I had anticipated and was worried that I would not be able to get a shot even if the buck did come within bow range. At this point I had nothing to lose and held the doe decoy up high enough for the buck to see it above the weeds. By the time I realized the buck had spotted the decoy and was coming my way he had already closed the gap by fifty yards. The next 20-30 seconds were some of the most exciting moments of my 20-plus year bowhunting career. I knew he would have to be close to get a shot in the tall weeds but I had one open lane out to about 15 yards if he would only choose the right path.
As what usually happens he was not going to come through the opening and was staying in the thickest cover as evidenced by his towering rack pushing through the five foot tall weeds. By now I was well aware that things were about to get very intense as he was closing fast and his current heading would have him stepping into the open at a mere 4 steps. Not wanting to get pinned down at full draw without a shot, I waited as long as I thought I could to draw my bow. Finally, with the bruiser buck at less than 10 yards, I knew I had to make my move. As he went behind an especially thick clump of vegetation I knew it was now or never and quickly came to full draw. As a testament to the keen senses of a mature buck, even when fully convinced that there is a doe to check out, the buck caught just enough movement to momentarily spook him. As he bounded out of the weed patch I stood up and grunted loudly with my mouth to stop him. He still wasn’t sure what he had seen and only trotted a short distance before stopping to look back and try to locate the doe that he thought was there. By this time my pin was already settling on his vitals. I immediately knew the 35 yard shot was perfect on the slightly quartering-away buck and that he would not go far. In fact, he only made it about 40 yards before tipping over in plain sight. Justin was able to see the shot from his vantage point and we both were almost in shock at what had just happened. We estimated it had only been about 6-8 minutes since we first spotted the buck coming over the hill and now we were standing over him admiring his huge back forks, heavy mass and long main beams.
This was a perfect scenario to use the doe decoy—the target buck was alone and looking for does and he watched the young buck heading in my direction and wasn’t about to let him potentially steal a hot doe. It was also a case where we would not have attempted a stalk on this buck in his present location without the decoy. There was very little wind that morning to cover sound and movement and we already were too close to back out and wait for the buck to present a better opportunity. But instead of watching the buck and wandering how we could attempt a stalk, we were able to make the buck come to us.
As bowhunters we have to enjoy every part of a long season full of close calls and what-ifs, but every once in a while it’s nice to have a hunt that is short and sweet. I owe all the credit for this hunt to a great friend who was willing to let me try my crazy plan and to Heads Up Decoy.