Monolith: OTC Archery Mule Deer
Updated: Jan 14
Persistence pays. We’ve all heard that age-old adage. But you can never actually quantify how much it pays until you try to cash the check. Praying that it doesn’t bounce once again, just as your quarry… well... bounces off into the next area code like a busted deer. But, I don’t want to focus on the failures of the past. Instead, let’s talk about the insane success of a day long stalk and careful planning in a completely unforgiving landscape.
Beginning in early summer, as the fuzzy antlers of mule deer are just beginning to bud, one of my best friends and I set out into some country we were familiar with. The area held great mule deer. We intended to scout out how the feed was looking, after the incredible winter rainfall prior. Surprised by how green everything was still as the summer had warmed up, we knew that this year was going to be a great one for the low desert bucks.
After finding a few deer, we returned many times throughout the summer to scout further. A few of the bucks were making irregular “patterns” through an area that spanned several square miles. The desert consisted of lush bottoms surrounded by grassy slopes that lead up to high rocky peaks, and sheer cliffs. As the 120 degree summer dragged on into an almost as equally warm fall, we could only watch as the desert slowly diminished in color becoming more and more arid and desolate. A record year of drought after an amazingly wet winter was a strange combination you would think, but this is Arizona. Unpredictable as always. However, as most of the surface water dried up the deer still seemed to be thriving. Tough animals. The miles we put on our boots were well worth it though, as we found quite a few great shed antlers during our pre season scouting.
Fast forward to December, this is a blog post not a chapter book after all. I had just been out the day before with a couple buddies, in a different area chasing deer, trying to get one of them their first archery buck. A long stalk, I led from the hill resulted in one of them shooting an awesome bobcat with their bow! Still reeling in his success, we excitedly made plans on being out again in the morning. This time we would be in the desert we’d been scouting in the prior months. I arrived home, re-packed for a full day in the desert, carb loaded at dinner, and retired at a decent hour because I knew what tomorrow might bring.
The morning started well, I awoke on time, showered, packed, and was ready to roll. But, I didn’t get a reply to any texts about when to meet, which was odd. I arrived after the long drive and started an apparently solo hike to my favorite glassing peak. Just before grey light I made it to my spot and set up for the morning session of sitting behind my 15’s overlooking the sprawling desert floor. As light broke the horizon and the morning thermals started pushing up the steep ridges, I picked up the unmistakable shine of antlers in the sun. A mile and a half out I glass up a buck and he’s not alone. He’s not one of the biggest in here, but it’s December OTC archery and it’s a respectable buck. He has another smaller buck in tow. With hopes of finding closer deer, I loiter on the rocks for another hour or so, periodically checking back on the buck I had already located.
With the cold breeze slowing to a standstill, and the morning sun rising higher, I decide to make a move. I reached the one mile mark, ranged the hillside 900 yards out, unpacked a bit, and settled in to glass the shady spots looking for my bedded bucks. Boom, right where I had left them! I got a good look at both bucks and an even better look at the possible approach angles.
It was now 11:30. The sun was high, the wind was gone, and my stomach was growling. Taking cover in the shade provided by a large mesquite tree, I pull out my lunch. A Peak Refuel dehydrated meal and fire up the Jetboil to get it going. I finally got a text from the buddy. “Oops... Slept in... Seeing anything?” We talked about the seemingly impossible approach on the deer I had been watching. Bedded high in a small bowl, breeze coming over the top from the East at their back, and direct sight lines towards everything else to the West. It was time to wait it out.
Another hour or so passed and it was 1:30. Then, it dawned on me. I moved 400 yards to southwest and got a better angle at a giant boulder that appeared to be 50 yards above them and blocked a very slim sightline to a section of ridge top. “That’s my angle.” A text to the CTK crew “Ok I’m going for it” starts my trek while both bucks are passed-out asleep. I went wide around the base of the mountain and up the backside of a tall ridge leading to the mountain peaks. Large, sharp stones made my path treacherous but silent.
I picked up my references from the top and started down towards the landmark. Slowly and surefooted I crept to close the distance, keeping myself just inside the obscured sightline. As my hand finally touched the boulder, I breathed a sigh of relief that I had made it without causing a ruckus.
I slipped the EXO pack from my shoulders and placed it silently on the rocks. Bow in hand, I climbed the backside of the 15’ stone monolith and peered over the top in hopes the bucks had not been bumped by my approach. Seeing nothing initially, I peeked just a little farther. Antlers just above the cholla, shaded by a series of small Palo Verde trees came into view. I peeked a little more and found the smaller buck still bedded as well. Do I shoot the smaller buck right where he lays? No way, I just made the best stalk of my life so far. I’m going to be patient. I ranged 76 yards. Not the 50 I was hoping for but I was still confident.
Standing on a tiny lip of rock, already dialed, and leaning against the backside of the huge boulder for about 15 minutes the small buck finally stands. Unaware of my presence, he took a couple steps forward and stopped, looking downhill for a minute. The 4 point stirred in his bed and started to rise. I immediately drew and settled my pin on his vitals, aiming at a steep downhill angle. I loose my arrow from my bow just as he fully stands and then listen for the unmistakable “pop” of an arrow piercing lungs. The buck kicked sharp as my arrow passed through and I watched as he piled up hard in the rocks, just beyond the string of trees he had spent his the day under.
Cue adrenaline dump. My hands shook as I called the buddies who slept in, hoping for a hand in the long pack out ahead of me. Calmed down, I checked the time 3:30pm. I settled into the work ahead of me. I took pictures and broke down a buck alone on the hillside. The boys showed up just in time for the last load out. Their help was greatly appreciated after having been out all day. We made it back to the RZR for the final time and wrapped up packing everything for the ride home just before dark. It was a perfect ending to my 2020 OTC archery deer season.
Author: Hank Towers