Northeast Utah Late Season Muzzleoader Hunt
By Michael Deming
The buck was lip curling and full on rutting a single doe. He was on her nonstop for the better part of an hour. At nearly a mile away, it was obvious that this buck had only one thing on his mind. His body size was nearly twice that of the doe we were watching. My Zeiss Harpia 95mm spotter was providing me with a great bird's eye view of the event.
Although we knew this buck was mature, it was only day one of our hunt and we were looking for something with a little larger head gear to burn my brother’s 15 bonus points on. We figured he was 28” wide and in the mid 170’s. He was definitely good by most hunters’ standards, however, we were on an outfitter evaluation hunt with Sportsman’s Hunting Adventures newest property, we wanted to spend as much time as possible learning the dirt and seeing what the unit had to offer. Since winter had come early and we had nearly a foot of snow on the ground already along with signs of rut, we figured we were making the right decision to pass on this guy.
We called the other guide who had a mule deer hunter from Michigan with him. He had only harvested one other mule deer in his life and this guy would definitely be an upgrade. Danny Jenkins (guide) answered my call and said that they would be interested in making a play on this buck and since we were already in position, we would be their eye in the sky. Gary (hunter) has bad knees and couldn’t make the long hike to the buck from where they were setup. Danny thought the buck was so focused on the doe that he could likely drive Gary to the bottom of the basin and sneak in on flatter ground. However, this is when the buck showed his true age and knowledge that earned him the nickname of Einstein.
We watched as the truck dropped over the ridge nearly a mile from the buck. Whether he heard the tires, saw the truck or just that big buck’s sixth sense kicked in, he immediately froze and fixed his eyes on the truck. Once the truck got to the bottom and out of sight, he walked to the thickest cover available and sat tight. The hunters closed the distance to the buck and as they had to go through the last thick cover before getting out into the open and would likely see him going up the opposing hillside, he slipped over the top.
I called Danny to let him know that his opportunity had passed and the buck was gone. As they turned to walk back to the truck, the old buck came back over the top and bedded just to the point that he could see when the truck pulled back out of the basin. He had obviously played this game before and knew it well. I said, “that’s Einstein type of smarts right there” and the line stuck.
This hunt came about because I wanted to add more mule deer hunts to the Pro Membership Sweepstakes giveaways. We had already hunted elk with Sportsman’s Hunting Adventures and we give away a hunt with them every year. They are one of our endorsed outfitters already, but I won’t buy any hunts for our sweepstakes that we haven’t personally been on. A new ranch or hunting opportunity has the potential to be either really good or really bad. My brother was sitting on 15 bonus points here in Utah. We seldom get a chance to hunt together, but this would be a good chance for him to burn his points, do a late muzzleloader hunt together and check out this new hunting opportunity for the future. So, we put the plan in motion and he drew the tag which would take place October 3rd through November 7th. This would be the beginning of the rut and if we got lucky, maybe some hard-core rut activity would be in the mix. As luck would have it, winter definitely came early with lots of snow in the high country. Things were shaping up to put everything in our favor on this hunt.
We arrived on October 31st with the intentions of hunting till the end of season or at least until we found a big, mature deer that was worthy of Troy’s 15 bonus points. We put that threshold at a buck over 185” B&C, which would be Troy’s biggest buck ever or something that was at least 30” wide. Old Einstein didn’t meet these standards, but his antics told me that he was long in the tooth and had beaten many a hunter over the years.
At first light on day two, I saw a big framed deer with huge backs feeding in the sage. It was extremely low light at the time, but I was sure this buck would meet our standards. As the sun started to peek over the horizon, I could start to identify more character of the buck. Once again, it was Einstein and no does in sight. He was totally out of the basin and one ridge over. I called Danny again and the game was one for him and his hunter.
We moved around the other side of the mountain to look at more country and play spotter for their hunt. It took nearly half an hour to get into position. We were well over half a mile away from where we had last seen Einstein and as we rolled up to a lookout, I saw Mr. Smarty Pants sneaking out of the aspen grove and back over the top without even as much as a slow down or a glance as most muleys do as he crested the hill.
I told Troy that if we couldn’t find something bigger, we might want to make Einstein our target buck as he was starting to really catch my attention. He was by all means a worthy adversary, but he just hadn’t grown to the size we wanted. At this point, he could possibly even be regressing.
We spent the next few days covering the ranch and living behind our optics. We never could turn up a true giant, but the number of younger bucks was off the charts. The hard winter of 2018 may have taken a toll on some of the older age class of bucks. When the rut ends in late November and winter comes right behind it, those old breeder bucks are very susceptible to winter kill.
Danny and Gary had tried to seal the deal on Einstein nearly every day of the hunt but hadn’t even come close to getting within Gary’s 200-yard maximum effective range with his muzzleloader. We made the decision to put a mass effort on old Einstein the rest of the hunt unless something else caught our attention.
On day five, we found him right back where he had escaped to on day one. He had about 20 does and was checking all of them frequently. Danny had spotted him, so we gave them the go and just spectated for this outing. They had moved down the ridge nearly 400 yards and were within 400 yards of the buck and his does. As the sun rose, he stayed out longer than usual, but 20 sets of eyes are tough to sneak up on. He and a few of his does finally disappeared over the ridge and out of sight from us. Fifteen minutes later about half the does come trotting our way with a buck in the back. I was able to get my spotter on him and even a bit of video footage. He was shaped like Einstein, but I just didn’t feel like it was him. He just looked smaller.
When we looked at the video over lunch, Danny thought it was him and made the play for the afternoon to go and set up on the area that we last saw this buck. I told Troy that we should sit across from the back side of the ridge where we saw him disappear. If I was right, Einstein would likely be in the same stand of aspens we had bumped him out of on day two.
I had Gary Wilson, our guide, drop us off way back from this side of the basin. Troy and I snuck through the sagebrush for the better part of a mile to put us in position without being detected. We settled into the shade with a good view of the entire hill. If he was here, we would definitely find him. About an hour before sunset, a few does popped out of the aspens I expected him to be in, but nothing. I kept watching the entire hill, while focusing more on the does by his aspen pocket. I finally put my spotter up and looking at over a half a mile caught Einstein chilling in the shadows. I whispered to Troy, “I got him and we need to go”. We would have to slip back over the hill undetected and move another 800 yards downhill. This would put us cross-canyon at approximately 400 to 500 yards.
That’s a long shot for most muzzleloaders, but my new CVA Paramount topped with Zeiss V6 in 5-30 was shooting 2-3” groups at this distance. I knew the gun was capable and if things were good, Troy would have all the time in the world to make this shot from a prone position.
As I pushed the pack up to the top of the hill for Troy to rest on, I could see Einstein in all his glory in the setting sun. Our game of chess was escalating and the final moves were about to play out. I ranged the buck at exactly 458 yards as I reached up to adjust the turret on the scope. With minimal wind, Troy was going to be able to hold right on this buck as soon as he gave us a broadside shot. We just needed to hope his sixth sense didn’t kick in. He finally turned broadside and I heard the safety slide off. Troy said, “Are you ready?” I had been filming the entire time and was definitely ready. Looking through the camera at 30X zoom, I saw the .45 caliber Powerbelt 280 grain ELR round strike him in the kill zone. The buck was able to make it back up to his hiding spot in the aspens, but I was sure we had sealed the fate of old Einstein. My brother and I enjoyed this special moment on the mountain before heading down and back up to recover this old warrior.
When we got to the buck, it was nearly dark. I found him first and I could see those huge G2’s sticking out of the grass. I yelled at Troy and he came running. “Einstein is Dead!” It was an extremely fulfilling and sad moment all at the same time. We had competed with this guy on his home turf and finally won the war. His teeth were nearly gone and his old roman nose showed years of battles with other bucks. I’m sure he had beaten many hunters over his lifetime, but this time he had finally met his match.
The Pro Membership Sweepstakes will give this hunt away in the future. As of 2020, this will be a Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit (CWMU) which means the winner can hunt with any weapon and we will be hunting the last five days of the season. I’m not sure you will get your Einstein, but I’m sure he passed plenty of genetics around the area and there are a lot of 3- to 4-year-old bucks that have huge potential. If you want your chance to win this hunt, sign up at promembershipsweepstakes.com.