DEER YEAR -Jordan Seitz-


It was my deer year. At least that’s what I told people. I’d spent several years reading, researching, absorbing advice from my mulie-savvy friend, and hunting a lot of country. With a good tag in my pocket for 2016, I made it my goal to shoot my first mature public land mule deer (4.5+ years old), or eat my tag trying. To help make it happen, I intended to shoot the first branch antler bull I got a shot at with my bow. Eight or nine miles into a 14 mile day on my first bowhunt of the year resulted in a 40 yard double lung pass through on a raghorn; it was only September 2nd, and my bull tag was notched.


I’ve run into, and even missed mountain mule deer while bow-hunting elk. But this year, after toiling through wildfire smoke and rain for a month, I still hadn’t seen a big mature buck. In fact, I’d had several days where I never even saw a deer. I did however pick up some nice elk sheds, glass a Boone and Crockett porcupine, and photograph a big mama bear with her cub. There were moments I was reminded why I love bowhunting elk so much: like when I heard elk antlers hollowly colliding in the timber below me, and bugles echo down through the canyon.


The weather was mild all through bow season, as well as on the rifle opener. When colder temperatures and snow was in the forecast, I knew my best chance for a mature mulie was about to arrive. Taking two strategic days off work, I planned to seal the deal before it warmed back up.

The morning of October 5th dawned clear and cold. Correction: it was downright frigid. I joined my friends at our predetermined location, and we trudged through several inches of snow as we weaved through the timber atop our chosen ridge. Arriving at our first glassing spot, we found a small herd of elk, and a few random deer. We finally glassed up my first mature buck of the season, and had a raghorn bull feed up to close bow range before he noticed the three orange clad statues and spooked. The buck was too far at that point to make a play on, so we parted ways and I descended towards a small bowl I call paradise valley because of its beautiful location and the various game species I’d encountered in it over the recent years.

Easing behind my last piece of good cover, I intently searched the sage and buck brush below, looking for a body, an antler, a tail, or the flick of an ear. Eventually I noticed a mulie about 220 yards below. Bringing my binos up, I felt a surge of adrenaline when I saw two big forks sticking above the brush. The buck had his head down and I couldn’t tell if he was a big forky, or if he had a full rack. I continued to scan the bowl, and picked up a decent 3x3 beyond this buck, and another small buck off to my right. Bringing my focus back to the first deer, I saw him lift his head and show off front forks too. His rack was tall, ear width, and a richly colored brown. I wasn’t convinced he was the age class I wanted until he turned and I saw his belly sag under him. Immediately my friend’s words came to mind: “Antlers don’t always tell you how old a deer is. But if you see a buck with a big belly under a blocky frame, shoot it because you’ve found a mature deer!” It took no time at all for me to decide this deer was going to die.

I slid on my belly cautiously downhill 20 or 30 yards, dragging my pack behind me and pushing my rifle in front of me. When I ran out of low cover, I crab crawled on my back over to a dead ponderosa pine, and was able to sneakily stand up behind it, finding a solid rest for my rifle, grandpa’s .375 H&H Winchester. It had already helped me take down four bucks over eight years, and I was relatively confident this buck would become number five.


Minutes passed as I tried to calm my nerves, and keep my trigger finger thawed out. As the deer fed to my right, a branch obstructed most of his body, and therefore any chance at a good shot. I waited, stupidly fidgeting, trying to keep myself in a perfect shoot position. The buck was standing about 200 yards away when I realized he was looking right at me. In trying to position myself for the steep downhill shot, I’d braced my leg behind me, but out away from the tree in plain view. His body language was such that I knew his next move was to bolt, and within seconds he’d be over the rim and into the timber. Frantically I weighed my options: I could try to shoot right under the obstructing branch, which could result in a deflection, I could move my rifle down to a lower branch, though I doubt the buck would stand for it, or I could slide my rifle a couple inches to the left, down my current branch to the crook of the tree.

I chose the latter and was rewarded with the full buck in my crosshairs. With the angle, my rangefinder claimed 175 yards: I could aim dead on. I settled my finger on the trigger, and thinking he was broadside, fired my first round several inches behind his shoulder to save the cape with prior intentions of selling it to a taxidermist. Recoiling from the shot, I saw my buck hunch up and begin trotting away like I’d gut-shot him. Perplexed by a bad shot, I sent my second bullet towards him and watched him belly flop. I thought he was down as I racked my last shell in, but then saw his front legs brace under him as he heaved back onto his feet. Knowing I had one chance left - since I’d forgotten to carry a 4th and 5th shell in each front pocket, and my spare ammo was in my pack several feet behind me - caused me to take a breath and focus a split second longer before anchoring him with a quartering shot behind his shoulder.

Surprise and disbelief set in when I realized I’d actually accomplished my goal. It was only about 8:30, and the feeling lasted for a long time that morning. Approaching my buck, I wasn’t just drawn to his tines sticking above the ground, but the enormity of his body. “So this is a mature deer,” I thought. I couldn’t believe the difference in size compared to the 3 ½ year old deer I’d shot in past years.

seitz buck deer.png

I was sitting munching snacks and soaking in the sun and the hunt, when my friends showed up to congratulate me and generously offer to help me pack the deer back to the truck. They admired my buck and confirmed it was a mature one, perhaps even 5 ½ years old by the side of his body, his bladed G3’s, and his rack’s gnarly bases.

The comradery and swapped stories that took place over the next several hours provided me a uniquely memorable conclusion to my deer year.