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column By: Brad Fenson | September, 18
Mark Copenhaver has been applying for the Paunsaugunt for well over a decade and finally beat the Utah odds by drawing a mule deer tag. In a strange but modern way, Mark got hooked up with David Virostko at North Rim Outfitters (virostkohunts.com). Reluctant to use a guide, Mark eventually gave in, hoping to maximize his public-land hunt opportunity.
Guide Graig Ogden was eager to get started when Mark arrived October 15. The pair scouted the hills and habitat for days, picking apart every juniper and sagebrush in the country in the ultimate test of their optics.
On Monday, October 19, the pair headed for the high country to a lookout about three miles from the truck before it got light. No sooner had they started to pick the terrain apart when it started to rain, and after four hours of the deluge, they opted to walk to another lookout about two miles away. They checked fingers and vantage points to scour what appeared to be perfect deer country.
While hiking back they jumped a giant buck with antlers that appeared to be in the 200-inch range, but Mark couldn’t get a shot off. He felt defeated, but they kept searching as the sun started to sink lower on the horizon. They were about a half mile from the trailhead when they found a big buck’s tracks freshly cut into the rain-soaked ground. With an hour of light left, they mustered up a final push for the day.
The pair began to track the buck, and when they figured out its travel direction they closed the distance, became methodical in their approach, and slowed. Mark’s instincts as a seasoned mule deer hunter told him the buck was close, and as he edged up to a juniper he saw the buck standing and whispered to Greg, “What do you think?”
Graig quickly judged the buck at 190 inches with 20 inches of “junk,” and as he told Mark to shoot, the buck took two steps and was gone. Mark knew the deer wasn’t spooked and carefully edged forward to try to locate the deer again. When he reached the last place where he had seen the buck, Mark peaked around a bush and saw the deer standing at 80 yards, looking back over its rump. The crosshairs in Mark’s riflescope settled on the buck’s neck, and at the crack of the shot the buck disappeared.
Mark walked up to the deer, snapped a quick picture and turned and walked away. He reached into his backpack and grabbed a small plastic cylinder. The hunter slipped it into his hands and began to weep. His dad, who was there when he took his first deer at age six, had passed away in 2010, and the cylinder contained his ashes. His father had been gone for years, but Mark had carried some of his ashes over every mile he had hunted. With tears in his eyes, Mark walked back to the buck and spread the ashes over the deer. His dad was there for his first buck and was now there for his best buck.
The buck sported 7x9 antlers plus eyeguards; its 201-inch frame and 21 inches of “extras” put the deer’s antlers at just over the 222-inch mark. Mark has been hunting mule deer for 40 years, and his Utah muley buck is the largest animal he has ever shot, even stacked against some Boone and Crockett qualifying entries for other species.
The hunter had this to say: “I’ve been hunting this buck in my dreams since I shot my first mule deer buck at age six. The outdoors and public land has given me immeasurable gifts throughout my lifetime. This buck, the experience, and the lifelong friendships made are among those gifts.”
A Bowhunter’s First Bull
Kristie and Steve Pike have hunted elk with bows in the Gunnison Basin of Colorado for years, but Kristie had yet to arrow a bull. They packed a camp in on horseback a week before the hunt and returned a week later, arriving in camp at 4:00 p.m. The couple gathered their gear and headed out through the darkening timber to call and see what might happen.
Setting up in an area where they had noted elk during the summer, Steve took up a position to call about five yards behind Kristie, and they settled comfortably. They had not been there 10 minutes when several bulls became fired up, including two mature bulls working their way around the hunters. At the same time, a smaller satellite bull came in silently. The bull was legal but not necessarily as big as Kristie had hoped. A quick discussion about whether to pass on this smaller bull ended when they decided the meat would be well worth it.
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