Nature Column: Gunnoe bags buck after 10-year wait

Many sportsmen are willing to wait a long time for the opportunity to go on what might be considered a trophy deer hunt, and for local sportsman Brian Gunnoe, it took a decade before he drew a coveted mule deer tag in Northern Arizona.

Gunnoe had been applying for an Arizona Strip (Unit 13B) tag for many years after hearing and seeing some of the bucks that some lucky local sportsmen have taken there in the past. But each year, he got the same message from Game and Fish -unsuccessful in the draw.

This year, he decided to apply for another unit. He chose to apply for the late hunt in Unit 12B, which is located north of the Kaibab and whose northern boundary is the Utah state line.

There aren't many tags issued for the hunt, which is considered by many to be one of the top-five mule deer hunts in the state. This year, there were just 65 tags issued.

Gunnoe knew that the odds to draw one of these tags weren't going to be good. The odds are less than 5 percent, and well over 2,000 sportsmen regularly apply for the limited number of tags. But it was still better than the Strip, where the draw success is less than 1 percent, with more than 4,000 hunters annually applying for those limited tags.

But having accumulated 12 bonus points (10 unsuccessful draw points plus 1 loyalty point plus 1 hunter education point) finally turned the tide for the local hunter when he was notified in July that he had drawn Tag No. 13 for the 10-day hunt, which started in late November.

When asked why he applied for Unit 12B instead of another unit, Gunnoe replied, "I always wanted to hunt there."

Problem was, Gunnoe had never been there before, so going to hunt this unit was going to present a number of challenges.

Gunnoe's friend, Gary Martin, had hunted this unit a number of years ago, and as luck would have it, I was going to be guiding a hunter on the early hunt in 12B, so I invited Gunnoe to come along on that hunt and learn the unit.

In late October, Gunnoe made the trip to the unit and set up his camp.

Though my deer hunt lasted just one day, I was able to show him some of the areas where I felt he should look when his hunt opened in late November.

Unit 12B is not like a lot of units in Northern Arizona. About 90 percent of the deer there in November actually live most of the time in southern Utah.

Each year, a tremendous number of deer migrate into the unit for the winter to escape the deep snows than can accumulate in southern Utah.

A small percentage of the deer also migrate into the unit from the north end of the Kaibab, so there is always the chance to see a good buck on this hunt.

Going on the hunt with Brian was his 14-year-old daughter, Ty, and his friend, Gary. Their plan was to either set up on waters or to glass from high points.

During the time of the hunt, many bucks in the area were starting into the rut.

In the first several days of the hunt, Gunnoe and Martin saw 18 bucks, though none of them were the age class that Gunnoe was looking for.

On the second day, however, they glassed up a huge buck with some does, but another hunter driving on a nearby road spooked the deer and they never located him again.

On day three, they were out glassing and spotted a wide 3-by-2 buck, but Gunnoe decided to pass on him.

Later that morning, they decided to sit near a game water. Water was in short supply in the unit, and the deer were making regular trips to all the water sources that still had the life-sustaining liquid in them.

They had been in a blind that was near the water less than a half hour when Martin heard some deer coming in.

There were three does, and a mature buck was with them.

Martin told Gunnoe that he thought the buck was high and wide and might be what he was looking for. However, the deer spooked before Gunnoe could see them.

Fewer than 10 minutes later, they saw the deer moving down toward the water.

Gunnoe slipped out of the blind and got closer to the deer. The buck was just 60 yards away when he got a clear shot and he decided to take him.

Gunnoe made a perfect shot. The buck didn't get far.

Gunnoe said the buck sported a nice set of antlers that were 26 inches wide and 24 inches tall. A local wildlife manager came by and aged the buck at 3-1/2 years old. It is the best buck that Gunnoe has ever taken.

He took his trophy to 2S Taxidermy in Chino Valley to have the taxidermy work done.

Now that he has lost almost all his bonus points, Gunnoe was asked what he planned to do in the future.

"I'm going to apply for archery and muzzleloader deer tags," he said.