The thrill of the hunt not always rewarded

Last week I wrote about a recent Arizona Strip archery deer hunt that my friend Mike Hulsey and I shared.

The morning before the hunt opened, we heard a mountain lion kill a fawn and were able to actually call in the lion.

The lion sat down at a range of 287 yards and Hulsey got a shot with my AR-15.

At the shot the lion jumped up, swapped ends and was gone.

Hulsey went down the mountain armed with the AR and searched for sign of a hit.

He didn't find any and couldn't find the fawn that was killed.

At that point, I told Hulsey to get out of the area and that I would contact a friend of mine who is a lion expert and see if he could help us find the big cat.

I called Randy Epperson and told him of the situation. He said he would be up in the early morning hours on Friday with a few of his trained dogs.

Randy, who lives in Camp Verde, drove most of the night to reach us.

It was just after daylight when Epperson arrived.

We were also joined by a friend of ours who lives in nearby St. George, Utah.

The three went to the spot where I had last seen the lion, and within two minutes Epperson found the partially eaten deer, all covered up.

He found no evidence that the lion had been hit by the shot.

He also said it appeared that there had been not one lion there, but two in that thicket.

Epperson put a game camera on the kill, but neither of the lions ever came back.

The very next day, not a half-mile away, one of the archery hunters spotted a lion and actually got a shot at it with his bow, but missed.

Oh well, lucky lions - at least this time.

For Hulsey, it was now time to concentrate on deer hunting, and did we ever have a good time.

I had found a great 8 X 5 non-typical buck that Hulsey wanted. He was with several other bucks, including a wide and heavy 4 X 4.

On Day Three, while Mike was glassing one side of the basin, I was on the other side. We spotted the two big bucks that were together.

Another fellow Strip deer guide, Kory Bundy, also spotted these bucks and even though he also had a hunter, he told Hulsey he would help him get on the bedded bucks.

Long story short, Hulsey got within 26 yards of the bucks before they stood up. Strangely, they didn't run off.

Hulsey had the big typical standing broadside at 30 yards, but per his plan, he waited until he had a 32-yard shot at the 8 X 5.

I watched as he released an arrow and couldn't believe it when I saw the arrow go straight up! The arrow hit a small branch in front of the buck's vitals and deflected.

A few minutes later, Hulsey had another shot at the big non-typical, this time at 68 yards, but the arrow went low and was a complete miss.

But the action wasn't over yet. I watched as the two bucks walked into a nearby canyon and bedded in a thicket of about 10 juniper trees.

Hulsey made an amazing stalk and got to within 25 yards of the bedded bucks. All he had to do was wait until they stood up in the afternoon and started feeding.

The wind was right. What could possibly go wrong?

Two hours later, while Hulsey was eating lunch, he heard a strange noise coming up the canyon.

He saw the bucks stand up, but he had no shot. What was going on?

Then a huge black feral hog walked up to within five yards of where Hulsey was sitting.

The pig squealed and ran towards the bucks, which immediately ran up the side of the hill.

As the pig ran off, the 8 X 5 actually ran towards Hulsey, who in all the excitement forgot to put an arrow on his bow.

The magnificent old buck stopped just 10 feet away from the hunter who was hiding in the shade of a juniper. But before Hulsey could react, the buck whirled and ran off, and was quickly joined by the other buck.

Then, 100 yards down the canyon, three more big bucks jumped up and all of them ran off.

Hulsey and I would see these two bucks several more times. Hulsey made a number of stalks on them, but had no shooting opportunities.

In the end, after 8½ days of hard hunting, rather than shoot at any smaller bucks, which we saw on a regular basis, Hulsey elected to take his tag home unfilled.

But that is how it sometimes goes on these hunts. That's why it is called hunting instead of killing.

In many cases where you are seeking a trophy size animal, there is always the possibility that you'll bring home the tag unfilled.

We had an awesome time, Hulsey had several opportunities and he is a lot of fun to be around.

I've got a rifle deer hunter on the Strip in November and if we can find that non-typical buck again, my hunter will take home a true buck of a lifetime.