When I looked over the list of the lucky 25 permit holders who drew Unit 13B archery deer tags this year, I was surprised to see that four of those coveted tags had gone to Mohave County residents.
Two are Kingman residents - Blake Chapman, who must have drawn at least four Strip deer tags in the past, and Richard Martin, who also has drawn three or four tags. Mohave Valley resident Brandon Knight was on the list, as was a newcomer - my friend Mike Cobb.
I spoke with Cobb, who in the past has conducted guided big game hunts for me, but who is now a constable in Kingman.
Cobb's "real job" was going to limit the amount of time he could hunt, and he has spent a grand total of just a day and half on the Strip. A few years ago, Cobb assisted on a special deer hunt on the Strip through the Arizona Hunt of A Lifetime Foundation.
Cobb is a heck of a nice guy and has helped out many folks in the past with their deer, javelina, elk or sheep hunts, so it was my turn to offer to give him a hand.
Jeff McCans, who is one of Cobb's best friends, also offered to go along on the first weekend of the 20-plus day hunt.
I wasn't worried too much about the lack of pre-season scouting, as I have hunted the Strip for many years during both the archery and rifle hunts. We went to the right place and before the weekend was over, we saw a lot of deer and a number of big and unusual bucks.
It was raining on opening day when McCans found the first buck of the trip. This 4 X 4 was very typical of the kind of bucks we would see.
This buck was in velvet, and he sported a set of antlers that would be coveted anyplace else in Arizona. But this is Strip, home of big, older age class bucks, thanks to the conservative management strategy of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The Strip is one of those unique places where you'll find bucks sporting antlers of every shape and size. If you want to hunt typical bucks that have 4 X 4 frames, they are there. If you like non-typical bucks, those that sport unique antler configurations and have "Junk in the Trunk" - well, those bucks are there too, as we would quickly find out.
In less than 15 minutes on opening day, we spotted two more groups of bucks, but none really got Cobb excited.
A short time later, with rain pouring down, McCans spotted another group of four bucks, and two of them got us all excited.
The first sported a rack that we estimated was about 30 inches wide. The rack was tall, but the back points weren't extremely long, and we estimated the buck would score in the 180-inch range.
"I'll take that one," Mike said as he looked through his binoculars.
There were two other "cookie cutter" 4 x 4s in the group, but there was a buck we named "The Club" that really piqued Mike's interest.
He had a four-point antler on his left side. His right antler had a couple of regular points, but then there was the 10-inch teardrop-shaped drop point that made him a truly one-of-a-kind buck.
"I'll take that one, too," Cobb said.
Cobb headed out with a plan to get in front of the feeding bachelor band. In his haste, he forgot his backpack, which had his rain gear in it.
Before the morning was over, he wished he had taken a few more minutes and grabbed his pack.
The bucks eventually were joined by three other smaller bucks. Cobb tried everything he could think of as he made stalks.
Finally, after a morning of hiding and sneaking through a veritable jungle of wet brush, Cobb was able to get within range of "The Club" - but due to the steep angle they were on, the deadly arrow zipped right over the back of that very lucky buck.
When Cobb finally walked out to the road, he was soaked from head to toe, and he was lucky he wasn't hypothermic, which can be a killer.
Later that day, we went back into the field and started glassing a deep canyon. It didn't take long to find three bucks, two of which were real "shooters."
One sported a heavy 5 X 5 rack. We named him "The Split 5." The other mature buck was just simply outstanding - IF you are into non-typicals.
We immediately named him "Freak Nasty." This old buck had a seemingly normal left four-point antler, but upon closer examination with the spotting scope, his main beam had a row of small points extending out.
His right antler started out normal, but then developed a huge ball, from which a number of points grew from. One of the buck's antler points actually grew out and then abruptly turned toward the inside of the beam.
In many ways, this guy looked more like a caribou than a mature mule deer buck.
Cobb headed out after him, but by the time he worked into the deep canyon where the three bucks were, there just wasn't enough time to make a good stalk.
We spotted other deer before we left that glassing spot. Before we called it quits we determined we had looked at 26 different bucks and five does on Day 1.
The next day we had a plan that called for Cobb to hike into that deep canyon before daylight while McCans set up to glass on a hillside.
I was going to go to another nearby glassing spot, but those plans changed when I spotted a group of six 4 X 4 bucks feeding in a meadow. None of them were shooters, but I videotaped them, as I do all the bucks I see during a hunt.
A couple of minutes later, I spotted a huge 4 X 4 and his little 3 x 3 friend just off the road. I videotaped them as well and told McCans to watch for them. They were headed toward Cobb in the canyon.
However, Cobb had already found "Freak Nasty" and his 5 X 5 friend. An unseen 4 X 3 buck eventually spooked them off as Cobb was on the stalk.
Later in the morning, Cobb saw a huge 5 X 5 buck walking up a trail toward McCans' position. This magnificent buck walked to within 43 yards of McCans, who could only sit and admire this great buck.
Day 2 was full of excitement, and before it ended we had looked at 13 bucks, but had really hit the doe/fawn jackpot - we saw 26 of them.
Day 3 saw us with another plan, but as plans usually go, they changed quickly when I glassed a pair of bucks walking on a ridge behind where Cobb was sitting.
Then McCans, who has great eyes and seems to spot deer everywhere, saw a rack sticking above some oak brush. Closer examination revealed an awesome 6 X 5 buck who was being followed by two smaller 4 X 4 bucks.
Cobb got on a stalk, but there were so many does/fawns in the brush, they eventually spooked off the big buck.
We pursued this big buck unsuccessfully for a while and when I started glassing a nearby mountain. I came up with four bucks, including "The Club."
Once again Cobb got on a stalk, one that would last for many, many hours.
One time he was just 25 yards from the old buck, but all he could see was the tops of his unique rack. Another time "The Club" bedded down, but the 4 X 4 with him (whom we named "Iron Man") never let Cobb work into a good shooting range, as Iron Man was always standing and on alert.
While McCans and I were spotting for Cobb as he tried to move closer to the bedded bucks, McCans said quietly, "Don, look behind us!"
I slowly turned around and there were two bucks - a small fork-horned buck and a giant buck with a massive spread! They wanted to bed in the oak thicket we were in front of and they were just 36 yards away.
With dark storm clouds and heavy rain approaching, we called it good, and packed up and headed home.
We had tried our best to outsmart some big mule deer, which many will say are the hardest trophy for any sportsman to harvest with a bow and arrow.
We looked at exactly 50 bucks during our short stay up there. We found a flock of 25 chukars and even saw a flock of 16 turkeys.
Though Cobb didn't wrap a tag around the antlers of a big buck on this trip, we plan on going back to try again as his work schedule permits.