Arizona Strip deer hunts produce awesome trophies

Carlos Hernandez shows the non-typical buck that he got on a recent hunt on the Arizona Strip with Outdoors Writer Don Martin. This is the first mule deer that Hernandez has ever taken.

(Photo special to the Miner)

Carlos Hernandez shows the non-typical buck that he got on a recent hunt on the Arizona Strip with Outdoors Writer Don Martin. This is the first mule deer that Hernandez has ever taken.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, deer hunting on the fabled Arizona Strip this year has been nothing short of phenomenal.

“The rains this spring arrived at exactly the right time for maximum antler growth,” said Luke Thompson, Field Supervisor for Region 2, which includes game management units 12A, 12B, 13A and 13B.

The late hunts in Unit 12A and 12B started the day after Thanksgiving and have produced some good bucks. But it was the hunts in Units 13A and especially in Unit 13B that have produced some unreal buck for those lucky enough to draw tags this year.

For example, there was a non-typical buck taken in Unit 13B that has been scored at 295 inches. If that scores holds up, it will be the second largest ever taken in that unit.

The number of bucks this year that have scored over the magical 200-inch mark is unbelievable.

In one case former Kingman resident Ryan Chan took a buck on opening day that even with a broken point, green scores 219 inches.

I had the opportunity to assist a hunter who had never taken a deer before and somehow, someway had managed to draw a tag with only two bonus points

Carlos Hernandez grew up in Venezuela and has been in America for about 20 years. Carlos is an electrician who lives in Glendale. This 46-yer-old had been deer hunting only one other time in his life, and according to Hernandez, “It wasn’t a lot of fun.”

This year Hernandez beat some huge odds when he drew tag 53 out of the 75 that were offered by AZGFD. In 2015, over 6,000 sportsmen and women applied for the 70 tags that were offered.

My plan was to go up a week early to scout; and friend and Kingman resident Steve Tague agreed to accompany me on that trip.

Of course, there was also the “normal” issues associated with any Strip deer hunt: tires shredded, fine, choking dust everywhere and in everything, equipment that quits working, and at least five different trucks/UTVs/ in every camp.

In our camp we had Carlos, his friend Christian Olsen, and my friend, St. George resident Dan Driggs and his young son Kobe. Colby Adams from St. George would join us for the last day of the hunt.

For four days we looked around and I located a huge buck less than 2 miles from camp. I watched this buck and didn’t see anyone else in the area or looking at the buck.

I told Carlos we’d be done on opening day, if all went as I planned. Funny how the best laid plans can go awry.

It was still way before dawn on opening day when I heard a truck turn onto the road we were just getting ready to drive on. As we were driving down the road I saw the taillights in front of us and I got a funny, sinking feeling. The truck pulled over and turned off the lights. He parked in the same spot we were planning to.

I saw it was Bob Dykeman, another guide who also operates on the Strip.

“Don’t tell me you’re hunting the buck over that hill,” I said.

Bob had a 12-year-old young lady he was helping. I told Bob I had been watching that buck for almost a week. “Me too,” he said. Seems I had been watching the buck in the morning, while Dykeman had been watching him the evening.

We decided to hike up the mountain on a different ridge and whoever saw the buck, would take it. That’s the way it is when hunting public lands. Turns out that Lady Luck smiled on the young hunter and she got a couple of shots and took the old buck down. He scored 215 Boone & Crockett points.

Now it was time to go to Plan B.

Day Two started off great. We looked at two solid 4x4’s; one 30 inches wide, the other 28 inches. Both had crabby front forks on the right side, otherwise Carlos’s hunt would have been over.

A short time later Dan Driggs told me has glassed up a big deer about a mile away. He said he wasn’t sure, but thought the rack may have had a lot of “trash,” or extra points on it. Then the deer had disappeared from his view.

Later that morning we were driving to another glassing spot when I spotted a big buck standing behind a gate. He was just 75 yards away and as I looked at him through my 15 power binoculars he looked good. He was wide and had lots of extra points.

Carlos got out of the truck and sat down. He looked at me and asked if he was a shooter. In my mind it was a no-brainer, but I am prejudiced.

Carlos had never seen a non-typical buck before and it was his tag. Carlos seemed really jacked about those heavy wide frame typicals we had seen earlier; so I wasn’t sure this was a buck he’d want to put his tag on.

Then the buck made an almost fatal mistake. He jumped the fence and casually walked down the water. He was just 40 yards away from Carlos. He looked at me and mouthed, “Is it a shooter?”

I shook him off and he looked at Driggs, who was parked behind me. Driggs looked at me then he too shook off Carlos. We took photos and watched as the buck drank and then walked away.

“You’re killing me Don,” Carlos said.

Later that day Carlos and I had a heart to heart talk about what he really wanted to take on his hunt.

“As good as those big typicals look, I think I want that non-typical,” Carlos said.

So now I knew what I needed to do. Find the big non-typical again.

Day Three dawned cold and cloudy. Colby joined us and he and Christian decided to glass a nearby deep canyon. Dan and his son would glass another canyon while Carlos and I glassed an area north of the stock tank.

The first action came when I spotted a 27-inch 4x3 that had two does with him. Then I spotted the non-typical, bedded 360 yards away. He too had a couple of does with him. I told Carlos I had found the buck and he said he was sure he wanted that buck.

We made a slow and careful stalk and got within 145 yards of the unsuspecting buck who now had been joined by three other bucks who had come up from the bottom of the canyon. Carlos got set up on a limb of a dead tree, took aim and fired. The buck literally dropped in his tracks.

The buck was actually better than I thought.

The spread of rack taped out at 31 7/8 inches wide. It had one point broke off but still had a lot of points on the heavy rack.

The next day Officer Tim Shurtliff of the AZGFD aged the buck and took some tissue samples to check for chronic wasting disease. He counted all of the points on the rack and came up with an incredible number. He said the buck was a 6x14. Carlos was ecstatic with his first mule deer buck.