For over 40 years now, I have had the pleasure and enjoyment of going on many, many mule deer hunts in Arizona. I have been part of hunts in almost every unit in Arizona for mule deer.
Though Arizona is home to mule deer and whitetail deer, which are known as Coues (pronounced cows), I have to admit my preference to pursuing those long-eared bucks that live north of the Colorado River.
That includes game management units 12A (Kaibab), 12B, 13A and of course, the most famous of the Arizona Strip units, 13B.
Due to the quality management philosophy used by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Units 13A and 13B have produced and are still producing monster trophy bucks that easily qualify for the prestigious Boone & Crockett, Long Hunter Society and Pope & Young record books.
While these two units get most of the ink that is written about giant mule deer in magazines, units 12A and 12B also produce some outstanding mule deer bucks.
This year, I had the opportunity to hunt on the Kaibab with a 72-year-old veteran hunter who doesn’t call himself a trophy hunter, but a “selective hunter.”
His name is Paul Whipp and he resides in Washington, Utah.
Paul has hunted all his life and has been lucky enough to take bucks in a number of western states. And this year, Lady Luck smiled on him when he drew one of the few tags that were available nonresidents for the late, 12A west mule deer hunt.
There were just 100 tags authorized for that hunt, which opened at a time when the bucks would be starting the rut. Drawing the tag wasn’t easy. Under the rules established by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, no more than 10 percent of those 100 tags could go to non-residents.
Thus, in a perfect world, a maximum of 10 tags could be issued. But the rules also state that no more than 50 percent or in this case 5 tags would be issued to those nonresidents with the maximum deer bonus points.
The remaining five tags would be available in the general draw, where the nonresidents compete against the residents for the remaining tags. The odds of that happening to nonresidents were very slim. Somehow, someway, Paul beat the tremendous odds and drew one of those remaining five tags that were available during the general draw.
Bear in mind that over 5,000 sportsmen apply annually for those 100 tags. Paul had only four bonus points going into this year’s draw, so in his case, it was like winning the Arizona hunting lottery.
This year was good for the Utah sportsman. He also drew a coveted desert bighorn sheep tag in his home state of Utah, and in September harvested a nice ram.
I have hunted with Paul before and he is a real character. He can drink more coffee than anyone I know.
Paul told me he had plenty of sheep meat still remaining in his freezer, so his first priority on the deer hunt was not to fill his tag just for meat like he had done on a previous Arizona deer hunt.
He knew this was a special hunting opportunity, and that he would possibly have the chance to take a large non-typical buck or a very large typical buck during the 10 days he would be there.
Paul was indeed a selective hunter. That is a dedicated hunter who is more than willing to take even a highly sought after tag home unfilled if they don’t see a particular animal that they want.
I knew exactly what he was saying and that altered the plans for the hunt. I said up front that we would probably have to pass on at least 100 bucks before we found that special buck he was interested in.
As it turned out, it was going to take much more than that.
Despite seeing bucks every day, Paul never did pull the trigger on his rifle. He took his tag home unfilled. In the end, the tally was 143 bucks seen.
So did he have an unsuccessful hunt? If you asked him he would tell you that his hunt was extremely gratifying and exceeded his expectations on the number of mature bucks that was seen.
I wasn’t the only person that was out there with Paul. My Kaibab deer hunter from last year, Rick Thompson, who took his great buck during the last hour of the last day of his hunt, came up and stayed for almost the entire hunt.
Why, you might ask, would someone take time away from family to spend it with others? The answer was the experiences he shared with the other sportsmen he had met last year on his Kaibab hunt and the number of bucks he has seen drew him back like a moth to a flame.
Others who assisted on the hunt included my friend and Kingman resident Jay Chan. Jay has accompanied me on more hunts that I can remember in the past 39 years, and is a passionate sportsman and best glasser I know.
Dan Driggs, Colby Adams and Bryan Beckstead live 80 miles from the Kaibab in St. George, Utah. They too are avid mule deer aficionados who have come out to help on these Kaibab deer hunts for a lot of years.
None of them get paid or even reimbursed for the expenses they incur when out there looking for deer. They even took a day or two off their jobs to come out and look at the deer on this hunt.
During the 10 days of the hunt there were a number of good bucks found. One morning Jay located a buck that sported seven points on one side of the rack, and five on the other. His antlers were about 25 inches wide. How many of you reading this would pass this buck? Well Paul did.
“Just not quite what I’m looking for,” he said.
As the days went by we saw bucks that would make almost all of us very happy. There was a 28 inch wide 4x4 that Rick saw. Jay had a nice 5x4 walk into a Game and Fish drinker that he and Paul were sitting at. Paul never even loaded his rifle.
On the last afternoon of the hunt, a mature 24 inch wide 4x3 stood just 75 yards away, watching over his harem of does. Paul passed even though he had less than two hours left on his hunt.
A few minutes later I was the best buck of the hunt I’d see. There just 100 yards away stood a solid 4x4 buck that was 26 inches wide, with 3 inch tall eye guards. And when his head turned to look at his does, I saw that he had a 3 ½ “sticker” or extra point coming straight off his rack of the main beam.
This buck’s outside spread with that sticker was going to be 29 ½ inches wide, and I estimated the buck would have scored somewhere between 185 and 190 inches. That was buck No. 143, and unfortunately Paul didn’t fire a shot.
Bottom line is a hunt should not be considered unsuccessful just because a tag isn’t filled. Each hunter has their own definition on what a successful hunt is.
Paul said he couldn’t believe how many bucks he had seen on his hunt. He had made a choice as to what he was looking for and stuck to it. And because we didn’t see that special buck, the tag went home unfilled.
But that meant that there is one more buck up there that will get the opportunity to get another year older and will maybe provide another sportsman the opportunity to take their buck of a lifetime next year.