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2023 Early Kaibab West Hunt

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For years I had been saving points for an archery AZ Strip hunt.  I already had a decent mule deer on my wall, but I wanted a true monster.  In early 2023, I began to hear stories of how much more difficult the hunts were becoming without the use of trail cams on the strip.  Additionally, I also heard that the Kaibab had seen some great antler growth in 2022.  Although the forecast for 2023 was slight lower, antler growth was still expected to be well above average.  I ultimately decided to bail on the Strip (which was still a few years away for me with point creep) and go all-in on an early Kaibab rifle hunt.

After finding out that I had indeed drawn a tag for the hunt, I spent four days up on the west side of the Kaibab in July just to re-familiarize myself with the roads, watering sources, etc.  I didn't see many deer, but still considered the scouting trip well worth the effort.  By the end of my second scouting trip, I was gradually coming to realize that finding bucks would not be a problem.  But finding a true 180+" trophy was going to be more about luck than preparation.  After some late nights and serious soul-searching, I decided to raid my Big Horn Sheep fund and hire a outfitter.  It was a tough decision to make, but even with 32 points I knew that statistically I was still several years away from drawing a sheep tag in a 'second tier' unit.  On the other hand, the Kaibab tag was in my hand and the prospect of a giant was very real.

I did a lot of searching on line and asking questions of everyone I new about some of the better-known outfitters on the Kaibab plateau.  Although I was able to narrow it down to four outfitters, the name "Shadow Valley Outfitters" (SVO) kept floating to the top.  I ended up having a great six-week-long dialog with Pat McCarty, one of the owners of SVO.  Their focus on the client and depth of bench when it came to guides finally tipped the scales in their favor.

I could spend pages describing the hunt, but that is best left for another time.  The hunt itself was an epic adventure filled with emotional highs and lows.  Travis Lyons was assigned to be my guide for the week-long hunt.  What I learned from him alone about deer behavior and migration movement on the Kaibab was worth the price of the hunt.  By the end of day two, I had become convinced that had forgotten more knowledge about finding and hunting deer than I had accumulated in my lifetime.  He could spot deer so much more quickly than I could and his ability to judge racks was incredible.  We had several close encounters with some 180+" bucks, but we either couldn't get a shot opportunity or mother nature was working against us.  On the second morning of the hunt, I had a 180+" buck in my scope at about 410 yds.  How Travis ever spotted this guy in a dense stand of jack pines was beyond me.  The problems I encounted with the shot were:  1) the sun was just peaking over the hill and was directly in my eyes, so I could only make out his head and top line of his back through my scope;  2) there was a tree trunk covering his vitals; and 3) there was a full value wind gusting from right to left at 15-20 mph.  We elected to pass on that shot, thinking we could move around and get better position on the buck's vitals.  The buck didn't care for that plan and took off at a  dead run away from us.  That one will haunt me for the rest of my life.

On the final day of my hunt, I told Travis that my expectations for a buck had dimished considerably.  I told him I would take any buck with a gross score of 160 or better.  We had planned on going back to the same valley where we had seen that 180+" buck, but didn't even get to the spot.  As we were driving in, Travis spotted some does with a buck hiding out way in the back.  I could only catch glimpses of him, while Travis was describing his rack in great detail.  Travis felt very confident he would go at least 160".  After some discussion and agonizing decision making on my part, I went with the old "bird in th hand' analogy and the stalk was on.  The buck gave us the slip and did a large buttonhook run to reunite with his does.  It was thick forest, but Travis found him back with his does in the opposite direction from where we were first looking.  He was standing broadside at a mere 80 yds, but once again - an obstruction was covering his vitals.  All I had was a neck shot, but unike last time, there was no hesitation.  He dropped at the shot from the 160 gr. Matrix bullet out of my 6.5 PRC.  As we hiked over to him, Travis smiled at me a said "I think you're gonna like this buck".

After skinning and quartering the buck, Travis again told me that the buck was definitely going to score in the mid 160's.  When several of the guides finally put a tape to him, he ended up with a gross green score of 170 & 3/8".  Not bad for a last day consolation buck.  I couldn't be happier with the hunt, the trophy and with SVO.




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