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A Tale of Two Tags

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This year Thomas was blessed with two tags.  The first tag he drew was the youth cow elk hunt in unit 22.  This was the 4th year in a row he has drawn that hunt.  He drew tag 200 out of 200.  We were both super excited because we absolutely love that hunt!!! We also learned later during the deer draw that he finally drew the youth any antlered deer tag in unit 22 which the dates for that hunt coincide with his elk tag.  We were both super excited, knowing that Thomas would be able to hunt both elk and deer at the same time.    

Over the next couple of months our excitement levels started to decline, at least with regards to the deer tag.  A few issues we were facing that made us less excited regarding the deer tag were the fact that over the summer a lot of unit 22 was burnt to a crisp in a wild fire.  Most of the areas we planned to hunt were gone at least for this year!!!   In addition to that Thomas’s fall break schedule changed which meant we might not be able to hunt all 7 days.  Finally, I did not have a lot of opportunity to scout prior to the hunt because of my work schedule.  Thomas and I had several conversations about his hunt, specifically the deer tag.   We spoke about possibly even turning tag # 2 in based on the issues we were looking at.  If we turned in the deer tag we could take away some of the stress associated with it and we could focus on tag # 1 the cow elk hunt.  Thomas stayed positive during our conversations and ultimately he got to decide what to do since it was his hunt.  He decided that there was enough hunting areas in the unit that were not affected by the fire and after some negotiations with mom, she was willing to let Thomas miss school to hunt since he was four years invested into drawing the deer tag.  Finally I will add that Thomas was not worried about scouting, he just wanted to have fun and if he got a deer bigger than a spike he would be happy.  So we decided regardless of the outcome, we were going to keep both tags and just try not to stress about it and have fun!!! 

Going into the week of the hunt I was able to get a couple days off to scout.  My plan was to locate an area where would could get Thomas a decent buck.  After two days of scouting I was only able to glass up one buck.  It was a descent one, about an 80 inch whitetail but it was only one buck and who knows if we could locate him again on opening day.  Thomas joined me the night before his opening day and we discussed his options.  Thomas had a choice to make, we could go after the buck that I spotted while scouting or we could chose to try to fill the cow tag first.  We had a lot of good areas that we were fairly confident we could find cows on the first morning so after weighing his options, Thomas decided to go after tag # 1 first.  

And So The Hunt Begins............

Day 1

We went into one of our "honey holes" fully expecting to be able to tag out rather quickly on a cow elk.  After all, we have hunted the same area the last three years and have had great success.  Typically in this area we glass up several options within the first few minutes of glassing light and make a plan.  This year was a little different, we spent just about an hour before we finally glassed up a single cow elk in a very difficult spot.  We decided since we hadn't seen anything else Thomas and I would go in after the cow.  As we were packing up our gear, I was explaining to Thomas this was a long shot but we should try since we hadn't located any other cows yet.  As I was just finishing talking to Thomas, Adam aka BigBrowns and Thomas's uncle came running around the corner and said elk were up feeding on the ridge across from us.  We ranged the ridge and it was just over 500 yards.  Definitely within Thomas's capabilities.  We made a mad scramble to get our gun set up before the elk fed off the ridge.  Using a triclawps for the front of the gun and shooting sticks to secure the butt stock we were able to get the cow elk in the scope.  Thomas then took over and made his micro adjustments while I double checked the range and dialed the turret on the scope.  Thomas said he was solid and we decided to shoot.  Thomas made a great 500 yard shot and the cow elk dropped in her tracks.  Tag #1 was filled!!!  Needless to say Adam and I were very excited to get it done on opening morning!!!!  This would give us 6 and a half days to focus on tag #2 the any antlered deer tag.

After packing out the cow elk Friday morning Thomas and I decided we would sit water for the first attempt at filling tag #2 while Adam helped some of our friends from California who had two kids with cow elk tags as well.  Thomas and I sat a water hole with lots of sign for the evening.  Our friend from California actually saw a whitetail buck on it earlier that day so we gave it a shot.  What we learned is that Thomas does not like to sit still and I can’t build a blind very quietly.  Needless to say nothing came in to the tank that evening.    

Day 2

Our first full day to focus on tag # 2 and my sister Tracy also was joining us for the deer hunt.  Adam, Tracy, Thomas, and I headed out to the spot where I glassed up the whitetail buck a few days ago while scouting.  After a little while of glassing Adam glassed up a very small forked horn whitetail buck extremely far away.  We decided not to make chase since we knew there was a bigger buck in the area.  About a half an hour passed and Adam glassed up the same buck that I spotted while scouting.  The buck was working the same hill I had spotted him on and Thomas and I decided to make a stalk while Adam and Tracy kept on eye on the buck.  As we were closing the distance Adam messaged me and let me know that the buck had bedded.  Luckily we were able to locate him in his bed and got into a shootable position while the buck was still bedded.  I got Thomas set up on the gun laying prone and he did a few dry fire practice attempts.  He looked very steady and said he was ready to shoot.  We loaded a round and gave him the green light to shoot.  Boom, clean miss, at least from my viewpoint.  The bullet had appeared to just go over the top of the bucks back.  The buck jumped out of his bed and worked his way around a cut and we did not locate him again.  After calling Adam we decided to make sure it was a clean miss.  So Thomas and I went on a “death march” to the top of the hill that the buck was bedded on.  On the way up I explained to Thomas that we need to make sure we did not wound the animal and if we did we need to continue to hunt it.  We made it to the top of the hill and located the buck’s bed, we also followed his tracks for a couple hundred yards.  We found zero evidence that the buck was hit.  It was a tough morning but ultimately Thomas and I felt better about hunting on knowing that we did the right thing by confirming a clean miss.  

For the evening hunt we decided to sit water again.  This time we went to a new tank while Tracy and Adam helped our California friends on the youth elk tags.  The weather was very hot and it was extremely dry this year so we thought that we should continue with the strategy of sitting water in the evenings.  What we learned after sitting water on this day, is that again I can’t build a blind very quietly and Thomas does not like to sit very still!!!  Nothing came into the tank and we will continue to try to fill tag # 2 on the 3rd day.

Day 3

This day started with Tracy, Thomas, and I heading to a brand new spot that we had never been too.  Adam decided to help our California friends with the youth elk tags since it was their last morning to hunt and neither kid had an opportunity at this stage in the hunt.  Our morning was mostly uneventful as we did not glass up any game animals except for one coati.  Adam’s group was doing much better and they had two cows on the ground before 8am.  While glassing that morning I told Thomas that both kids filled their tags.  Thomas was relieved and happy that they were able to fill their tags.  I think he might have felt a little guilty with how easy his cow elk hunt went yet again this year!!!  We met our group for breakfast to celebrate and say goodbye and then we headed back out for our evening hunt.  Again our strategy was to sit water and Adam decided to help out another Coues whitetail member who was struggling to get a cow tag filled for his kid.  What we learned is that again Thomas doesn’t like to sit still and it is much easier to sneak in quietly when the blind is already built.  We did have 3 cows and 1 bull elk come into the tank that evening but no bucks.  Adam was successful in getting a 3rd cow elk tag filled in the same day.  Thankfully I had the excuse of hunting with Thomas so I did not get to enjoy the pack outs on any of those kills. 😀

Day 4

Unfortunately going into this day we were down Adam’s ranger he had gotten a flat tire the evening before and without a useable spare we did not want to run the risk of being stranded.  Honestly, I was starting to get a little worried at this point.  We have only seen 2 bucks and we were down a vehicle.  After talking to Adam our plan was to go to a spot that I was at while scouting.  It was beautiful looking deer country and it was an area that my Jeep would be able to get into without too much difficulty.  The morning glassing session came and went and we were able to glass up several does and 1 buck.  Unfortunately the buck was just a very small spike and even at this point into the hunt Thomas did not want to shoot a spike.  But hey we are up to 3 bucks now.  I say that very sarcastically!!!  I was starting to feel that at this point in the hunt tag # 2 may not be filled.  I even called my wife and started to tell her that I am pretty much done with this trip since we were having bad luck.  She reminded me that it is Thomas’s hunt and let him decide.  Thomas and I talked and he wanted to hunt on.  He had a much better attitude towards the hunt at this point then myself or Adam.  I learned a lot about Thomas on this trip.  He is a lot tougher than I thought he was and I was very thankful of his positive attitude.  He helped me get back in the right state of mind to continue with the hunt. 

Since it was so hot and dry Thomas and I continued with the strategy of sitting water for the evening while Adam went out to scout a new area.  We did have a whitetail doe come into the tank that evening but again no bucks.  Thomas yet again struggled with sitting still and being quiet!!!  I was starting to fuss at him a lot more.  On a positive note Adam did locate a good area for the morning on day 5.  

 Day 5

We went out to the new spot and we were able to locate a fairly nice buck, a wide framed 2x2 Mule deer.  Thomas and I made a stalk on the buck that morning but he gave us the slip before we were able to get into a shooting position.  The buck was not spooked so we thought he might be back.  We marched back up what we later named “heart break hill” with the plans of coming back to the glassing point in the evening.  Thomas and I decided to sit water for the middle morning and early afternoon in a different area.  During this sit I was getting extremely annoyed with Thomas for not sitting still and making too much noise.  It got to the point that I made him pretty upset.  I think the stress of the hunt was getting to me.  I just wanted him to fill his tag and didn’t want him to miss an opportunity because he was moving around too much.  After a good conversation with Thomas I apologized to him for not remembering just to have fun.  I promised not put so much pressure and stress on filling tag #2.  Honestly I was stressed but I just kept it to myself for the rest of the hunt. 

The evening of Day 5 was pretty exciting, we located a really nice 4x4 Mule deer but he was pretty far away.  I could tell that Thomas did not even want to attempt to make a stalk based on the distance we would have had to close. I did not want to push him too hard since we had already had some bad moments while sitting the water earlier that day.  We made a deal to have fun so that’s what we are going to do.  I let him make the call and we decided not to make chase.  Thomas’s decision was a great call because we were able to locate the 2x2 Mule deer from early that morning, much closer than he was when we lost sight of him.  We were almost able to get a shot on him from our glassing hill but we just ran out of light.  Based on what we had seen this day we decided that we were going to spend the rest of the hunt in this area, after all we almost doubled our total buck count for the trip in this one day.  We were up to five bucks spotted but these two were both bucks that we would love for Thomas to fill tag # 2 on.  For the first time in this hunt we headed into the next day very confident that we would have at least a chance at filling tag # 2.  

Day 6

This day started with us back into our glassing hill with the plans of locating that 2x2 mule deer or his bigger brother that was in the area.  Within a few minutes Adam and I glassed up the 2x2 Mule deer working the same ridge from the morning before.  Thomas and I headed down the hill and hustled into a shooting position.  Thomas pretty much has only one speed, but both Adam and I stated that he needed to hustle like no other time in his life to have a chance at this buck.  We got down into a shooting position much faster than the day before but the buck unfortunately bedded about 45 minutes earlier then he did the morning before.  However this time Adam knew just exactly where he was.  After the buck bedded Adam directed me into the area.  I spent the next two hours trying to glass the bedded buck while Thomas sat on the gun ready to shoot if the buck stood.  I was not able to glass up the bedded buck but Adam called me and said the buck is up!!!.  Thomas and I frantically scanned for the buck but we did not see him.  The buck continued to stand for several minutes and fed away from our location.  Finally, I decided to stop focusing in on the area that Adam had directed me to look and starting scanning the entire flat and boom I located the buck.  I got Thomas into the gun and he was able to see the buck just cross over a ridge before we could shoot.  We needed about 1 second and it was a done deal but the buck gave us the slip again.  After looking back and reflecting on what had happened, I was so mad at myself for not locating the buck sooner.  It was 100% my fault that we did not shoot him that morning!!!  We were in great positon but I just screwed up.  I was pretty down as we marched up “heart break hill” once again.  I will add that once again Thomas stayed a lot more positive about this and he was remembering to have fun!!! He did get to look at that buck twice now in the scope so that was pretty cool. 

We decided not to sit water midday, but just relax since we had a rough time in the morning.  My dad contacted me that day and asked how the hunt was going.  After filling him in on the details he said he would come join us that evening to be our good luck charm.  This was the first time my dad had joined us on a big game hunt and we were happy to have him along.  We spent the evening glassing together and had a great time.  My dad even got to experience some excitement when we located a couple of bucks at very last light.  We scrambled to get Thomas a shot.  We were able to get him a shot on a small fork buck but again we missed sailed high over the top of its back.  We were able to confirm we missed and even tried to get Thomas another shot but just simply ran out of light.   

Knowing that tomorrow morning was our last chance to fill tag # 2, Adam threw out a Hail Mary by posting a thread on Coues whitetail asking for some glassing help. 

I was extremely thankful that 4 members of the site, Kevin aka Kridgetopp, Shelvin aka Bonecollector, Cliff aka Clj2010, and Brett aka Nighthawk decided to come up and help my son have a chance at filling tag # 2.  I cant say enough about how thankful I was that these guys dropped what they were doing on such short notice.  We now had a lot more eyes to help us locate a buck for Thomas on his last attempt. 

Day 7 The Final Attempt

Driving to the same glassing spot we were trying to come up with a plan.  We considered having myself and Thomas head down “heart break hill” and get into a much closer positions to have a chance at the 2x2 Muley before he bedded.  However on this morning we had a lot more eyes on the hills and I was not so sure what to do if someone located a buck in another area.  I did not want to be out of position to make a stalk on another buck if one was located.  Since we knew for sure that there were at least 4 bucks in the area we decided to hang back and not be so aggressive.  Wow am I glad that’s what we decided to do.  Not to long into the morning our glassing help spotted a nice buck bedded just over 800 yards away.  The stalk was on!!!!  I did not get great eyes on the buck but Kevin and Brett went in with my and Thomas to direct us into the area.  About half way into the stalk we got a call from Adam stating that the buck was up.  All I could think of was great this one is going to just “walk” away from us.  We put a little more haste into our step and luckily the buck stayed put.  We were able to locate the buck rather quickly just below our ridge at 485 yards.  I got the gun set up, ranged the deer one more time, dialed the turret and Thomas was ready to shoot.  It happened so fast that I tried to remind him to stay calm.  Thomas told me he was calm!!! Looking back I guess I was the one getting too excited.  He went on to tell me, “Dad I got him I am ready to shoot!!!”  I gave him the green light and……..BOOM!!!! BUCK DOWN!!!! Thomas dropped him in his tracks.   He made a great shot!!!  Just after the shot Thomas said “Dad that’s a really good buck!!!”  After all the dust settled, hugs and hive fives given out I looked at the downed buck and all I could think was wow!!! Thomas you are 100 percent right that’s a great buck and I am so happy for you.  Thomas worked so hard and stayed WAY more positive than I did during this hunt.  Congratulations on finally filling tag # 2 you earned it buddy!!!  It is not very often you get a chance to see your son get an elk and a deer in the same week!!!  I could not have asked for a better ending!!!  If I could do it all again I wouldn’t change a thing.  It was such an amazing experience getting to share the ups and downs of this hunt with my son something that the two of us will surely remember for the rest of our lives!!!  

Special thanks goes out to the 4 members of couesewhitetail.com that came out to help us on the last day of the hunt.  We could not have done it without your help!!! Thank you Kevin aka Kridgetopp, Shelvin aka Bonecollector, Cliff aka Clj2010, and Brett aka Nighthawk.    

Also a very special thanks to Thomas’s uncle Adam aka BigBrowns.  Thank you for suffering through this hunt with us and making a call for help.  However, next time I will just tell you our last day to hunt is a few days earlier so the magic of “last day” Adam can happen sooner. 😀

Finally a very special thanks goes out to my amazing wife Cindi for letting her boys go out on this amazing adventure!!!























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Looking back on the hunt I recognize how much fun it was.  I definitely wasn't feeling that way during the actual hunt.  Riding that struggle bus sucked!


Thanks again to the CW members who helped on numerous different things!!!!!



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2 hours ago, AzDiamondHeat said:

Well done Thomas! Super cool week.

And thank you for lending Adam to us that evening for my nieces hunt!



Lol of course!!! Happy that your niece tagged out.  She made a great shot on that cow!!!

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Very cool!!!  Congrats to all, lots of good eating in your future. 

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