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“Arizona Adventure”
 Jeff Graves
"There he is Jeff! Shoot him! Shoot him now before he's gone," urged Brec as our buck suddenly materialized from the thick brush to join the doe we were glassing. As the Giant Muley followed the doe up a rocky wash directly away from us, the rear view of his massive head gear was simply stunning. Tearing my eyes from the incredible sight I sprang into action. After diligently seeking this elusive deer for the past few days I realized that my first look at him could soon be my last unless I acted quickly. Only a couple of steps away from the cover he had been hidden in, the buck's present route would take him over the rim of the opposite ridge and beyond our view, possibly forever.

Scrambling into shooting position, I focused through an emotional flood tide in effort to capitalize on the fleeting opportunity presented in this magical moment.

My awesome Arizona adventure began with the excitement of drawing a super tag. As a lifelong resident of the Deep South, I was thrilled to learn that my first mule deer hunt would take place on the legendary Arizona Strip, in Unit 13A. While known as the Holy Grail for monster muleys, this unique and ruggedly beautiful environment also hosts unbelievably low deer densities, largely due to a healthy mountain lion population. With a few mega-bucks scattered over such a vast and desolate country, hunting this high desert region has the potential to be equally challenging and rewarding. With much enthusiasm I began to plan and prepare for the hunt of a lifetime.

The first call I made went out to Carter's Hunter Services in Cedar City, Utah. Garth and Jason do an excellent job of providing complete and comprehensive information pertaining to western big game hunting, especially regarding the application process. By highlighting the top trophy units, their constantly evolving monthly publication "Huntin Fool" is very instrumental in my annual hunt choice selections. Once a tag is drawn, their services also link you with fellow members who have hunted your unit. As those hunters shared their experiences with me, I noticed two key elements of success being consistently repeated. First was the mental toughness required to maintain a positive attitude while experiencing shockingly few deer sightings. It also became obvious that I would be foolish to gamble my coveted tag by attempting the hunt un-guided.

An extensive search for the ultimate guide eventually led me to Ryan Hatch of Muley Crazy Magazine. Having turned a keen fascination of the majestic creature into his life's work, Ryan has become the go to guy for many a muley maniac. I expressed to him my determination to harvest only a trophy representative of the famous area. While not easily attainable, a 30"X200" minimum trophy buck is a realistic goal here, if anywhere. My research indicated that the Arizona Strip was home to the largest mule deer in existence. It was and remains a strong candidate for my first choice of any big game hunt in the world. Ryan encouraged my resolve and generously offered his support. He also agreed that I should only consider booking a guide who could commit to the entire ten day season, as some Giants are often taken on the last day or two. After a few days spent meeting a Muley Crazy issue deadline, Ryan phoned to inform me that he thought he had a good match for me.



Enter Brec Bundy, a hard hunting young outfitter from St. George, Utah with an intimate knowledge of the huge Arizona territory. The Bundy's are deeply routed in this region as their ancestors were active in the settling of the awesome country. They are often referred to as "deer magnets". A serious videographer, Brec spends virtually all his spare time combing the Strip in search of quality footage, and came highly recommended by all acquainted with him. Considering Brec's excellent reputation and sensing his passion for the hunt as we visited, I knew he was my man. I promptly secured Brec's services, a decision that would play a major role in the outcome of my hunt.

The following weeks found my full attention focused on the much anticipated Strip trip. Not even the inconveniences and increased work load brought on by the destruction of Hurricane Katrina would curb my enthusiasm. With limited spare time spent at the shooting range and on gear organization the long wait passed and I was soon met at the airport by my new hunting partner, Brec Bundy.

After meeting Brec's younger brother Bronson, and his dad Roger, who would both join us on the hunt, we lit out for the Strip. The endless miles of dusty desert roads through thick cedar forests and sage flats finally delivered us to our secluded campsite. With camp set up completed, I directed one of many questions towards Roger, a genuinely great guy whom I'd immediately liked. Having grown up hunting and trapping in this high desert habitat, Roger has taken some very good bucks from the area. A gifted tracker with boundless energy in camp and in the field, his presence was a definite asset. When asked what kind of trophy would qualify to wear his tag, Rogers carefully worded answer didn't exactly satisfy my curiosity. While he and Brec departed for a last minute scouting foray Bronson and I elected to homestead the wall tent for some much needed rest.



We were greeted on opening morning by a steady rain that soon turned into sleet. Stirring from our bedrolls, Roger calmly said "Jeff, you asked me yesterday what caliber of buck would meet my standards as a shooter out here. Well, I saw him last night." As he began to describe their discovery Brec added "Jeff he's an absolute Giant! He has mass and extra points and I honestly believe he'll push 35." "That's great news!" I replied "it's him or nothing for me! Thanks guys, now let's go get him!"

Entering the long, winding canyon our target buck was spotted in, we paused to await daybreak. There we made the acquaintance of Kurt Reud, an experienced mule deer hunter who had also seen the big buck and appeared equally impressed. After sharing game plans, we parted company with the friendly Montanan with the realization that this gentleman promised serious competition. In the dim light, Brec and I began to hike and glass the surrounding country side as Roger and Bronson left to explore known hot spots. A couple of hours into our trek, the wind blown sleet became drizzling rain as we glassed an expansive sage flat. It was there that my keen -eyed guide pointed out the first wild mule deer I'd ever seen, a bruiser of a buck that we estimated to be in the upper 180's. This would be one of three potential shooters I would pass on during the hunt, my restraint reinforced by the discovery of the big 35'er. Closing the distance, we got close enough to smell the rutting buck before losing him in a dense cedar thicket. Continuing to hike and glass throughout the day, we were rewarded with multiple deer sightings. We ended a great opening day by returning to camp to find that our team had grown by one with the addition of Brecs hunting buddy, Colby Adams.

The next three days of hard hunting blessed us with the locating of more deer than I had expected, including a couple of very decent bucks. This really fueled our drive to beat the odds and Brec and I regularly reminded each other "We’re going to do this!" Having the time of my life, I assured Brec that no matter the outcome, I would return home to Mississippi happy, but if we could manage to lay hands on the monster we were after, I would be extremely ecstatic.

With the rest of our team heading home after the weekend, Brec and I once again roamed our bucks know haunts Monday morning before covering some new ground for a change. The days' highlight was another first for me as we encountered eight antelope, one a good buck. Drawn back to the home range of our 35”er that afternoon, we vowed not to stray from the beasts domain again.

We returned to camp for my favorite meal of the hunt as we once again dined on the delicious muley back straps provided by Lou Sacco from Boston, Massachusetts. Brec guided Lou to his trophy the week before on Unit 13B and the big strip buck sported tremendous mass with multiple brow tines. That night brought a visit by another friend of Brecs Hans Nisson, who upon entering camp assured me that with his luck present, I would have my trophy on the ground the very next day. Hans' timely arrival would prove critical as we had scheduled a return to civilization for gasoline the next day, a sacrifice of hunting time deemed unnecessary with Hans' delivery of a fresh supply.

On day five we scoured the bucks suspected hangouts while Hans left to check out his favorite places. Slipping along behind a traveling fork horned buck, which we witnessed harassing does almost daily, we came upon a group of feeding deer. Sensing that our quarry was near, we patiently glassed the surrounding area. While I maintained the stakeout vigil, Brec circled around to check the slope behind our position. His hurried and immediate return could only mean one thing. Brec excitedly explained how he had almost stepped on the resting buck we sought, who bounced from his bed to stop broadside and stare back at him from 40 yards. Failing to identify Brecs motionless form, the Monarch trotted off as the guide made a mad dash for his hunter.

For the next half hour we cautiously crept around the broken terrain seeking the startled Giant. As emotions roller coasted, we struggled to remain optimistic that we hadn't blown our only opportunity. Easing out onto a finger ridge, we glassed in opposite directions. Spotting a lone doe, I whispered Brec over to my side of the ridge as I ranged the distance at 250 yards. I asked Brec to help me watch the doe in anticipation of the buck possibly joining her. Instructing me to prepare to shoot in the event the buck did appear, Brecs' next words are found at the beginning of this story.

As I hastily set up for the shot, the departing Monarch entered my sight picture and as if on cue, quartered slightly to his right exposing just enough shoulder to attract my aim. My trusty old 30.06 rocked the big deer hard, stopping him in his tracks. "You got him!" Brec shouted "hit him again!" My immediate response boomed across the canyon as the mighty buck collapsed and slid to a stop on the rock strewn mountain side. Turning to face Brec, his wide eyed expression mirrored mine. Hardly able to grasp the reality of our accomplishment I numbly asked "did this really just happen?" Pumping my hand in congratulations Brec answered "You did it, Jeff! You really did it!" "No, Brec." I corrected him "We did it!" as we broke out in triumphant celebration.

Later that evening at Roger Bundys home amid a gathering of friends and family the beautiful Arizona Strip Monsters massive 6X9 rack would indeed hit the 35" mark with a gross score of 215", leaving me speechlessly humbled. I wish to sincerely thank everyone who helped to make my dream hunt a tremendous success. You all know who you are. Most of all, I thank God for the wonderful gifts in his creation.



 
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