Caribou Gear

An Ode to Fresh Tracks, Wyoming Whitetails


Dec 11, 2017
Long post alert but trust me, its worth it.

In October of 2019, my co-worker Tony and I were talking about hunting and how neither of us had taken a deer yet this season. I hadn’t filled my tag in California’s D3-5 zone, and he had made a trip to Oregon with one of his sons and had missed a nice mule deer. Needless to say, we were both itching for some time behind the gun in search of meat.

I mentioned that I’d been looking at getting some leftover whitetail doe tags in Wyoming, and asked Tony if he’d be interested. Without hesitation, he said “Yea when are we going?” I’d only been casually throwing around the idea, but the next day, Tony called me and said, “There’s 5 tags left in the unit and me and my boys just bought 4. Get the last one, we’re going the first week of November.” Apparently, we were going deer hunting! I bought my tag and we left for Thermopolis on the night of Halloween.

That experience sold me on Wyoming. Coming from California where just laying eyes on a buck in most units is a big deal, I was shocked by the amount of game present in the cowboy state. Tony called the area game warden prior to us heading out and got the names of some ranchers that allowed hunting on their property. We met them the first day we got there, and we were lucky enough to fill all five tags by the end of day two.

Fast forward a few months, and I’m sitting at home watching a Fresh Tracks episode, 2016 Wyoming Whitetail, which focused on hunting in north central Wyoming on leftover tags. I said to myself, “Hey that area looks familiar” and started doing some research. Like the video said, there were plenty of tags issued for whitetails (bucks and does) and with zero points, the draw odds were 100%, a safe bet for a second choice. Plus, the tag type was valid in a neighboring unit, giving us the chance to hunt two units if the primary one didn’t pan out; however the tag was whitetails only.

The area had plenty of public, a ton of walk-in access and the Wyoming Game and Fish website provided contact information for several landowners in the area. It looked good all around! The neighboring unit also had a ton of public, but the tag was for “Any antlered deer,” allowing for the take of a whitetail or a mule deer. The kicker was, if you didn’t have at least 10 points, the draw odds were 0%.

There were five of us in our group and I was the only one with points, albeit just 2. Whatever, I figured I’d put in for the any deer unit as a long shot as a first choice and have the whitetail as a safe backup plan. The draw came and went, everyone drew the whitetail tags and I happened to get lucky and drew one of the two random tags in the 10-point unit! I’d call that a fair trade for my 2 points. The rest of the summer was spent e-scouting, pouring over Google maps, OnX, the Fish and Game site and reaching out to landowners. Two were very amicable and gave me permission over the phone, saying “Just give me a call when you get here!”

And just like that, November was here, and we were off. Having made the 16-hour drive straight from California to Thermopolis the year prior, we decided to split the trip into two legs, staying in Evanston the first night and finishing up in the morning. It was a good choice, since we hit a pretty big snowstorm outside of Salt Lake City all the way to the Wyoming border.

The next day we drove from Evanston to Thermopolis. We saw plenty of animals along the way, including some stud muley bucks and several herds of elk. Finally, we got into town, checked into the house and started to scout the area. Per Google and all the images I looked at, the walk-in-areas looked like excellent habitat; agricultural lands close to the river and with plenty of cover. Unbeknownst to us, the fields were all tilled over to nothing but dirt by the time we arrived. Welp. Plan B I guess.

We got ahold of a group of friends who were there at the same time and had doe tags in our unit. They’d been able to put down a few on one of the walk-ins so we checked it out. We saw deer, but they stuck close to cover and were very wary of any sign of people. This area is hunted under the general tag as well beginning in October. We spent the rest of the afternoon checking the area for other spots, and tried the old “door knock” approach.

At the first property we came across, the woman we spoke to said she was the property caretaker, but not the landowner. She did give us the landowner’s number however, who happened to be one of those I had called prior to our arrival! As luck would have it, he was home and told us to come by. We met with him, and not only did he grant us permission on his land, but drove us back to the property and told us to “set up here, here and here, the whitetails come through in the morning and around sunset.” He also gave us permission on another section of his property, as I’d mentioned I had a mule deer tag too. Again, he showed us around his property and pointed out several draws and sagebrush flats and a deep cut that led out to a large section of BLM. “There’s plenty of mule deer out here, and if we get weather they’ll move around all day.”

I’m still surprised by the generosity and willingness of landowners in Wyoming to allow total strangers to hunt on their properties. Of course, this comes with the responsibility to take care of the land to which you’ve been granted access; leave gates as you find them, don’t shoot towards livestock, and clean up after yourself. Try to leave things in a better condition than you found them.

Coming from California, even getting someone to respond to a letter or a phone call for hunting permission is almost unheard of, let alone knocking on someone’s door and getting access. I’ve heard Wyoming today is like what California used to be, but 40 years ago. Slightly before my time.

We were there in the peak of the rut and figured the boys would be chasing the girls, so we came to the decision the night before our first full day to let the does walk at first, in the hopes that their boyfriends would be shortly behind them.

The first morning didn’t go entirely according to plan, as a bad range on my part lead to a my friend Chris missing a shot on the nicest whitetail buck we saw the whole trip. Regardless, we managed to put down a doe and a buck on day one. Over the course of the next few days we managed to fill seven of our eleven tags, including my mule deer buck, the first I’d ever taken.

Going into the hunt, I envisioned what it would be like. I’d be hiking through the badlands, looking over miles of sagebrush and canyons, and find a muley buck chasing a hot doe. I’d watch him lip curl and put his nose to the ground, chasing her until she let him breed her or she’d run off and I’d be able to stalk into 400 yards or less, settle in and take a single, well placed shot, dropping him dead in his tracks. What actually happened was quite different.

We were driving through the property to get to the BLM lands where we’d seen several bucks the day before, as it had been snowing for most of the afternoon and expected the deer to be up and moving. It was about 20 minutes to the end of legal shooting light. We stopped as we saw a mule deer doe in a sagebrush growth between two ag fields. Right behind her was a muley buck. I saw him and at first thought he was only a forky, albeit a nice, wide one at that. He turned and I immediately saw he was a 3x4, better than anything I’d ever laid eyes on and an animal I’d be happy to place my tag on. One of the guys said, “Oh he’s a shooter!” and I bailed out of the truck, grabbed my rifle and chambered a round, running up onto the top of the ridge as he disappeared into the sage. A second later he came out, stopped and started to take a step as I found his shoulder in my crosshairs. He took that step, putting my aim right on his vitals. The .270 cracked and he fell. I’d shot him at about 30 yards. Not quite what I had pictured in my mind, but he was the best deer I’d ever taken and we’d worked hard the whole week to find one like him.

If you’re looking for a great trip with plenty of opportunity, plenty of access and ease of drawing tags, look no further than Wyoming. It was my second trip there and I will continue to apply and hunt there as long as I am able.

After getting home, I explained to my wife that although I was gone for a week, it was anything but a vacation. We were up at 4 AM every day, with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees in the morning and topping out around 25 to 30 degrees at the warmest points of the day. Add to that we were butchering, processing and packaging all the meat, work would be the more appropriate term for this trip. But work I’d be happy to do any day given the chance.

Oh and Happy New Years to all, here’s hoping 2021 calms down a tad and society gets back to normal-ish.


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