The story of Big Hank, the alpine mulie!

Mark-R

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Dec 12, 2019
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This is the story of Big Hank, a whopper of a mule deer.
As you can see by the title, this thread is a tip of the hat to Randy, who you'll see, was instrumental in getting me, a new hunter, up to speed in a short amount of time.
I originally posted this thread in HuntingBC forums but wanted to share with you guys here and perhaps Big Fin would get a kick out of it. So here goes.

Here's a bit of back story before we get to Big Hank:
I've been having fun in the mountains (skiing, biking, hiking, general mountaineering) for 13 years since moving to BC.
I'll never forget the time I came across a hunter way up in the alpine.
All he had was his rifle, binos and a backpack.
I inevitably asked the newbie questions:
-What are you hunting for?
-Deer.
-How the hell are you gonna get it out?
-On my back.

That answer always stuck with me.
It's like what I was doing in the mountains was playing and what he was doing up there was on a whole other level.
And then a friend of mine started hunting and hearing his stories gave me the itch even more.

A couple of years ago, my brother in law gave my girlfriend an AR-7 Henry Survival rifle for her birthday.
He's in the military and loves collecting/trading guns. The deal was to get us to obtain our PALs.
His plan worked, because I'm a bit of a gear head and here I am and I can't keep or touch this James Bond rifle.

This also coincided with friends moving and needing to store their chest freezer at our place.
So now I have a PAL and a freezer. Well 2 + 2 = I should get my hunting license and fill the thing with meat.
My girlfriend knew this was going to be a whole new adventure and boy was she right.
And so it began.

My first step in accumulating so much knowledge in a short amount of time was to spend lots of time reading hunting forums to see what you guys are up to.
First, I want to say a huge thank you to all you guys sharing so much knowledge on this site. I never would have had the success without reading so many valuable threads on every possible topic.
A special shout out goes to Randy. From his how-to videos to Fresh Tracks shows, I binge watched them all. His famous gutless method videos I sure watched many times.

Fall 2017: I spend a lot of time in my local mountains of coastal British Columbia just getting practice with everything, gear, skills, knowledge, etc and quickly figure out blacktail hunting is challenging to say the least. I get glimpses of a few does but no bucks. I eventually do the pilgrimage to mule deer regions further north and try my luck.
Quickly find out what it's like to be overrun by ATVs, pick-ups and hunters everywhere. Still was a great experience and had very cool moments where I saw deer (does) that didn't see me. I'm slowly figuring things out.

Come November I plan a day hunt with my buddy who's been mentoring me. I've been been putting the boots to the ground pretty consistently hoping it will pay off.
Towards the end of that day not seeing anything, I decide to use the terrain to my advantage and climb/peak over the edge of a ridge down the other side. My buddy meanwhile sits on a stump and has a smoke while waiting for me. Well as soon as I look over, I see two does booking it towards me and not far behind them I see antlers for the first time! Holy shit antlers! And they're coming up the ridge right towards me.
I quickly back off a few feet, sit my ass down on the slope, yank the neoprene cover off the scope, click the safety off, and within a few seconds, the does stop right in front of me, literally 10-15 yards. I'll never forget the smaller one looking straight back where she came front, her ears focused and her body shaking frantically. The second doe did the same but then spotted me with a look of "what the hell is this?". A fraction of a second later the the buck pops up right next to them and by the time he looks around, I have the crosshairs magnifying his fur, right in the spot I'd always visualized where they should be. BOOM!!! goes the Howa 7mm-08. The buck leaps and races off down the slope he came up. I follow him with my eyes as he starts stumbling, then cartwheeling and is eventually down for the count. My buddy meanwhile jumps up from the stump and races up the hill.
-I got a buck!
-Is he down?!
-Yep!
-Thank god!

Approaching down slope
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As he lays
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This little forky is my first deer, something I'm sure every hunter remembers.
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After debating my options, I decided to go all in and learn how to do the butchering myself. So worth it.
The girlfriend was a great help and and we even made bratwurst sausages!
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Haha the propane torch was used a lot. Needless to say my first gutless method was a little sloppy and there was plenty of hair to remove!

More to come...
 
After seeing how much meat I had from the first deer and wanting to fill the freezer more, I decided I'll keep hunting and see what happens.
It's just too much fun being out in the mountains.
I start pounding the ground again the next few weeks.

On a sunny December morning I hit this one spot I've seen a doe hang out and I'm scouting all 4 corners of this area.
I had a feeling there might be a good buck here...

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I decide to go up some steep cliffy terrain to check out a ridge line that seems to have a stand of old growth trees. As soon as I get to the treeline of old growth, I look up from my climb and there's a doe right in front of me 10-15 yards.
And then as if materializing out of thin air, I see movement behind her. It's a buck!... with a big rack!! Holy shit! I scramble to get the poles off, gloves off, the gun out, scope cover off, safety off (after I pulled trigger once, damn!). Meanwhile his body is hiding behind a few bushes and he starts waking away. All I see is his butt but his head is swiveled around looking at me, the only target in my mind. Good enough at that distance. BOOM!!! The doe takes off and after the smoke clears I approach and look around and there he is laying on the ground.
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I can't believe what just happened again within spitting distance of my barrel. I soak in the moment for a bit with the sun shining and the view of the snow capped mountains.
Then I get to work and haul a couple of loads back to the truck.
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I got to relive that season every time we served venison to friends and family.

More to come...
 
Enter Big Hank.

It's now 2018 and all winter I've been re-reading Mike Eastman's Hunting High Country Mule Deer.
That book is amazing. So much great info and the more time I spend in the field, the more I can relate and glean info from it.

So I say to the girlfriend, how about we go camping up high and bring the rifle for opening day and see what happens?
Sure she says! So off we go. We head up for the long weekend of September into an area my e-scouting showed to be promising.
We set up camp at about 2000m. Not exactly "coyoting" as Mike would say but we're high enough that we have good access to all the ridges nearby.

First morning we wake up and as I crawl out of the tent in my undies, I can't believe what I'm seeing.
3 deer, 2 of which are velvet bucks, are staring at us 200 yards away on a steep slope. Holy! This is what seeing deer in the alpine is like.
I scramble to get the binos and confirm they are 2 and 3 points. This is promising!
Just like Mike explains, their red coats were easy to see in the morning sun.

So we grab our stuff for the day and head off for some glassing. Breakfast and dinner while glassing seems to be our routine.
Right off the bat, we are seeing deer.
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And some goats for good measure.
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It's dipping below freezing at night so I'm guessing they're liking that morning light to warm up.
We glass and glass and observe the deer being deer. Some of the young ones are frolicking around antagonizing the older ones.
I start to notice patterns of hierarchy in those little groups, does with attitude, deer that lead, deer that follow.
Soon they start heading to bed so we watch how they behave, where they go. Some disappear into the clumps of trees, some stay out in the open.
The morning passes and there is no sign of a 4-point. So we decide to move to another vantage point and glass another part of the valley that is more north facing.

We set up and it doesn't take long to spot a red coated 3 point bedded in the middle of a scrubby avalanche path.
I put the spotting scope on him and observe. Again as Mike E. says in his book, the old bucks often have a young buck as a sentinel, doing the dirty work.
I'm looking at him and he's surrounded by bushes. And suddenly, for some reason, my eye picks up on a shape in the bushes.
The shape is of a U. A big U. I blink to freshen my eyes and look again. Holy shit I can make out his face and see him chewing his cud!
This is a massive deer, much bigger than anything I've seen. I keep staring at the U shape, see his ears flap every so often.
And then he turns his head, and for the first time I see, through the scope at 40x, all 8 velvety points forking up to the sky.
HOLY SHEET! He's big and he's legal, except... not until tomorrow because it's August 31st!
We content ourselves with monitoring him and eventually watch him get up and feed down, into the valley and into the darkness as the light fades at the end of the day.
Wow, we're going to sleep pretty excited about tomorrow.

The next day we are up and at 'em before sunrise. Back to our glassing spot we look at the slope we last saw him on. Not there.
We look across the valley and see the same deer from the day before. But where's Big Hank?
Eventually I see a big bodied deer that stands out from all the rest, it's him! The rack is twice the size of any other deer on that slope.
Plus his coat is grey while most other dear are still reddish. He's a brute. When he shakes his head, you sense the mass that's on top of it.
Other deer move out of his way. What a boss.

So we watch him feed, then bed in a shady clump of fir, mostly out of sight Then he gets up and feeds more, heading steadily upwards and eventually
disappearing into a high thicket of trees that is larger and runs up and down the slope. That's where he's gonna bed for the day.

So what's the plan? I'm still new at this and my biggest constraint is I have to be back at work tomorrow. I didn't really plan on seeing all these deer let alone a big 4-point.
Well what the hell let's put a stalk on him and see what happens.

We head down the valley floor and start heading up the other side, going well around and above him. We climb and climb and get to the top of the rocky bluffs above where we think he's bedded. There are little deer paths everywhere, this is where they live, chutes, cliffs, steep scree, challenging terrain but doable.
We played the wind as best we can and are above him. My hope was to see his antlers before he sees or hears us.
On the ground, in what seems the middle of nowhere on the side of a mountain, I pick up an old spent .30-06 casing. Ok, I'm obviously not the first to do this.
We keep easing down, one cliffy bluff at a time getting closer to the clump of trees. I try to see antlers sticking out but nothing.
Time is running out and putting Big Hank down at this time is starting to get unwise as I'll never make it home in time. Plus my girlfriend hardly has a pack to carry a deer out.
So I force a move just to see. I enter the clump of trees. After a few steps, I hear an explosion of branches breaking and while hearing and feeling the heavy hoofs hitting the ground as Big Hank stomped out of there in a hurry. We break through another 10 yards of trees and there's his bed and his freshly dug tracks stotting down the mountain.

My girlfriend is right next to me and we look at each other with huge eyes: "Well that was exciting!"
Those are the last memories of Big Hank for 2018.
The rest of the season I got a spiker in region 3 any buck season, my first mulie.
But as far as region 2 blacktail, I got skunked. I passed on a very small forky and a spiker with literally an inch bone sticking out.
I laid eyes briefly on a big rack in the steep region 2 bush. He was standing on top of cliffs way above me but he buggered off before I could do anything about it.

Big Hank would haunt me for the rest of winter.
More to come -> 2019 opening.
 
So here we are, late summer 2019. So far the year has been good.
I started spring bear hunting, just easing into it, getting better at identifying sex.
The freezer was starting to look empty but it was more of an excuse to get out in the bush. No bears were harmed.

Then this summer I got married. I'm so grateful to have an adventurous and supportive wife who likes to be in the mountains as much as me.
She's an amazing hunting partner and this year she got a new backpack.

But all along in the back of my mind, there's a rematch coming up, and my wife is fully on board.
I worked most of the summer and didn't get many scouting trips in. So once Sept 1st approaches I'm thinking "screw it, I'm shutting down for a week!"
And that's what we did.

We left Saturday night to start hiking into our spot on opening day. Here's an idea of the terrain we're in.
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We set up camp around dinner time and head up for an evening glassing session.
As we're setting up, a big rain shower is heading right for us so out comes the tarp.
Boy was I glad I brought it.
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We glassed and glassed. Finally at last light, my wife spots a lone doe way down the valley, in a far meadow.
It's not much, but it's something. Actually seeing that one doe did lift our spirits before turning in for the evening.

Next morning we're up bright and early and head out for a breakfast glassing session.
We glassed for a couple of hours during what IME should be peak deer activity.
All I spotted was a doe with her fawn again way down the valley. We're not seeing the same amount of deer as last year, not even close.
Maybe it's warmer and they're feeding less. Maybe they're not here for some reason. I start going down the list in my mind of other spots to look at.
So we pick up and are about to head somewhere else but before we leave I tell my wife there's something I want to check out.

When we first spotted Big Hank last year, I noted where he was bedded. Above him is rock ridge that I remember thinking would probably put me within shooting distance.
So I wanted to head over and peak down from the ridge and see if I was right. We head over and we step onto the ridge and look down at an aspect we couldn't glass during breakfast.
Here's the view.
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After appreciating the view with the naked eye for a few moments, I figure I should look for some deer.
I raise the binos to my eyes and point at one of the lower meadows.
As soon as the binos touch my face, I immediately see within the magnified view two deer feeding, and one has a HUGE velvety rack.
My heart skips a beat. I scan both quickly, reddish coat, 3-point, the other greyish coat, huge girth, muscular...and his rack, holeee how can I forget that rack.
I turn to my wife, pointing down and whispering with a clenched jaw "BIG HANK! He's ... right ... there!!!"
 
After spotting Big Hank, things go from chill to frantic in a hurry.
Brain is thinking fast, gotta move into position, get a range. I figure if I get to the next big rock outcrop which you can see in the last shot, I'd be closer with no obstructions.
I get on it, throw the pack down, try to get a rest and range him... 320 yards downhill. ouch!

My longest shot so far in the field was a quick 80 yarder last year with a dead blowdown branch as a rest. It did the job.
300 yard shots I've practiced somewhat at the range and I feel ok depending on the day, and that's with ideal conditions.

Now the scope cover comes off, scope magnification goes to 10x, I jack one in the pipe and look through the scope.
I see him alright but the cross-hairs are wandering too much, not good enough. I'm half sideways prone and my body is not stable at all.
I pull out my tripod and try using it as a rest. I set up the legs, sit my butt close to it and c-grip the top.
I look through the scope again. The cross-hairs are still wandering too much for my liking due to my body movements.
During this minute which seems like forever, the two bucks are feeding up and away.
I range them again... 335 yards and they're slowly moving further.

This is me at that very moment.
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I finally decide that I'm not going to take this shot, it doesn't feel right. I tell myself "Don't rush this. It's only day 2."

So I un-chamber the round and we closely watch the two bucks feed their way up.
They eventually leave the meadow and get onto the shale slope where they climb up a chute and vanish out of sight.

It's about 9am and time to make a plan.
We decide to descend into the valley to get a better look, and maybe climb up the other side, to get the best angle to see where these deer went. As we descend the steep slope, our viewing angle gets better and better and so I'm constantly checking through the binos the chute the bucks went up. Well lo and behold! I spot the 3-point buck bedded below a bush in that chute! We're only half way down to the valley bottom and have a good view of the chute now so no need to go any further.
We set up the spotting scope and have lunch. Remember to always eat while glassing!

Here's what I see
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So this 3-point I'm almost certain is also the same sentinel buck from last year. For sure Big Hank is nearby but can I manage to find him?
Here's a good example why I appreciate good glass.

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That horizontal line in the shadows looks a bit suspicious. So I stare at it for a while. And then I get confirmation. Big Hank eventually moved his head and I catch a glimpse of his antlers moving through the brush. Great, now I know where he is! Now let's wait and see.
Again as Mike E. mentions in his book, bucks will sometimes bed in a secondary location before moving to a prime location to check their back trail.
Sure enough after 20 minutes or so, the 3-point gets up and starts feeding. He slowly moves up and to the right, behind a rock wall and is out of sight.
Excellent, now there's one less deer to spot us. It's one on one.

I tell my wife to keep an eye on Big Hank while I go scout the terrain for a stalk. I walk up to a knoll, trying to keep out of sight, and scan the mountain face with my binos looking at gullies, tree islands, anything that would make a stealthy stalk. I spot this one tree island that in my mind, if we can get to it, would put us in perfect position.

I feel like they're going to stay bedded for while so I tell my wife, let's make a move. Let's see if we can into position carefully but quickly.
We get our gear on and start the approach. As we get closer I range the deer... 890 yards.
We're crossing streams, using gullies to climb, moving from tree island to tree island.
Sometimes we use one tall tree between the deer and us to hide our approach.
Whenever we're out in the open, we move strategically very slowly to the next tree. We even try to manage our shadows on the ground. Once hidden again we move faster.
The closer we get the more critical our every move becomes.
Finally, we are at the tree island I was aiming for!

I slowly look over the edge and take range measurement... oh boy! I look at my wife and show her my fingers: one.. five...zero yards. Her eyes light up!
 
So now I'm in a rush to get set up and I'll tell you why. I haven't talked about the wind yet.
During our approach I used my wind checker every so often and got different results. Sometimes it went straight up the mountain, sometimes it went straight towards the deer.
But with enough terrain breaking things up I took a chance. But now I'm really close, checking the wind and it's consistently going up towards the deer. Faaack!
So I bust some branches to make a rest for the rifle and have a space for the scope to see through.
I'm quickly working myself into a good position because I have feeling this isn't going to last long.

Now I'm looking for Big Hank through the scope.
Here's my setup at 1:32pm
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I check the wind again. Still going straight towards the deer.
Now If I remember correctly looking at the terrain earlier, there is a set of cliffs to the left of him.
What I'm hoping is that if he smells us, his only escape will be to step out into the chute before climbing up.

1:42pm. I'm looking at him through the scope and I see his rack suddenly perk up, square up and fixate on us. He either saw me ****ing around in my tree or smelled us.
A few seconds later, he stands up and I see his head and top of body. He's looking straight down at us.
IT'S GAME ON.

Within a few seconds, he walks out into the chute.
In that moment, total focus takes over.

BOOM!!!
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With a good hold on the rifle, I managed to see his body kinda tense up through the scope. I'm pretty sure I hit him.
I jack the next round in right away.

He takes a few more steps into the chute, does a 180 and freezes there looking into space.
In my mind, I'm shooting till he's down.
BOOM!!!
He steps back behind the bushes but I can still kinda see his vitals.
BOOM!!!
He takes off and then I hear the sounds of crashing through the branches.
Except this time, it doesn't quite sound like he's escaping. It sounded more like he tumbled down the mountain.
Only one way to find out.

I turn around and my wife is in shock that this all happened so fast. Tears are rolling down her face from excitement, but also, she feels bad for Big Hank's little buddy.
I hug and kiss her, look at her and say "I can't believe this just happened".

We put on our packs and head up the chute. He was bedded at treeline above me.
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We finally arrive up where Big Hank was bedded and we start looking over the scene.

Right where I made the first shot we see a good sign on the ground.
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I walk into his bedding area, lots more blood. I keep walking and then no more blood.
So I then start pushing through the scrub pine below and not long after I spot a hoof sticking up.
I tell my wife "He's here!"

As he lays. Notice you can see a bit of valley bottom in the top left of the photo.
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Big Hank
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We soak in the moment and take a few more pictures.

When I was a young kid, my uncle hunted moose and had this old saying that sticks with me: "when you're animal is down, your hunt begins!".
I look at my wife and tell her this story, half jokingly. We have a lot of work to do.
I start figuring out how and where I'm gonna tie off his rack, quarter him up and get all the game bags back up top because below us it gets steeper and cliffs out.

Contemplating the work that lays ahead.
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It's a shitty spot for sure to do this in but we have no choice. This deer is much heavier than anything I've tried to haul around.
2 hours go by, I'm a sweaty mess and we're pretty much done. We have all the good meat in game bags and hauled them up.
 
Time to put these backpacks to work.
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We're loaded up nice heavy and start heading back down the valley.
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To make it out of this basin we have to climb "the wall". It's just a really steep slope but we're struggling with the weight already.
So we stop and debone the meat which definitely helped because we still have hours of packing out.

Up the wall.
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Once over the wall it's mostly down hill back to the truck but still about 4 hours away.
We finally make it to the truck at 10pm, which made for a 7 hour pack out.
That took a lot of effort. We are completely spent and sore. We left all our camping gear in the alpine and just wanted to get the meat out.
Once the meat is in the cooler, we figured we'd either sleep in the truck or hike back in that night... yeah right.

We open the cheap Coleman cooler and the ice is completely melted.
We then decide screw this, let's drive for a few hours straight home and get him in the fridge.
We'll get all the butchering done, rest up for a couple days. Then we'll come back for a nice overnight hike and get the rest of our gear off the mountain.

This plan worked out great. All our stuff was still there, our food was still hanging in the tree and our packs were much lighter and our bodies have recovered a bit.
We hiked out the next day and said goodbye to this amazing place for now.
 
So now the question is what the hell do I do with this?
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I'm feeling a bit of pressure to do the right thing.
Friends right away are texting me their taxidermist contact info.

So I talk to one and get my options:
-the velvet is not looking so hot with some missing spots. Recommends removing it.
-I don't have the cape. I can buy one but it'll be a winter one, not summer.
-shoulder mount will end up being over $1000 CAD and 12-18 months turn around.
-euro mount closer to $400, probably get it before xmas.

I was partial to euro mount from the start and figured all right, let's do this.

Skinned and stripped
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Boil in OxiClean
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While boiling I had to be careful because the heat of the antlers made the blood swell and start oozing out of pinholes in the antlers.
Kind of freaky to see the whitish antlers bleeding red. I took it out, cooled it down, wiped the blood off and then boiled some more.
Took about an hour.

Then pressure washed the shit out of it. I'm fortunate I have access to a 3000 psi unit and this saves a lot of time.
I was able to get pretty much everything off on the first pass. Then a coat hanger to get some of that brain material out and then more pressure washing.

I then used a few 140ml bottles of 30 vol developer (peroxide) and matching decolorizing powder from the hair coloring section of Shoppers Drug Mart.
2 bottles might have been enough, I had more than plenty of paste.

Brush that onto the skull, let sit overnight in a plastic bag and voila
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Now I'm letting it hang outside until the smell dissipates and the flies are done with it.
Then I'll stain the antlers to a more natural color and glue the nose pieces back on properly.

I ended up giving the velvet to a friend who told me all about the healing and boosting properties it supposedly has, commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine.
You dry it into a powder and use it as a supplement. Not really my thing.

I'll post some pics when I get around to finishing the mount.
 
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So now I'm about to score a rack for the first time. Any guesses?

Here's another angle to give a better idea.
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Before Big Hank, my scoring ability was pretty much limited to counting how many points.
Until now I had just glossed over Section III Judging of Mike Eastman's book. What a great resource.
Now after reading it I can appreciate the finer details and quality of a mule deer's rack, especially when I have my own in front of me.

After taping and measuring a 3rd time, my amateur attempt at scoring came out to
166 6/8 gross
158 net

Anyways, it's not record for B&C or BC but I'm pretty darn happy with it.
The real question now is next time I see Big Hank in the wild, do I let him grow a year older? Or am I still a meat hunter?
Hmmm...

I looked at Big Hank's teeth and they seem in very good shape so I'm not sure if he plateau'd yet. Maybe he could have eventually reached record size.

That about sums it up.

"Hey folks, thanks for watchin'." -RN
 
That is a great story of a fantastic hunt. Congrats. Thanks for sharing here. Look forward to more of your threads.
 
Man I can't imagine listening to you tell that story in person. I was rolling at some points. Great buck great adventure great work. If it was me and I had a experience like that and it was a buck I chased for a couple seasons and named him big hank. I'd get him mounted, buy a cape and put fake velvet back on him. That's just me though. Nice work!
 
Great story! Loved the authenticity and that pic showing the smoke from your barrel is awesome! Congrats on both a great buck and a great spouse!
 
Congrats on taking an awesome buck! Thanks for taking us along on your journey over the years to "Big Hank". Also congrats on having a girlfriend willing to climb those mountains and help you pack out your animals.
 
Excellent write up! Welcome to the addiction!

In reference to the velvet, you can have it freeze dried on. I personally love velvet deer and the high country, just hard to get a tag while still in velvet.
Matt
 

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