- Lynn Burkhead
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It's a dilemma that many bowhunters face every year in the early days of a big-game archery hunting season.
If a fine buck approaches, the bowhunter is forced to answer the following question: Do I shoot now and end the season or do I wait and hope something bigger and better comes by later on?
That was an easy question for Kanab, Utah, bowhunter Jeremy Houston to answer less than an hour into the Aug. 17 archery season opener in Utah's mule deer-rich southern region. Actually, it was a no-brainer and then some.
After cutting his shot, Houston had arrowed an eye-popping 30-inch wide, velvet-horned giant of a typical buck sporting a gross green score of 203 1/8-inches and a net green score of 198 7/8-inches.
Should those numbers hold up after the end of the 60-day drying period required by the Pope & Young Club, the Houston buck could wind up being one of the finest mule deer bucks ever taken by a bowhunter.
Based on the fifth edition of the P &Y record book, the velvet muley should rank in the top-five.
Next question please.
"No, it wasn't a long season, but I would take one like that any year," Houston laughed.
Just days before Utah's archery mule deer season began, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources big game coordinator Steve Cranney had given Beehive State hunters a simple recipe for being successful this fall.
"With the drought we're having, many water sources that have historically held water will be dry this year," Cranney said in a news release. "It's especially important that hunters scout their areas before the season, to find the water sources that have water in them."
In other words, archers hoping to ace the state's mule deer pop quiz had better do their homework. It should come as little surprise that Houston and his hunting buddies had already done so.
"There are several guys that I have been fortunate to hunt with over the years," Houston explained. "Between all of us there is not a week that passes from the end of May till opening day that one of us is not scouting for big bucks."
The monster muley was first discovered on public hunting land by Houston's friend Klint Glover while on a mid-summer scouting trip. Days later, Houston and hunting partner Brian Kelly hit the woods looking for the Utah giant.
"It didn't take long before we found the buck with several other nice bucks and were able to get some good footage (video) of the big one," Houston recalled. "He was huge. Needless to say, we knew where we would all be opening morning."
"We always name the bucks that we hunt," he added.
"It seemed like Big and Beautiful kept coming up, so we kind of came up with the name 'B.B.' for him."
Now fast forward to opening day. That's when Houston sat perched in a treestand that had been set up three weeks earlier.
Less than an hour into the season a herd of noisy cattle ambled by, leaving the 27-year old husband and father to believe that any respectable mule deer buck would up and vacate the country after the bovine ruckus.
Houston, we have a problem.
"I was hoping my five other buddies strategically scattered throughout the area were having better luck than I was," Houston stated.
Moments later, however, Houston heard another noise. Except this time, it was a 25-inch wide four-point mule deer buck closing ranks on the hunter. And he wasn't alone either B.B. was right behind him.
With the bucks 70 yards away and closing on the same path the cows had taken earlier, the young bowhunter readily admits he started shaking with a serious case of buck fever when he realized that he would get a shot opportunity.
"I thought I had practiced every shot imaginable," Houston said. "That's what I get for thinking."
When the bucks came into a clearing some 25-yards away, it was time for Houston to turn in his bowhunting pop quiz once and for all.
"I tried to shift in my seat so I wouldn't have to shoot across my body," he stated. "As I struggled to pull my bow back, I made some noise and the big buck, slightly quartering towards me, looked right at me. I didn't get a very good grip on myself because my 30-yard pin was dancing all over the buck."
But when the pin settled on the buck's chest cavity, Houston cut the shot and heard it hit home. The buck ambled off, leaving the archer to wonder if he had missed.
A few minutes later, Houston crawled out of his stand and found his arrow, confirming the accuracy of his shot.
After giving the buck time to expire, Houston and several hunting buddies began to search for the giant Utah muley in the juniper- and pine-studded terrain.
Following a good blood trail, they found the animal expired under a tree.
"I knew he was big because we had some footage of him," Houston said. "But I didn't realize how massive he was until he was laying there. He had over 20-inches of mass measurements on both sides."
With several good mule deer bucks already to his credit including a 30-inch wide 180-class Pope & Young buck last fall Houston obviously knows a thing or two about passing a mule deer pop quiz.
So what's his recipe for acing an autumn exam? Simple doing the homework.
"The harder you hunt, the more time you put in scouting, and the more time you practice with your bow, the luckier you get, I guess," Houston said.