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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2016
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    Grand Ridge, FL
    Posts
    148

    Default My First Western Saga....

    Prelude.....

    I actually wrote this first part at work the day I we were leaving for Wyoming....

    "About 7:45 last night it finally hit me. Up until then, this deer hunting trip to Wyoming has seemed like just another one of my schemes. It seemed like something I had always said I was going to do and even made tentative plans for. But, last night, sitting on my couch looking at the weather in northeast Wyoming, it hit me like a .300 Win Mag! I was suddenly filled with so much excitement and anxiety I almost threw up. I dropped my phone and jumped up off the couch like I had been bit by a snake. Then, I just stood there paralyzed for a minute looking at the pile of gear ready to be packed into the car. A thousand hopes and doubts flooded my brain all at once. I felt lightheaded and had to sit back down. My scalp felt like there were a hundred turkeys scratching around on it and my arms felt as heavy as lead. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. Slowly my arms lightened and the turkeys stopped their scratching. A huge smile began to spread across my face and I thought to myself “I’m going hunting in Wyoming.”

    This whole thing started years ago. I have wanted to do a DIY western hunting trip since 2005. Several times I have begun to make plans. But, I would always begin to falter. I would lose interest. The cost would seem prohibitive. I would become intimidated. Then, I discovered a man that would change the way I saw western hunting trips. His name is Randy Newberg. I had watched a few of his videos on YouTube last winter. Toward the end of May, one of those videos popped up on my YouTube “watch again” feed. So, I watched it again. In that video he said something that would literally change my life. He said, “Hunt when you can. You’re gonna run out of health before you run out of money.” I literally started crying. You see, at the time I was almost 41 years old and weighed almost 500 pounds. I couldn’t walk a hundred yards without getting out of breath. I had lost almost all my interest in hunting and fishing because it was too much work for me with all the extra weight I carried around every day. Right then I decided to make a change. I cleaned up my eating and started exercising. By mid-July, I had lost a significant amount of weight. For the first time in a long time I had hope. Hope that I would be able to continue becoming more healthy. Hope I would live longer. Hope I would be able to do what it took to have a successful DIY western hunt.

    In late July, I started doing research on the states where I could get a tag. I knew it was late in the year and tags would be limited. I also knew that, even though I was getting stronger and healthier every day, I still wouldn’t be ready for a strenuous, back-country mountain hunt. At the advice of Randy Newberg via his video series, I purchased a membership to the goHunt.com Insider program. I spent hours researching states, units, and seasons. Finally, on July 28th, I logged onto the Wyoming Game and Fish website and bought a left-over deer tag. As soon as I clicked the button to complete the purchase, I broke out in a cold sweat. What had I just done? So many things could go wrong in the next three months. What if I got hurt? What if I got sick? What if there were no deer in the unit? The doubts filled my mind but, I was only $300 into it. I could still back out without a huge loss.

    I broke the news to my wife later that night. She was excited for me and supportive as always. After some discussion, we decided to make it a family trip. I had planned on camping when it was just me going but, now that all four of us making the trip, other arrangements had to made. We looked at renting an RV and hotels in the area but, neither option seemed feasible. We finally found a cabin on the eastern edge of the hunt unit near the South Dakota border. On July 31st, I paid for the cabin and we told the boys about the trip. There was really no backing out now.

    The next three months were a whirlwind of preparation and planning. I had plenty of hunting clothes but, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I was losing weight so fast most of them were going to be too big for me by the time the trip rolled around. I hated to buy a bunch of expensive hunting clothes for just one trip so I decided to just make do with what I had. I decided to take a rifle I had gotten from my wife’s uncle right after he was diagnosed with cancer and realized he was not going to be able to hunt. I had never had a scope that cost over $100 so, I decided to splurge for a Nikon to go on that rifle. The other item I decided to spend some money on was a new handheld Garmin GPS unit. I had purchased the onXmaps app for my phone however, I was worried about the cell phone reception being spotty so I also purchased the GPS chip for Wyoming. My wife busied herself making preparation and plans for keeping a 3 year old and a 9 year old busy during the 1700 mile trip. We also planned to cook most of our meals at the cabin to keep costs down so, she worked on the menu.

    Up until the end of October, I looked at the trip with hopeful anticipation. I kept exercising and eating right. The pounds kept falling off. I listened to every podcast and watched every YouTube video I could find on western hunting to keep my excitement level up. The preparations and planning were coming together and, by the first of November, almost everything had fallen into place. That’s when the clouds began to gather. I found myself slipping into a dark place. The excitement was gone. I began to focus on all the negative. I lay awake at night thinking of all the things that could go wrong. I felt guilty that my family was sacrificing so much just for me to go hunting. I imagined illnesses and felt injuries coming on that would surely ruin my trip. Work began stressing me out. On November 4th, I was ready to pull the plug on the whole trip. That’s when my wife sat me down and had a talk with me. She explained to me something that I knew was true but, was unwilling to admit to myself. This dark place that I had fallen into was a defense mechanism. It was my way of bailing on the trip simply to avoid the possibility that things may not go as planned or that the trip may be more work than I originally thought.

    Even though I knew she was right, there were still so many things that could go wrong in the next few days. I continued the final preparations and packing with a sort of detached attitude. It was almost like I was packing for someone else to go on the trip. I packed my backpack at least twice. I packed my hunting clothes and my rifle but, in the back of my mind, I still wasn’t going.

    Then, like I said earlier, it hit me last night. This is really going to happen! Now here I sit on my lunch break at work feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve. The minutes feel like hours, the hours like days. The car is at home loaded and ready. My last minute checklist is open on my phone and most of the items are marked complete. The turkeys on my head are calm. I check the weather in Wyoming every few minutes. It is almost time….."

    After work, I headed home to finish packing the car. We had planned on leaving about 8pm but, we were anxious to get on the road so we pulled out about 6pm.



    We drove through the night Thursday night and most of the day Friday. We stopped for the night just south of Sioux City, Iowa. Saturday morning we got up early and headed for Wyoming.

    Here are a few pics of the first antelope we saw in South Dakota



    Attached Images Attached Images  

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2016
    Location
    Grand Ridge, FL
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    148

    Default

    Day .5
    We crossed the border from South Dakota into Wyoming and I was in awe to say the least. Perhaps intimidated is a better way to out it. The “hills” I had seen on Google Earth looked like the Rocky Mountains to this flatlander from Florida! The country was so much steeper than I had anticipated. And what was more of a surprise was how thick the pines were on top of the hills and how open the valleys were. Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed!


    We arrived at our cabin Saturday afternoon about 3:30pm. We quickly unpacked the car so I could get to my rifle and get the scope checked. The guy we rented the cabin from had a friend over checking his scope so, as soon as they were done I made sure the Savage 7mm Rem Mag was still on...and it was.


    By the time I was done with that, the wife had everything unpacked. We decided to take a short ride to a spot I had picked out just a couple miles away. We saw tins of deer (all on private land) on the way. Unfortunately, the spot I had picked was inaccessible as the road leading to it was marked as a private drive (despite being shown as a county road on the onXmaps app).


    So, there I was without a plan for the first morning. However, I got my pack all set up and my clothes laid out for the first morning. I figured I would just head into the National Forest and pop a squat somewhere until it got daylight. Despite being exhausted from 2 days of driving, sleep was slow to come. I lay awake wondering where to go and what to do. Finally, around midnight I think I went to sleep.

    Day1


    The alarm in my phone went off seemingly minutes after I had fallen asleep. I was still so exhausted from the drive I decided to sleep in, gather my wits, and make a better plan after a good breakfast. The kids were up about 6am so the wife made a pot of coffee. I fried some bacon and scrambled some eggs as dawn broke over the hills outside our cabin. While we ate breakfast, we watched several deer (including a small whitetail buck hot on the trail of a doe) work their way across the hillside opposite the cabin and bed in the creek bottom.


    We finished breakfast and loaded up the kids. I made a list of 3 more places I wanted to check out. So, we loaded up the kids and off we went. The first spot was a flop. Again, access was blocked by a private road that was shown as public on my app. Next we headed to the National Forest. As soon as we entered we started seeing deer….and people. There was a truck or camp site at every closed road and several parked on the side of the road. We had a great time riding through the Forest and the wife enjoyed taking pictures of the scenery and the kiddos.


    We headed back to the cabin so i could grab some lunch and get an early start in the evening hunt. I had made note of a few places I wanted to scout out before picking a spot to hunt that evening. On my way into the Forest, I noticed several folks with campers heading out. I remembered seeing one of the camper at a long, closed road I had noted on the map so I headed straight there.


    After strapping all my gear on, I headed out down the road. I hadn't gone 50 yards when a young doe walked out in the road ahead of me. We had a stare down for a few minutes before she fed off without a care in the world. I noticed there had been a lot of foot traffic down the road but, the further i got from the main road, the fewer boot prints I found. About a mile in, I stopped seeing human tracks and started seeing elk tracks. I figured if the elk were there, nobody had been back there lately.


    I didn't realize how late it had gotten, so I found a straight stretch of road, checked the wind, and settled in for the evening. I saw several does and a small 3 point cross the road. About 30 minutes before sundown, I heard deer running in the woods to the south of me and the heard the unmistakable sound of horns slamming together. What a fight it was! I listened to the bucks fight for about 45 seconds while I watched the doe slip off through the thick trees. The bucks broke up and the loser headed off up the hill. I caught a couple glimpses of him as he skulked away. He was a nice buck by my standards. The winner headed out after the doe but, I never got to see his horns just his enormous body.

    About 15 minutes before legal shooting time was up, I figured I better head back to the car. I got my pack on and turned to walk up the road and nearly ran into a small 4 point. I made it back to the car and headed back to the cabin with big hopes for the next morning.

    This is where I hunted that first afternoon...




  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2016
    Location
    Grand Ridge, FL
    Posts
    148

    Default

    Day 2

    I could hear the wind blowing as soon as the alarm went off Monday morning. I hate hunting in the wind but, I was excited to get back to my little road in the National Forest none the less. I got dressed and made the 15 minute drive without incident. Upon arriving at my spot I realized the wind had shifted from the evening before, so I hunted from the opposite end of the road. About 45 minutes after light, I saw a buck chasing a doe in the woods to the north of me but, I never got a solid look at him. Thirty minutes later, a nice buck crossed the road but, didn’t give me time for a shot. I sat for another hour and a half and saw nothing so I decided to get up and explore a bit. I walked as short distance down another road that branched off the road I was hunting. I hadn’t walked far down the road when a doe came running straight at me. She stopped about 25 yards away and started looking into the woods behind her. I followed her gaze and saw a great buck slipping away through the thick trees. I hustled up the road toward the doe trying to get an opening for a shot. I found and opening and got set up. I bleated to stop him as he crossed the opening but, all he offered me was a shot of his rump.



    On the walk back to the truck, I looked at the thick woods of the National Forest and thought to myself this was not what I came out here for. I could hunt like this back home in Florida. I decided to check out some new areas and make another plan for the afternoon. My family wanted to see Devil’s Tower and I had picked out a couple pieces of public land north of Devil’s Tower so we headed out after breakfast.

    After seeing Devil’s Tower, I headed to the first of the spots I had picked out only to find the road that was marked as a county road on the map marked as a private road. Looking back, I realize that these roads were more than likely public and the landowners had strategically placed their posted and no hunting signs in a way so that it appeared the road was private. I was getting a little discouraged and we headed back to the cabin.



    On the way back I decided to head up toward the Montana border and check out a couple spots up there. The first spot I went to was piece of walk-in hunt ground. There was a road kill mule deer buck at the parking area so I figured I was in a decent spot. I hiked and glassed the entire 1000 acres and while I saw plenty of antelope, I didn’t see any deer. I saw plenty of tracks and really enjoyed the wide open scenery the property had to offer.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2016
    Location
    Grand Ridge, FL
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    148

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    Day 3

    We had planned on going to Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse on Tuesday so I gave the deer a break. I slept in and, after breakfast, started getting the kiddos ready for the 1.5 hour drive. While I was getting the car ready, the gentleman we were renting the cabin from came over to chat. He asked how my hunting was going and told me about all the deer he had been seeing around the house. He told me he had filled his buck and doe tag already. Then he asked if I knew about the state land that bordered the back side of his property. I told him I had seen it on the map but, I didn’t feel right asking permission to use his property to access it since it was landlocked. He said that since his tag was filled, I was welcome to use his ATV trail to access the public land. I thanked him and told him if we made it back in time from sightseeing, I would check it out.

    We had a great day at Rushmore and Crazy Horse. I have to admit that I was much more impressed by Crazy Horse. That thing is huge!



    After a nice dinner in Rapid City, we headed back to the cabin but, not in time for me to scout out the public land behind the cabin. So I went to bed without a solid plan for the morning.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2016
    Location
    Grand Ridge, FL
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    148

    Default

    Day 4

    I was awake 30 minutes before the alarm on Wednesday morning. I checked the weather forecast on my phone and saw the snow coming in on Thursday. They forecast 5-8” where we were. I figured If I was going to get it done, it needed to be today. I figured with all the deer activity I had seen in the National Forest, I could get a shot at some kind of buck there in the afternoon. So, I decided to hike up the ATV trail behind the cabin and check out the public land back there.

    I had plenty of time so I thought if I dressed lightly and took my time, I could make it to the top of the hill without getting too sweaty. Boy was I wrong. The climb ended up being about a 1/2 mile long and about 500 feet up in elevation. About half way up, day began to break. Things looked real fuzzy to me and that’s when I realized I had forgotten to put my contacts in. Half blind, I continued my hike up the hill. Being from the flat land of Florida, I felt like I had climbed Mt. Everest! I was soaked with sweat and when I got to the top the wind was howling. But, I was greeted with a wondrous view. I felt like I could see the other side of the world from up there. The piece of public land consisted of a huge mesa with several wooded draws criss-crossing the otherwise open plain. The edges of the mesa dropped down to private land on three sides and the South Dakota border on the other.



    As soon as I reached the top I began seeing deer in all directions. I was completely confused as to what to do so, I just started glassing the various groups of deer in hopes of spotting a buck. There were several small whitetail bucks nearby but, no muleys. However, as the sun was topping the horizon, I spotted a nice whitetail buck all the way across the property near the South Dakota border. I cinched up the chest strap on pack and set out closing the distance. About halfway across the mesa, I stopped to check on the buck with my binos and found that he was now hot on the trail of a doe who was making hard for the SD border. I tried to cut enough distance to get a shot but, he dropped off the mesa in short order.

    With me crossing the open mesa, most of the deer had dropped off the top into the draws. I decided to find a rock and have a seat and some breakfast until things calmed down. After a Nutri-grain bar or two, I started still hunting my way around the draws. I would walk a little ways on the flat of the mesa and then ease up to the edge of the draws and glass for a while. I did this until about 10am when I decided to sit and do some calling. I have never had much luck calling but, I was trying to make something happen. I called for 15 minutes or so and then sat for another 20 minutes with no luck. The Nutri-grain bars were starting to wear off so I decided to head back to the cabin for some bacon and eggs and to regroup for the afternoon.

    I was almost back to where I needed to cut downhill to pick up the ATV trail I had followed up when I saw a BIG bodied deer running across the mesa. Without my glasses, I couldn’t see horns but, I had no doubt it was a buck. I got my rifle off my shoulder and rested on my shooting sticks. He looked to be a long way off so I got out my rangefinder with my left hand while supporting my rifle with my right. A loud bleat stopped the deer in the middle of the mesa. I put the rangefinder on him and immediately saw horns. I tried and tried to get a range but, the el-cheapo rangefinder wouldn’t range him. Without my glasses or contacts, I was having a hard time judging distance. I guessed him to be 300 yards. I put the top circle on my Nikon BDC on his vitals and squeezed off the shot. The bullet kicked up dust way over his back and he whirled to head back to the draw where he came. I watched him run off in the scope. He didn’t look like he was hit. I wanted to be sure, so I dropped my pack and headed out across the mesa. Given the time it took to walk to where he was when I shot, I realized he wasn’t nearly 300 yards. I also realized I had turned my scope down to 6x when I was calling and my BDC calcs were figured with the scope on 10x. I checked for blood where he was standing at the shot and followed his track until they led back into the draw. No blood or any other sign of a hit. Given all this, I was sure it was a clean miss.

    Cussing myself for making stupid rookie mistakes, I headed back to where I had dropped my pack marking where I was standing when I shot. I worked up quite a sweat again so, I shed some layers, packed them in my pack, and put my pack back on. Just as I got my pack on and turned around to head out, I spotted a brown blob that looked to be feeding under a pine about 100 yards away. A quick look through my binos revealed it was in fact a deer…even better, it was a mule deer…and it had horns! I got my rifle of my shoulder and onto the shooting sticks. I had to wait a moment for the deer to turn broadside. Once he did, I settled the crosshairs on his shoulder and started squeezing the trigger. Nothing happened. I checked the safety which was off and made sure the bolt was closed. Both were as they should be so I squeezed the trigger again. Nothing. That’s when I realized I had never cycled the bolt after missing the whitetail buck. Slowly and as quietly as I could, I cycled the bolt. I got back on the scope and settled my breathing and the crosshairs. I squeezed the trigger. BOOM! He never knew what hit him and was dead before he hit the ground.

    A flood of emotion washed over me. I was so excited I could hardly breathe. I had come 1700 miles to Wyoming. I had shot a mule deer. But, at the same time, I felt a deep sense of disappointment that my hunt was over. I was happy that I had been able to take this beautiful animal in such a beautiful place. But, I was sad that my dad was not there with me. I was proud of what I had accomplished. But, I was, as I always am when I harvest an animal, a little ashamed of the joy I feel when taking a life. All these thoughts and feelings played through my mind as I dressed and quartered the buck on that hill in Wyoming. I have long been a man in body but, I think I truly matured a lot that day. I couldn’t wait to get down off that hill and see my family who had selflessly traveled all those miles with me to see one of my dreams come true.







    I sent a text to my wife letting her know that I was headed down with a heavy pack. I was fairly sure the cabin owner would drive up with me to pick up the meat but, I wanted to pack some out myself. I loaded up my pack with a shoulder, the backstraps, tenderloins, and all the trim meat. I shouldered the pack and headed down the hill. As I rounded the corner to the cabin, my oldest sone who had been watching out the window ran down the long drive and greeted me with the biggest hug a 9 year old can muster. He could tell my pack was heavy and wanted to carry it for me. He was rather disappointed he when I told him it was too heavy. By the time I reached the cabin, the cabin owner was there with his ATV to carry me back up to get the rest as my wife had told him I had been successful. I can’t say I was disappointed that we rode back up there to pick up the remaining meat and head!


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2016
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    Grand Ridge, FL
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    Day 5 and the Ride Home

    I tried to stay awake that night to see the first of the snowfall but, the day’s work and excitement coupled with several Crown and 7’s put me out early. We woke up to a few inches of snow the next morning. It was a lazy day filled with snowballs, snow men, and naps. We decided since the roads would be questionable due to winter storm Argos (I didn’t even know the named winter storms) we would head for home on Friday instead of Saturday in case of delays. Much snow fell that day. When I woke up Friday morning there was about 8 inches of snow piled on the car. We set about cleaning it off and getting packed. Around 10am we headed for Florida. It was a slow go until we got to Iowa. We drove straight through and 32 hours and 2 Cracker Barrels later, we made it safely home.

    This trip was an amazing thing for myself and my family. The things we saw and the things we learned about each other will forever change the dynamics of our family. I know the buck wasn’t a monster but, he means as much to me as any of the other deer I have taken in the past. On the way home I realized that the horns nor the meat are trophies. The real trophies are the memories made that will last a lifetime.

  7. #7

    Default

    Appropriate that you posted your adventure essay on Thanksgiving Day. You are a blessed man who just had a fantastic life changing year. Congratulations for earning the results.
    No one can go back and make a brand new start, however anyone can start from now and make a new ending.

    "Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship" Denzel Washington

  8. #8

    Default

    Excellent account of your adventure. Thanks for sharing and congrats.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    Location
    Almost North Dakota, not quite Canada
    Posts
    640

    Default

    Thanks for sharing this story. Congrats on sticking with it and living your dream! Glad your family was able to share it with you.

  10. #10

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    Love the picture of your son running to greet you. Great memories were made on that trip out west.

  11. #11

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    Thanks for sharing your adventure, what a great trip
    Soli Deo Gloria - To GOD alone the GLORY

  12. #12

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    Excellent write up. Sounds like you picked a pretty good spot based on the number of deer sightings.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2000
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    Bozeman, MT
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    12,457

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    Wow. What you have accomplished and how you have pushed yourself beyond your comfort level is a remarkable story for all of us. On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful to have read your story and I hope it is the first of many for you and for your family.

    Congrats on filling your deer tag. Bigger congrats on showing the fortitude to do what you did to make a dream a reality. Having your family help and support you through the entire trip is very special.
    My name is Randy Newberg and I approved this post. What is written is my opinion, and my opinion only.

    "Hunt when you can. You're gonna run outta health before you run outta money."

  14. #14

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    Great story of a hunt and a whole lot more. That was a really special trip you and the family took. Reminded me of a story I read on MM once about a barber who shot his first mule deer.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Location
    Utah, after 30+yrs in MT
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    476

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    What a great adventure and way to go overcoming so many things and making it happen. I love that your family was there and a part of it. This is a great example to me. Thanks.

  16. #16

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    Great story! Than you, and congratulations!

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
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    eastern Washington
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    3,099

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    As already stated by Sawtooth, that photo of your son running to you is a priceless trophy. Now that you've done it once, what's the next western hunt? Congratulations on a great family adventure!
    Being defeated is a temporary condition, giving up is what makes it permanent.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
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    Bitteroot valley MT
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    417

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    That was great! Thank you for posting!!
    Winning isnt everything, But the will to win is everything.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
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    Northern Colorado
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    2,179

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    What a great adventure for you. In my mind this buck is bigger than most of the trophy pics we see, as you have made a dream come true while your family shared it with you. Thanks for sharing! Andy
    "We can only do what we can do while we can do it!"

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
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    South East Colorado
    Posts
    7,331

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    Excellent adventure!!
    I'm an addict...archery, rifles, shotguns, handguns, muzzleloaders, hunting, fishing, fly fishing..and I don't want rehab

    CWEH...Colorado's Worst Elk Hunter 2007-2016 (but I'm still damned sexy)

  21. #21

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    What an awesome hunt! You will always remember this as your first western hunt.
    I still from time to time, take the time to reflect on past hunts. The one that always sticks out is my first Muley tag. I missed multiple really respectable 5 by 5 mulie's actually shot the antler off one that my brothers ended up shooting as he ran over the hill. That first tag ended up being put on a small buck, but I still remember that tag as the most memorable!
    Luke

  22. #22
    Join Date
    May 2013
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    Land-O-Cheese
    Posts
    417

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    Thank you for taking the time to share your adventure. Hopefully the first of more to come

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Nov 2016
    Location
    Grand Ridge, FL
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    148

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    Thanks everyone for the congrats and words of encouragement! I hope this was just the first of many Western adventures for me and my family. I'm not sure what next year holds. I'd love to go chase an elk but, not sure I'll physically be ready for it by then. I am definitely going to start building some points for me and my oldest in some different states for elk, muleys, and antelope. I may even start building some points for him for sheep and goat.

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
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    Not Virginia anymore!
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    3,185

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    Congrats on a great trip. Hopefully it's the first of many.

  25. #25

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    Thoughtful share and pics, especially the "welcome home dad".

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