I managed to draw the New Mexico Unit 30 mule deer archery tag this year. This is a tough hunt. Last year, 250 tags were issued. 228 hunters filed the after season report and 48 were successful. A friend of mine who gave me some advice for this unit said that of the group of them who usually draw this hunt, they manage about a 25% success rate, so slightly higher than the average. For those of you who don't know about NM deer archery hunts, many of these are two part hunts with a Sep hunt for bucks still in velvet and a Jan portion for bucks during the rut.
I had hunted this unit previously, tagging out a couple years back with a small 2x2 during the rifle hunt. I had also helped friends during the rifle and muzzleloader portions a couple years prior, though we hadn't filled any tags. The unit is a fairly diverse hunt, ranging from the mountainous portion of the Guadulupe National Forest and the rolling hills of the north and eastern portions.
I had done a great deal of scouting in this area previously as well as discussing with a member from the area who archery hunted this area regularly. My plan was to do my muzzleloader antelope hunt in Unit 28 then tow out for the first portion of the Sep hunt. If I didn't tag out, I would head back between my Barbary sheep hunt in Unit 28 on 31 Dec-1 Jan and my Unit 28 Oryx hunt on Jan 14-15.
I got lucky on my antelope hunt, tagging out on a nice 14" buck at 311 yards with the Knight Mountaineer muzzleloader. It's the third time in a row I've drawn that hunt, and the third time I've shot a buck that scored over 70". I did a writeup on the hunt last year here... http://www.ar15.com/forums/t_10_2/676402_Successful-muzzleloader-antelop...
After I tagged out, I towed the RV solo out to my spot in Unit 30. I spent the next four days hunting and spotted a lot of does and a couple of nice bucks. The first bucks I saw were a 2x2 and a spike with a herd of does across the canyon. The next morning, while hiking to a spot where I could glass the canyon, I spotted a small 4x4 at 130 yards with three does. We watched each other for about 20 seconds, then they split, heading north towards parts unknown.
The next afternoon, I had my best experience, spotting a bachelor herd of four bucks... One buck in the 140" class and three smaller bucks. They didn't see me so I put a stalk in on them. They crossed over a ridgeline as I advanced towards them. Unfortunately, I didn't see them cross back over so when I popped up, thinking I would be less than 60 yards from them, they were actually 120 yards over my left shoulder with full visibility of me. They busted and spooked up the hill. Easy rifle shot, but I had a bow! The big guy is the one in this picture with his head down eating. Unfortunately I didn't get a good sideways picture of him.
I headed back home the next morning, excited and ready for the December portion of the hunt. When I got home, I talked to my wife and decided to ask my brother-in-law, Stephen, if he would be interested in coming out to help me with my hunt. Stephen is a big bow hunter back in South Carolina who leases a nice 600+ acre tract with some other fellows. He's pulled some monsters out of there and had a lot more archery experience than me, but had never done any western hunting. He talked it over with his wife and called me back, very excited to come out. I'm going to pick on him for a moment (as I did the whole trip over this...) He asked, "Should I ship a couple tree stands out?" I'll admit I giggled but we worked things out and arranged his transportation out.
In December I returned to NM. I tagged out quickly on my Barbary sheep on Saturday morning. Stephen was flying in Sun night so I picked him up in El Paso and we headed to the camper. It was snowing in Cloudcroft so there was no chance we were going to tow through that night. We woke up early and headed into Alamogordo for some breakfast and last minute updates to the refrigerator, then towed up to Cloudcroft and out towards Unit 30. During the whole drive, I told him what a difficult hunt this was. We kept our eyes peeled as we drove through Unit 34, spotting several deer and a flock of turkeys.
Finally, as we neared the area I planned to hunt, we paid close attention to what was public vs private land. I use two sources... my Garmin 64S with an OnXMaps NM hunt chip and the phone application put out by NM Game and Fish called CarryMap Observer. Both have their advantages. If you have a good GPS, I suggest you still download the free app and maps provided by NM.
As we approached the place I planned to park the camper around 10:30am, we spotted a herd of mule deer less than 250 yards from my planned camping spot. We eased the camper forward, and got up to glass the herd. The wind was gusting over 30MPH so the herd wasn't moving much, just eating and trying to stay in the gulley out of the wind. We put the spotting scope and binos on them and identified 5 different does... no bucks. Ok, good time for a practice stalk. I grabbed my bow and headed in. They spooked at around 125 yards. Ok, too far for a bow but good practice for stalking.
With the wind blowing too hard to glass very well, we decided to take a nap. We napped until about 1:30pm when we decided to have lunch then head to a spot I had picked out. This was an ideal glassing spot... a hill that stood out high above the valley and gave a wide area we could cover with our binos and spotting scope. We arrived at around 2:30pm and hiked up the hill. 15 minutes into glassing, I spotted a herd of four mule deer. I put the spotting scope on them. Nope... no horns and no buck hanging out nearby. Still, this was an encouraging sign.
30 minutes later, I located more mule deer. Are those horns? I put the spotting scope on them and sure enough, they had horns! 3 bucks and two does. One of the bucks was decent... a 4x4 probably in the 120 to 130" range but the other two were identical 3x3s consisting of small brow tines and two decent forks.
Stephen and I worked out a plan. He would stay on the hill and keep an eye on them and I would work down off the hill we were on and stay low in the small canyon between us and them.
I dropped down and headed towards them, receiving good updates from Stephen as to their activity. I came around a bend and found myself just under 500 yards from them. They spotted me and I spotted them but they didn't spook. In fact, one of the smaller bucks began making a beeline towards me.
Stephen notified me, "He's coming towards you on a string!" That's a southern expression that means he's heading straight towards me, as if I were pulling him towards me with a string. He popped out of the canyon just under 50 yards from me as I worked to get into a less exposed position. We both saw each other at nearly the same time. He disappeared into some shrubbery and stayed there. I nocked an arrow and slowly moved towards him when he didn't move after a couple minutes. Suddenly he busted and ran up the hill, then stopped looking at me broadside. I ranged him at 64 yards and split the difference between my 60yd and 70yd pins on his right shoulder.
Snap! The arrow streaked out... and the wind pushed it straight behind him. Whether it was purely the wind or the gust catching my bow, I'll never know but it was visually a clean miss. He ran off and I called Stephen telling him I'd just missed one.
His response,"They just dropped down! There are two more heading towards you down the canyon."
At this point, it was time to get in position quickly if I wanted another shot at one of these bucks. I dropped off the hillside down the canyon and hurried across the canyon, to try to get to a small ridge between me and them before I did, so that I could position myself optimally when they came through. Well, I lost the race. The doe popped up 12 yards from me and the buck popped up at 20 yards less than 1 second later. The doe and I stared at each other for over 30 seconds, then she busted and ran. The buck was mostly behind a yucca and couldn't tell what was going on so he stepped out to see. I drew back, put the 20 yd pin on his shoulder and released.
The buck disappeared and reappeared down the hill about 5 seconds later, trailing the arrow from what appeared to be his shoulder. The 580 gr combo of an FMJ arrow tipped with a 125 gr Wac'Em Triton broadhead was buried in him with blood coming out. He ran across the canyon, straight towards the canyon wall leading to the flats below the hill where Stephen was sitting. He crested out of my sight and I called Stephen, telling him the buck was heading straight towards him.
I gave the buck another 5 minutes and, as I knew the deer was more than 500 yards away at this point, I looked for the blood trail. I located a very good one and followed it to the canyon wall, where the buck had made an amazing ascent up the rock. Hidden, and locatable only by the blood trail, was a narrow path that led to an easy slope out of the canyon. I'd have never made it out from that end if I hadn't followed the deer.
Stephen called back, "I see him! Whoa! Good shot! He's got blood coming down both shoulders." Stephen watched as the buck ran straight towards him then stopped about 200 yards away and laid down. Stephen notified me that I had hit him not in the shoulder but in the neck. We gave him another 20 minutes to expire then I worked in on his position. I probably should have given him more time than that, but it was almost dark by this point. Stephen watched him get up and run hard... for about 10 yards. Then the buck slowed down and collapsed behind a bush less than 100 yards from his original position. We gave him more time then I worked in. When I found him, he saw me and managed to stand, running 20 yards then collapsing.
I had only taken 3 arrows with me... Two are shot at this point. He's at 50 yards and laying down. I've got a good view of his vitals... I decide to put another shaft in him. I put the 50 yard pin on him, trying to handle the wind. Twang! Miss! It went over him by less than 2 inches. I'm out of arrows but he isn't moving. We gave him 30 more minutes then moved in on him. Success! I punched my NM paper tag then filled in the date/time of the harvest.
We gutted him, drug him the short distance to load, then headed back to camp, packing a garbage bag full of ice in and around him to cool him down in my 150qt cooler. The next day we headed in to town to drop him off at my meat processor then for us to head out west to try and fill the javelina tag. No luck on that tag, but we had a good time searching!
* I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures. They were taken right at dark with two different phones, both with nearly dead batteries. They are not in chronological order and some of the photos were taken with flash on, some without. For the picture with me behind the deer, I pulled the arrow prior to the picture so as not to get stabbed.