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Mulies on the Big Muddy


By Frank Biggs
09/07/15 -- “Dave, you’re not going to believe it!” I said to my friend. “That fellow in the Bronco was right -- that buck has got to be 31-inches wide! I’m going back! He’s just feeding in a shallow basin on top of the knob!”

Thus began my dream stalk…

[Editor’s Note: This yarn, first told by the author in 1986, is definitely about the “Good Old Days.” The hunting may not be the same today along the John Day River, but the author says he would still put in for the “Grizzly Unit Tag” in a heartbeat. Deer may not run in groups of 25 there now but he says it is not uncommon to come across groups of 8 to 10 bucks. With stealth, great optics and patience you just might find a Big One, or as Biggs says, ‘the Bhagwan’ on BLM land, too.]

The 1986 Oregon archery season was coming to a close in three days. I’d passed up many smaller bucks during the season, trying to find a real “booker.” Now it was performance time.

I made a quick call to Dave Brill because I knew I could count on him to go on a mission with me. I told him we could make a Saturday afternoon hunt over on the breaks of the John Day River in central Oregon.

The final weekend of the season also happened to be my drill weekend with the U.S. Naval Reserve. Luckily, I only had to spend half of Saturday and Captain’s Call was out at 11:30. I made it to Dave’s place just past noon in Sandy, Oregon.

There was a two-hour drive to the mountains, leaving us about five hours maximum for hunting.

On the way to the Bureau of Land Management land, we spotted a small herd of mule deer, with five bucks. All looked pretty nice, and I decided to try taking a few photos. They were in the 23- to 25-inch class with one respectable four point at about 28 inches. At 5:00 p.m., we reached the B.L.M. land on the west side of the John Day River.

There a mutual friend, Bell Lang, met us. He wanted to show us where he had seen some big bucks.

Mulies on Big Muddy by Frank Biggs
We made a frontal attack into a large open basin -- I was armed with binoculars and new camera. In the middle of the basin were four “swamper” mulie bucks -- two around 28 inches and two in the 35-inch neighborhood.

I know, at this point you probably think I’m really pulling your leg. Well, I was able to ambush them on their escape and take photos at about 100 yards. If I had been hunting these guys, I believe I could have closed the distance to 50 Yards.

Then, it was time to put down the camera and get down to the business at hand. We split up and Bell headed over to his Pine Creek Ranch to locate a mulie he felt would easily go 38 inches.

With only about three hours of hunting time left in the day, finding a big mulie was going to be even tougher. Just before dark, I located a 30-inch+ mulie, but he wouldn’t cooperate.

We departed the area as Mother Nature began to drown the junipers and sagebrush. The most difficult part of the trip was yet to come. As I told you earlier, this was supposed to be a Saturday afternoon hunt only. Now, Dave and I would have to make phone calls to our respective wives. Both were most understanding, so we would have one more chance to get our big buck before the rifle hunters came out of the woodwork.

The next morning we awoke to 39 degrees, patchy fog and heavy overcast in Madras. We were working against the clock now, so bacon and eggs at the Madras Truck Stop were out -- a Coke and Hershey chocolate bar were in order.

It was already light when we arrived at the main access road. Strangely, we saw nothing along the road going in. We discovered the answer in about two miles -- we caught up to a rig in front of us and the driver climbed out with bow in hand. We pulled up for a brief conversation, and soon he couldn’t hold himself back. He said he’d already had taken shots at four big bucks, one was a 30-incher. In the back of the rig was a nice three-point his partner had taken with a 50-yard heart shot.

This 30-inch talk was something that should be investigated, I figured. I climbed up the draw where the hunter said he’d seen the buck, then into a small basin with volunteer wheat. There, at 45 yards, was a massive buck, feeding and completely unaware of my presence. He was a long tined four-point, with extremely long eye guards. I felt he would be real close to 200 Pope and Young and real record contender.

(You can tell I already had him on the wall!)
Mulies on Big Muddy by Frank Biggs
As you can tell, I did not have my bow with me.

I watched him for a few more minutes from behind a juniper grove, then slowly backed away. I hurried back to the rig, told Dave what happened, and quickly returned to the spot with my bow. He was gone!

Instead of following my intuition and stalking around the small knob at the end of basin, I went over the top. Just as I topped the knob, I spotted his back and horns at 30 yards. I figured I had better try to get back around to get a shot. Well, that extra sense that big mulies have took care of my plans in a hurry.
Mulies on Big Muddy by Frank Biggs
Like this buck I had shot with my camera on a previous scouting trip, he lifted his huge head, looked straight at me, made a quick turn, and dropped into the next basin. He looked back from behind a juniper at 80 yards. My dream stalk was over.

I returned to my truck, more than a bit upset with myself, but Dave quickly lifted my spirits.

“Frank,” he said, “I’ve located some more dandy bucks!”

As we stood there making our decision, a group with some twenty bucks in the distance immediately made our minds up. It was incredibly exciting to watch them through the spotting scope as they departed a large pasture in single file. The smallest buck of the group was no less than 24 inches wide. Seeing that herd of bucks only, made me a firm believer in “buck pastures.”

On a small outcropping of rocks, Dave and I located a good buck, bedded and chewing his cud. I put the scope on him -- he was not real wide, but great long tines with super eye guards. I felt that he would score very well, a 180-plus.

The hunt was on!

I dropped into the canyon, using junipers for cover. The terrain wasn’t too rough and I was able to circle around the outcropping quickly. The wind was coming straight at me, and a light mist of fog hung in the area. What more could I ask for? I slipped into the junipers that were behind him.

Mulies on Big Muddy by Frank Biggs
At 40 yards I drew back my PSE Mach-Flite 4 and delivered the Brute 3-tipped XX75 into him. He was up in a hurry, but soon collapsed down the canyon.

Thanks to Dave’s help, we were able to pull him to the truck without too much effort. I couldn’t wait to put the tape to him. With a quick measuring, he went 27 inches wide, not counting the “cheater points” on each side. I also did a quick P&Y score for a solid 195 green score. My net score on this tremendous buck was 190 P&Y.

While leaving the area, Dave and I saw at least six more good bucks. I went back during the general rifle season to guide and saw two taken that went 32 and 38 inches wide.

The 38 inch buck was the same buck that took up the rear of the bucks that were in the “buck pasture.” I later found out that this buck had a net score of 197 B&C.

So, don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t some fine mule deer in Oregon. I suggest the interested bowhunter or rifle hunter study maps of B.L.M. areas closely, do some serious scouting, and learn to use field glasses like eyeballs.

Frank Biggs, aka “Bwana Bubba” is a true authority as a rifle and archery hunter. He is particularly well-regarded for his knowledge of hunting in Oregon. He is a member of the Pro Staff of onXmaps HUNT, a Field Staff member of H.H.A. sports, Contributing Writer for “Archery Talk,” a Martin Archery Good Old Boy and Senior Luxury RV Sales Consultant in Portland.


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