This unbelievable experience all started in the fall of 2013 while I was browsing YouTube videos for big game hunts. I came across a few hunts for the Utah Sportsman’s Tag. I said to my dad, “Take a look at these bucks taken with the Sportsman’s Tag.” What happened next will upset a few people. My dad asked, “What is the Sportsman’s tag?” We still laugh about that comment today.
My dad applied for me and soon after received the usual email from the DWR, except this time it said “Successful”. Needless to say we were all bouncing off the walls with excitement. We proceeded to call everyone we knew.
A few days later our excitement was met with anguish and heartache as my aunt, who was like a second mom to me, passed away after suffering with various illnesses. One thingthat helped me through it all was knowing that she knew I had this tag and how excited she was about it. Being in the outdoors with her nephews and nieces was her life. Now she would be able to be there with me, just like all my other outdoor adventures with her.
All we knew about the tag was that we were headed to the Henry Mountains. We knew a neighbor of ours, Lonne Rasmussen, had been hunting deer in Southern Utah that fall. After he recovered from his initial shock of the news about the tag, we discovered that Lonne was the man with all the right connections. He had been hunting with guide Taylor Albrecht of High Top Outfitters.
After meeting Taylor at the Western Hunting Expo the plan was set, Taylor and Lonne would be my guides and between them they worked out the details with High Top Outfitters. Taylor also approached good friend Nathan Young from Wildbone youth to also assist on the hunt.
My family spent a total of twenty- one days scouting the Henry Mountains from June 13th to August 31st. I saw a lot of bucks and the decision of which one to hunt proved to be difficult. During this time I met a lot of great people. They are the most amazing part of this experience. I consider all of them to be my mentors, coaches, teachers and friends. I learned so much from them and we had some unforgettable times together.
On Saturday, August 30th me, my Dad, Brother Caden, Grandpa Rick, Uncle Gary and Cousin Matthew headed for the Henrys. It was a very exciting time knowing that on Monday I would be able to hunt the buck of my dreams, the buck of a lifetime. After we set up camp and had some dinner we divided up and went out to see if we could spot the deer we had laboriously named “Walt”.
Walt had been spotted Friday night, but no one had been able to locate him on Saturday. By the time we returned to camp late Saturday more people had arrived to help, including Tanner Kochevar from Phone Skope. I was also happy to see all of my family and friends there and felt grateful for all who had donated their time to try and locate Walt. The entire group spread out over the area taking different vantage points and spent the entire day Sunday scouting with no luck.
Monday morning had finally arrived. We got up at 3 am in order to leave camp by 4. We had about a half an hour drive to the trailhead where a small group would hike in and attempt to locate the deer. Just before our group of six headed down the trail Nate Young suggested that we offer a prayer. I was so glad he did because it put me at ease.
It was light for about half an hour when Tanner spotted Walt. Taylor grabbed me and Tanner and we headed back around the mountain to get closer. When first spotted he was just over 700 yards away and I wanted to be around 300 yards if possible. We made it to a spot within 400 yards of Walt and I got myself in position. Just as I was ready to shoot he moved and we had to relocate. We moved to 297 yards and I prepared for the shot. Just as I got ready, he spotted us and turned so he was quartering to us in his stance. It was a difficult shot but I thought it may be my only chance, so I took it.
Instantly, the buck hit the ground and then back up again and then down again. I thought I had him, but he jumped back up and started bouncing away. By the time I got back on him he was at 500 yards and just outside the trees. I took one more shot, but by then the adrenaline had taken over and I was shaking so bad I overshot him.
We tracked the blood trail from about 9am to 2:30 in the afternoon. At one point the buck turned back up hill, hit an opening, and the blood trail disappeared. In that instant, all my excitement and energy turned to heart break. We spent hours combing over every pebble and leaf looking for the trail, but nothing. As I laid on the ground, emotionally exhausted, I could not figure out what went wrong. I thought I had made a good shot. I felt really good about it when I took it. It was a very humbling, long walk back to camp.
When it came time to talk about our plan for the next day, I told everyone that even though our chances were slim, I wanted to spend a few days trying to locate this buck. Everyone there agreed.
Tuesday, September 2nd came and we got up early to try and locate him. Our group spread out to various vantage points. As Lonne was glassing an avalanche chute, he miraculously spotted Walt moving through the cliff going to bed down. He only saw him for 20 seconds or so before he disappeared into the timber but that was all we needed. We watched that spot all day until later that night he appeared again in that same spot, we watched him bed and made plans for the next morning.
Wednesday, September 3rd we got up early and basically repeated our routine from Monday. This time my Dad offered the prayer. In his prayer he again gave thanks for all of our blessings, to be associated with great men that had sacrificed so much of their time and talents on my behalf.
The wind was howling, we decided to push forward and at least take a look down the canyon where we last saw him. As we hiked, Taylor could not get over the feeling that he should return to glass from below, he turned back and made his way down. The rest of us made our way to the place of the original shot and waited for light.
As it got light, suddenly, we heard Taylor’s voice come over the radio. He had set up his spotting scope below and had located Walt. We call that the second miracle in pursuing this animal.
Nate, Taylor and I made a plan for a stock. The plan was to get me in position to make a shot when he came back out that evening. We spent a couple of hours making our way down the mountain along the backside of a ridge. While we were creeping and crawling through the forest there was even talk that we should take off our boots to make less noise. It was an amazing experience learning how to properly stalk an animal.
We waited until about 2pm. Then Nate said, “You know I think I am going to walk over here and see what I can see.” As Nate peaked over the ridge he spotted Walt feeding across the ravine. We could not see him from where we were positioned. We call that miracle number 3. I quietly made my way down to Nate. We managed to get ourselves within 150 yards and he seemed enormous. I laid myself over a log to get steady and he moved into a position where I no longer had a good shot. I whispered to Nate, “I need your trigger stick!!” I laid my gun across the sticks just in time to take one shot before he went back into the trees. That was all it took. Walt hit the ground, something we now affectionately call “a dirt nap” and slid down the steep canyon wall until he got caught in a group of trees. At the point when we determined that he was dead, Nate and I looked at each other and gave each other the biggest bear hug ever. As we approached the giant buck, “Walt”, I could not believe that after five unsuccessful seasons I was finally going to hold a buck of my own.
There was a lot of whooping and hollering. We could hear the guys above and below us yelling on the radios and celebrating. As soon as I laid hands on the giant I knew I had to call my mom at home. As soon as I told her that we found Walt and I got him, all the emotions broke loose. I could hear the tears of joy in her voice and the screaming and yelling of my sisters in the background.
We did not arrive back at camp until about 10:30pm. My grandpa was so excited to see us that he just started crying. All the excitement and emotion of the day just came pouring out of him. I owe a lot of who I am and what I know to my Grandpa Rick, my Mom, my Dad, and my Brother who is my best friend.
After many miracles and persistent effort by the entire team, I now have an incredible story to tell the rest of my life. More importantly, this 16 year old learned countless life lessons from a group of amazing men. They taught me the true meaning of being a Sportsman. This was truly a team effort. I sincerely thank you all.
I would like to dedicate my hunt and this story to my aunt, CarolAnn Potokar “Roro”. She is the reason I love and respect the outdoors. The experiences my brother, cousin and I had with her when we were young boys will be with us all of our lives. She will never be forgotten, we love you Ro!