Richelle’s 1st Mule Deer-"Mission Accomplished"

Richelle Steele reflects on her Arizona Unit 7 Last Day Mule Deer.
Mission Accomplished by Craig Steele

It was 2 am.   I found 30+ does while shinning the spotlight, but still no sign of a mature buck.  My eyes felt like someone had thrown a pile of sand in them, but I wanted one more hour of spotlighting before calling it quits.   I was able to push through the mental road blocks, but ultimately was defeated in the end.
A few hours later, my alarm went off as the sun was just starting to break the crest of the horizon.   I stumbled out of bed and grabbed a cup of coffee.   My goal today was to drive the west side and find as many deer as possible.
Scouting hard is what makes the difference.
I had spent most of the day searching for a big buck I had been told about that morning and now it was noon.   I was exhausted.  I was now starting to question my ability, and the status of the buck-to-doe ratio in this unit. 
By night fall, I was left with a few leads from some friends, but still not ONE mature buck.  The season was just  three short days away.  I grabbed a Mountain Dew, plugged in the spot light and turned up the Kenwood.
I desperately scanned the areas I had seen does and good tracks in.  I was determined to find a mature buck before I called it quits, but the caffeine and focus ran out at about  11pm.  I was beginning to realize the buck-to-doe ratio was very poor in this unit.
The next morning, I decided to lace up the boots and climb a steep ridge.  I settled in a great spot to glass, but two hours of hammering, turned up a few coyotes and a couple of elk.  I decided to go look for the big rumor buck, again.
Glassing for the “rumor buck”.
I slowly drove every road in the area, determined to pick up his track.  I found one set of good tracks on the opposite side of the hill.  The country was thicker than hell, and glassing wasn’t a quality option.  It was extremely frustrating. 
Buck rub where the “rumor buck” was.

That afternoon, I crossed over into the east side. I drove past an elk camp and noticed two successful cow elk hunters.  I decided to stop in and say congrats.  Of course, my intentions were to find any big buck leads. 
They told me where they had seen 30-50 head of does almost every day.  The rut was approaching, so I was stoked! 
The next morning I was running a touch late and the wind was already hitting 40+mph at times.  I turned down the elk hunters’ camp road and immediately noticed a small buck standing off the road.  I slammed on my brakes, just catching a glimpse of a mature buck cruising through the trees.I grabbed my camera and headed to the top of the hill. 
The mature buck  was lip curling where a doe had just urinated.  He wasn’t a giant, but he had a cool 7-8” droptine.  At that point, I made the decision to scout this area hard, because there was a ton of does in the area.
Arizona Scouting Sunrise.
I turned up several different bunches of deer, but only a handful of bucks and no shooters.  There was a series of big storms getting ready to unleash on Northern Arizona, which was going to hinder our ability to find a great buck.
Thursday night, my dad, wife and daughter arrived at our friend’s cabin.  My wife, Richelle, was the one with the tag.  That night we discussed all of our options. There were three big storms lined up to hit us.  The forecast was calling for 8-24 inches of white stuff.
Arizona’s Unit 7 Late Mule Deer hunt first day view.
Friday, we woke up to only a few inches of snow, but the wind was blowing 30+ mph.  Our only option was to drive and glass.  We saw a few deer early that morning, but the storm had sunk it’s teeth in by early afternoon.  Honestly, we headed back to the cabin early that night, as it was going to get worse!
Saturday, we awoke to 15 inches of snow at the cabin.  My dad & I were very optimistic, because it was going to be prime time. 
First Day Snow!

Making the best of it on the 1st day.
The storm lifted around 2:30 pm, just like we had thought.  We were finally able to find a couple groups of deer, but nothing worth shooting.
After the 1st Northern AZ Storm

20-24 inches after the 2nd N. AZ Storm.
The next storm was due late that night, so it was going to be a late start and I was now getting a little pessimistic.  We only had until Tuesday to hunt, before we had to go back to work and reality. 
The next morning, there was every bit of 2 feet of snow at the cabin. It didn’t let up until well into the afternoon, but we managed to make a day of it, even though we didn’t find a shooter.
That night, our daughter and my dad headed back home.
Richelle and I awoke early and ready to pound out the day.  We were back in the old Toyota, so I felt more comfortable traveling in the deep snow. We trailed and found a few mature bucks, but nothing even close to what our expectations were.  As we reached the highway, I noticed a crack in the front passenger side motor mount, so it was a wonderful end to an awesome 4 days of hunting.
Toyota 4runner motor mount cracked while on Arizona Mule Deer Hunt.
The next week and a half was long filled with school programs, Christmas Shopping and work.  We were going to get one more shot at filling Richelle’s tag, but it wasn’t going to happen until the 27th.
Kids with a big icicle.
Our son’s birthday was on the 28th of December, so we had NO choice but to take both of our kids, as we were not going to leave anyone behind during this special time. The plan was to leave Richelle and the kids in the truck with a radio and the heater on, while DEAR old dad glassed.  This was the only way we could hunt as a family, because it was BITTER cold and knee-deep snow. -4 to -7 on a few of the days!!!
Deep snow & cold temps wore us all out.
As the sunset on the second to last day, I was basically a worn out Popsicle.  I had glassed up several mature bucks and they were definitely rutting, but still not the buck we had hoped for.  As we drove back to the cabin that night, Richelle and I discussed how it was just a success for all of us to be hunting and together during such a special time. 
After fueling up the next morning, everyone was ready for the last day.   My mind was set, we were heading to the east side and going to glass a buck up and kill ‘em.
Right off the bat, we saw a young buck run across the road.  I stopped and glassed for awhile, but we could not turn up any other deer, so we drove around to the next hill. I stopped to glass the area, and immediately picked out a herd of elk.  Just as I was complaining to Richelle about the elk, I saw a couple of deer.  I shut the truck off and scrambled to get my 15’s on the tripod.
Immediately, I knew it was a shooter buck for the last day, but he was narrow.  Richelle really likes wide antlers and this buck wasn’t any kind of wide, so I told her to look at him.  I asked her if she wanted to take her first buck and she said, “Let’s do it!”
The buck and his does were in a great spot for a family of 4 to stalk.  The only problem was, it was damn cold and I didn’t know how long the kids could handle it, but we were going to give it hell.
We ditched the truck and had 150 yards of trees to sneak through before we would hit the edge of the meadow.  The buck was on the opposite side of the meadow and very well in range of Richelle’s 180 grain vld.  
We approached the edge of the meadow and I gave the quite talk to the kids.  We crept under the last Juniper tree.  We took  our packs off and placed the kids in the driest spot we could find.  The buck was now bedded with his does, but he was covered up by some deadfall.  After trying to get him to stand up for 10 minutes, the kids were starting to shake and get restless.  I grabbed Richelle’s rifle, told her to follow me and told the kids to sit tight.
We moved about 75 yards to our left and I got Richelle set up on the Tri-Clawps.  Honestly, it is the best device ever made for kids, women or anyone who has trouble finding animals in a scope.  I simply placed the scope where it needed to be and told Richelle to get settled in.
The buck was right at 300 yards and wasn’t going to stand up, so I told Richelle to take him.  Between the cold and BUCK fever, she could not get steady.  She was having trouble breathing and she really wanted to lie down and shoot, but there was too much grass in the way.  I finally got her settled down and told her, “Kill Him.”  She fired.  The buck got to his feet somehow, but didn’t make it 10 yards before crumbling. 
Richelle’s old non-typical from behind.  
Richelle cried tears of joy as she was finally on the board with her first mule deer. 
Tagging her first deer.

Richelle’s first buck!
After we got her buck field dressed and loaded up, my 9 year old daughter looked at us and said, “I want to put in for this hunt next year.” Mission Accomplished.

A special thanks to:
Bob & Rita Steele, Blake & Rhonda Chapman, John Decker Jr., PT Carter, Jeff Pettit, Sam Heffelfinger, Kevin Passmore and Nate Ragan.  

Getting it done as a family.  It doesn’t get ANY better.
Richelle with her old non-typical mule deer.
Richelle & Craig Steele with Richelle’s last day mule deer.
Richelle with her buck loaded in the back of the truck.
The footage from Richelle’s Unit 7 Late Season Mule Deer Hunt will be available in July.