Jerry Harbottle is on a roll again!

September 14, 2012 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

Jerry Harbottle downs a great Colorado Muzzy buck!


Jerry Harbottle is once again in the spotlight!  He continues to harvest monsters deer ever year! I asked him what his secret was to killing some of the countries largest mulies every year and he stated ” It’s my watch.  I flash them with the watch and they can’t stand it.  It drives them crazy and they have to come and check it out”.  Well I don’t don’t know what to believe….He keeps smacking the big ones so he is doing something right.  Watch or not…He shot this one at 25 yards.  I think I’m going to get me one of those big fancy watches one day!  Keep up the great work Jerry.  I’m looking forward to a story here in the near future.  Congrats big guy!

Short G2’s  I don’t know if I would have shot it.  Should have let it grow another year…

 Love the mass and the eye guards. 204 inch gross mulie with the smoke pole.


Hunting for Lefty!

November 11, 2010 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

Story by Jason Wright

I first located the buck that I nicknamed “Lefty” in mid August.  The name came from his incredible left side and his horribly split left ear.  Unfortunately I wasn’t the only person watching him that day.  Brian, (who I came to know during the course of the hunt) was also laying eyes on Lefty for the first time that day.  As I approached him he was bent over a spotting scope taking a closer look.    After a long chat, we exchanged phone numbers and promised that we’d contact each other if either one of us were lucky enough to take him.  I was able to keep tabs on Lefty for the next 4 weekends in the same location.  I admit that most of my obsession with checking on Lefty was to see if there were any other hunters watching as well.  I envisioned opening day being a mad house of hunters all pursuing the same buck.  To my surprise I never saw another person the entire season.

On the fourth weekend while scouting a different area I located a tall narrow 5 x 5 that I thought would go 195”.  He looked like a high 180’s four point with 7-8 inches in extras.  I figured he would be a great back-up buck and that no one would find him in the remote desert he called home.  Minutes later I stumbled upon a great 85 inch shed antler.  While searching for the match I realized this shed was Lefty’s left antler; further reinforcing the name. That evening I went back to check on Lefty.  He was up and feeding for the evening so I watched him until dark.  His newly polished white antlers seemed to glow in the dark, and I have to admit it was pretty cool watching him as I was holding one of his sheds.  Confident that he wasn’t going far I left to scout another area, not knowing today was the last day I would see him for awhile.

The next weekend started like every other; I got off work early Friday night with hopes of getting up on the mountain in time to see Lefty.   After glassing until dark with no sign of him I returned to the truck for the night.  I had resorted to sleeping in the cab of my Tacoma because it was easier to stay mobile, without setting up camp every weekend.  Saturday morning I was able to locate all the young bucks of the bachelor group with ease, but no sign of Lefty or the other mature buck in the group, a 30” wide 4 by 3.  I returned home disappointed but confident I would relocate Lefty before the opener.

Two weeks went by and still no sign of him.  I searched for the 195”  back-up buck as well with no luck.  My confidence was fading until the Sunday night before opening day I located the 30 inch 4 by 3.  He had moved 1.5 miles away, to a steeper more secluded location giving me hope that his buddy, Lefty, was nearby.  The hunt opened on a Thursday, so I decided take off the first part of the week to continue scouting and set up camp for the remainder of the hunt.  The winds were howling all week and I returned to camp one evening to find my tent lying in a pile on top of my ATV about 20 feet from its original location.  Despite being full of gear and completely staked down, the tent still took flight in the powerful winds.  That night I anchored the tent to my pickup, ATV, and every nearby rock and tried to get some sleep.  But after 8 hours of listening to the rain fly flapping in the wind dealing with the walls caving in my head, I gave up on the tent and decided to go back to the passenger seat of my pickup.

On Wednesday, a good friend Dan offered to come and help me glass and I jumped at the offer.  I met Dan and his buddy Tom in town and we drove out the area I’d been living in for the past week.  We split up and glassed separate areas that night with no luck. Dan and Tom weren’t so keen on sleeping in their truck so we drove into town to find a cheap motel, not knowing that we would find the cheapest, dirtiest motel in the state.  But it did meet the requirements, cheap, dry, warm, and no wind.

With no other bright ideas, my plan for opening day was to glass from a point where I had last seen the big 4 by 3 in hopes that Lefty would be close by.  We saw 10 young bucks that morning but nothing nice.  By the end of opening day, I was frustrated and wished I would have spent more time looking for my back-up buck.  Dan and Tom were equally frustrated and recommended that I try another area of the unit with more bucks and they drove back home that night.  Another good friend Ryan offered up the use of his camper for the night.  It was forecasted to get down to into the teens that night so I was happy to have a warm camper and the chance to clean-up.

Day 2 of the hunt, I decided that after 48 days of scouting for Lefty I owed it to myself to devote a few more days actually hunting the area.  My plan was to check an area about a mile from where I had last seen him.  On the hike in I spooked a young buck and decided to follow him into the drainage to see if he would kick up anything for me.  As I circled the ridge following his tracks, I caught a white muzzle out of the corner of my eye.  I knew it was a buck but I couldn’t tell what he was in the early morning shadows.  I quickly sat down and put the scope on him.  As soon as I saw the split left ear my heart started racing.  During those 26 days remember I thinking how relieving it would feel (after glassing the same bucks over and over) to finally put the scope on a buck and utter those words to myself “It’s him”.  Since I had almost convinced myself that Lefty had been poached, it was just cool to see him again.

Of course the buck had me pegged at just over 300 yards, and stupidly I was sitting on an open hillside with the rising sun about to expose me even more.  We sat there watching each other for the next half hour.  Finally he decided that everything was okay and bedded down for the morning.  He was bedded in bottom of a small drainage and all I had to do was get to the ridge above him undetected, and I should be within muzzleloader range.  I essentially “crab walked” across the hillside with my gun on my lap.  It took me 30 minutes to go 100 yards.  Finally I was out of Lefty’s sight and was able to stand up, stretch, and start closing in on him.

About 20 yards from topping the small ridge, I decide to take off my boots and backpack.  As I crawled over the ridge I caught a glimpse of his antlers and ranged him at 78 yards.  He was still bedded and looking straight away.  There was a small rock pile a couple steps further that looked like the best place to set up for a shot.  The rocky hillside made socks a requirement, and each step seemed to take minutes as I was doing my best not to kick loose any rocks.  When I finally reached the rock pile it became apparent that it did not offer the elevation needed for a clear shot at his vitals.  I thought about standing up and taking an offhand shot but opted to wait for a shot off my knee.  So I sat there with my rifle propped up on my knee just waiting for him to stand up so I could put him back down.  An hour went by and I was starting to worry about the wind shifting and ruining the whole stalk. A few minutes later he started to get restless and move his head around a little.  I was more than ready for the shot but when he stood up he took an immediate step forward blocking his vitals behind a sage brush.  He stretched for awhile then started to feed up the hill towards me; which due to the contour of the hill put him more out of view.  At this point I was standing on tip toes trying to keep an eye on where he was heading.  He started to rake some brush and I took the opportunity to move and get a better look.  I then realized he was feeding up the draw and more out of sight and I had no choice but to give chase.  Pretty soon I was 50 yards and I could see his horns moving through the sage brush.  I raised the gun for an offhand shot and waited for him to clear the sage brush.  But before he did, he realized something wasn’t right and started to bound across the other side of the small drainage.  I fell to my butt and started tracing him with the iron sights and a good rest off my knee.  I considered a bounding shot for about a millisecond but just then he started to slow to a trot.  I knew from ranging earlier that it would be just over 100 yards.  He stopped facing uphill almost straight away but slightly quartering, offering a shot through the top of the back and down through the heart and lungs.  I thought about it for about a second and squeezed the trigger. The smoke cleared pretty fast and I could see him struggling to climb up the hill.  He went about 20 yards before his legs gave out on him and he started tumbling down the hill.  I leaned back on the hillside behind me and closed my eyes for a second to let it all soak in.  This may sound weird but it was a little difficult to watch the last moments of the life of an animal that I respected so much and enjoyed watching all summer.  I had accomplished what I had set out to do and the feeling was a little overwhelming.   It was a mix of excitement, remorse, relief, adrenaline, and accomplishment that I can’t really describe but I’m sure many can relate to.

I walked back to gather my boots and backpack still trying to wrap my mind around what had just happened.  After pictures and taking care of the animal it was time to get to work; fortunately I was able to get my ATV close enough to load him whole (which never happens for me).  Since I was hunting by myself I could hardly wait to get back to my truck and make a few phone calls.  One of which was to good friends Ryan and Dallas who helped me take a few more field photos.  Followed by some calls to friends back home who had been calling for daily updates on the hunt; I wish they could have been there.  Thanks guys for the pictures and thanks to Dan and Tom for helping me glass.  I might not have found him without your help eliminating some spots to check.

After hours of watching him and studying video I was confident that I knew about what he would score.  I was figuring a 180 frame with 22” of extras, 9 by 7 about 30” wide kicker to kicker.   Thanks to that horribly conservative judgment, I was able to experience the rare but incredible “ground growage” phenomenon. He ended up being 33” wide and 25” tall with 10 points on his left and 8 on his right.  His typical frame officially grossed 191 2/8” and all those extras added up to 28 7/8” putting him at 220 1/8” gross non-typical and 216 4/8” net.

TC Northwest Explorer

August 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Gear & Reviews

The new TC Explorer should be your muzzleloader of choice!

by Steve Alderman

Thompson Center Arms comes to the Northwest with its newest line of muzzleloaders, The Northwest Explorer.

The Northwest Explorer fresh out of the box!

In recent years, the northwest has put some heavy restrictions on muzzleloader hunters.  Until recently, muzzleloader hunters in Idaho, Washington and Oregon were limited to only a hand full of sub-par  muzzleloading rifles.  TC Arms has added what I think is one of the better muzzleloaders on the market.  With its open ignition, open sights and number 11 percussion cap as the ignition, it meets the Northwest’s unwarranted demands for muzzleloaders and muzzleloader hunters.

You got to love a job like this!  Testing all the latest gear has to be done by someone I guess!

Thompson Center Arms took some of their already popular guns and molded them into the Northwest Explorer.  A drop away breech, similar to the Omega, allows the hunter easy access to the breech plug for priming.   With a weather shield Barrel and the camo synthetic stock this gun is built for the harsh conditions the northwest can dish out. What is  TC’s weather shield barrel?  It’s a coating that is very similar to a teflon coated barrel.  It repels moister and cleans very easily.  TC also added QLA muzzle system for fast accurate loading of the gun. With a full size, 14 inch, monte carlo stock and ventilated rubber recoil pad, this gun feels great on the cheek.

I received this gun to do a review I was commissioned to write for a national publication.  After one day at the range, I knew I had to add this gun to my collection.  Granted it wasn’t the most accurate gun in the review of muzzleloaders, as it actually came in second in accuracy. However, it came in first in every other category.  When I say it came in second it still had a 1/2″ MOA at 50 yards with open sights.  Yes, I did say 1/2 inch groups. Try and get that with your muzzleloader and open sights.  It came in first place with fit and feel, ease of loading, ease of priming, and ease of cleaning. It also came in first at the bench, with speeds reaching a 200 feet per second faster than the competition. Granted, the barrel is 28 inches long which is up to 4 inches longer than some of the other guns tested.

At the bench the gun handled very well.  After a few hours of shooting, I found my gun preformed the best with 105 grains (by volume) of Triple Seven FFg powder and a Thompson 370 grain maxi-ball.  The lead conical by Power Belt in a 425 grain weight came in second with just over 3/4 inch groups at 50 yards.  I currently have the Explorer at a gun smiths to get it drilled and tapped for a scope.  I will hit the bench a couple more times to try and figure out the best load for the gun.  A scope definitely helps take human error out of the equation when compared to using open sights.  I can always sweeten up my loads when I use a scope.  It helps me find the perfect load for each gun that I shoot.

1/2 Group at 50 yards with open sights

Before actually hunting with this gun, I’m going to change a couple of things   There will be a new Simms recoil pad and some better sights added to the gun.  Not that either one of them are all that bad, they just could be better.  I personally like a small front bead on my guns.  Aim small , hit small is one of my favorite sayings. The gun definitely needs a smaller front sight for precision shooting.

Some of the essentials used in testing this gun!

After shooting this gun I can  see why Thompson Center Arms is the leader in muzzleloading. From their fine line of Omegas and Pro Hunters, to this new line of semi-traditional guns made for the northwest, Thompson Center Arms can take care of all of your muzzleloader needs. I will be hunting with the Northwest Explorer this year.  How big of a buck will it bring home on its maiden mission? Only time will tell.

  • PROSBy far the best shooting muzzy right out of the box,  at least with the TC Maxi Balls.  Other bullets like powerbelts and sabots don’t fly well through this gun.  It’s a gun made specifically for me and the rest of northwest.
  • CONS: Front sight is too large to be precise with your shots past 75 yards. The barrel doesn’t come in stainless steal.
  • PRODUCT: High Rating…Very good product….All the components of this gun are as solid as any TC gun.  Shot the TC maxi balls like no other gun.  It must be that 1/48 twist barrel.
  • COMPANY:  High Rating….I like to talk to somebody when I call a company, not a machine.  When you call TC, you could be on hold for a while or you can leave a message and they usually get back with you within one business day.  Their gunsmith is as good and knowledgeable as anybody in the business.  All of the staff is very helpful and friendly.

Hunting hard does pay off!

May 14, 2010 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

by Brian Richter

Found First On


The lowlight of day break and excessive distance made his trophy status difficult to judge.  Nevertheless, I was certain he was the one.  All I needed was for him to lie down and I would make my move.  He had been courting a doe since daybreak; but suddenly, and without notice, Romeo left Juliet and disappeared into a nasty basalt canyon.  With two miles and multiple rocky canyons between us, he might as well have flown to the moon.  A knot grew in my stomach.

There are three periods of emotional charge in big game hunting:

Anticipation: Everything leading up to the adrenaline rush.

High Noon: This is the climax.

Descent: The feeling of remorse, or disappointment that it’s over.

It was September 1, 1990, and it was my first year carrying a gun.  The gun was a 20ga Remington 870, wingmaster express.  My father and I were hunting sage grouse with our yellow lab, Pal, in a remote area of the Idaho desert.  Early in the day I had my first close encounter with a rattlesnake.  I barely made it back to the truck with my dignity (or my bladder).  But now, after having shot my first grouse and recovering my pride, we took an afternoon break.  Our resting spot gave us a view of the valley we had crossed in the morning.  Hidden amongst the sea of sage and bitter brush in the valley below something white caught my eye.  After focusing my binos, I determined the prize was an elk antler.  I bounded down the slope with Pal at my heels.  When we had reached the clearing were the sun bleached elk antler was lying, I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t an elk antler at all… It was a matched set of mule deer antlers.  Antlers that would score around 200 gross inches and inspire my hunting imagination for years to come.


The maturation of this hunt was nothing out of the ordinary for those of us living in Idaho, a state that has yet to adopt a preference point system.  After nineteen years of application, my father and I had finally drawn a much coveted desert mule deer tag.  It was now late August, and we were slowly bouncing and weaving down a brutal lava and sand two-track.   Despite the season opener being more than a month off, my excitement was soaring!

I had been watching a buck for several weekends that I was certain would go two hundred inches, and like any long distance relationship, my heart was brimming with excitement to make contact once again.  I had named him the Burgundy Buck, after Will Farrell’s character in the movie Anchorman, as they both shared a proclivity for showing off.  Sadly, I was not the only one to affix him a nickname, there was another who affectionately referred to him as Lefty.

Jason and I met each other, and the Burgundy Buck, at nearly the exact same moment.   “You wouldn’t shoot that little buck would you,” came a quite voice behind me.  I nearly leapt out of my skin, there, in the middle of an uninhabited desert, was a man in full camo staring down at me.  It was a happenstance encounter considering the seemingly endless miles of country lying within the unit’s boundaries. The season opener was still months away, and I was perched on a mound of dirt watching a bachelor herd of bucks I had just spotted, among them, was Lefty.  Jason’s calm smile easily revealed his intentions; he too had just seen the size of that rack!  Two men lusting over the same trophy was nothing new to history, and we cordially exchanged numbers and agreed if either of us were lucky enough to harvest the magnificent animal we would inform the other.

First light on opening morning found my father and I glassing from atop a small rocky bluff near Lefty’s preferred bed, however, I had not seen him there in weeks.  Our location offered a perfect 360-degree view of the landscape and several bucks were spotted from his original bachelor group, but not Lefty.  That afternoon we relocated to a higher vantage point enabling us to glass adjacent drainages, but still no Lefty.

On day three, the afternoon turned gray in the west, which precisely mirrored my spirits; Lefty, was nowhere to be found.  That evening it began to spit snow and we awoke on day four to nearly a foot of wet, heavy snow and zero visibility.  Adding insult to injury, our forty-year-old wall tent collapsed on top of me during the night, no longer able to bear the heavy load.

By day five, melting snow had turned the roads into a greasy mess.  My hunt was going from bad to worse, and we determined a retreat to lower elevation was in order.  Aided by a hard freeze and a 6 A.M. departure, we narrowly made the pavement the following morning.  Despite our harrowing escape, there was one casualty.  My sweet mother, our camp cook, had had enough.  She announced her resignation the moment our truck tires gripped the solid asphalt, leaving Dad and I to feed ourselves.

While choking down breakfast at a roadside pull-off, my cell phone beeped indicating I had service and messages waiting.  One was from Jason; he called to inform me he had harvested Lefty on the second day of the hunt!  He had clocked in a lot of hours with that buck.  He deserved it I reckoned.

It was hard to leave camp that morning without my father.  He had been my hunting partner for twenty years. We had relocated to the opposite corner of the hunt, a region that can be extremely rocky and treacherous.  I would be going alone.  No words of explanation were needed.

On day nine of the hunt I crossed his path, there, in the damp clay at the edge of a small creek were long hoof prints with due claws pressed deep into the soft soil; the telltale indication of a mature mule deer buck.  There were a couple of doe groups frequenting the water source as well, and I resolved to keep a vigilant eye on the ladies, gambling that he would eventually show up.

The next day brought extreme heat upon the desert.  Only days ago I felt I was in Antarctica, and now, I felt as though I just de-boarded a plane in the Sahara.  By eleven it was in the high sixty’s, and realizing the chances of seeing a big buck in these conditions were poor, I elected to head back to camp and savor my tenth P.B.&J. lunch in a row.  Following lunch and a short nap, I gathered my gear and began a long ascent into the sage.  The lava beds acted like thousands of black solar panels and I made it only a few hundred yards before being forced to stop and remove layers.  With antlers on the brain, I failed to consider other desert inhabitants who actually prefer this type of weather.

Holy @#$%!!!  RATTLER!!!  My distaste for the little bastards is exasperated immensely by my inability to hear them, which is due, I believe, to repeated unprotected exposure to gunfire as a boy.  The nasty little creature had rolled himself into the classic, “come get some” defensive coil.  Slowly, I circled around him while trying to keep my composure.  Nervous but undaunted, I marched on.  Minutes later, however, I saw another, now I was truly a mess.  I froze and began examining the area.  There, against a break in the rocks, the grass moved in waves and a serpentine ball undulated against the black curtain of lava.  I had been told of large groups of rattlers coming out of their dens to sun themselves in the fall, but these far-flung stories were cataloged in the abstract corner of my brain reserved for mermaids, big foot, and the Lock Ness monster.

It took the better part of the day to complete the remaining half-mile climb to my vantage point.  Despite not seeing another snake, the entire hike I felt as though I was trekking across a freshly laid minefield.  I spent the afternoon and evening glassing, but saw nothing.  Another evening had passed without finding the buck; I had only four days left to hunt.

High Noon

Like any other morning, day eleven found me impatiently setting up my spotting scope twenty minutes before there was enough light to see.  As soon as dawn broke, I knelt to go to work. Immediately I spotted a deer up against the lava rock rim.  There was so little light that I would not have known he was a buck had he not been raking his antlers so violently.  Then a doe appeared not more than twenty yards below him.  He immediately turned to pursue her.  When he intercepted her path, he extended his neck and raised his nose.  He alternated between this flehmen position and raking his antlers while the doe fed.  He disappeared into a small patch of high sage and I watched for five minutes as the brush shook violently.  By the time he reappeared the light had improved enough that I could see sage hanging from his head.  When he shook the sage off, I could see that he was really tall with deep backs and long main beams.   I couldn’t count points but I knew he was the one.  After about ten minutes they bedded down right out in the open.  As a younger hunter I would have tried to close the gap right then.  But something wasn’t right.  They were too exposed here.  And I didn’t believe that he would stay with a doe this early in the season.   They remained bedded for about ten minutes, and then the doe stood up and started back the way she came.  I remember saying out loud, “follow your girlfriend.”  Sure enough he got up and followed.  Then it happened…she squatted to urinate.  As soon as she moved on, the buck came and put his nose to the ground.   That was all he needed to confirm that this little honey wasn’t in the shag’n mood. Without so much as blowing her a kiss, he was gone.  He walked straight down into the basalt canyon and out of sight.  The doe didn’t seem to mind a bit.  Me on the other hand…well, I freaked out.

There was only one thing to do.  I strapped my scope to my pack and ran.  The pack I use has a scabbard that my muzzleloader fits perfectly into.  If you’re a musket hunter with a gun short enough to fit into the scabbard, this style of pack is invaluable.  It keeps your nipple clean and dry, and in the off chance you need to run like hell through rough terrain, your hands are free.  After scrambling down countless rockslides and ascending narrow paths between basalt spires I had reached the canyon he had descended into.  I had covered nearly two miles at a dead run without stopping and now I was coughing up lactic acid something fierce.  It would be several minutes before I would be steady enough to start glassing.  After catching my breath I belly crawled to the edge and quickly scanned to make sure he wasn’t out in the open.  From this vantage point I could see three patches of high sage and a portion of the creek bottom bellow.  Unfortunately there was a lot that I couldn’t see because the canyon was a labyrinth of giant basalt spires.  After carefully scanning the high sage for about forty-five minutes my heart began to sink.  Finding him here would be next to impossible.

I would spend the next eight hours playing the wind.  I crept through the stone maze, peeking around corners and peering over ledges.  As the hours passed I began to lose hope.  As evening approached I came to grips with the reality that I would have to return tomorrow.  Maybe I could catch him making another house call.  I had walked about a quarter mile towards camp when something white caught my eye.  There was a three-foot gap between two of the basalt spires that created a window.  Through this opening I could see a lone deer bedded on an open ledge. It was the buck!  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  He had been right there hidden amongst the countless folds in the landscape.  I zapped him at 267 yards.  The waning light gave the situation a sense of urgency.  I quickly adorned my face and hands with camo garments and slid my smoke pole out of the scabbard.  With my windicater in one hand and shooting sticks in the other I was off. After closing the gap to two hundred yards I found myself atop a 15 ft ledge.  I removed my boots and found a gap that I could chimney down.  Once I had reached the ground below I sprinted straight at the buck.  He was lazily staring the other way.  Most likely in a love induced trance.  The ground beneath my feet was gravel that had been compacted into the dry clay below.  This firm surface made it possible to run the last 100 yards without making a sound.  Every few seconds I sent a puff of chalk into the air, insuring the wind was on my side.  The buck was oblivious to my presence.  With trembling hands I lowered my shooting sticks.  As I crouched to get into position my foot slid across the gravel!  The buck was on his feet immediately.  I tried to slow my erratic breathing and squeezed.


When the smoke cleared he was lying with his back toward me.  I reached into my essentials bag for a quick loader and prepared for a second shot, but it would be unnecessary.  My arms were tingling and my tongue felt swollen.  I had taken many big game animals before this one.  But this was a sensation entirely new to me.  Over the course of the last eleven days I had endured the broadest spectrum of conditions the Idaho desert had ever thrown at me.  Not to mention an emotional roller coaster ride that took me from nauseas lows to heart pounding highs.  Just minutes ago I was convinced I had blown it.  And now I was standing in stocking feet beside the buck that rewarded my efforts.    My 214inch buck was lying less than a mile away from the clearing where I had found my deer hunting inspiration nineteen years earlier.

The buck would gross 214 3/8 inches with 19 inch G2s and 27 inch main beams.

300 inch muzzy buck out of Oregon

December 9, 2009 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

Lucky hunter takes a 300 inch cactus buck in Oregon with his muzzleloader!

102_2810 A friend of mine from Oregon called a said this buck unofficially scores 301 gross.  What a pig and congrats to the lucky hunter.  It could be the second largest buck ever killed with a muzzleloader.   Arnold Sandoval’s is the largest that I know of.  It was harvested in Nevada.  I believe it scored around 304 gross and was 35 inches wide.

Sandoval175Arnold Sandoval with his 2006 muzzleloader buck that grossed 304

New issue of Hunting Illustrated

November 4, 2009 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

In stores now…….Until January 26,2010

Mule Deer and Front Stuffers

By Steve Alderman

compressed HI43cover

My heart beat uncontrollably as I saw huge mule deer antlers at fifty six yards. The date was Oct 1st. 8:30 a.m and It was 40 degrees, over cast, with winds gusting up to 35 miles an hour.  I had been watching and filming this buck for the past three months and now wasn’t the time to mess up all of the hard work I had done.  I knew I needed to cover four more yards to get a clean shot, but the buck bedded with his butt into the hill so he could see every movement within the 240 degree field of view in front of him.  My only course of action was to slowly back up a couple yards, lay flat on my belly, then move ever so slowly back into place at a mere fifty two yards from my quarry for a clear shot.  I wasn’t in much of a rush as the deer was now bedded for the day. Laying on my belly with my gun at my side, I started inching forward ever so slowly.  A mature mule deer has  keen senses that can pick up movement at hundreds of yards away,  so how was I  to go undetected at fifty?  Moving as slow as possible was going to be my only choice.  Using knees and elbows would cause to much movement which meant that all I could do was use my toes.  That’s right.   My plan was to use my toes to push my body the last four yards.  Nothing was moving except for my toes which were hidden from the deer by the rest of my body.  Moving two inches at a time worked out to be slow enough as I got to my marked destination without being noticed.  Now, all I had to do was wait for the deer to stand and change his position in his bed.

As I lay a mere fifty yards from the biggest buck I ever have had the chance to harvest, I did something stupid.  I looked back and talked to the camera guy to make sure he was rolling and could see the deer.  That’s right, I moved my head at  fifty two yards from the bedded buck and yes he did catch the movement.  Lucky for me I was camoed out in Kings camouflage  and some 3-d leafy camo from Scentlok.  The buck caught the movement but did not recognize it as danger.  It was a very tense situation as the deer was now staring directly at me with my gun still at my side.   I knew the deer wasn’t going to lay there in his bed and tolerate the movement of something that wasn’t there when he bedded, so I slowly brought my gun into position and I mean slowly.  I obviously did not want to spook the already alert deer.  The deer saw the movement and was curious as to what it was so he stood to get a better look.  I still believe to this the day that the only reason the deer didn’t bolt was that the movement was so slow and that it was windy enough that he didn’t perceive it as a threat.  He just couldn’t figure it out so he stood to get a closer look and that is when the roar of my gun and the smoke from the end of the barrel broke the morning silence.steve2

Writing this story makes me as giddy and nervous as a boy getting his first bike.  It makes me realize why I enjoy hunting with short range weapons so much, especially those stinky old muzzleloaders.  It’s the times at the shooting benches sighting in these replicas of the early years, the blown stalks, the missed shots, the times in camp and in the hills with your closest buddies.  Most importantly, its getting to know the mule deer and his habits like no one else which drives me to hunt this way.  It’s getting close and out smarting these old majestic deer on their ground, in their core areas, and making it all come together with a quick clean harvest.

I know from past experience that lack of patience is where most people fail when it comes to short range weapons.  I don’t think you can teach this when it comes to hunting as every situation is different and people need to figure it out on their own.  They try to push the situation and make the deer stand up for their clear shot, which nine times out of ten doesn’t work.  The deer blows out of his bed never giving the  hunter the shot they set out to get.  Patience is a virtue in this situation.  You must wait for the deer to do what is natural for him.  He will get up and change his position in his bed a couple times a day, sometimes even grabbing a bite to eat in the process.  I have only seen two deer in all my years of hunting not change their beds.  Those two deer would bed at first light and not move from their bed until after dark.  So, there are the rare occasions when a deer won’t leave his bed but generally they will change their position at some point in the day and that is when you take advantage of the situation.  If you are patient,  the deer will be less cautious and simply do what comes natural for them.  They will be less likely to pick up the slight movement of the hunter who is ready for the shot.  You can usually spot a patient hunter by the amount of success he or she has while short range weapon hunting.steve1

Sure, there are many disadvantages to muzzleloader hunting over modern firearms.  First and foremost is the one shot challenge.  If it is an issue, it only takes one shot right?  Yeah, I’ve said that a few times and found my self running back to my pack to get another load on more than one occasion. Secondly, there would be the shot distance issue of 150 yards max with open sites and 250 max with a scope.  You all know someone or maybe even have yourself harvested a deer further than that.  For the most part with open sites, you cover half the deer up with the front site at 150 yards and then it is a guess as to were your bullet is going to hit. You might as well throw your ethics out the window if you are going to try and harvest a buck past this with open sites.  At 250 yards with a scope, there are all kinds of issues  to deal with such as bullet drop, with 20-25 inches being the norm on average and that is  if you use 150 grains of powder, wind drift up to and sometimes over a foot at 200 yards with a 15 mile an hour wind, and then there is the moisture issue.  Moisture is an issue a muzzleloader hunter could go on about for days.ssteve

However, four million muzzleloader hunters, including myself, feel that the benefits to hunting with a front stuffer far outweigh the disadvantages.  For me, the first advantage is less hunters in the field which also equates to better draw odds on some of those once in a lifetime hunts.  Secondly, getting close to the game you pursue and out witting a wise old mule deer on his turf at under a 150 yards is arguable the hardest game animal to hunt under these conditions.  Lastly, getting within range of a trophy mule deer with short range weapons will teach you patience,  proper shot placement and most importantly hunting ethics. Ethics, meaning humanely hunting and harvesting the game. i.e. your effective range for your gun and your load.  Hunting with a muzzleloader forces you to get closer to the animal so you can make that one shot harvest.  A muzzleloader hunter must spend more time at the bench getting to know his gun, its capabilities and limitations.  Merely shooting and hitting the target at 100 yards is not acceptable when it comes to muzzleloader hunting.  The hunter must know how the gun is going to preform under all conditions and distances.  There are many more variables to consider when hunting with a muzzleloader which makes it all the more enjoyable and satisfying to hunt with, especially when you are successful at putting your tag on a wise old mule deer.

So back to my hunt.   The roar of my gun and the smoke from my barrel broke the morning silence.  As the smoke quickly drifted to the side I could see my deer high-tailing it down the mountain side.  Could I have missed, I thought to myself?   There was simply no way I missed when he was only fifty two yards away.   To my utter relief, the deer ran about 60 yards were he proceeded to lay down and expire.  I was expecting him to crumble at the shot.  He was only fifty two yards and quartering to me when I put the front bead on his front shoulder and squeezed the trigger.   I guess when I was caught off-guard in the stand off, I forgot to allow for wind drift. Yes, even at fifty yards you will get wind drift.  The wind was blowing 30  to 35 miles an hour and even at fifty two yards I should have allowed for some sort of drift.  My bullet actually hit 3 inches to the left of where I was aiming and missed the shoulder completely causing me to second guess a hit or a miss.  Like I said, I was expecting him to crumble at the sound of the shot.  The best part was even after my slight miscalculation I ended up with my biggest Idaho buck to date.  I guess I’m lucky that the deer wasn’t standing at 125 yards because I could have missed him all together.steve

That buck ended a great season of short range weapon hunting.  I ended up harvesting three 200 inch plus bucks in three different countries all with short range weapons.   A rare feat that not to many hunters, if any, can say that they have accomplished even with high powered modern rifles.  One of the bucks was a 207 incher in Old Mexico with my trusty front stuffer.  Next, was a 208 inch buck in Alberta, Canada with my hoyt bow, and then back to Idaho to finish it off with a monster 213 inch non-typical.  Once again, it was my trusty muzzleloader that got the job done.  What a fantastic year!  I truly believe that hunting with a muzzleloader since I was 17 years old has made me a better hunter.  I also believe it can make anyone a better hunter.  There is never a substitution for more time spent in the field and at the bench.  Muzzleloading forces you to spend quality time doing both and what a good excuse to get out and have some fun in the field.


This hunt is featured in the new hunting video by Creekside Productions.  Mule Deer Country is mule deer hunting at its finest,  from Idaho to Old Mexico.  Watch as two monster Desert Mule Deer hit the dirt.  One of them is the largest ever harvested in Mexico with a muzzleloader, scoring over 208 inches gross.

Follow wildlife photographer and videographer Vince Martinez as he show cases some of Colorado’s finest mule deer.  Come with us as we take you on twelve action packed hunts, including four from Sonora Mexico.  You don’t want to be the last pearson to discover this radically new video from Creekside Productions.

Jake Shea Scores!

October 14, 2009 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

Jake Shea scores on his biggest muzzleloader buck to date.

After seven fun filled days of hunting Jake found a buck that was worthy of his tag.  IDAHO’S PUBLIC LAND AT ITS BEST!Jakes buck 1

Jakes great muzzleloader buck scores 198 inches.  It has great g-2s with one over 20 inches long, a g-3 that is 15 inches long, and main beams that stretch the tape right at 26 inches.


On the fourth day of the hunt we woke up to over 10 inches of snow.  By the end of the day we had over 14 inches of the white stuff.

Story coming soon……..

Idaho State Record Muzzy Buck!

October 4, 2009 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

New Idaho State Record Muzzy buck Harvest

Dallas Smith is no stranger when it comes to large mule deer.  Over the last few years, Dallas has added three awesome mule deer to his collection each scoring over the magical 200 inch mark. However, none of them come close to the accomplishment he achieved this past week. Dallas harvested the pending new # 4 in the world mule deer with a muzzleloader and it is also the new State Record in Idaho.  The unfortunate part of this story is that the buck will never be recorded in the books.   Dallas has to date decided that he doesn’t want to strip the velvet off the buck to have it officially scored.  I can’t say that I blame him.  It’s a once in a lifetime buck and keeping it the way it was when it was harvested is important to Dallas.

dallas3Dallas Smith with his latest monster in his collection

Dallas has watched this buck for the past five years and even tried to harvest it a time or two only to fall short in his quest.  This is ok if you look at the end result which is a 265 inch gross monster.  His Buck has a 204 inch frame with approximately 60 inches of trash.  It has only been unofficial scored, but when I held this monster in my hands, score went completely out the window.  This buck is dense, heavy, wide, nasty,and just plain old incredible.  When I lifted it off the ground, I was amazed at the weight of the antlers.  As shown in the picture above, these antlers felt like they would tip the scales at over 15 pounds which is a true monster in anyone’s eyes.

Comparing this buck to his sheds from the last few years shows this buck has grown into a true giant.  Two years ago his sheds scored in at just over 207 gross inches.  Last year his sheds grossed at just over the 228 inch mark.  Now he has grown into the mega 265 inch giant the Dallas harvested earlier this week.

dallas2Dallas With his 265 inch giant

I’m sure you are asking yourself why is this buck in velvet in October?  Well, the truth is still somewhat of a mystery to all.  He did grow a fresh set of horns every year, however this buck held his velvet well into October every year.  Like I said, Dallas knew this buck well.  He watched the buck two years ago shed its velvet at the end of October and last year it shed it in the middle of October.  At the time of harvest, the testicles of this deer were only one-fourth the size of a normal mule deer.  So obviously this buck had some sort of testicular issues whether it be lack of testicles from a birth defect, some sort of trauma, or a genetic defect.  This buck grew his antlers a month and half  longer then normal mule deer.

Is he a cactus buck?  In my opinion, yes.  Anytime there is testicular malfunction that allows antlers to grow at an abnormal rate, it should be considered a cactus buck.  Some cactus bucks never shed their antlers and some shed them ever few years.   In the case of this buck, his deficiency was slight enough that he shed them and grew a new set every year.  He had some sort of testosterone deficiency to allow him to grow his antlers for a longer time period than that of a normal mule deer which would fit the definition of a cactus buck.


Dallas, my hat is off to you and your brother for keeping this buck such a secret.  I don’t blame you one bit!  As far as I know, the only people that new this buck was alive were Dallas, his wife, his three sons, his brother Ryan and a good friend, Tony.  They all kept this buck under wraps until it was on the ground.  Congrats to all of you that were mentioned as you all played a part in Dallas harvesting this spectacular trophy. We can’t wait for the story and field pictures!


Photo Courtesy of Ryan Smith


Bennett Alderman is all smiles as he holds the 2007 set of sheds from the Smith buck


The sheds score 207 inches gross,  This buck packed his antlers well into March

Congratulations Dallas on such a fine trophy and a spectacular last few years of hunting these awesome animals. You brothers have done it again, I’m jealous…..

Steve Alderman

Kansas Muzzleloader Mule Deer!

September 16, 2009 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

MuleyCrazy Ori Logo copy

Kansas, Muzzleloading Mule Deer!

During the 2003 and 2004 mule deer seasons I was fortunate enough to bag two monster muleys thanks to my friend Matt Beckman and his father Mike who run a guide service in western Kansas. With Matt’s help and generosity, during the 2003 early muzzleloader season, I was able to shoot a 205-inch non-typical mule deer at twenty-two steps while he was bedded down in an uncut milo field. This past season was a little different because I was hunting with my father and my wife during rifle season so I was more interested in getting their mule deer first. Time was also a factor as I had only a day and a half to hunt before both Matt and myself had to be back to work.Kansas Muzzy

The first morning of the hunt my father scored on a real nice whitetail. Later that day, with only 45 minute of shooting light left, my wife had just enough time to make a sneak to within 50 yards of a nice mule deer while he was feeding. She made a great shot with her .308 and the buck went all of five yards and fell dead. Awesome, two great bucks in the same day!

Sunday morning I picked Matt up an hour before shooting light and we decided that we were only going to hunt the big bucks until 11:00 a.m. because we both had to leave early to get back home. Before I left the motel my wife told me that I could not shoot a deer unless it was big, because our freezer was full.

The first spot we went to was a place were Matt’s dad had seen a couple nice bucks feeding in a cut cornfield the night before. We got set up in the cornfield on a terrace where we had a good view of the place and just as it was getting light enough to see, we spotted three bucks moving around at the far edge of the field. The one was a nice buck but I chose to pass on it. We made our way around and glassed some other areas and around 9:30 Matt said that we could check one last spot before we headed back to town. It was an area where deer regularly bedded and our plan was to walk out the small weedy draw in hopes of intercepting a buck. We parked in the adjacent pasture to the north and started to work our way south to the draw. We made it 50 yards from the truck when I looked to the east along a creek bottom and saw some deer that were already bedded. As soon as we put our binoculars up we knew he was the one! But, we were caught on top of the hill in the wide open. The deer noticed us as soon as we noticed them and the herd proceeded up a draw and stopped at the south end of it. This gave us a good opportunity to put a stalk on the giant. After one hour of crawling and using the contours of the land, I managed to get within 200 yards. I slowly stood up from my position and placed a vital shot dropping the giant buck. As Matt and myself approached, there was no ground shrinkage….just ground growth! The deer had a 28 5/8 spread with a gross score of 200 inches!


August 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Gear & Reviews

Thompson Center Arms

Endeavor 50 Cal. Muzzleloader Endeavor 1

When I started this web site, it was for the easy money. Why not be techie?  How hard could it be to make millions on-line? Well, after several months my focus has changed from the millions of dollars, which never showed up, to just plain old enjoying writing about what we experience in the great outdoors. Pretty cool job, huh? I think so! However, I am still waiting for the Wells Fargo truck to show up at the front door with a pile of money, but I’m not holding my breath.

When Thompson Center Arms sent me their new Endeavor to put through the ringer, I was shocked.  So I won’t make millions, but I get to try out some pretty neat gear!  I’m all for that.  Who wouldn’t be?

Right out of the box this gun has all the bells and whistles with a  Flex tech Stock, Speed Breach XT, Energy Burners, Power Rod, and the QLA Quick Load Accurizor.  But can it shoot?  It sure looks pretty but I had my doubts.5724 I’m a simple guy  who likes simple things.  The more simple the better when it comes to muzzleloaders has always been my motto.  However, the older I get it seems that easier  just might be better. Easier, like the Speed Breech XT.  It doesn’t get any easier than this.  No need for tools, just a 90 degree turn with your fingers and your breech plug is out.  The QLA eliminates the need for a ball starter because the bullet starts with ease.  The  new ergonomic power rod provides a more comfortable and less painful grip when seating the bullet.  No more sore palms at the range.  The Flex Tech Stock with Energy Burners is a shoulder saver.  It takes over 50 percent of the felt recoil away from your shoulder and dampens the sound by up to 20 percent.  We all know muzzleloaders kick harder then modern rifles and the new technology in this stock keeps us at the range longer and helps dramatically with shooters pull (flinch). But, can it shoot?


endeavor 5Right off the UPS truck I headed to Cabelas to purchase the recommended shooting supplies.  TC recommends a sabot through their fast twist barrel.  So I went with the TC Shock Waves in the 300 grain weight and triple seven FFG loose powder. I drove out to the property and began to shoot.  Initially I set the target at 100 yards for the first three shots to gauge the guns accuracy.  To my amazement the first shot hit 2 1/2 inches high of the bulls eye.  Beginners luck, I mean right out of the box and the gun is sighted in? Second shot 1 inch high of bulls eye and the third shot touched the first shot.  Ok maybe this gun with all this fancy new stuff can shoot and right out of the box. Needless to say, I stuck around till dark shooting my new Endeavor just enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells that come with hunting and shooting a front stuffer. This gun is a shooter!!!!

So there might not be millions of dollars in the web-site business, but the fringe benefits are worth a million dollars to me. Now, if only I could turn this into a full time gig!

Making the TC Endeavor Legal in Idaho’s muzzleloader hunts

What a challenge this turned out to be.  In Idaho you can only use a muzzleloader in a muzzleloader hunt that meets the following requirements;

  • Loaded with loose powder.  The Endeavor can be loaded with loose powder.
  • Loaded with a projectile that is within .010 inch of bore diameter.  The Endeavor will accept this projectile.
  • Must use round ball or lead conical.  100% lead, non-jacketed.  Can the Endeavor handle shooting a conical?
  • Equipped only with a musket or percussion cap! The Endeavor does not use either.
  • The cap must be exposed or visible to the elements when cocked.  The Endeavors breech is not exposed.
  • Open or Peep sights only. The Endeavor has open sights.

Off to the gun smith

“ The Thompson Center Arms alteration I am posting is purely experimental with INSUFFICIENT TESTING data to determine “no risk of injury” to the end user. Therefore in the interest of SAFETY and liability, please be informed that if you construct and use any altered guns or parts,  you do so at your own risk and responsibility, and I assume no liability or responsibility should injury or death occur in their use.”

To get the Endeavor to shoot a number 11 percussion caps, the Endeavors breech plug will have to be drilled, tapped and re-milled.  Drilled and tapped to accept the number 11 nipple, then re-milled so the cap is exposed to the elements.  In the picture below, the left breech plug is an original and the right breech plug is after the gun smith worked it. (NOTE….  Thompson Center Arms does not recommend altering their breech plugs or firing pins.)  I just wish that Thompson Center Arms would offer this breech and firing pin as an option to the Endeavor.  The gun would then be legal to use in Idaho, Oregon and Washington right out of the box.

Endeavor breech

After drilling, tapping, and re-milling it was time to focus on the firing pin.  It need to be altered so that it would fire number 11 percussion caps.  The firing pin needed to have a 1/4 inch flat striking surface instead of a normal firing pin that comes with the Endeavor.  Again the gun smith got to work on the Endeavor.  A couple of days and a number of firing pins (strikers) later and the gun smith had my new and now legal in Idaho Endeavor firing 100% of the time. The cost for this procedure is around $200.00 to $250.00 dollars.  After all of this time and money would my new gun even shoot a lead conical consistently?

breechThe new breech shown in place, the cap is now exposed!

Back to the Range!

The big question now was is this gun going to shoot lead through it?  For me patch and round ball is out of the question.   I want a muzzleloader that will preform out to 100endeavor 2 yards and beyond.  Round balls lose way to much kinetic energy and their foot pounds of impact down range and are not, in my opinion, sufficient enough to ethically harvest an animal out to 100 yards.  Most patch and round balls should never be shot at  large game animals any farther than 50 – 70 yards, so my choice was going to be a conical.  Power belt lead conical to be exact.  Powerbelt Bullets are a local company here in Idaho that I have had great luck with in the past.  Before I new it, I was off to the range with some 348 grain all lead power belt conicals, my triple seven FFG, and some CCI number  11 percussion caps.

The excitement was in the air and I was eager to see if my new gun would perform.  All the  muzzleloader forums on the net said that it was very unlikely that the Thompson would shoot a conical with consistency.  This time I set the target out at 75 yards to see if I could punch the target with the Power Belt.  For the load, I dropped the powder charge from 120 grains down to 90 grains.  I knew I was going to have to slow the bullet down to get consistent flight out of a fast twist barrel.

The first time I pulled the trigger it was a misfire. I guess when I last cleaned the gun I didn’t clean the breech plug very thoroughly.  Thank goodness it’s the Speed Breech XT and with one quick turn the breech plug was out to be picked and cleaned.  The gun fired on the next shot.  Now was the moment of truth.  Where did my conical hit?  It was 3 inches high of center which is not too bad, but I wasn’t out off the woods yet.  I’m looking for consistency out of my new gun.  My second shot went off without a hitch,  but were did I hit? endeavor target 1 As I looked through the spotting scope my heart sank.  I couldn’t have missed but the paper showed no sign of being punched.  I was now coming to the realization that I had just spent a ton of money making a gun legal in Idaho that wasn’t going to work for me.  I should have listened to the naysayers.  Reluctantly, I reloaded the gun for what could have been my last shot with a conical through the bore of the TC.  I sat at the bench, squeezed the trigger and the smoke flew.  Looking through the spotting scope I could see the hit was 1 inch low of the first shot.  Ok, now where did that second shot hit?  I walked down to the target for a further inspection.   To my amazement, my second bullet punched the paper right through the same hole as the first conical. It looked like I was back in the saddle.  I fired four more shots though the TC and walked away with a pretty good group.  See, the Thompson Endeavor can shoot lead conicals just fine!  Try it and see for yourself.  For all you naysayers out there, with a little tweak of the powder and the right bullet combination it is possible.  The proof is on the paper.endeavor target 2

With a new front site on this gun I should be able to make this group twice a tight as it is here.  Currently, the front site is the stock fiber optic one that comes on the TC and at 75 yards it covers up the whole target.  Come on admit it, thats a pretty good group for not even seeing the target while shooting at it.  I believe that the only thing wrong with this gun is the sites because they are very beginner.  I can’t wait for the day when I bust out my scope to really fine tune the load.  I don’t think I am too far off with the load I am using now!  Only time will tell and of course a couple more trips to the range.endeavorSo if I never get rich, monetarily, at least I’m having fun trying.  Until next time, shoot straight and just remember your in Mule Deer Country!

This is an experiment and is for you’re reading entertainment only…..Do not try this at home.  We accept no liability when altering any gun!

Steve Alderman

Founder, Mule Deer Country

Next Page »