“Massive tracks don’t all the time imply large racks, however large racks all the time imply large tracks.” —Previous deer hunter saying

“I’VE NEVER YET shot a giant buck that didn’t have a giant observe. So a giant observe is vital. You discover a large observe, and now you’re getting someplace.”

I hear carefully to Michael Hirschi, at the same time as my eyes wander incredulously throughout the handful of 200-plus Boone and Crockett mule deer mounted on the partitions round him.

We sit in his workplace, which doubles as the master suite of his Utah residence. There are a half dozen monster bucks on these partitions and extra on nearly each wall in the home. And extra nonetheless within the store outdoors. Most critical mule deer hunters will spend a lifetime to catch maybe one glimpse of a buck like these. One hunter in 10,000 would possibly truly kill one. As soon as I requested Michael what number of 190-plus bucks he’d taken. He thought a second earlier than replying, “Greater than 20.”

A western mule deer hunter with a giant mule deer buck.
Hirschi has a confirmed observe report of discovering—and killing—big mule deer. Courtesy Mike Hirschi

Michael and I’ve been pals for years. But awe nonetheless washes over me each time I see his assortment of once-in-a-lifetime bucks. I’ve lived my life in among the greatest big-buck habitat on Earth, and I’ve personally killed some large mule deer. I do know many gifted deer hunters, however Hirschi is totally different: He has a present. His time to hunt is proscribed, however he’s probably the most devoted hunter I do know. He doesn’t personal or pay to hunt non-public land. Regardless of all that—or maybe partly due to it—he’s, I consider, the best big-buck mule deer hunter alive.

“I’ll maintain trying, checking one other space, and one other, till I discover a large observe,” he provides. “After which I’ll key in on that space.”

I pry my eyes from these large antlers and research my buddy. He’s barely above common in top and powerfully constructed, and he sports activities the small potbelly typical of athletic males of their 50s. He’s a very good man: beneficiant, sort, and humble, and keen to assist his family and friends who hunt. However you gained’t discover him speaking looking on the native comfort retailer. For him to inform you about his looking spots requires years of unbroken belief. Monster mule deer are his ardour, and he’s all the time excited about the place he would possibly discover the following one.

“We’ll be using the four-wheeler down some distant desert two-track, flying alongside, me snuggled up and considering we’re having this romantic trip collectively,” says Hirschi’s spouse, Kristine. “Immediately he’ll lock the tires up and we’ll skid to a halt in a cloud of mud. ‘I noticed a deer observe,’ he’ll say, and throw it in reverse. That’s how he’s. All the time targeted.”

journal with mule deer stats
Hirschi retains meticulous data of the mule deer he’s seen and brought through the years, together with sketches of their antlers, in his looking journal. Roger Kisby

Centered is the one phrase for him. Hirschi hunts areas with such low deer densities that he’s gone as much as six days in a row with out sighting a single deer. Not many individuals have the psychological fortitude to endure that type of punishment. But it surely doesn’t faze Hirschi. As a result of on the seventh day, he simply would possibly spot his subsequent monster buck.

Massive Tracks in Massive Nation

So what’s a big observe precisely? This varies from deer to deer, explains Hirschi. A buck that lives in a rocky area may have shorter ft than a buck that spends his time in sand or grass. Something greater than 3 inches lengthy is worthy of a re-evaluation, and a observe within the 3⅜-to-3¾-inch vary will normally come from a really large, outdated deer. The observe should be large in addition to lengthy, which is able to give it a blocky form—like one thing heavy made it. A giant buck’s tracks shall be wider aside than tracks left by a younger buck, denoting broad shoulders and a thick, mature physique.

As soon as he locates a observe large enough to pique his curiosity, Hirschi fastidiously considers his subsequent transfer.

“I’m gonna ask myself, ‘The place does that observe sit on the map to water, bedding, and feed? What’s a deer going to do in that location?’” Hirschi says. “‘The place is he watering, and the way usually?’ Deer are recurring, and they’ll use a specific space greater than others.”

mule deer trophy on wall
Certainly one of Hirschi’s 4 200-plus mule deer: a 201⅛-inch buck that’s presently the No. 11 all-time P&Y typical. Roger Kisby

Finding a giant mule deer observe and following it for miles throughout the desert sand, lastly leaping the buck for a shot, is a vanishing and honored talent amongst mule deer hunters. Only a few can accomplish it.

“An outdated hunter informed me the story of this big deer he killed,” Hirschi says. “He tracked it three days, slept on the observe. Wherever night time discovered him he’d simply sleep proper there. On the third day he caught up with the buck. He jumped the buck a bunch of occasions in between, however lastly received the chance for a very good shot.”

Hirschi explains that the majority bucks will normally circle again to the identical place the place you jumped them. If a hunter is wise, he can determine the buck’s sample earlier than that occurs—and use it to his benefit.

Michael Hirschi hold binoculars atop a bow
Roger Kisby

“There are the excessive bedders. They prefer to mattress the place they will see stuff. Should you’re taking place a observe and also you’re good along with your subject glasses, you may spot him there, beneath that tree or tucked below that ridge, watching you come. He’ll look forward to the proper second to slide away.”

Excessive bedders are the simpler deer to hunt. Then you definitely get the low bedders.

“These are the robust suckers. A low bedder will lie down within the backside of a wash, up towards a reduce financial institution, and also you’ll by no means see him. If one thing comes up the wash, growth! he’ll blow up over the sting and run just like the dickens. And he can run higher than I can shoot, no query.”

So Hirschi will observe slightly approach, then circle to attempt to spot the buck. Should you don’t see him, relocate the observe, get an concept of the place he’s going, and loop once more. Making that loop is vital, particularly in case you are working alone.

That’s how Hirschi killed his first big buck, on the age of 17. He jumped a giant deer, adopted the signal till he had an concept of his route of journey, after which made a loop. As he eased in to his unique place to reacquire the observe, he noticed the buck. The mule deer was watching his backtrail and didn’t anticipate hazard to return from the facet.

Western mule deer bow hunter.
Hirschi arrowed this velvet buck in August 1998. Courtesy Mike Hirschi

A Grasp’s Plan

Another hunter would need each benefit in his favor when pursuing a world-class buck. However about twenty years in the past, Hirschi decided to hunt solely with a bow. He had turn into assured that if he may discover a deer whereas rifle looking, he may kill it. That didn’t sit proper with him. However even with a bow, he stays improbably efficient. Some large bucks do elude him for a complete season, and he by no means lays eyes on them. This merely fuels his hearth. It means he has a deer to scout and hunt the following yr. And he wouldn’t have it some other approach.

As soon as Hirschi does find a giant buck, he makes use of each instrument at his disposal to get to know that deer. He’ll research satellite tv for pc imagery, set path cameras, observe tracks, and glass from a distance.

When looking season arrives, he’ll seek for the buck with nearly indomitable will till he finds it. This may typically take days; the territory Hirschi hunts is huge, and these bucks can and do cowl miles every day.

Hunter walks through Utah desert
There’s little doubt that Hirschi’s preseason scouting work is vital for finding large deer earlier than the season even opens. Roger Kisby

Most frequently Hirschi will observe a observe solely till it enters an space he can glass. That’s when he stops climbing and finds a vantage level from which to check the world along with his binocular. He believes it’s essential to glass a number of hours from a single place. It could take that lengthy for a deer to maneuver or for the shadows to alter so {that a} deer turns into seen.

If, after a number of hours of learning an space by way of his tripod-mounted binocular, he doesn’t spot the buck, he’ll relocate and begin over, glassing the world from a distinct perspective. Hirschi usually goes days, weeks, and even years with out discovering a buck he’s looking. The nation is huge, and the deer density very low.

When he does discover the buck, he’ll watch until it strikes right into a huntable place. Then he stalks in for a shot. As soon as in bow vary, Hirschi doesn’t consider in making an attempt to make a buck stand by tossing a pebble, or doing something in any respect to attract its consideration.

“When a buck will get that mature and outdated, he doesn’t make many errors,” he says. “As a rule, he’ll blow out and by no means provide you with a shot. So I simply wait.”

A bowhunter and a kid beside a giant velvet mule deer buck
Hirschi in 2012, with a velvet buck he nicknamed “Louie” for its baseball-bat beams. Courtesy Mike Hirschi

I take into consideration what that wait could be like, anticipating a shot at a world-class buck any second for hours on finish. These moments are few and much between, says Hirschi, which suggests he by no means will get drowsy or lets his thoughts drift from the duty at hand.

“I’m very alert, and there’s sufficient adrenaline flowing to maintain me in focus. Wind is my predominant focus; I’ve to pay actually shut consideration, so if the wind swirls or one thing modifications, I can alter. One second nothing in any respect is going on. And one or two seconds later, I’d have to make a shot.”

Massive-Buck Nation

Early that morning, we loaded into Hirschi’s pickup and drove into God’s nation, the superbly barren territory he hunts. We had been there, ostensibly, to hunt coyotes. I believe we each knew, although, that our predominant function was to attach with one of many locations he loves greatest.

I’ve by no means been right here, the place Hirschi has spent numerous days. Nonetheless, this place is vital to each of us. To me, it’s a shrine of types. You’ll be able to’t perceive how extremely troublesome it’s to hunt this nation till you’ve been right here.

My buddy reveals me how the bucks like to maneuver and the place they like to feed at sure occasions of yr. He factors out locations he’s given names of his personal. Every is enchanting: the Pasture, Heaven, the Gold Coast, Paradise, and Hope City. They’re names nobody else would ever acknowledge. Which is vital, as a result of Mike Hirschi kills nearly all his bucks on general-season, public-land items.

mule deer hoofprint in mud
The observe of a really large mule deer is normally 3⅜ to 3¾ inches lengthy. This one seemingly belongs to a small buck or perhaps a doe. Roger Kisby

In his residence state of Utah, non-public looking land is uncommon, so hunters should compete with hordes of different public-land hunters. The looking is hard, and most of the people will shoot the primary buck they see. This makes it onerous for a buck to achieve maturity.

Additional exacerbating the problem of looking public lands is the truth that tags have gotten more and more onerous to get. So any hunter who routinely tags monster bucks on public land is considered one thing of a superhero, a standing that Hirschi by no means sought however possesses nonetheless.

Some hunters admire Hirschi’s accomplishments with out jealousy. Different “hunters” attempt to shadow him—to search out his secret spots—and beat him to the large bucks he’s looking. So Hirschi is cautious about who he speaks with and what data he shares. He’s discovered that lesson the onerous approach; a number of of his prime spots have been spoiled by unscrupulous hunters who’ve betrayed his confidences.

The Legend of Clusty

We hunt coyotes, discuss deer, and end up again on the Hirschi place. My eyes drift once more to one of many mounts behind him, a buck with otherworldly mass and towering antlers that stands at quantity 11 typical all time within the Pope and Younger report books. Hirschi believes that had he managed to kill the buck one yr sooner it may need been primary on the earth, as a result of that yr his G2 and G3 tines would have forked a lot decrease and measured considerably longer.

I’m wondering how a buck that large may probably be any larger. I additionally marvel if I may maintain it collectively for a shot at one in every of these monster bucks, particularly after investing years of scouting, days of glassing, miles of stalking, and hours of ready inside bow vary. Praying the wind doesn’t swirl. Hoping the buck stands from his mattress. Anticipating a shot earlier than darkness falls.

Measuring mule deer antlers
Roger Kisby

I’ve heard the tales. Whereas looking one other of his bucks, Hirschi stalked inside bow vary of a gaggle of bedded deer and waited the afternoon away. When the breeze veered, he backed out, then stalked fastidiously again into bow vary, the wind once more in his favor. The wind modified a second time, and once more he retreated and repeated his stalk from downwind. Like a ghost, he sneaked into bow vary a 3rd time, and the group of greenbacks nonetheless hadn’t a clue. Once they began to rise and stretch, he watched a buck feed previous. The mule deer’s antlers had been greater than 30 inches large and would rating over 200 inches. Hirschi by no means drew. He was ready for an excellent larger buck that he knew was amongst them. Minutes later, he killed a 33¾-inch-wide typical-framed monster that gross green-scored 213 inches in velvet.

However the story I most wish to hear is in regards to the greatest buck that Hirschi ever hunted—one which’s not on his wall. A shadow crosses his face and, briefly, he tells me about Clusty.

Clusty, so named for the huge clusters of tines reaching skyward from every antler, lived early in Hirschi’s bowhunting profession. He watched Clusty one summer time and hunted him onerous that fall with out success. He noticed the buck just one time the next yr. Then Clusty disappeared. So far as Hirschi is aware of, nobody ever killed him. He’s quiet, learning the ground.

Drawing bow in Utah desert
Since Hirschi has restricted himself to bowhunting, he makes certain to apply usually within the terrain the place he makes his photographs. Roger Kisby

“How large do you assume Clusty was?”

Hirschi responds with out hesitation. “A minimum of 250.”

“TWO FIFTY!” The phrases burst from my mouth.

“Yeah,” Hirschi says. “A minimum of.”

I can see why Clusty’s reminiscence haunts him. Most hunters who inform you they’ve seen a 250-inch mule deer have simply perjured themselves. Not Michael Hirschi. If he says a buck was 250, it was 250. Or larger.

Divine Intervention

Nonetheless, there’s something surreal about Hirschi’s potential to search out and harvest bucks which can be so extremely above the norm. There’s little doubt that he works onerous for this extraordinary success. However I wish to understand how he thinks about these accomplishments. So I ask him to what he attributes his extraordinary success at discovering and harvesting monster deer.

young hunter shows off mule deer
Hirschi (left) helped the writer’s daughter, Cheyenne, find this 208-inch buck. Courtesy of Michael Hirschi

His eyes develop shiny as he sits at his desk, a collage of trail-cam images nonetheless open on his desktop and maybe 640 inches of bone spreading regally above the three shoulder mounts over his head.

“I consider that when God requested us to do particular issues, he meant it. I’ve all the time tried to assist or train pals or children who wish to study to hunt, each time I get an opportunity. We’re informed that after we serve our fellow man we’re within the service of our God. I do my greatest to satisfy that commandment.”

Hirschi leans again in his chair, his voice gravelly with emotion.

“We’ve additionally been commanded to set our personal affairs apart and do God’s work on the Sabbath. I take that to coronary heart, and I’ve dedicated to my heavenly Father that I can’t observe my ardour on his day. I’ve requested him to bless me in return.”

I lean again in my very own chair. Hirschi works 5 days per week and has restricted break day. Fifty % of his weekend is a excessive value to pay. I suppose the agnostic perspective could be that Hirschi is just a naturally gifted hunter who lives in trophy mule deer nation. And if he hunted Sundays, he’d most likely have even just a few extra bucks on his wall.

However then I actually research the partitions surrounding me, trying as soon as extra on the large deer mounted there. I believe again to the time Hirschi helped my oldest daughter harvest her personal 208-inch buck. Then I look again at my buddy, and keep in mind every little thing that he has simply shared with me. Some religion, it appears, shouldn’t be questioned.

closeup photo of bow and arrow
Roger Kisby

Gear Hirschi Received’t Hunt With out

I requested Hirschi if there’s something he gained’t go looking with out. He smirked and knowledgeable me that he doesn’t prefer to go with no bow or rifle. We had a very good chuckle after which received right down to enterprise. Right here’s the gear that Hirschi is dependent upon each time he goes afield.

  • BOW: PSE Full Throttle, with a draw weight of 60 kilos. His recommendation? “Use no matter bow you may shoot precisely and constantly. Shot placement is extra vital than poundage.”
  • REST: Whisker Biscuit. Regardless of derision that it’s a newbie’s relaxation, Hirschi believes the Whisker Biscuit to be “the perfect bowhunting relaxation ever developed” as a result of it’s bulletproof and quiet, and it retains the arrow safe throughout stalking and ready.
  • SIGHT: Black Gold Ascent Customized Adjustable seven pin. Hirschi units his pins at 10-yard intervals starting at 20 yards and ending at 80. Then he depends on the adjustable function on his sight to dial for even longer photographs. Below ultimate circumstances, Hirschi is deadly to 100 yards with this setup.
  • ARROWS: Victory VF TKO, 300 backbone, reduce at 29 inches.
  • BROADHEAD: Grim Reaper 100-grain 1⅜-inch Razor Tip. Hirschi has used these broadheads since 2008 and has full confidence in them.
  • OPTICS: Together with a Leupold rangefinder and a sturdy tripod, Hirschi depends on a Swarovski 15×56 binocular with a tripod adapter and a Swarovski 20–60×80 recognizing scope.
  • OTHER GEAR: Leatherman multitool. Hirschi carries a 4-inch mannequin and makes use of it continually to measure deer tracks, restore gear, reduce with the blade, or trim limbs with the noticed. —A.v.B.

This story initially ran within the Diehards difficulty of Outside Life. Learn extra OL+ tales.

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