Since I was 8 years old, hunting with my father in the mountains and plains of Wyoming, my life has been about the sport of hunting. So it is not hard to understand why, when I met Mr. William Cole, the owner of the Flag Ranch located north west of Odessa, Texas, I was intrigued by what he told me about his property.
The Flag Ranch, which has been in the Cole family since 1903, is composed of 23,000 acres of rolling desert covered with mesquite, soapberry bush, and cactus. It also happens to be the home of some of the largest mule deer in the State. It was in April of last year when I met Mr. Cole on a promotional hog hunt with the Texas Hunt Company in south Texas. As we talked about ranching, hunting, and big bucks, he revealed to me that he had heard that I was talented at finding large white tail bucks. So he asked me to come out to his property, and try my hand at finding Desert mule deer. I, of course, was very flattered and more than willing to accommodate him, but was nervous because what he was really asking was that I be a guide on his property. I had been shown pictures of the monstrous bucks that roamed the rolling deserts of his ranch. I felt a chill of anticipation as I accepted his gracious invitation.
I left for the Flag Ranch on November 24th, Thanksgiving Day, which did not particularly endear me to my family. They did, however, understand the importance of the opportunity that lay ahead. But the one thing that I could never have anticipated was that I was about to participate in the hunt of a lifetime. When I arrived at the Ranch, I immediately began scouting. Covering as much ground as possible, I glassed the rolling terrain for the monster muleys, which are experts at concealment and confounding those who pursue them. I only had a day and a half to scout because opening day was that Saturday.
My first hunter was a gentleman from Wisconsin, Mr. Gary Lenhere. An accomplished mule deer hunter, he had taken two bucks in Idaho that scored well over 200 BC points. One of these animals was a 7X6 monster that scored 232 points. Needless to say, he was a man who knew the quality needed for a “ wall hanger”.
Hunts on the Flag Ranch are for 4 days, with only 4 hunters allowed at any given time. Every hunter has one, and sometimes two guides to assist him. The hunting on the Ranch is done from high-racked vehicles, or by “spot and stalk” method. High-powered optics are a must, due to the vast distances being covered 90% of the time. My first day of guiding for Gary was met with dense fog. The next two brought 50+ mph winds into the area. I don’t think I have seen conditions less favorable, and yet we still saw some very good bucks. Each time, however, we glassed one of these animals, he passed, waiting for a 180 to 200 class deer to cross our paths. The last day available to him for hunting turned off dead calm, and presented us with our best chance yet for success. While glassing, we spotted a 170-180 class 6X6, bedded with a doe under some mesquites. Gary looked at the deer carefully, and passed. Since Gary had determined that this was not for him, I radioed another guide on the ranch to bring his client to take a look. As evening approached, we helped the other guide and his client harvest the first mule deer of his life. To say that this gentleman was ecstatic is an understatement. We returned to the ranch headquarters so that Gary could begin to pack for the long trip home. I told him that I was sorry that he had to go home empty handed. He replied, “I had a great time, and that’s the way hunting is. You don’t get ‘em every time.” Also, he was happy to have gotten his first boar on the way back to HQ that night, and planned to have it full mounted for his trophy room.My second hunter from Greenville, Texas, arrived ready to go to work. We spent that evening talking about how we would approach the next day’s hunt. I went to bed that evening praying for calm wind and cold air. Needless to say, I was amazed to awake to calm, cold air, along with the smell of breakfast cooking, little did I know at that moment that I would be part of one of the most memorable hunts of my 36 years.
We finished breakfast before 6:00 AM, and loaded our gear into a high rack Scout, owned by my fellow guide, Phil Emfinger. We both agreed that this looked to be the best day so far, and also that anything would be better than the 50 mph wind we had endured earlier in the week. We started out the hunt with us pulling out on a vantage point to glass the vast landscape sprawling out before us. The first deer we saw was a group of does, about 800 yards out, feeding in some greasewood. Knowing that the rut was about to begin, we kept scanning the surrounding area, hoping that we would spot a mature buck. There should have been one tending such a large group of does. After 30 minutes of watching, we decided to move on.
The pasture we were hunting in was called, “The Five” section, and had already produced a 175 class 5X5 earlier that week. The rest of the morning was uneventful, but as we were heading back to HQ by a different route, I yelled out to Phil to stop the truck. About 100 yards to my left lay a buck bedded tight beneath a thick mesquite bush. Facing away from us, he did not appear to notice that we were there. As I squinted through my binoculars I noticed something stunning: a drop tine hanging down beneath the buck’s ear. I turned to ask Mr. Linkenauger if he could see the same thing I saw. His attention became riveted on the sight in his binoculars. I told him that at this point, I could not get a clear picture of the rest of the animal’s rack due to the brush, but I told him to get his gun ready .It was at this point that the buck knew that something was about to happen. He jumped from his bed, into the open, and broke straight away from us, running as hard as he could. Low whistles could be heard from everyone’s lips. The buck had an even larger drop tine on the main beam of his left antler. Unfortunatley, Mr. Linkenauger couldn’t get a shot due to the bad angle we had on the fleeing animal. I noticed what would become later as a critical detail. The buck had an injury to his left front leg. We spent the next hour trying to find him, to no avail. And now, as we drove toward the HQ, it was with both excitement and disappointment that we discussed what had just occurred. I told Mr. Linkenauger that the chances of seeing a mature mule deer buck with a drop tine is about 1 in 45,000. That revelation didn’t make him feel any better. He asked me, “How about 2 in 45,000?” I told him, “We’ll find him; just keep the faith”.
After a quick lunch, and a thorough razing from his friends back at the bunkhouse, we all piled back into the Scout, and started out again. Phil and I had decided to go where we had last seen the buck, and once again we began glassing the area. We hoped the buck had rebedded near his first location, since there were does close by. We saw absolutely nothing but sagebrush, mesquite, a few does, and a large rattlesnake that was not happy to see us. I had even tried to track the buck, but lost him after about 200 yards.
It was getting close to dark. Phil and I knew we didn’t have much time, and that we needed a new approach. I asked Phil to return to the spot where we first saw him, and to glass the entire basin. Mule deer can be creatures of habit, and sometimes they will return to the exact spot they’ve been in before. I hoped that this would hold true with this deer. Phil and I got into our respective positions across the basin with about 30 minutes of shooting light left. We had been there but a few moments when I caught the glint of an antler moving through the greasewood at about 500 yards. It was not the antler that sold me on this deer. It was the limp. I had to restrain myself from yelling out with excitement. I turned to the other men and said, “BINGO! I got him!” It took us a few moments to line him up with a permanent object, which, in this case, was a telephone pole almost 5 miles away. I told Phil that I thought our only chance for a shot was to go straight at him hoping that he goes to cover in that spot. Phil told us all to sit down and buckle up, as he slammed the Scout into gear. We raced head long toward the distant spot in the greasewood, all the while trying to gage how much ground we were covering at this speed. At last I asked Phil to stop. I knew we now had to be at least within 200 yards or less of the deer. I also knew that this buck was old and smart, and he didn’t get this way by making mistakes. He was going to hang tight in his bed for as long as he could, hoping that we would pass him by. Phil moved the Scout forward foot by foot, and at times I was glassing almost straight down into the heavy brush. I told Link, “He’s right here. He’s so close to us. He doesn’t want to move. We’re going to have to run right over him to get him up.” At this point, I tried using my rabbit call to get him to stand up in his bed.
I guess between the rabbit call and our proximity to him, it was too much for even this old veteran to endure. He broke from cover 30 yards from us, and Link was ready for the shot. The big deer raced on a zigzag course for about 130 yards before he made the “old muley mistake” that I didn’t think the “old man” would make. As he stopped to look back, Link settled the cross hairs on the buck’s shoulder and dropped the” Desert Monarch” in his tracks. I told him before we even started towards the deer that it would score in the 160’s, but it was the character of the antlers that made him so special. But it was only when Link at last laid his hands upon this magnificent deer that the yelling and high fives began. This deer had a 5X5 frame, with the two-drop tines as part of the 12 scoreable points, and a 26-inch inside spread. The two drops measured 9 and 4 inches in length respectively.
Not the biggest buck in the world, but a truly beautiful animal that anyone would be proud to have taken. It was a pleasure and an honor to have been part of this once in a lifetime opportunity. I am going to book my own hunt on The Flag Ranch next year, and know that I will have at least the chance to experience my own moment of a lifetime.
Scott M. Dye