October 04, 2010
Utah bowhunter Kip Fowler consistently arrows record-book mulies. Last year he killed Utah's top bow buck: a 220 non-typical brute. Here's the inside story on how he does it, season after season. (November 2008).
Kip Fowler's 2007 mule deer trophy measured 220 inches net. Possibly more impressive is that Kip took this 7x8 34-inch-wide buck on a do-it-yourself public-land hunt with a general-season tag.
Photo courtesy of Kip Fowler.
Nothing symbolizes the West quite like a heavy-horned, wide-racked mule deer buck.
Whether it's an early-season bachelor group of velvety-racked brutes feeding across an isolated alpine bowl, or a rut-crazed toad hot on the trail of an estrus-rich doe, just the sight of one is enough to make many mulie-addicts weak in the knees.
These deer inhabit some of the most beautiful country in the Lower 48, and the aged monarchs are considered to be one of the smartest big-game critters across the Rocky Mountain West.
Season after season, countless hunters scour the rugged hills and vertical canyons in hopes of finding just one of these 30-plus-inch kings. Though many go home with a hard-earned quality buck to adorn the wall of their trophy room, only a handful of hunters are able to pack out one of true epic proportions.
Last year, Utah hunter Kip Fowler was one of the few to stop the presses. His 220'‚0/8-inch net, 225'‚4/8 gross buck from 2007 is expected to rank as Utah's No. 5 all-time non-typical velvet class buck.
Even more impressive is that his 7x8, 34-inch-wide buck was killed on a do-it-yourself bow hunt, with a general season tag, on public land. Very few hunters can boast that!
And this was not some ordinary, run-of-the-mill bow hunt, either. Kip took his buck the old fashioned way: with patience, persistence, hard work and a little self-made luck.
It all started at about 2:30 in the morning of July 12, 2007 when Kip and a couple of his bowhunting buddies, Trent Thornton and Duane Keetch, headed up the trail for a day of pre-season scouting.
This wasn't an ordinary scouting trip, either: Kip was trying to find a huge typical 4x4 buck he had hunted the previous season.
"I got within 20 yards of that buck last season, and I was really hoping to find him again," Kip told Rocky Mountain Game & Fish. Little did he know that he would run into another world-class buck that would grab his undivided attention.
After a three-hour hike in the pre-dawn darkness, at first light Kip, Trent and Duane finally made it to a good vantage point where they were able to glass lots of country.
It wasn't long until Trent spotted a buck above their location.
"He was the very first buck we saw that day, and we could immediately tell he was going to be a huge non-typical," Kip said.
"But I didn't think he would be as big as he ended up being."
Studying him through the spotting scope, they could tell he was well over 30 inches wide, with numerous extra non-typical points. He was definitely a world-class buck, and the only nickname that seemed to put him into perspective was Superman.
For the next six weeks, Kip and his buddies worked hard to keep track of Superman. They made some 15 trips into the extremely rugged hole that the deer called home.
By mid-August, these long three-hour pre-dawn hikes across extremely rugged terrain were having a physical toll on them, but Kip said that just knowing Superman's antlers would continue to grow was a big motivator.
The group also was concerned the buck might move from the rocky area he was hanging out in, down into lower elevations that offered better deer habitat.
For nearly two weeks, Superman was nowhere to be found. But on Aug. 12, they saw him in some thicker cover just a few hundred yards away. It was thanks to their multiple scouting trips that they were able to get back on him before the season opened.
Even though Superman was several miles away from the nearest road, Kip was still concerned that another hunter might find him. He said they were not only keeping tabs on him, but also wanted to see if any other hunters were watching him as well.
"He was a buck of a lifetime, and I really wanted to make sure we got the first crack at him," said the hunter.
On the day before Utah's 2007 bow hunting season, Kip, Duane, Trent and Trent's brother Tye backpacked up the trail with high hopes that one of them would get an opportunity to send an arrow Superman's way.
And as good hunting friends know, it really didn't matter which one of them would have that opportunity. Each would be equally excited, they said, regardless of which archer would succeed.
Trent and Tye camped at a different location. Kip and Duane continued a few miles farther up, planning to establish a camp above where they suspected Superman would be.
They had enough supplies to spend a few days there and wanted to make the best of it. But the steep, rocky terrain kept them from finding a good place to set up their tent. Instead, they settled for a tarp tied between two pines on a steep grade, which offered less than ideal conditions.
An overnight storm punctuated their sleepless night. As the sun rose, the storm continued. Kip and Duane still-hunted hard anyway. They didn't see the deer and figured he'd probably bedded down because of the storm.
As the afternoon rolled in, the bad weather rolled out. Suddenly, Superman emerged, only 400 yards away.
After a quick but well-thought-out plan of attack, Kip was heading in his direction.
"My heart was pounding as I tried to get close to him," Kip said.
In 20 minutes, the hunter was within 40 yards of the buck and knew he would get a shot. But to Kip's dismay, thick cover kept Superman's vitals safe. All the hunter could do was watch him walk away.
"It's hard to get that close to such a buck and not be disappointed," he said. "But I wasn't going to risk a bad shot. I let him walk. I was hopeful one of us would have another close opportunity at him."
At first light on the following day, Kip headed back into Superman's home turf while Trent, Duane and Tye headed higher, for a better vantage point.
Expert hunter Kip Fowler packs in a propane shower. "I know, that sounds a little extreme," he said. "But if a big buck smells you, chances are he's out of there." After Kip found a good stopping point, he glassed to where he knew his friends would be.
Instantly he saw Trent anxiously trying to get his attention. They had located Superman and signaled that he was 300 yards away!
"My heart immediately started pounding when I realized what they were telling me and just how close I had gotten. I thought I might get another crack at him," Kip said.
He started heading in that direction, only to be discouraged when he ran out of cover about halfway there.
"All I could do was wait and hope Superman would come by. It was a long shot, but it was all I had."
After getting situated for what Kip thought would be a long stay, he glassed back up and saw Trent frantically signaling him to get down.
"I knew then that Superman must be heading in my direction."
After preparing for the shot, Kip started looking in the direction he thought Superman would be coming from, when suddenly he saw a massive rack just 35 yards below him.
"My heart really started pumping then, and I couldn't believe how close he was!" Kip said.
"What made it even better is that Superman and his 160-inch partner had no clue I was there."
Everything seemed to come together as the big buck walked into shooting range. Kip pressed his Mathews Switchback into service, but had to let down quickly when Superman moved behind some cover.
This happened two more times, but finally the buck stepped into a shooting lane. Kip drew a fourth time and let his carbon arrow fly.
"Because it was a fairly quick shot, my arrow hit a little far back," said Kip. "But right away, I knew he was hit hard."
In less than 100 yards, Superman gasped his last breath.
In short order, Kip was standing over a truly incredible buck.
"He far exceeded my expectations, and I couldn't believe how big he really was," Kip said.
What made it even better was that from above, Trent, Tye and Duane were able to see it all go down.
The 220-inch buck was the largest velvet non-typical buck killed in the Beehive State last year.
Superman was not Kip's first jaw-dropper. In addition, he has killed six other Pope and Young record-book bucks, from the high 140s to a 182'‚3/8-inch stud. What's even more impressive is that all of these bucks have come off public ground with easy-to-draw tags.
Though luck can play a part when hunting in the rugged West, nobody is this lucky. Kip will admit that he takes his bow hunting seriously and makes every effort to find and kill a record-book buck each season.
That drive has pushed his overall buck success rate with a bow to around 70 percent. Needless to say, whatever he's doing, it seems to be working. So listen up!
Here are a few ideas he feels really makes a difference when hunting these monarchs of the West.
1. HARDCORE SCOUTING
If you want to find quality bucks consistently, leave your casual scouting techniques at home. This means going early and staying late. Hike in the dark so that when you get there, it's prime time to find bucks moving in those high rugged basins.
Don't scout close to roads, either. Though quality bucks can be found in these areas, chances are that someone else has already found them as well.
To start with, Kip gets at least three miles from the nearest road and said that doing this eliminates 95 percent of today's hunters. However, you better be in top shape before you even attempt to head that deep into this steep and rugged terrain.
2. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
Once you find these buck-holding areas, scout them from a distance. In fact, Kip said that when watching Superman, they tried to stay 1,000 yards or more away from him.
"Chances are, a buck like that will let you make one only mistake before he's gone. So watching him from such long distances kept that from happening."
Doing this requires good optics, so buy the best spotting scope and binoculars you can afford.
Not only should you be watching the buck's every move, but you should study the terrain to make sure it's conducive to stalking close for a shot. If it's not, you might need to find another buck.
3. BE A HOT SHOT
Speaking of getting a shot, if you can't hit the 10-ring when it counts, don't bother heading to the woods.
"Practice shooting your bow a ton before the season," insists Kip. "Especially at long distances."
Bowshots to 50 yards and more are common and extremely doable with today's high-energy compound bows. Don't just focus on long-distance shooting, either. Shooting at steep angles is standard practice in the rugged, rocky holes these bucks call home. According to Kip, practicing these types of shots is just as important as distance.
4. DON'T MAKE A STINK
Kip also attributes his success to radical scent control, an aspect of bowhunting that often goes overlooked out West. Kip suggests that hunters wipe not only down daily-- even several times, if necessary-- with wipes that eliminate human scent.
But he even goes the extra mile of packing in a propane shower. "I know, that sounds a little extreme," he said. "But if a big buck smells you, chances are he's out of there."
He packs the shower along with 8-gallon water bottles that he fills up once he's near camp. And he packs in this extra gear during his scouting trips.
Kip not only tries to keep as scent-free as possible, but once he locates the buck he's after and stalks within 150 yards, he wipes down again and changes into scent-controlling clothes before finishing the sneak. Although he always plays the wind, you never know when it will flip on you.
5. THINK 'STEALTH MODE'
In order to make the finishing shot, you need to get close. Once Kip gets within 150 yards, he changes completely into what he calls stealth mode. On
ce you get inside the buck's bedroom, slow, methodical and purposeful movements are a must.
Don't rush! Chances are if the buck is bedded, you'll have plenty of time to get close. However, if you get busted, don't count on getting a second bite at the apple.
Regardless of what Western big game you're after, if you combine all of Kip's sage advice, you're sure to get closer and have overall better success in the coming seasons.'‚'‚'‚
Find more about Rocky Mountain fishing and hunting at RMgameandfish.com