Remmert's Kaibab Buck

Remmert's Kaibab Buck

Rich Remmert knew the odds were difficult for drawing one of the 1,000 permits for the late October hunt on the Kaibab's west side in Unit 12AW. So he saved his preferences points and made them count.

Rich Remmert's 4x4 buck sports a 28-inch inside spread and 173 inches of antler.
Photo by Duwane Adams.

A quick glance at various big-game record books reveals several dozen entries for mule deer from Arizona's North Kaibab Plateau, the legendary trophy-producing factory on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Since the huge crash of the deer herd that began in the 1920s and peaked in the 1930s, the Kaibab has always maintained a sort of good news/bad news reputation because of its fluctuating deer numbers. But despite past problems, one constant has been the Kaibab's production of big bucks.

Rich Remmert knew all that -- which is why he kept applying for one of the much-coveted permits, despite the low odds of drawing one that usually average about 6 percent to 9 percent. Finally, with bonus points in hand after several years of failure, the 37-year-old construction project manager from Michigan drew one of the 1,000 permits for the late-October hunt on the Kaibab's west side, Unit 12AW.

After hearing good things about outfitter Duwane Adams, based in San Manuel, Ariz., Remmert contacted him and several of the references that Adams provided. Within a few days, they struck a deal.

Adams originally built a solid reputation for guiding clients to trophy Coues whitetails, and eventually expanded his scope to include elk and mule deer. Although he's guided mule deer hunters in other areas of Arizona, he mainly concentrates on the North Kaibab. Because of this specialization, he and his guides know where to find trophy deer during both the early and late hunts. His clients regularly shoot bucks that score between 170 and 200, and several have exceeded the 200-inch mark.

Adams said the tagged bucks are merely the result of hard hunting. "As a rule, we glass up 100 or more good bucks every season, and a lot of hunters would be happy to kill many of the bucks we pass up. To their credit, however, most of my clients have patience and wait until one of my guides or I tell them to shoot. And that's usually at a buck that is a cut above the average," he said.

The Kaibab -- a Pah Ute word for "mountain lying down" -- sticks out like a tree-covered island from a sea of sand and rocks. Bordered on the south by the Grand Canyon and high desert on the other three sides, it rises from 3,000 feet to more than 9,000 on V.T. Ridge, the highest point.

Piñon pines, junipers and cedars dominate the lower ridges and canyons, which run off the plateau like fingers off a hand. Ponderosa pines, aspen, spruce and fir grow at the higher elevations. In between, the transitional zones offer plenty of oaks and mixtures of all the above.

The deer stay on top in summer and early fall. When the snow flies or the temperature drops way down, thus freezing their favorite foods at the higher elevations, they head down to spend the winter months at the lower ranges, where piñon and junipers are prevalent. By late November, most of them have moved into the canyons and brushy pockets formed by the ridges.

Old-timers who hunted the Kaibab after the herd rebounded in the late 1940s and early 1950s fondly refer to those times as the "glory years." They tell tales of hundreds of deer migrating in single file down narrow trails on the west and east sides of the plateau.

The day before the season opened, Remmert flew into Las Vegas, rented a car and drove to Adams' camp. There he met his main guide, 23-year-old George Garcia, who had taken part in an apprentice-training program that Adams conducts each year. To provide another pair of eyes for glassing, Albert Jurado would accompany Remmert and Garcia.

"Unfortunately, my first day of hunting the Kaibab was pretty uneventful because of the weather. Just as we started glassing from a high point, a rainstorm moved in to the area," Remmert said. "To avoid getting drenched, we took cover under a big ponderosa pine and hoped the storm would quickly pass. As we huddled under the pine boughs, a herd of deer, including several small bucks, passed less than 20 yards from us. Besides that bunch, we didn't see many deer that day because the rain never quit. In fact, it rained through the night."

The second day treated the Michigan hunter better.

"The rain had finally stopped, so we left camp well before daylight and arrived where we wanted to be just as it was getting light. George and Albert set up their 15-power binoculars on tripods and within minutes glassed several deer. The lighter it got, the more deer they saw. The deer were everywhere -- I mean everywhere. Although most of them were does, the guides did spot several mediocre bucks. But since it was only the second day of the 10-day season, we opted to wait for something better.

"Later that morning, George located two shooter bucks, but they were at least two miles away in some rugged country. One was a good 4x4 and the other was a big 3x3. Both of them were raking trees with their antlers, so George knew the rut was close to starting or already started. They eventually walked off into the trees.

"At that point, we discussed coming back there that night to search for those same bucks from a closer vantage point. We knew it would be tough going, though, because there was no nearby road access.

"In the meantime, we headed to another spot that George wanted to check out. And on the way in, we spotted a group of six does with a really nice buck. Although the buck was a long way off, we decided to go after him. So we parked the truck and began hiking over several ridges. We eventually got within a few hundred yards of the deer. But the does sensed something was wrong and slowly started moving away.

"We followed them over two more ridges, and by this time I was huffin' and puffin'. I could hardly breathe, and my rifle seemed to weigh about 25 pounds. I was just about ready to quit when George said, 'Stop. There he is. He's a real nice buck.' Then George made a few grunts to try and stop the buck while I got my rifle up." Remmert said.

"When I first raised the rifle and looked through the scope, I couldn't locate the buck. Then George pushed on the barrel so it pointed to the spot where the buck now stood. At the same time, I was having a hard time holding the gun still because of my heavy breathing. When I finally found the deer, I touched one off real quick. At that point, I wasn't sure if I missed or not because we lost sight of him.

"A few minutes later, George spotted the buck walking through heavy brush near the top of the ridge. Because the deer was walking, George surmised I had wounded him. As soon as he cleared the brush, I held on his body and touched off another shot. He disappeared immediately, and none of us knew if he went down or not. George and Albert thoroughly glassed the area and couldn't find the buck. They ranged the distance of my shot at 324 yards," said Remmert.

"Now we had a decision to make: Should we wait a bit before heading over there, or should we stay put a while to give the deer time to die. Albert suggested we head back to camp, eat breakfast and return later. I told him there was no way I was leaving that buck until I knew if he was dead or not, even if we had to wait a couple hours. So we decided to just sit and wait.

"We hadn't waited more than 10 minutes when we spotted two orange-clad hunters walking up the ridge, headed toward the exact spot where my buck had disappeared. Right then, George realized we had to take action. He started whistling and hollering at the other hunters to get their attention. Then he took off down the ridge at a run, hoping to head them off, and I followed at a slower pace. In the meantime, Albert remained back so he could watch, in case the deer showed itself.

"We got to the hunters in time. And while George explained what was going on, I anxiously paced back and forth. The waiting finally got to me, though. I left George and the hunters and walked along the ridge. My dead buck lay less than 50 yards away. If the two hunters had continued on, they would have nearly stepped on him. Once I let out a few whoops and hollers, the others came over to see my trophy.

"I was pretty proud that my off-hand, second shot had hit the deer right at the base of the neck, which is where I had aimed as he walked up the ridge," Remmert said.

The wide 4X4 typical antlers, with a spread of 28 inches, green-scored 173.

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