Looking back at his first hunt, Rick Kreuter said his up-close encounter with mule deer helped shape his life hunting and career.
“My first hunt ever, I guess the one that got me hooked, would be a deer that I was hunting with my dad in the Black Hills of Wyoming, where I grew up,” he said.
This was long before “Beyond the Hunt with Rick and Julie,” his Outdoor Channel show that was born out of his guiding bow hunting clients onto big western game.
Kreuter grew up in Sundance, Wyo. – yes, “where the kid got his name” – within range of Devils Tower but little else.
“Basically, about 30 miles from the nearest town and then about 18 miles dirt road, then kind of a back in the sticks,” he said.
The Kreuters ate a lot of deer meat, but to young Rick, processing the first deer kills of the season to fill the freezer became more like work.
“We actually spent days and weekends cutting meat, making sausage or hamburger or whatever, to kind of prepare for the winter months,” he said. “And it wasn't just for our family, it was for my uncles and their kids.
“So, my first deer was the one that really got me hooked. Up until then it seemed like it was more of a job.”
Kreuter was 12, old enough to hunt by himself in Wyoming, but went out with his father deep in the mountains. It was a cold day with snow coming down sideways. They found about 25 to 30 mule deer bedded down in sage brush in a basin, and Kreuter was wanting a trophy.
“I had my heart set on wanting to shoot a buck, but we could not find a buck,” he said. “It was late season, the end of November, and they had been pressured. And I was pretty convinced that there wasn't a buck to shoot in the bunch. And I thought I was going to end up shooting another doe.”
Leaving his father sitting against a tree, Kreuter crawled through the brush and scouted the area with binoculars, popping up here and there to glass.
“Trying to be all sneaky and quiet and try to find antlers,” he said. “Well, lo and behold, I look off to my right and I had a nice little mule deer buck that was about 20 to 25 yards. It had 4 points on each side. He was laying there overlooking all the does.”
Kreuter crawled back to his dad, who verified it was definitely a buck, gave him the lever action 30/30 and told him to go back to that spot with these instructions.
“ ‘Now son, don't shot him when he is laying in his bed. I want you to wait until he gets up,’ ” he said his father told him.
At his spot, Kreuter said he could see antlers, eyes and ear tips through the sage brush. But the deer just lay there, seemingly for an eternity to the anxious youth.
“I was extremely impatient,” Kreuter said. “I would say about an hour went by, and the buck finally stood up to turn around to lay back down. And when he stood up and turned he gave me a perfect broadside shot. I was able to shot him with the 30/30 with open sights at 25 yards.”
The buck ran down the hill right into the middle of the bedded does and died. Kreuter said the experience taught him patience and to always make good, ethical shots.
“Everything for me on my first deer was so cool because it was so close,” he said. “I was able to make a great shot. I didn't wound the animal and get a bad experience.
“I think that is something that can turn a lot of the young hunters away, if they are not in situations that provide them a really good experience. It can sometimes either not interest them to go on or they see something they don't like and it becomes a negative thing for them.”
His first hunt also lit a competitive fire in Kreuter, who enjoys the challenge of getting an intimate setting with his prey. He’ll take spot and stalk over sitting and waiting any day. He became a western guide, getting bow hunters close for a shot.
“I think that was what molded me or shaped me into the hunter I am today,” he said. “To me, it is the intimacy of the hunt and getting close and being within a certain distance of that animal and not having them even know you are there.”
Kreuter said he was fortunate to grow up understanding the importance of putting meat in the freezer, but he’s been able to couple that with the thrill of the chase.
“I kind of think I got really lucky in the fact that I got the best of both worlds,” he said. “I was able to understand why and have the respect for the sport. Growing up the way I did and my dad teaching me that they are there to provide as food, but you can enjoy the sport and be respectful and be a conscientious hunter.”
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