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Up in the Danger Zone: High Country Hunting

Aug 19, 2015 |  #hoyt #bowhunting #Compound

This is a first-hand account of Sean Morgan’s DIY high country harvest of a 189″, 6 yr-old Muley. Gear list included at end of article. 

Another season was upon us. My dad and I had both drawn general archery deer tags in our home state of Utah. After a successful 2013 season, the challenge of killing another giant mule deer in the high country was upon us. July’s scouting trips produced many young bucks in all the basins we typically hunt, but finding something special was going to be tough; every year requires us to seek out new areas in order to stay ahead of the competition. It wasn’t until 10-days prior to the hunt that fate finally gave us a buck worthy of punching a tag on.

With no trail to follow, the fateful scouting trip took us even further up than normal, into more remote country. On the hike down, I noticed a hidden area high up in the cliffs that looked promising. Having only my binoculars with me, I glassed up into that distant basin and couldn’t believe my eyes! In the middle of the day, this giant buck was out in the open feeding with some other deer. He was one of those “you-know-he’s-big-from-the-moment-you-first-glass-him” types of bucks. Excitement immediately took over; I knew this buck was the one to focus all our efforts on. We returned a couple days later to get a closer look and decided to name this buck “Big Backs” as he had some of the deepest back forks we’ve ever seen. We judged him to be in the 190-inch class; a mature buck with a giant frame.

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189” gross – 4x5 – 27 ½” wide – 19” G2’s 

This buck was not going to be easy to hunt, as he called 10,000-plus foot elevation home. Not to mention the fact that the area was unfamiliar to my Dad and I. This new area offered more obstacles than where we usually hunt, but we knew what had to be done in order to harvest this particular buck. 

Step one was to figure out the best route to get up and down the mountain safely and with least resistance. We tried multiple paths, but they were either too dangerous, or required too much effort. After studying aerial maps, we lucked into a more direct route, though it was much steeper than preferred. 

Step two was to find a site level enough to camp. Camping as high up as possible would allow us to exert minimal amounts of energy during the hunt, but at the same time we need to be located in an area that wouldn’t have any negative effects in terms of being sensed by “Big Backs”. Coexistence between hunter and animal is one of the most critical elements of hunting the high country. Staying undetected will increase the odds of harvest not only this year, but for years to come. 

Third was to collect enough water to supply us for the days we planned on hunting. A pristine water source was just around the corner in the drainage where the bucks lived. We carefully snuck in well below the bucks, filled a number of containers, and carried them back to camp. Then we hauled as much gear as possible up to camp a few days prior to opening day. This included our tent, sleeping gear, food provisions, and other misc. hunting equipment.

We have come to refer to this area as the “Danger Zone”, because of the extreme conditions we had to endure in order to hunt it, and their physical effects. The process of climbing 3,500 vertical feet, in less than a mile and a half, caused me to experience some minor altitude sickness after the multiple preparation trips. I believe I began to feel these symptoms due to hiking this route multiple times in a few short days. Although very fit, my body simply couldn’t handle the exhaustion. Having never had this issue before, it really affected my health and I could only hope to feel better before the hunt began.

The morning before opening day we made the treacherous final climb up the mountain with what seemed like our heaviest packs yet. Knowing this was going to be an all-or-nothing hunt, the impossible would have to occur if we were to be successful. We rested most of the day at camp to conserve our energy for the following days of hunting. That morning and evening we were unable to locate Big Backs but were confident that he was still in the area, because two of his closest companions were out in the basin feeding below us. I believed we had made the right decision on hunting this particular buck, and just had to hope he was out of sight in the thick timber.

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The day we had been dreaming of and preparing for all year had come. We woke up before sunrise, performed our de-scenting routine, changed into our hunting attire, and hiked up to our glassing point. Fortunately, Big Backs and others were out in the open basin feeding through the small pines. We didn’t have much knowledge of their daily movement patterns, so we opted to sit back and watch them for a while. We assumed the bucks would eventually cross the basin towards us and bed down in the deep timber. As the morning hours drew on, the anticipation heightened and my Dad turned to me and said, “This buck is yours Sean.” He knew how much time, sweat, and energy I had put in and offered me the first chance. This wasn’t originally the plan, Dad was supposed to be first-up this year, but I definitely couldn’t turn him down.

Three hours later, the bucks settled down into a small patch of pines and presented me with the opportunity to move in closer. I chose to stalk into an ambush position that placed me a hundred yards above them; the waiting game began. I figured this was my best bet, as they would eventually get restless as the sun rose higher, and would want to move. This proved to be the case. As the bucks got closer and closer, the risk of spooking them escalated. I figured Big Backs would be towards the rear of the pack as big bucks usually are. I had pre-ranged all my distances beforehand and the trail they were taking was going to place them only 15-20 yards away.

I noticed Big Backs was moving up toward my shooting lane where the other bucks were standing, so I pulled my bow back. Unfortunately his vitals were partially blocked by one of the smaller bucks he’d stopped behind, but at this range I knew I could make the shot, so I took the risk and let the arrow fly! It all happened so fast, it’s still a blur to think back on. But I made an excellent shot on Big Backs, placing the arrow right behind his shoulder. All chaos broke out as the bucks ran in every which direction. Cheers of accomplishment echoed through the basin as I made my way back to my ecstatic Dad. We waited a proper amount of time and began the search for my buck. Big Backs only made it 100-yards down a steep rocky chute before expiring.

Now the task of taking care of this giant buck in the mid-day heat was going to be a challenge. We hiked back to camp to retrieve our large packs, knives, and game bags and returned to Big Backs to take photos and quarter him out. The sheer steepness of the area made this hunt especially difficult, but was likely the reason Big Backs grew to be so large. I was very proud of us for executing our overall game plan flawlessly and harvesting the buck we were targeting.

I’d like to give another huge Thank You to my father, Ken Morgan for being with me on this hunt! Every trophy we take only adds to the years of priceless memories.

Shoot Sharp,

Sean Morgan


Scouting and live footage of Sean’s buck, “Big Back’s” can be found on his YouTube channel and website seanmorganoutdoors.com.

Sean’s Gear:

Bow: Hoyt Carbon Spyder 30 Max-1 29” 70lbs.

Arrows: Easton Injexion

Broadheads: Rage Hypodermic

Sight: CBE Tek Hybrid Max-1 Single 0.10 Pin

Rest: QAD Ultrarest HDX

Stabilizer: Doinker Quadraflex 8” Max-1

Quiver: Tight Spot Max-1

Release: Carter Chocolate Addiction

Strings: Winners Choice

Binoculars: Swarovski SLC 10x42

Spotting scope: Swarovski STS 65mm HD 20-60x

Camo: Ranger Max-1 Shirts, Pants, and accessories

Other Gear: Badlands Max-1 Bino Case

Boots: Lowa Renegade II GTX Low

Pack(s): Gregory Whitney 95 and Badlands Reactor Max-1

Rangefinder: Nikon Riflehunter 550 Max-1

Camera: Sony RX100 w/Custom Swarovski digiscoping adapter

Tent: REI Arete 2 ASL

Sleeping bag: Slumberjack

Raingear: Whitewater Max-1

Other: REI Trail Running Desert Gators