From the time I remember opening my eyes, my senses were accosted with wild animals. With a number of these, I shared the ranch house. Depending on the adult doing the talking (visitor or homebody), these might be called stuffed heads, dead things, mounts or trophies. Whatever the verbiage, I grew up staring wistfully at the black, hooking horns of an antelope buck, lying sleepless in bed wondering when the open-mouthed bobcat on the wall might leap onto my covers and reaching gingerly to touch the stout canine teeth of a black bear, only to withdraw my trembling fingers at the last second.
When fellow hunters visited, Dad inevitably took them on a tour to see the horned and furred mementos of his days afield. I tagged along as a big-eyed boy, listening to the banter and the swapping of tales from the fields and forests. By the time I took my inaugural ride on the school bus to enroll in the first grade, I understood without a doubt that the massive, typical mule deer buck that graced the wall in the den was my father's most unusual and respected trophy. With bases literally as large as those on a respectable 6-point bull elk, this animal routinely commanded the most attention. When the mount was lifted from the wall for its yearly dusting with a soft brush attached to an old Electrolux vacuum cleaner, I stroked its heavy tines and tried to span my thumb and middle finger around its bases, a task I still can't manage as an adult.
Was Dad a trophy hunter? No, if by trophy hunter you're referring to the type who races willy-nilly around the country with a pocketbook as large as his ego, fervently searching for animals that meet some arbitrary measurement standard, trophies that can be bought and shot, not hunted. However, if you're thinking of an outdoorsman who eats what he shoots but also holds a fervent fascination with the aesthetic and primal appeal of antlers, then my sire was a trophy hunter, especially when it came to mule deer.
In the heyday of his hunting years, big mule deer bucks were significant trophies but not impossible to find in the mountains, foothills and prairies of Montana--that was the 1950s and 1960s. A half-century later, a notable mule deer buck taken from public land in the absence of special regulations is arguably the most difficult trophy to obtain in North America. I'm still looking--and have often been humbled by the great gray ghosts in the process.
Of the questions surrounding the quest for a magnificent mulie, one seems of special interest to hunters. Is the mule deer rut the best time to target a trophy?
Although conventional wisdom responds with a resounding "yes," hunting the big-eared deer of the West during the height of breeding season comes with some poorly understood challenges along with obvious possibilities.