By Lisa L. Price
Photos Courtesy of Johnny Grimes
Johnny Grimes isn't fluent in Spanish, but, like most Texans, he knows "muy grande" means big.
Since he was 11 years old, Johnny has hunted mule deer in eastern New Mexico and West Texas. He was content with those stomping grounds until he read an article in 1988 about mule deer hunting in Mexico. After that, he could dream of no place else.
"I read about the giant mule deer of Sonora, and soon I was collecting every article I could find about hunting there," he said. "I read the stories again and again and wondered whether I'd ever have a chance to live my dream."
His answer came with a telephone call from his neighbor, Alan Martinez, who outfits deer, aoudad sheep and pronghorn hunts in Texas and New Mexico. Alan's booking agent, Rich LaRocco of Hunts.net, had told him about a newly leased ranch called Best of Mexico in Sonora. There were four tags available for 2006.
Johnny, Alan and another friend, Brett Sterling, took three of them.
"Though we knew the rut in Sonora would not be full tilt until January, our schedules only permitted us to hunt in mid-December -with the support of our gracious wives," Johnny said. "We were excited and optimistic of our chances after we learned that Sonora had received a record amount of summer rain, which should have put the deer herd in great shape with optimal forage for growing outsize antlers."
Johnny and Brett left Midland, Texas, on the evening of Dec. 14 and arrived the next morning in Nogales, Ariz., where they met Alan. Helped by Alan's experience as an outfitter, the group cleared their guns and gear through Mexico's customs and military offices without a hitch.
They arrived at the ranch after dark and were greeted by their guides and the camp cook.
"All three of us agreed that the tent camp was first class and more than we had expected ... with toilets, a shower, a huge dining tent and a large, comfortable sleeping tent for our party," Johnny said. "We were tired but eager to see the ranch and the Sonoran desert in the daytime. Although I was exhausted from the long drive, sleep did not come easily for me."
The desert skies were still dark as Johnny climbed into the hunting rig with his guides, Rich and Sergio. He'd waited 18 years for this trophy mule deer hunt, and he could barely contain his excitement.
They headed to the southeastern corner of the ranch, where one of the guides had seen a really good buck - described as high, wide and heavy - two days earlier.
"I felt I was one of the luckiest mule deer hunters alive and had told Rich that I was so happy to be in Sonora that, even if I didn't fill my tag, I was going to have a great time," Johnny said.
"After hearing that my biggest mule deer had been a 23-incher, Rich told me he was confident he would be able to send me home with a deer substantially bigger than that.
"He also said I had the right attitude for a hunter and that I would probably kill an exceptional buck just because I was determined to hunt hard, be happy and remain positive throughout the hunt, regardless of the numbers and quality of game I might see," Johnny added. "But he also told me not to be too picky; to have realistic standards."
The cover was thicker than Johnny had imagined, with knee-high brush and several varieties of cactus mixed in with tall ironwood and mesquite trees.
"Our eyes were peeled for the slightest movement or out-of-place object, and we were surprised to see a buck trot broadside in front of us and enter a mesquite and palo verde thicket," Johnny said. "My first reaction was that the buck's rack was very tall, but I only saw it for a couple of seconds before it got into the brush to our right.
"Sergio knew that the buck was what we were looking for because he immediately said 'Grande! Shoot!'" Johnny added. "I know very little Spanish, but I knew what that meant!"
The buck, apparently casing the area for does, presented only one opportunity for a shot when it stopped about 100 yards away to peer back at the hunter and his guides.
"Muy grande!" Sergio repeated. "Shoot!"
But the deer plowed ahead before Johnny could oblige. The three men dogged the big buck until it vanished into a dense stand of ironwood.
Sergio soon spotted the buck again and said, "Shoot! Muy grande!"
Johnny couldn't see it from where he stood, at first. When he moved a bit, however, there it was - standing in the shade of an ironwood tree in belly-high brush.
"The first Sonoran mule deer I had ever seen in my life was magnificent as it stood there, thinking it was well hidden. Actually, it was bathed in a greenish light and profiled against a contrasting dark background of mesquite. It was at 150 yards," Johnny said.
"I dropped down with my rifle to get a rest, clicked off the safety, put the crosshairs on the buck's shoulder and fired. The animal dropped in its tracks."
As the men made their way to the buck, Johnny already knew he'd just shot the biggest mule deer he'd ever seen. When they'd gone maybe 50 yards, he got a better sense of just how big it was.
"All I knew was that the antlers were extremely tall, wide and had great mass to boot," he said. "But then, even from 100 yards, we could see that rack sticking a foot above the brush!"
The great buck had 22-inch back tines, 27-inch main beams, extraordinarily deep back forks, an inside spread of 31 1⁄8 inches and an outside spread of 35 1⁄8.
"It's truly the buck of a lifetime. In fact, it's so exceptional, it's the buck of five lifetimes," Johnny gushed. "I will probably never see, much less shoot, a muley as great as this the rest of my life - unless I go back to the land where lifelong dreams of a trophy mule deer hunter came true."
-- Reprinted from the Winter 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.