By Mike Handley
Photos Courtesy of Ryan Lowe
Having already seen six mule deer wade into or cross the shallow river separating the sage flat from the brush-choked bottomland where he was crouched, Ryan Lowe had a pretty good feeling about how deep the water was.
When the afternoon's seventh muley ventured into the stream, however, the 27-year-old real estate agent began quaking in his hip boots.
Compared to the does, fawn and small buck that had preceded it, this animal was enormous.
While the water came well up the sides of the other deer, it never even touched this brute's sagging belly.
"Seeing that deer ford the river triggered a feeling I'd never experienced," said Ryan, who was already high from having shot an antelope earlier in the day.
"I was absolutely amazed by its height. When the other deer crossed, the water seemed considerably deeper. With this buck, it seemed as though the water was only an inch or two above its hooves!
"Also, the other deer made considerable noise when walking across the river.
"This guy made absolutely no sound at all. It took its good old time coming across there, stopping three times to survey the opposite shore," he added.
Ryan was hunting public (BLM) land in central Wyoming Oct. 13-18, 2008, with his dad, Randy, and Uncle Doug. They all possessed both antelope and any-buck tags, the latter good for either whitetails or mule deer. It was Ryan's second time to hunt there, but the fourth for his dad.
The federal Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming manages about 18 million acres of public land for use by ranchers, miners, fishermen, hunters and other recreational users. Most of the BLM land lies in the lower, more arid parts of the state, relative to the National Forest lands that cover much of the high mountain terrain.
Although 6 inches of snow was on the ground when the Lowes flew in to Wyoming from Pennsylvania, it quickly melted as the daytime temperatures reached the mid-60s.
Since the deer season didn't open until Wednesday, they spent Monday and Tuesday alternating between trying to fill antelope tags and scouting for places to be when deer were on the menu.
All three crowded into a motel room (about 20 minutes away from where they were hunting) at night and were up and afield by 5 a.m. each day. All three men shot pronghorn.
Ryan was more interested in scouting than punching his 'lope tag. His dad had shot a decent 8-point whitetail the year before, and that kind of animal held more allure for him.
"None of the locals out there pays much attention to scouting, or to deer. If it involves walking, they're not interested," Ryan said, explaining his sense of discovery whenever he was far off the beaten path.
On a balmy Friday, Oct. 17, Ryan shot an antelope around 2:30. A couple of hours later, after he'd taken care of the pronghorn, he went to a shallow river crossing that he'd discovered the previous year. The walk itself required about 45 minutes, and he had to cross a beaver dam along the way, which is why he wore hip boots. He hunkered next to a clump of brush about 200 yards away from the crossing and pulled on his face mask.
On the far side of the river was treeless, sage-covered prairie. His side was thick bottomland, full of river debris and deadfalls before sloping up 1,000 yards to an alfalfa field.
About 6 p.m., an hour before dark, a muley doe and yearling crossed. Next to tread water was a couple of does that did a 180 and went back to the far side. A small buck crossed after that.
Ryan eventually saw a large buck - or at least its rack - as it apparently was chasing a doe in the sage.
About 6:45, another doe crossed. Ryan hoped it was the same one the big buck had been chasing. Sure enough, the buck appeared soon afterward.
"To say I wasn't nervous would be an absolute lie," he said. "Anyone who says they don't get nervous when preparing to shoot an animal of that caliber is crazy. I saw the size of this guy and the height/width of its rack, and there was no question it was the buck I've been looking for my entire life!"
He waited until it crossed and was standing on his side of the river before squeezing the familiar .300 Win Mag's trigger.
"What happened after the shot is a complete blur," he admits. "I don't know what took place except I took off running. Those were the fastest 200 yards I've ever covered."
The buck was on the ground when he arrived, and it was every bit as big as he remembered.
Ryan's dad, who was hunting about 1,000 yards away, heard the shot. But he wasn't sure it was the bark of his son's rifle. He tried to call, but Ryan had left his pack and cell phone back at the brush pile. When Ryan trudged back to retrieve it, he called his father.
As soon as the elder Lowe saw the buck, he whispered, "Son, that's a 200-inch deer!"
Even with the handy sled they'd brought for such circumstances, it took the Lowes a couple of hours to get the buck to the field, where the going was much easier.
"The buck had the longest legs I believe I've ever seen on an animal," Ryan exclaimed. "Between those and its antlers, we caught almost every sapling along the way to the field."
It was nearly 10 p.m. when father and son finally called it a day.
By Safari Club International's yardstick, the buck scores 198 2/8 inches as a 10x7. It weighed 335 pounds and was 6 1/2 years old. Uncle Doug, a school teacher, also shot a muley during the trip.
-- Reprinted from the August 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.