When asked why he decided to name his business Trophies Plus Outfitters, Mike Watkins replied that, "Our hunts are about more than just bagging the trophy; it's about the entire experience." For me, that was certainly true since I had a special reason for going to Montana this year. My purpose was deeper than the desire to tag a trophy.
A little over a year ago I had to cancel my deer hunt with Trophies Plus and eat a tag. It was tough to do, but when the doctor calls and says you have
cancer, everything else suddenly takes second place to the battle for
survival you are about to undertake. I placed my box of Wyoming Winchester ammunition on top of my desk so I could see it everyday, and vowed I would use it the following season. During each treatment I would close my eyes and daydream about Wyoming and Montana. As Mike said, "Everyone has a happy place; I just get to live in mine." Thankfully the Lord helped me get through the ordeal and I got to pull those cartridges off the desk and head for Montana 13 months later.
Trophies Plus Outfitters offers antelope, mule deer and whitetail hunts in Wyoming and Montana. This would be my third hunt with Mike, but this time I would be followed by one of the cameras of "SHE's Beyond the Lodge," a new show to begin airing in January on the Outdoor Channel. Field producer Chris Douglas and I landed in Rapid City, SD and after a quick stop in Sturgis for T-shirts, headed to the lodge.
Opening day of the Montana rifle season presented us with temperatures in the high 20's and winds in the 20 to 30 mile per hour range with gusts to 50 and 60 mph. Not exactly prime hunting weather. We saw a ton of antelope and deer in the fields, both whitetail and mule deer. A big whitetail really tempted us, but I truly was hoping to find a big muley. One buck in particular really impressed us. He was bedded in a cut field about 500 yards away but we couldn't get to him without spooking everything within a quarter mile. Plus I wasn't crazy about shooting in 50 mph winds. We decided to leave him alone and go back to the lodge.
Day two produced calm winds but it was only 14 degrees at sunrise. Thankfully the new proto-type cold weather system from SHE Safari and SHE Outdoor Apparel that I was testing exceeded my expectations. We spotted the buck after glassing for an hour or so. He had moved much further away from our observation point. Mike came up with a plan to circle around him and come in down wind.
As we crested a ridge we could not find him. Mike thought he may have moved over the next ridge so we started in that direction. Unfortunately a whitetail spotted us and spooked. The muley we were after was close by and took off running for the next county. He finally slowed down at a creek bed and disappeared. We waited and glassed every inch of the terrain trying to see if he would reappear somewhere. After 15 minutes Mike said we should ease down the berm and see if the buck had followed the creek bed out of our sight.
It took forever to work our way across the field. Deer were spooking and running from us left and right but we had one buck in mind. When we were certain the buck had not joined any of the other deer we had seen, we decided to see if he was bedded where he had disappeared into the creek bed. It was a long shot and probably unlikely, but we had to look.
Of course I could hardly believe our luck when we spotted his antlers hidden in the tall grass just a few feet from where he had disappeared. The buck was in a low spot and had not seen all the other deer we had spooked off the field. We are pretty sure he knew we were there but he was holding his ground and still hiding from us. Mike finally made some noise to get him up and I made the shot as he quartered away and started to run. The buck fell within just a few yards, luckily in a place we could drive to and we didn't have to drag him up out of that creek.
He is a classic 4 by 4 with deep back forks and a great spread. We didn't score him but Mike estimates him around 160 or 165. We spent the rest of that day and the following one getting footage for the show.
Since we flew out of Rapid City we decided to spend a day at Mt. Rushmore to film mountain goats. We also went to Custer to film whatever wildlife we could find before heading home. We saw plenty of antelope, deer, bison and goats. Now I just need to figure out how to go back since I ran out of space on the card in my camera long before we ran out of animals to photograph.
They certainly chose the right name in Trophies Plus!