2006 was the first year I went on a big game hunt, I was 16 going on a muzzleloader mule deer hunt with my dad and his buddies at the family cabin. I’d never gone along before and had only some small game hunts under my belt mostly for rabbit. We had spent plenty of time at the cabin and on the river fly fishing but never had I got to hunt. 14 was the legal age in Utah to hunt big game but the first two years I could legally hunt were the first two years that Utah ever sold out muzzleloader tags for deer. Finally in 2006 I put in for the draws and got my tag and my chance.
I spent the next few years hunting with the same group during the same season and only moving areas slightly. The hunts consisted of mostly road hunting and shooting any legal animal to fill the freezers of everyone involved. I enjoyed it but quickly was having them drop me off and let me hike from one area down to a road where they could pick me up as they hunted the roads. No one picked up over the counter elk tags, rarely put in for anything but deer and never hunted out of state. I quickly had a desire to do more and go further, my one day of rifle deer hunting (in Utah anyone under 18 can hunt all 3 seasons) led me quickly to a desire to get far away from other people. During our muzzy hunts most of the time there was only one or two other groups we ran into but I kept imagining seeing no one at all.
At the age of 18 I had read enough books and magazines and watched enough shows to know that backpack bow hunting was where I wanted to go with my hunting. I picked up a bow in the spring from one of dads friends and began an obsession with a plan to archery hunt the next year. That same year I broke my leg in a motorcycle accident and only hunted deer with a muzzy in the fall. The following year I got a muzzy deer tag and bought an archery elk tag, this year everyone else in our group drew a limited entry tag which meant I was now hunting alone for both of my hunts.
That year after planning all summer I loaded up a cheap plastic framed backpack with my scrounged up gear for my “off the road” hunt. My pack had stuff hanging off of it in each direction, weighed around 80 pounds and my plan was to get 2 miles back to hunt elk. The date was August 15, 2009. No experience with elk, first year hunting with a bow, first year trying to go off the beaten path and doing it all solo. The plan was destined to fail at some point, and fail it did when the small spring I had planned to use for water for both drinking and rehydrating meals was dried up in the hot summer of ’09. I still tried to make it work and should have had my first archery kill and my first bull but magazines and books had tainted me into wanting something big. A spike bull came down a trail I was sitting on and walked almost directly into my arrow, I never drew back or thought to shoot it….
I was hooked though! I’d seen no one, almost got ran over by an elk, stayed two nights solo and it was absolutely amazing! The next day I had to hike out since I had no water, was low on food to eat that wasn’t dehydrated and was sore from the excessive pack weight. The short hike to the truck was full of defeat and determination. I spent the rest of the season just doing small hikes into areas and trying to find elk. I found more deer than I’d seen in years or would come to see in my muzzy hunt later that year. It was at that point I decided that my hunts would all be archery, I wouldn’t stop trying to get into the backcountry, and I would do it alone if I had to.
Here we are ten years after getting my first bow, every year since that first hunt I find myself more and more obsessed with backcountry archery hunts. I’ve gone alone every year, tried an out of state bear tag with a friend who had never done it, and I’ve spent thousands of hours online or with my nose in a book to learn all that I can. I’ve yet to get an elk with a bow and I’ve only killed a handful of bucks, though admittedly even with both tags in my pocket I always chase muleys over elk. That being said I’ve seen some of the most amazing things back there knowing no one else is seeing what I am at that exact moment. I’m no “pro” hunter, I’ve got more tags sitting on my shelf without a notch than I’ve got tags taped to my freezer, but what I do have is a passion for what I’m doing and a thousand first hand experiences on how not to do it.
I’m Austin M Pierce, the AMPed Archer, and this is my obsession…