By Bob Lott / Intrepid Outdoors TV
It was the 2006 Deer season in the state of Wyoming, and my first trip out to the Solitude ranch. My intentions were not of hunting the ranch, but to film ranch owner Mike Schmid on a deer hunt. I had met Mike earlier in the year, after he’d decided to sponsor a youth program that I later became Secretary to. My first impression of the guy was, that he was down to earth, and open to ideas and opinions, which in my mind, was one of many reasons he’d become so very successful in the business world. This ability to be open-minded would also be the sole reason for his success on the hunt I’m about to tell you about.
After arriving at the ranch, I unloaded my gear, picked out a bunkhouse, and headed for the cook shack for some lunch. It didn’t take long before Mike and I were going over trail cam photos of some of the biggest Whitetails that roamed his ranch. This later became our every morning while drinking coffee before the hunt, ritual. He really wanted to harvest one of two deer, King Crab-Claw, or Split G2, which were both at the top of the “Ten Most Wanted” list. The list, which was largely made up of deer that were thought to be mature and in their prime, was created by Mike and some other good friends.
One of the first things I noticed about hunting with Mike, was his ability to listen to different game plans, sort through it, add his experience of hunting the ranch, and come up somewhere in between. After going over all of his information on the two deer, we came up with a plan to hunt “Muddy Pond” the next morning.
After lunch, we headed down to “Muddy Pond” to add a treestand to an existing standsite. With one stand already set high up in a big Ponderosa Pine tree, all we needed was one more for a good camera angle. Once the stand was set, the game was officially on; we had made our first move in a chess match that would last just four short days.
The one advantage we had going into the game was that both G2, and Crab-Claw were both being captured on Trail Cams in the same vicinity. Mike already said he’d be happy with either deer, so it bettered our odds knowing that there were two target deer in the area we’d be hunting.
We set out early the next morning to climb into our little makeshift video studio, and immediately started seeing deer at the break of daylight. This was my first time hunting in Wyoming, and wasn’t quite ready for the amount of deer seen on our first hunt. The deer just kept coming; some drank at the pond others just passed through. By 10 AM we had seen at least 10 different bucks, 15 does and a pile of Merriam Turkeys.
We were just about to get down when Mike nudged me, and pointed toward the brush, slowly turning the camera on, I watched with excitement when a Coyote walked out of the brush and down to the pond to get a drink. I immediately started to film in hopes Mike would take advantage of getting rid of one of the many deer killers that roam his ranch.
As I filmed the totally unaware Coyote drinking from the nasty looking water hole, I saw Mike out of the corner of my eye give me the nod as if to ask “Are you on him”, I immediately gave him the same nod back, which in cameraman language means, “yes I am, take him”! In a slow, smooth motion, he drew his 70 lb Martin bow straight back, settled his pin and drilled that Coyote right in the heart. As quick as he came in, it was over even quicker, the dog didn’t last five seconds. Mike turned toward me with a big smile, gave me a high-five, then went on to tell the camera how, “If you’re going to manage your deer herd, you need to also manage your predators”.
That evening we decided to hunt a series of major trails that connected two Food Plots together along a ridge top. Again, during the middle of the day, we had set two stands in what seemed to be a perfect place to intercept one of the big boys we were after. The information gathered on this hunt would prove very valuable later on down the road. As we settled in for the evening, we had plenty of action, seeing deer the entire time we were there. We had already started to plan the next morning’s hunt, when Mike looked up on the ridge about 120 yards away and spotted Crab-Claw easing down the ridge toward the Food Plot. Mike quickly grabbed his Binoculars and was able to see that Crab-Claw was on the opposite side of an old fence that also followed the ridge down from the higher ground. This info turned out to be crucial to killing the deer later on in the hunt. After seeing the deer, we knew it was just a matter of smart planning, before getting a crack at him.
The next morning found us in a totally different section of the ranch. We decided the night before, that we’d leave the area with the two target deer alone, because we really weren’t sure what either buck was doing in the morning. Rather than risk bumping the deer out of the area, we decided to get a better idea of the caliber of deer that were using another big Food Plot, planted with Oats, and Alfalfa.
Running a little late, we didn’t get to a good stand location until well after daylight. As Mike watched for deer, I climbed up and set two stands for us to hunt from. After settling in, we immediately had deer all around us, in fact, on that morning it’s safe to say we had about 100 deer around us. Although we saw some real nice bucks, none of them had the headgear that Mike was looking for. It was then decided to take a doe if a good dry one gave him the opportunity.
It wasn’t long before a doe was headed for our tree, and Mike was checking her pretty hard to see if she was dry, after determining she was, once again the hunt was on. As she closed the distance to ten yards, Mike drew his Martin bow and made a perfect shot through both lungs, she ran about 40 yards and fell over. Although Mike’s shot hit its mark, I, on the other hand, missed mine. I didn’t get the impact of the arrow with the camera, this would later come back to haunt me. Once again we high-fived, loaded her up in the Gator, and headed back to the ranch.
That evening we were considering hunting the ridge that Crab-Claw had walked down, but Mike was a little hesitant not knowing for sure which side of the ridge he had come from. If we hunted the opposite side of the ridge that we hunted the night before, and stayed down off of the ridge about 100 yards, this could possibly give us the information we needed to confirm that the buck was using the actual ridge to walk down. We knew from the night before when Mike glassed him that he had walked down the ridge-fence opposite of our location, but did he come from the top or did he come from the other side? We decided to play it safe and set up in a good location that would give us the answers to our questions.
After climbing into the stands we had just set, I looked up and caught a glimpse of a deer. I quickly pulled up my binoculars and saw it was good ten point that would surely make Pope and Young. I also noticed he was coming from the high point that we believed was the bedding area, and was walking right down the ridge top like we hoped. It was at that point that we knew we had our final piece of the puzzle. We sat there the rest of the evening watching 100’s of deer all over the ranch. Our location provided us with the perfect vantage point to see a big part of the ranch, so we were able to watch Whitetail deer, Merriam turkeys, and Antelope literally in every direction. Although we didn’t actually see Crab Claw, we felt confident that we had now covered all the possible Scenarios to this deer’s feeding pattern.
The next morning found us on the “Muddy Pond”. We were playing it safe and didn’t want to ruin a chance at Crab-Claw by guessing what trail he might use to head for his bedding area. Again, it was a very game filled morning hunt, seeing as many Turkeys as deer, but didn’t see the buck we were after. We headed back to the ranch, where we later decided our only option was to set up on the ridge for that evenings hunt. It turned out to be the right decision.
With tree-stands on our backs, we headed up to the ridge that we just knew the buck was going to walk down later that evening. As I set our stands, Mike acted as ground man and tied all of our gear onto the bow-rope for me to pull up. As we both settled in, I noticed a beat down trail that was leading right to our tree. I turned to Mike and whispered, ‘He’s going to come right down that trail isn’t he?’ Mike responded, ‘I hope so!’
After deciding on a good spot for Mike to take the shot for video purposes, we both sat with anticipation. I don’t think we were there more than an hour when I noticed tines coming over the hill. I quickly turned to Mike and said ‘he’s coming and he’s on that trial!’ I turned the camera on and began filming Crab-Claw as he walked right down the trail like he was tied to a string. At the same time Mike was busy positioning himself for the shot.
As the deer closed the distance he only stopped once to check his route. I quickly found myself in a bind, Mike was already drawn and I had no clear view of the buck. I scrambled to try to get him in frame, even bumping Mike a couple of times in the back with the camera in the process. And before I could get set, Mike took the shot and drilled the deer. As the buck ran off, I was able to get back on him to get him heading over the hill, but was pretty upset with myself for not getting the impact. Mike was also upset at himself, for not waiting for the right moment, but we quickly got over it and began celebrating the great event that just took place. We sat there in the tree just long enough to gain enough composure to climb down.
Once on the ground we did a quick follow up of the shot, finding the arrow in the process. Judging from the arrow, we decided that the shot could have been a little far back, so we quickly remembered my brother Bill’s words of wisdom in just this type of situation; “If he’s dead now, he’ll be dead tomorrow”. With that in mind we decided to wait until the next morning to go after Mike’s trophy.
The next morning we headed back up the ridge and after a brief search, found us celebrating over the deer that was otherwise known as “King Crab-Claw”. After doing some closers for the video and pictures for the scrapbook, we loaded him up and headed back to the ranch. The feeling of harvesting one of the “Ten Most Wanted” was pretty overwhelming for both of us.
Before the hunt began, we were just two guys that never hunted together, but knew, that with enough respect for each others experience and ideas, we could get it done. In just four short days, I filmed Mike take a Coyote, a Whitetail doe, and the second best archery buck of his life. What a hunt!
The Solitude Ranch is by far the finest place I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. I highly recommend it to all hunters, big and small. Book your hunt before it’s too late.