Anytime one ventures outdoors in search of fish or game and returns without learning anything, it is an opportunity lost indeed. One of my favorite aspects of this wonderful lifestyle we call hunting and fishing is the fact that no one can possibly “know it all” and as such, every single one of us can add to our knowledge base literally every day afield. That’s a long-winded way of explaining my use of the word “matriculation” in the title of this post as I learned much on this hunt that will allow me to become a better deer hunter.
The planning of this hunt began in March when we applied for non-resident deer tags and then we had to wait until the November rut to make the 12+ hour drive to our Montana area. It was a uniquely challenging and fun hunt on many fronts from the minus 20 degree temperatures, the unfamiliar landscape, my first hunt using the Outlander 450L Max ATV and Lord willing, it will not be my last!
Mule deer or “muleys” as they are known to most hunters, get their name from an pronounced set of ears that are well suited to picking up any -and every- noise within a wide radius.
The first morning of our hunt we were “greeted” with temperatures in the minus 20 degree range and a breathtaking snowy landscape. We unloaded the 4-wheelers and got to it!
Vintage Montana: The landscape is littered with abandoned artifacts of days gone by. In this case, a loosely assembled pile of wood that was once someone’s boat!
One of the most fun and unique aspects of this hunt was the use of our Outlander ATV’s. We were able to reach remote areas and once we hopped off our energy was intact to fully devote to the hunt! Our Triton ATV trailer made loading and unloading the ATV’s a snap and towed like a dream!
The trailer made long hauls on mountain passes and gravel roads look easy…until you looked at our license plate that is…
The State of Montana does a great job of opening up blocks of private land known as BMA’s or Block Management Areas. Here Robbo signs in at the registration box allowing us to hunt the area.
Glassing, glassing and more glassing. Learning to pick an area apart and find an ear, antler tip, tail or patch of hair is an invaluable skill to a mule deer hunter. Patience and persistence is the key…and hand warmers…Brrrr…
Robbo and his beautiful mulie buck taken on the final day of our hunt. Robbo passed up more bucks than I could keep track of and his patience and discipline were rewarded when he spotted and stalked this dandy deer!
Although I wasn’t able to fill my tag this time around, I learned more by hunting hard each day of this trip than I would of otherwise. Learning what to look for and where to look is a huge part of the mule deer equation and seeing numbers of Montana mule deer each day is a great way to learn to spot deer when few are around. I’m looking forward to next hunting season to test what I learned on this hunt and to answer the challenge of becoming a better hunter!
The first time I decided to do a European skull mount it was a long and very stinky process. It was so disgusting that I vowed to never do another one on my own. Yuk!
You can send your mount to a beetle shop that immerses the head in a box full of meat-eating beetles that devour every ounce of meat, tissue, and cartilage off the skull in a very short amount of time. It’s a great option but you’ve got to either ship the head or have a shop within driving range of your home. Not a good option for me.
The following process is how I went about making my most recent skull mount of a beautiful Montana mule deer. All in all I had about two full hours into this process and the final product will look excellent on the wall of my office.
First I cleaned the skull with a pressure washer much like Mark Kayser does in the video below. I’ve been a fan of Mark’s since his days hosting a hunting show for Truck Vault and I followed his video to a “T” to get my deer skull fully cleaned.
I used a big Honda 9 horsepower pressure washer to clean the skull to my liking. This took about 45 minutes and it helps to have very high pressure for this process. You’ll want to tape the base of the antlers to keep from removing the coloring away from the antlers in that area with the pressure.
The skull mount after pressure washing. Ready for step 2!
Next I brought a large pot of soapy water to a boil and immersed the head into it. Drop the temperature down on the water and simmer the skull in the soapy water for around an hour. This brings out any grease that is left in the skull and helps eliminate discoloring later.
This is when things get kinda weird in this whole process. Head to the nearest beauty supply store and pick up an 8 ounce bottle of Salon Care Volume 40 Developer Creme and a packet of Salon Care “Quick White” powder lightener. The lady at the beauty supply store asked me what I was using it for and since the whole place was packed with ladies I simply answered, “Uh…I’m working on a little project.” You can probably get away with 4 ounces of this stuff, but I went with 8 to be on the safe side.
Mix the two ingredients together in a bowl and then use a brush to completely cover the entire skull in paste. It doesn’t exactly smell great so it’s best to do this outside in a ventilated area. Get as much paste into every corner of the skull as you can.
After your done with this wrap the skull in plastic stretch wrap and place it in front of a space heater. Rotate the skull a couple of times in an hour period. Pull off the wrap and rinse the skull in warm water to get off all the bleaching goop. If the skull doesn’t whiten up to your liking hit it with another coat of goop and go thru this process again.
I performed this final process twice and the skull turned a nice, crisp white.
Two notes of caution when doing this. First you want to make sure you wrap the bottom of the antlers with tape during the pressure washing process or you’ll blast off the staining on the base of the antlers. Also be very careful not to get any bleaching compound on the base of the antlers or it’ll effect the stain on the antlers, as well.
Now that I’m done preparing my European mount I just need to build a custom wooden base to hold the mount. I’m thinking a hardwood with a dark finish would work great to accent the skull.
If you really want to get fancy with the final product, however, you could ship your skull mount off to Jana Waller at Painted Skulls. She does some amazing artwork with skulls!
The 23rd edition of the Bayside Derby coincided with the Saturday, November one Marine Area 8 & 9 opener which meant that I had to figure out a way to slide out of the final hour of The Outdoor Line Radio Show in order to hit the water by daylight! Fortunately, Daylight Savings Time ran late this year and Robbo agreed to do a remote broadcast from the Port Of Everett so I was only steps away from the boat as Endsley and John Martinis finished the broadcast.
The word “November” conjures up all types of mental images to northwest boaters and fishermen. None of these visions involve flat calm waters and full fish boxes. So when Saturday morning dawned flat and clam, the 200 derby participants had a very pleasant surprise.
The ESPN “flagship” Great White on Marine Area 9’s Possession Bar Saturday morning. When it comes to winter chinook or “blackmouth” fishing, this is as flat calm as it gets!!
Daiwa’s Josh Leach fights a frisky blackmouth as Brandon Robichaux looks on.
Our Saturday morning action was steady and we managed to get a few fat blackmouth into the fishbox!
With bait balls like this attracting birds from above and blackmouth from below, the solid chinook action should continue in Marine Area 9 throughout the month of November!
Josh Leach and Brandon Robichaux hoist our Saturday catch and Team Outdoor Line is on the board in the Bayside Marine Salmon Derby!
Saturday’s leaderboard had a 14 on top of the heap with over 70 fish weighed in which is pretty solid winter chinook action!
After the scale closed at noon on Sunday, the Bayside Marine “buffet” was open and chinook donated by derby anglers is on the menu!
The overall boat weight award (12 blackmouth weighing nearly 100lbs!) went to Team “Dr. Evil” consisting of the “wrecking crew”. Left to right Scott Bumstad, Lance Husby, Derek Floyd and Troy Moe.
The largest chinook went to Joe Stephensen (left) pictured here with his father Ray. Joe’s winter chinook weighed just over 14 pounds and brought the happy crew $2000.00!
The winter chinook fishery is now in full swing and it’s shaping up to be a very solid season. Bayside Marine’s Salmon Derby officially kicks off the 2015 Northwest Salmon Derby Series and we’ll see you the next stop which is next month’s Resurrection Derby in Friday Harbor! See you on the water this winter!