By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Jimmy Lynn started his backcountry Wyoming deer hunt last week with high hopes.
He ended up with the head of his trophy-sized mule stolen and a bullet hole in his tent after a spooky late-night encounter with a bear.
“It took a lot of balls to steal a deer head 8 miles back up from the trailhead,” he said during a telephone interview with Cowboy State Daily on Monday.
The theft “took the wind out of me,” he said. “I had tears in my eyes.”
Almost adding insult to injury, Lynn had an unwelcome visitor to his campsite.
“And then a bear came into my camp in the middle of the night on Friday (Sept. 23) and I literally blow a hole through my tent with my gun to scare it off,” he said.
A Long-Awaited Hunt
Lynn is an avid hunter and taxidermist from West Point, Utah. He’s hunted in several states, including previous trips to Wyoming. He had for years been saving up “preference points” from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to draw a deer tag in hunt area 153, in Northwest Wyoming.
He finally drew the tag and planned his hunt in a remote area of the Hoback Mountain Range. A friend with horses helped him pack into his campsite. It was roughly 8 miles back and 2,300 feet in elevation from the tailhead in the Cliff Creek drainage just north of Hoback Peak.
During his first evening of hunting, and the following day, he couldn’t find a buck that met his expectations.
“I passed up some 170-class bucks,” he said.
He was referring to the number of inches in an animal’s antler structure, according to the scoring system authorized by the Boone And Crockett Club. The B&C score for mule deer is based off the compilation of several measurements. Some of those include overall width and length of the antlers, as well as girth in different spots.
A Big Enough Buck
A storm kept the deer laying low early Sept. 22.
“I didn’t see any deer until about 10 that morning,” Lynn said.
He was confident that he’d find a suitable buck.
“Wyoming had a really bad winter in 2018, with a lot of winter kill among those high-country deer,” he said. “Your past three winters have been mild, so those deer are doing really well now”
He was hunting about a mile and a half up the drainage from his camp. At about 11 a.m., he found the buck he’d been looking for. Based on experience, he guessed it to be “in the mid-180s size range.”
“I didn’t even wait to get a good head-on look at the antlers,” he said. “I just saw all that junk from the broadside view and took the shot.”
Lynn put the deer’s skinned front and hindquarters in game bags and hung them from a tree. He left his jacket with them because the area has many bears – black and grizzlies.
“I’ve found that having human scent helps deter the bears,” he said. “If a bear is really hungry, he’ll just eat whatever he’s going to eat. But usually, some human scent will help keep them away.”
He packed the buck’s head and cape (the skin around the neck and shoulders) back down to his camp. He also took the best cuts of meat, the backstrap tenderloins. Practicing good bear country safety, he hung all of that in a tree a couple hundred yards from his camp, along with one of his hunting shirts.
Then he went back to the kill site, cut the meat from the quarters off the bone and packed that back to his camp.
“When I first saw that tree where I had hung everything, I thought, ‘Oh no, a bear got into my stuff,’” he said.
Closer inspection proved otherwise.
“I didn’t see a single bear track nearby or any claw marks on the tree,” he said.
“I saw that the knots in the ropes had been untied and I knew humans had done it,” he said. “They took the head and cape, the backstrap, the tenderloins and my Sitka shirt.
“It was just some freaking dirtbags.”
A Bear In The Night
On his last night in camp, a bear showed up.
“It was trying to get inside my tent,” said Lynn, who has plenty of experience in bear county.
He decided to fire a rifle shot to shoo the bear, and it worked.
“I shot a hole in my tent, but I’m glad I didn’t hit the bear,” he said. “It must have been a really big bear. It sounded like a Clydesdale running away. I didn’t sleep a wink after that.”
‘It’ll Turn Up’
At first, Lynn was crestfallen over how his trip turned out.
“I couldn’t wait to come down off that hill and get back home to my wife and my dogs,” he said. “After you’ve been kicked in the balls like that, you’re just over it.”
After some reflection, he feels fortunate. None of the expensive gear he’d left in camp was stolen while he went to get the rest of his deer. And he’d come away unscathed from his encounter with the bear.
“I got out of it lucky, in my opinion,” he said. “You should always try to look at the positive side.”
As for his trophy, Lynn said the antler rack is a distinctive “six-by-six with eye guards.”
He and his friends have been posting images across social media in the hopes that somebody recognizes the antlers.
“If somebody was stupid enough to come down off that mountain with it, it’ll turn up,” he said. “I’ll find out about it.”