Back when I found out I got drawn for the 12BW late hunt, a buddy of mine, who was going to help me, got drawn for the same hunt. I didn't want to put either of us in a situation of having to decide who got to shoot first, so I reached out to a dear friend who used to guide in that area, before he let his license expire. One thing lead to another, and he was planning to go with me for the first half of my hunt. He was talking to guides who used to work for him and we developed a solid plan. My only goal was to find a mature buck that made me happy. My son, Jacob, was going to skip school and join me on this hunt, so he could experience some amazing mule deer hunting, after falling in love with Coues on his October youth hunt. This was also a reward, of sorts, for him for having straight As in his Basis School up here in Flagstaff, as well as for working his butt off to get his black belt. Jacob and my buddy hit it off great and developed a "grandpa-grandson bond" of sorts that actually put a tear in my eye more than once. My kids never knew my dad and our daughter had a similar relationship with another great guy in town. The following is a piece of an actual conversation Sunday morning: Wildlife Manager: “I’m guessing you’re one of those people who have higher expectations for yourself than you need to.” Me: “You’re not the first person to tell me that.” That was a big part of the story of my hunt. We had a great time as a trio. I got to forget about several things, including another looming government shut down, learn to hunt mule deer in the sage and deep canyons, see some rutting bucks in action, and watch a relationship build. I reconnected with myself and with what drives me. I found another piece of my own “why” again, after devoting most of the last year to get Jacob through his black belt journey. On the third morning of the hunt, we glassed up a herd of deer with two solid bucks. We put a plan in place and started the stalk. We got to within 150 yards and got set up. When the does and fawns finally stepped away, I slowly squeezed the trigger and hit my first AZ buck since 2005. “You hit him! He hunched!” was what I heard. At the hit, he ran around a tree and kept running for another 100 yards or so, so we thought. I had an ethical obligation to put him down quickly so he wouldn’t suffer. The second shot dropped him in his tracks at 178 yards. We gave him the proper time to expire, then we celebrated and took amazing trophy pictures. As we were field dressing and caping him, something hit me. There was no entrance/exit wound from the first shot. My buddy walked back to bring the truck closer and found the first buck I shot, behind the tree. My heart sank, but I knew what was necessary. Integrity matters more than anything else in my world. My dad hammered it into me and I’ve hammered it into my kids. I called AGFD and reported myself. The Wildlife Manager was extremely cool and we had a great talk. He understood what happened in my situation. We’ve all seen fatally wounded game run a long ways and act normal. They are tough animals, after all. I was beating myself up, not blaming him for throwing the book at me if that’s what he chose, considering I'm a Federal agent and a Hunter Ed instructor. That’s when we had the exchange above. He’s not wrong. In the end, I got to keep the first buck, he confiscated the second buck, and I was given a written warning because I self-reported my error. It was an honest mistake. Choosing the harder right over the easier wrong always prevails. Our morning Devotional before we left camp was about overcoming adversity through integrity. It was meant to be. I was sad to see the bigger-antlered buck confiscated, but the first buck (smaller antlers) was bigger bodied. We’ll have more meat in the freezer and still a great, mature buck. I can look at him on the wall with pride because he is, in fact, my first mule deer buck, he’s still a great buck, and I did it right. The meat from the second buck will go to families in need in the Fredonia area, and that makes me happy. I’m hoping to have the second buck back in March after attending the seized-assets auction. I have to have both to fully appreciate the whole story. Jacob filmed most of this hunt and will be figuring out how to put a meaningful video together with the footage he captured. He found a new passion and the video will be shared when it’s ready. He also worked hard to make this hunt a success and was involved in every aspect, including cooking, cleaning, filming, ranging, glassing, field dressing, caping, and packing out meat. Small 4x3 Jacbo glassed and photographed. Last night in camp!