I used to hunt out on the Milk River every fall with my buddy Luke Strommen, before the epic EHD outbreak of 2011 wiped out the whitetail herd, which is still struggling to recover. For several years in the early 2000s, as soon as I rolled into camp, Luke would start chattering about this one special buck that roamed the river around Vandalia. “Saw the Mutt Buck the other day…guy missed the Mutt Buck two days ago…the Mutt Buck is cool…maybe you’ll get a shot at the Mutt Buck…” Well, I never saw the Mutt Buck (and curiously I never knew how he got his name) and had forgotten all about him, until I ran across this story that Luke sent me some years ago, entitled “Saga of the Mutt Buck.”—M.H.
Sometimes putting your hands on a whitetail buck that you have been watching and thinking about for years can be bittersweet.
It was the 11th of December 2005 when my Uncle Roy found the Mutt Buck’s sheds while pheasant hunting. I was ranching and guiding bowhunters back then, and I had observed this buck from his late-summer velvet days all the way through horn-shedding time that year.
Two of my clients actually had a chance at the Mutt Buck that season, but failed to capitalize. One guy got busted drawing when the buck was broadside at 20 yards. The other fella saw him at 13 yards, got rattled and drew his bow back so fast that he lifted the arrow off the rest—the Mutt Buck only gave him a brief instant of such foolishness and bounded off.
One November day I watched Mutt breed a doe 30 yards in front of me, a bit too far for my recurve. My wife, Tara, had drawn her bow on the buck one afternoon during the last week of the season, but he never got closer than 50 yards before he ran off with a doe in heat.
It was good in some ways that none of us killed the Mutt Buck that year. We believed him to be 3½ years old, and some who had seen him argued that he only looked to be 2½. We figured the Mutt Buck needed 2 to 3 years to grow before he reached his true potential. Although he was particularly narrow-racked, we guessed him to score in the mid-150s. Those sheds that my uncle found proved we were very close in our field-scoring. I couldn’t wait to see him next year.
Interestingly, the Mutt Buck was a passive and awkward buck. All fall during the 2005 season, I watched him shy away from other bucks that were 20 to 30 inches smaller of rack than him. He had his own personality.
The hunting season of 2006 once again brought some memorable encounters between the Mutt Buck and my bowhunting clients. One guy missed him at 30 yards. Several evenings the buck passed by my hunters’ stands just after shooting light.
Once again, I was able to watch him from velvet to the end of the season, and now he had become more aggressive, more of a dominant buck. He seemed to have 9 lives and I was glad. I couldn’t wait to see what this buck would grow into in another year or two.
But Mother Nature had a different plan, I guess. My brother Jake was fishing for catfish the next spring when he stumbled upon a carcass with a large rack attached to it. He gave me a call and within minutes, based on his description, I knew he had found the Mutt Buck. Every spring we find winter-killed bucks out here on the Milk River. But this one hurt.
He hadn’t grown much from the last year. His rack was right at 160 inches on the skull, which is big anywhere and huge out here on the Milk. It was only 13½ inches wide, and he had sprouted a 3-inch sticker point on his right G-2.
I can only wonder how the Mutt Buck would have turned out had he lived another year or two. I still think about him from time to time. We’ve watched and hunted a lot of great bucks out here on the river over the years, but the Mutt Buck was special.—Luke
(In the picture: Jake Strommen (l.) with the Mutt Buck’s rack, and Luke with the sheds.)