The desert came alive as the first shafts of light broke through the overhanging clouds. Javelinas were bickering among themselves at he base of the hogback I was climbing. Stopping for a much needed break, I could hear the deep-throated, melodious calls of a covey of quail as they welcomed the new day. It's my favorite time of the morning; everything is fresh and so full of promise.

It's that promise that makes hunters eternal optimists. I certainly had high hopes that "today was the day", despite the fact that I had just spent two days in vain looking for a big buck --not to mention the seven days I spent on this same ranch the prior year. It wasn't that I couldn't have taken a buck, because I had already passed on several decent bucks. But, I was standing on this specific ridge, on this ranch, in the Mexican State of Sonora for one simple reason --there were bucks of a lifetime somewhere on the valley floor ahead of me. All I had to do was find one, outsmart him, and then shoot straight.

Above all, I had to pass on the smaller bucks. Sure, some hunters luck into outstanding trophies, but for most of us, it's an adventure that spans years and many trips. It's the effort that makes success sweeter! It's also one of the reasons some of us are willing to give up so many of our precious days on this earth to pursue trophy mule deer.

Rancho El Carbon is a "work in progress". My host outfitter, German Rivas, hunted here as a young man when mule deer hunting south of the border was awakening. That was back when ranchers were willing to grant hunting permission because deer were "nuisances". Several decades passed and the ranch was abused by several owners, but German never forgot. So when he got the chance, he took the financial plunge and made the commitment to return hunting back to its former "glory days".

The first order of business was to remove the cattle, although German allows the occasional cow from adjoining ranches in exchange for hunting rights there. Then he made improvements, including adding drinkers and feeding stations at key points throughout the ranch. The feeding stations only augmented buffle grass plantings that had proven their worth on other ranches. Although his improvements had been in place only a short time before my first trip, I could already see results. In short, I was impressed by what I saw, so I was back.

One major change in this trip was that German talked me into using one of his rifles. I had always taken my own to Mexico, but make no mistake, getting permits for rifles there is a hassle! The year before we got my rifle permit only the last minute, and two years earlier on another hunt with another outfitter, it cost me several hunting days waiting for the paperwork to clear. So, I'll admit he didn't have to twist my arm to leave my rifle home. After all, I didn't have to get my "good guy" letter from the local sheriff, and I saved the cost of the permit, not to mention breezing through the numerous police checkpoints.

When I arrived in German's camp, I let my hunting partner take first choice from the rifle rack. My selection was a beautiful.280 Ackley Improved wildcat built on a Mauser action complete with double triggers. Since I had shot set triggers over the bench in the past, I felt confident that I could easily overcome my unfamiliarity. I even dry fired it a dozen times to build my confidence. Later, my choice turned out to be my worst nightmare. However, it took several days in the field and wearing off considerable boot tread before I learned my lesson.

From left to right: Lance Stapleton, Bob Anton, Scott Wink and Stewart Stone; with Scott's bura during Lance's first visit to Rancho El Carbon; on this occasion, Lance let several excellent muleys pass,but his companions did take the chance.

Andrés Garza Tijerina, from Monterrey, Nuevo León, with his bura deer -of an exceptional size- taken on the first day of his hunt in Rancho El Carbon. The author wrote about this in his book Deer Quest.

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