Out West the soil consists primarily of clay and the locals call it gumbo. When it’s wet it sticks with you longer than a sludgy cup of cowboy coffee and a plate full of sourdough pancakes. Travel comes to a standstill when moisture falls from Western skies. Roads become inaccessible or at best a stuck-truck incident waiting to happen. Your only chance to continue a hunt is to ditch the truck and take off on foot.
As a native of clay country I’ve had more than one hunt stalled by the sticky concoction. Surprisingly, one of my best muleys to date resulted from a gumbo hunt despite the drizzly attempt by Western skies to derail the hunt.
The rain responsible for the slick surface started the day before the rifle season in the western half of South Dakota and continued on and off for a full week. People weren’t building arks yet, but they weren’t accessing the clay-ridden hills via a pickup truck. Most don’t like to hike in the goop either. You see, gumbo doesn’t stay on the ground when you take a step; it clings to the bottom of your boot and continues to grow much like the creature in the 1958 movie “The Blob.” The only way to rid your boot of the mess is to stop and use a stick or log to pry the glob from your boot. You can also separate the mess from your boot with a massive leg thrust, but be careful. A friend of mine kicked too hard once and his boot sole flung away along with the mud.
I started out whitetail hunting, but the action was too slow so I decided to give the muleys a try. Besides, during a September pronghorn hunt I spied two massive muleys in an area only minutes away.
An hour into the slogging hunt, I needed an energy bar break to recuperate from the energy-sapping effects of the gumbo. Nearly a mile in the distance two shapes popped up on a cloudy ridge and my binocular clearly defined one of the forms as a good muley that looked exceptionally wide and heavy. Jerking my Nikon spotting scope from pack, I plopped it onto the soft landscape and scrambled to focus, but they disappeared into a deep basin before I could see clearly.
Cussing for not being fast enough, I hustled across the mile-long distance navigating a series of steep and slippery canyons that could end my hunt abruptly with one wrong step. The descent down the first slope played out like the scene in “Romancing the Stone” where Michael Douglas shot down a mud-soaked hillside on his butt. Downhill was fast, but the ascent up the next hill took twice the time as I picked my footholds carefully to avoid constantly backsliding down the hill.
An hour and 200 pounds of chucked gumbo later; I had reached the knob where the duo disappeared. Less than 100 yards below me stood a fork-horned muley staring at something in the back of the bowl. Edging further over the lip revealed the reason for staring. A large muley buck stood guard over a doe obviously in the mood for breeding. The muley’s rack was super wide, heavy and characterized by a large knob on the left side. Without hesitation, I steadied my Remington 7mm magnum on the buck’s side and ended the mud-style marathon. The slick slope didn’t seem as treacherous as I dropped on my butt and skidded down to the buck. Although there wasn’t ground shrinkage, there was some mud shrinkage. The large knob turned out to be a baseball-sized mud ball stuck to one of the buck’s antlers. Even without the mud ball, the rack was super sized and worth the gumbo mess.