I love talking with legitimate DIY hunters. Special rights are reserved for the DIY hunter. DIY is short for Do It Yourself and is synonymous with hard work and preparation. In its simplest terms, a do it yourself hunt is “unguided.” You are on your own. You might solicit the help of friends and family; however, nobody is in the business of guiding you to your end goal. It is raw. It is difficult. It is primal.
Now let me preface by stating I have zero qualms with guided hunts. I myself have enjoyed guided hunts in the past. I hope to enjoy a few in the future. Reputable guides can provide an experience that is tough to replicate or match. That being said, this article is for the Do It Yourselfer!
There are not many DIY hunters that seem to produce year in, year out. If I stumble upon one, my interest is peaked. What makes them successful every single year? What strategies do they employ? What equipment do they use? How do they find balance in life given the time required to aggressively pursue a DIY hunt?
I stumbled upon @utahmulies on Instagram. Lance Harris is the man behind the @. His 2013 Utah archery general season Wasatch buck is an absolute standout. As you peal back the onion, you find that he has been successful with the bow more than just once. It is becoming a habit. From his stud archery bull on Utah’s Diamond Mountain, his Henry’s archery buck, and a few awesome Wasatch front archery bucks, I wanted to learn more.
I sat down for a Q&A with Lance to see what I could learn about DIY hunting utahmulies style. To say this article has some great advice would be an understatement.
When did your passion for hunting and the outdoors begin? It started with my Dad. I don’t remember a time that my brother and I weren’t following my dad around hunting. We were always hunting something, anything. During the summers we were out fishing, camping, and hunting. It all went together.
Tell me about your first harvest big game animal? I can remember my first big game animal like it was yesterday. Me, my dad, and my brother were hunting in Southern Utah just outside of Mt. Carmel Junction. It was a rifle deer hunt. We had hunted hard for 5-6 days. We hadn’t seen anything we wanted to kill and it was our last morning. The truck was loaded. We were just going to watch for a couple more hours than head home. Really out of nowhere I glassed a buck feeding in an opening. He was just munchin’ on brush. Since I spotted him, I got first crack. We drove down the road and tried to get in front of him. Eventually we got out of the truck and ran further down the road to where we thought he would be. We split up. My dad and my brother went one way, I went the other. I found his tracks crossing the road. He had gone down in a ravine. I then heard him coming through the brush. He popped up at about 75 years down the hill and I jacked 2 shells into him about as fast as I have ever shot two shells in my life. I hit him both times before he even dropped. As a big 20” 2X3 with 3” eye guards, he was an awesome first deer and I was super stoked!
So what has been your most memorable hunt to date? That’s a tough one. I have a lot. It would have to be my big Wasatch buck. It’s mainly because of how much time I spent on that hunt. I came so close on a couple of other big animals. After all that effort, it meant a lot to kill such a huge deer with some of my best friends… to see an animal that size, public land, in our backyard. He is just a magnificent, big, old buck. To be able to harvest him with a bow after a few guys chased him with rifles just weeks earlier is crazy to me! I don’t know if I will ever be able to top it.
Let’s talk about your bow, how often do you shoot it? As much as I can. You know as a kid there was a bunch of us who had bows. Our dads all bow hunted. We took our bows everywhere and would shoot in everybody’s back yard. That’s what we did. So I have always grown up with a bow but it has taken a long time to be successful. I look back at hunts when I was younger and there is no reason I shouldn’t have killed big deer. Whether it was inexperience or making the wrong move, it just didn’t work out. I don’t shoot every day. I don’t have time. It may be that I don’t make time. With family and work sometimes it’s tough. Obviously any bow hunter should shoot as much as they can. I try to shoot at least once a day but it doesn’t always happen. On average I shoot close to 4-5 a week.
What do you do to simulate the varying conditions you may run into as a bow hunter? We built a course up on the mountain. We take our own targets up there and shoot uphill, downhill, realistic shots. We don’t just practice flat land. I have never had a flat shot in any hunting situation. We also try to always practice at our max. If your max is 50 or 60 yards, spend the majority of your time at 50 or 60. Unless I am setting up a bow, I rarely shoot 20, 30, and 40. It is usually 80, 90 and 100. I don’t do this so that I can kill an animal that far but when you get used to shooting 80, 90, 100, the shots at 30,40,50 are that much easier. The other reason I practice out that far is because it makes your closer shots that much better. At long distance any variance in form makes a huge difference and is magnified. Longer distances teach you to hold your form and follow through. It gives you the knowledge you need to tweek or adjust your set up. Also, if I hit an animal at 30, 40, 50 and it runs to 80 and is still standing, I have the ability to put another arrow into him and anchor it.
What would you say is the max ethical distance with a bow? Going back to distance and practicing, everybody is going to be different. Factors such as draw length, poundage, and arrow setup vary and that comes into play. For me, I have a longer draw length. I am shooting a really heavy arrow (Easton FMJ). I practice 80,90, and 100 consistently. Every situation is different, I have killed animals at 40 yards. I shot my antelope last year at 84. I don’t like shooting that far but that situation happened so fast. I ranged him 3 times because it didn’t seem that far. The reality was I was confident in the situation. I knew I couldn’t get closer because of the terrain. I had practiced that distance. When I drew and held, I wasn’t shaking all over the place. I was confident in my hold and I center punched him. He didn’t even flinch until it was too late. If I can keep it 60 and under, they’re dead. But again, everyone is different. You have to go with what makes you comfortable. If your max distance is 50 yards, great… stick to it. Don’t use the justification that “oh it’s a big buck or bull, l’m gonna shoot 80 yards just because it’s a “big racked” animal. I hate that. We owe these animals more respect than that. Just because it’s a big deer doesn’t mean you have to just start launching arrows.
I’ve noticed in social media you enjoy bow fishing, how does that prepare you to hunt big game in the fall? Everyone needs to start bow fishing. There are so many carp in our waters. They destroy habitat. They ruin breeding grounds for walleye, catfish, and bass. They just tear up the ground. They muddy the water and they’re fun to shoot. Its legal in Utah and it’s a lot of good practice. There is a point when they become dumb like a rutting mule deer. When they’re spawning they’re up in the shallows and you can schwack a whole bunch. A lot of the times you have to use your bow hunting skills to sneak up on them. I was out just recently with my boy and we spooked a few cuz we were talking or Nixon wasn’t walking quietly. They don’t just sit around and wait. You have to be quiet. It’ll keep you on your toes. It’ll also keep your arm strength up. You can get your family out and do it. You just have to have a fishing license. It is a lot of fun.
How do you include your young kids in your passion for hunting? Anytime I get my bow out, my boy gets his bow out as well. He loves it. He has been shooting little toy bows since he could pick them up. He will be 5 in December. I have had him on a lot of hunts with me. When my wife was working, that was often the only way I could go. Luckily, family has been willing to come up and watch him while I’ve put a couple stalks on some deer. I will also put him in the back pack and take him bow fishing in the summer. That’s another good thing about bow fishing, it’s easy to get your kids and the family involved.
Talk with me about your success the last couple of years. What if anything is different in your approach to hunting and how has that made these last couple of years a huge success? The biggest thing is preparation. Spending time watching animals and patterning them. You need to know where they’re going and what they’re doing. Whether I am hunting or not, I love watching animals. I love watching elk, antelope and deer. They are amazing animals. I love watching them especially when they are growing big velvet antlers. Patience is another important key. Once you have patterned these animals, you’re best equipped to know when and where to move. That process takes a bit of patience. Sometimes you gamble and you lose but that’s the fun of the chess match. Lastly, when stalking an animal… plan your route. It will change but you do have to be ready for change. Very few times does it work out perfectly but still have a plan and adjust to change.
If your plan doesn’t work, how often do you think you can bust a big game animal before you’ll never see it again? I busted my Diamond Mountain elk and his cows opening morning yet killed him 2 days later in the exact same spot. They have their patterns. From my experience, the big game animals I’ve hunted come back to their same spot. In 2013 the deer I was hunting (before I killed my big Wasatch buck) I had 4 times at under 90 yards. I never could get a shot. Something always happened. They busted me or they winded me but they always came back.
So you weren’t specifically going after your big Wasatch buck? I wasn’t. There were 3 other bucks in there that I was hunting. Big 4 points, 170-185. I hadn’t seen the big one yet.
So did you wet yourself the first time you saw him? When I walked up on him… yea. Honestly, I didn’t realize he was that big even when I shot him. Long story short, I went in to find one of the three bucks we were hunting. My friend Wyatt spotted some does on a ridge but he didn’t see any bucks with the group. He decided to glass a canyon to the south. I knew there should be a few bucks in there because I’d been hunting them since August. This is mid-November. I pulled my spotting scope out to see if I could spot those does he’d seen. It was the middle of the rut. There should have been some bucks with them. It was 1500 yards away. It was first thing in the morning. I spotted the does and later a little four point that came between the does and ended up laying down on the skyline. As I zoomed in on him I caught movement on the right edge of my scope. I adjusted my scope. I couldn’t make anything out but I knew there was a deer in there. A minute or two went by and he finally moved his head. I was guessing a 185-190 buck. You know, a solid stud buck. Little did I know he would end up at 222 2/8”. It was long distance and early in the morning so I didn’t get a good look. All I knew is he was a shooter buck. I ran over and told Wyatt. We got everything set up. I threw my Be The Decoy on my head and I set out to get above the deer. They ended up going down a little draw. I went past them and he was down with his does about 200 yards. He was in knee to waste high brush and I didn’t have any cover to sneak in on them. I waited and watched to see what they would do. As I am waiting I peeked back in the canyon and noticed he was now about 40 yards above his does looking back down on them. He started walking back up that draw to where I had originally seen him. I remember thinking – What are you doing? Where are you going? I don’t know if he had already bred all those does or they just weren’t hot. Maybe he was just heading off to find something else. What I do remember thinking was “you gotta move now.” I ran up the ridge as quick as I could. Wyatt said from his perspective he could see us both moving up the hill in tandem. I came up into a flat and began guessing where he might cross. I knelt down, knocked an arrow and looked over and just that fast he was coming out of the draw. He looked right at me and didn’t miss a step. With the Be The Decoy on he kept on coming. I grabbed my range finder and ranged him. He was about a 150 yards and came up to 75 yards. He then started to turn and go up the ridge instead of right at me. He went behind a little tree and when I drew back, he stopped and looked at me. He didn’t seem nervous. He looked at me in the mood of “hey what’s up?” I don’t know if he thought I was a doe he’d just left but he was not nervous at all. I settled my pin as best I could and let one fly. I initially hammered him at 65 yards.
You just traveled to Arizona and accepted a Pope and Young award for that buck, tell us about that award? (www.pope-young.org) Yes. So for the recording period of the 2013-2014 he was one of the biggest animals harvested with a bow and recorded worldwide. He really is a DIY public land beast.
I see a lot of pictures with the Be The Decoy product on your head. What is your association with Be The Decoy and does it really work? (www.bethedecoy.com) So I got to know Be the Decoy with my involvement at Hunter’s Nation. We giveaway a Be The Decoy every month. As a result, I got my hands on one. I’ve used other decoys (Heads Up Decoy and Montana Decoy) and was pretty impressed with what you can get away with if used properly. What I like about Be The Decoy is it’s on your head and you really don’t have to worry about it. You don’t have to mess with it while trying to hold and operate your bow. It is already there and it is already in place. It is a familiar object that big game animals recognize. Yes, they do work. I have used it on elk, deer, and antelope. I think it works best on elk. It seems like you can get away with a lot more on elk. Deer it works really well. With antelope, I felt it gave me enough time to get a shot but that was about it. Antelope are pretty sketchy as it is but it gives you time to sneak in and get a shot off. On my Diamond mountain elk hunt I used it. Before a wind change, I had a big bull and his cows look at me 4-5 different times only to go back to feeding. They definitely work. Owners Branden VanDyken and Mark Renner are great guys as well. I have got to know them over the last couple years and I support their product. Used properly and in the right season, they are very effective.
What is Hunter’s Nation? (www.huntersnation.com) You pay $20 for a one year membership. Every day you are entered into giveaways some of which are valued at as much as $700+. At the end of every month we give away a fully guided big game hunt. By being a member, you also get discount codes with a lot of our partner companies. You can get discounts with a lot of the outfitters we line up as well. It really is a no-brainer.
What is your weapon of choice? Weapon of choice would be a bow. What do you shoot? (www.g5prime.com) You name a bow, I have shot it. As for the last couple of years, I have been shooting Prime. This year I have the Prime Rival and I am excited to see what I can put down with it.
When you go hunting, what are 3 essentials that you do not leave home without? (Excluding your weapon). 1. Binoculars: You can do without a spotting scope. It’s nice to have, but your binoculars… I don’t go anywhere without my binoculars. Even when you are in close, it’s nice to see holes or trails in order to develop a plan. How important is quality of optic? You can get by with anything; however, in early morning or late evening scenarios the quality of optic can make a big difference. Clarity and visibility is important. So binoculars would be my #1. 2. Range finder: If I was hunting strictly with a stick bow I wouldn’t worry about a range finder. With a compound bow and my set up, a range finder is a must. I shoot a single pin Sure-Loc site. I have a site tape. I range it and dial it to whatever yardage I am shooting. If its 43 yards, I set my pin for 43 yards. Do you lose valuable time in that process? In my opinion, no. I have been shooting a single pin site since 2008. It does take some getting used to if you are used to a multi pin setup. For me to range, set my pin, draw and shoot I feel I am just as quick as someone shooting a 5 or 7 pin. In my opinion it is more accurate because you only have 1 pin to focus on. You have a bigger site window. You don’t have all those pins taking up half your site. Plus the accuracy is a huge draw. Like I said, if you are shooting 43 yards, you set it for 43 yards. If you are shooting 45 yards, you don’t have to split your 40 and 50. 3. Gear (clothing): Whether it is Sitka, Kuiu, Core 4 Element, First Lite or Kryptek, there are a lot of great companies out there. It makes a big difference. These companies provide top end gear. They have layering systems. You can regulate your temperature as you are hiking or layer up to sit and glass. You need to have the ability to layer properly with material that wicks moisture well. A lot of these lines are built with spandex so it stretches. It moves with you. You don’t have the bulk of some of these lower end clothing lines. I don’t think it makes you a better hunter, but it does make you more comfortable and able to hunt more effectively.
How much preparation and time really goes into killing a big high country mule deer or elk? There are guys that get lucky. They happen to wander into something. Congratulations! That never happens to me so preparation is almost year round. I try to stay in top shape as far as endurance. I am shooting my bow year round. I am working on my form and I try to really get to know my equipment. I am hiking in the mountains. In 2010 I drew a henry mountains archery tag. I was probably in the best shape of my life. I was doing a lot of running, a lot of pushups, a lot of shooting. I remember my dad told me, “you’re not gonna out run these deer.” I told him, “I know but when I get up to them I don’t want to be out of breath. I don’t want to be huffing and puffing so that I can make a shot.” You really are never gonna out run these deer. They live there and it’s just physically impossible. So between cardio, shooting, and scouting, it’s almost year round.
I notice you are often with the Mt. Ops team, what is your association with Mt. Ops if any? (www.getmtnops.com) It’s a fairly new company but I have known those guys for a while. Casey and Jordan are some awesome guys that have the same passion for the outdoors that I do. Their products are awesome. I am not sponsored by them and I am not endorsed by them. I do use their products and I notice a big difference in my cardio and my hiking. I notice a difference off the mountain as well. Take a Blaze energy shot and hang on because you’ll have energy for the rest of the day.
How do you find balance between work, family, and chasing big game? You marry right. My wife puts up with a lot but she knows and understands that I have grown up with it. It’s not something I can just stop doing. She definitely needs a high five, a pat on the back, a props, whatever you call it for all she puts up with being married to me. But yea it’s tough. Before we had kids it was so easy to sneak out but then you have kids and your responsibilities change.
If you could pick any 3 tags in the state of Utah, what would they be? I am hoping I draw Antelope Island this year! Ok, excluding Antelope Island? To be honest even if I drew an Antelope Island tag it wouldn’t mean as much to me as my Henrys or Wasatch bucks. It’d still be fun. That being said, a Henry’s or a Pauns deer tag would be at the top of the list. I love to hunt everything but if I had the choice, I’d hunt mule deer. It’s what I grew up with. I do love elk. I love listening to them scream. Deer do not make noise. To kill high country mule deer, it’s a chess match. It’s a game of wits. You can’t bugle them in. That fact to me puts a mule deer up higher on my list. They don’t make noise. Now, I have killed an elk but I want to kill a stud. You know a 350-360+ bull. A San Juan or a Monroe elk tag would be awesome. I have never killed a bear or mountain lion so last of all I’d say somewhere for a bear or mountain lion.
There is often a bitterness towards big money and guided hunts. What is your prospective on spending big money to hunt big game animals with a guide? I would definitely fit in the group that is a little more proud of the DIY. I have no problem with people utilizing and paying for a guide service. If you have the money to do it. It doesn’t affect me one bit. It can make a lot of sense if you have the time and money to hunt multiple states. In the end, someone that can get in there and do it themselves ranks a little higher in my book.
What would be your advice to someone that wants to get into hunting the western states and high country big game? A few things I would say. First, be in shape. Do yourself a favor and get in shape. You owe these animals the respect of being in your best shape. That is often necessary in order to get close and make an ethical shot. It is often required to get that animal out of the back country after you shoot it. Do not leave meat behind because you couldn’t physically do it. I pack the meat first and leave the head and cape last. More motivation to get the tasty meat taken care of then come back for the rack. Second, buy the best equipment you can buy. If you are a bow hunter and your max budget for a bow is $300-$400, buy a $300-$400 bow. Practice with it and know it. If it’s a rifle. Again, buy the best equipment you can buy. Lastly, have fun. We get to enjoy some amazingly beautiful, rugged country. Don’t make it about the score of the rack. If you kill an animal, whether it be a 2 point, 3 point, 4 point or a 200” deer, respect it. You killed it, respect it. Don’t use the excuse “well it’s not the biggest deer on the mountain.” There will always be bigger. If you kill a 2 point. Awesome, you killed it so be proud of it. Own it. If you’re gonna be ashamed of it, don’t pull the trigger. Go out and have fun and respect every animal you kill.