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Record Quest: Father-Son Team Takes Monster Washington Mule Deer

Natalie Krebs Avatar
On October 20, Peter Fochesato and his son Conner killed a huge 280-pound buck in the Tripod Burn of Okanogan County, Wash. The muley won't break the state record, but he's the county's biggest buck in years. Here's how the Fochesatos teamed up to take the buck of a lifetime.
The Fochesatos set up camp just north of Winthrop, Wash. for a long weekend of deer hunting with friends. Six years ago a wildfire burned through north Washington's national forests, leaving a swath of charred pine and ponderosa in its wake. The recovering woods now provide plenty of forage for deer, and Fochesato planned to take advantage of it.
On the evening of their third day, Fochesato, 49, decided to return to a promising spot he'd scouted that morning. But dusk was just an hour away, and Fochesato and his 13-year-old son Conner still had some hiking ahead of them. As the pair climbed down a hill of scorched logs, Fochesato stayed focused on his GPS. That's when Conner spotted the buck.
"I saw some movement in the brush," Conner said, "And then I saw big horns, and I just yelled, 'Buck Dad!'"
Fochesato said he looked up from his GPS and saw a huge rack thrashing in the brush and the low-hanging branches. A tree hid most of the buck's body and only his head and neck were visible.
The hunting partners crouched down and raised their rifles. The buck stood 80 yards downhill, still tossing its rack and making noise in the undergrowth. Fochesato wanted Conner to take the shot, and asked him if he could shoot the deer in the neck. But Conner couldn't find the buck in his scope. The two had scouted open country earlier that day, and Conner hadn't turned down the power on his scooper. Conner said he couldn't take the shot, so Fochesato decided they would wait for the deer to step out into the open. But then, the wind changed direction.
"All of a sudden I could feel it blowing on the back of my head, and [the buck] instantly just pops his head up and is looking right at us," Fochesato said. "And I figured he's about to bolt any second now, and I certainly wasn't going to let the biggest buck I've ever seen run away. So I just pulled the trigger on him as fast as I could."
Fochesato's .30-06 found its mark, and the buck piled up 40 yards down the slope. Fochesato may have taken the shot, but he gives all the credit to Conner.
"I think a couple more steps and he'd have spotted us and been gone," Fochesato said. "But Conner is really good at spotting deer actually, he spots more animals than I spot and I always thought I was pretty good at it."
The two didn't wait long before recovering the deer. Daylight was fading and Fochesato knew they couldn't move the muley out of the woods that night. After snapping a few photos, Fochesato field dressed the buck and propped a stick in the cavity. It was a cold weekend with temperatures dipping below 20 degrees, so they left the deer and headed for camp.
"Conner looks at this deer and the first thing out of his mouth, he goes, 'Holy crap Dad, that looks like an Outdoor Life cover,' " Fochesato said. "The next thing he says, because he's a good boy, [is] 'Dad, I really wanted to shoot that buck, but I'm glad you shot it because you've been hunting a lot more years and you deserve it.' It was a real good father-son moment."
It took the Fochesatos and their hunting buddies nearly five hours to clear a path for their quad the next morning. By the time they retrieved the buck it was almost 2 p.m., so they packed up camp and stopped at a check station in Winthrop. The game wardens aged the buck at 4.5 years old and measured the rack's width at more than 33 inches. One of the wardens said the muley was the biggest he's encountered in his 16 years checking game at the station.
When the hunting party returned home to Arlington, Fochesato took the meat to his butcher and the head to a taxidermist. A day and a half after the hunt, the gutted muley weighed 281 pounds. Although the taxidermist isn't an official Boone and Crockett scorer, he estimated the 9×10 scored between 227 and 230 inches. The Washington state record for a non-typical mule deer harvested with a rifle is 283 4/8 inches, taken in Lewis County in 1943. The biggest muleys harvested in Okanogan County are a pair of 248-inch non-typicals and the state's eighth and ninth place record holders.
"The taxidermist is actually my best friend's grandpa, so he told all his friends about my deer before I could even get to school," Conner said. Fochesato and Conner are planning an elk hunt in Idaho next season, and Fochesato's eight-year-old daughter Chloe is eager to join her father and brother on their hunts when she's older. Conner has taken three small bucks since he started hunting two years ago, and Fochesato has been harvesting deer since he was a teenager. "I know a big deer when I see one, but I'm looking at this and going 'Holy crap, I didn't know they get this big at all,'" Fochesato said. "I think I was pretty much just dumbfounded."

Peter Fochesato and his son Conner killed a huge 280-pound, 230-inch buck in Okanogan County, Washington. The muley won’t break the state record, but it’s the area’s biggest buck in years.