Liljenquist spotted and stalked the velvet muley on August 21, the second day of Arizona’s archery mule deer season. Hunting in the Arizona Strip, the red-rock canyon country north of the Colorado River, Liljenquist followed hand signals from his father, Randy, to close within 100 yards of the buck.
Tagging along on the stalk was Chad Smith (right), owner of Vaquero Outfitters, who first located the buck and showed Liljenquist (who also works for Smith as a Vaquero guide) where he last spotted it. Blake Chapman (second from right) watched the stalk unfold as he glassed for bucks from a nearby hill. He saw his friend come to full draw on the giant mule deer twice as it fed, moving in and out of openings in the dense juniper and sagebrush cover.
Finally, on the third draw, Liljenquist fought a stiff wind that had his pin bouncing from shoulder to ribs and back again to connect with a vital shot.
When green-scored by Safari Club International, the entire rack scored 240 and the typical frame grossed 228 7/8 with the velvet intact. Liljenquist will know on Oct. 21 how well that number holds up as a dry score, but he says the rack is already being touted as the pending world record for all weapons by SCI. The current SCI world records for typical mule deer are 222 5/8 for rifle, 219 7/8 for bow.
The rack could also mount a strong challenge for the Pope & Young world record for a typical mule deer: a 203 1/8 buck taken by Bill Barcus in 1979 in the White River National Forest of Colorado. The velvet must be removed from Liljenquist’s rack before that score can be tallied. “It will be right there after all the deductions, really close,” he says. “It all depends on how the tape falls.”
Liljenquist’s first reaction was to share the kill with his father. “My dad has killed the North American 28 with a bow, and he taught me everything I know,” he says. “We have a really close bond and enjoy hunting together, and we’re both real staunch about doing it the right way.”
Randy Liljenquist has been there for many of Matt’s top hunts, including this Rocky Mountain bighorn taken in 2003. Scoring 190 7/8 SCI and 189 4/8 Pope & Young, the big ram is the New Mexico archery state record.
In 2002 Matt shot this desert bighorn sheep in Arizona, stalking within 30 yards with the help of hand signals from his dad. The ram scored 175 Pope & Young, making it Arizona’s second-largest desert bighorn taken with a bow.
In 2004 he took this Pope & Young Dall sheep with a bow in Canada’s rugged Northwest Territory.
Also in 2004 he took a Stone sheep, making Liljenquist, at 26, the youngest hunter ever to complete a grand slam with a bow.
This Stone sheep–his second–he harvested in British Columbia in 2006 after winning the tag at a Grand Slam banquet.
Liljenquist is known for his persistence: He took the Stone sheep on the last day of a 14-day hunt, pursued the desert sheep for 23 days and hunted for 16 days in 2006 before getting a good shot on this nontypical desert muley, which grossed 189 7/8. The buck inspired him to set a goal for himself: Pursue and harvest a mule deer scoring 200 or better.
Determined to meet that goal, he passed on this 190 buck, spotted on opening day of the 2010 season.
Liljenquist was prepared to hunt the entire 2010 season; instead, he scored the buck of a lifetime on the second day. “I practice and scout hard and always try to do the smart thing in the field, but I also believe in capitalizing on my luck,” he says. “On this one, everything just came together.”
The potential world-record mule deer will make an impressive addition to his trophy room, which already includes the New Mexico state-record Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (right) and Arizona second-biggest desert sheep (left).
The 240-inch rack dwarfs the six Pope & Young deer already in his trophy room. “The 5 x 5 on the pedestal is a 190-inch gross deer,” Liljenquist says, “which just goes to show what an extra 50 inches does for a buck.” “When we first spotted him, my dad said, ‘Matt, you’re looking at a world record buck.’ But I didn’t think he was that big: I was thinking 220. And then to walk up and find that rack–I felt grateful and blessed to have hunting in my life and to share it with my dad.”
In August, Matt Liljenquist bagged a buck on the second day of Arizona’s bow season. The velvet mule deer drew a green score of 240, making it almost certain to eclipse the SCI world record for all weapons and a contender for the Pope & Young world record as well. Steve Hill did some digging and got the story of the epic trophy, from the stalk to the score.