|Whale Tail Outdoors|
|Whale Tail Outdoors|
I am a high country mule deer nut. I literally spend all summer obsessing about the September high country and the bucks that live there. Don’t get me wrong, I love elk and elk hunting. However, the problem is every time I am in the hills in early fall I am looking toward timberline, searching for that elusive gray ghost slipping through an avalanche chute into a high country throne worthy of the king of the high country.
2013 was a different year for me. A good friend of mine had been asking me to cash in my elk points for the past four years to try out a muzzleloader hunt in a new unit that we knew held some monster bulls. As the application deadline rapidly approached I had crunched the numbers several times and I knew that I would be hunting elk that September. As I struggled with how to balance my passion for high country mule deer and my excitement to hunt this great elk unit I came to the realization that I could draw an archery deer tag for this unit as a second choice, allowing me to retain my points for my plan to draw an early high country rifle tag in 2014 (which I did draw this year).
This unit is not well known for monster muleys, but I truly believe you can find a big one in any high country hunt in Colorado in any given year. My plan was to utilize my archery tag to get me into the high country as a scouting tool for my upcoming elk hunt. I would hunt the first couple of weekends of archery season to learn where the big bulls were hanging out and hopefully get an arrow in a mature muley for my first archery kill. I had my standards set pretty low at any 4 point buck, as I was dreaming of a 350” bull.
As summertime started to release the beautiful bounty of the high country from the depths of snow I was able to make scouting trip in mid-July with my brother Jason. We hit an area that had looked to hold the most promise to me from my scouring of maps and aerial photos. We encountered some gorgeous new country, a ton of rain, and some great looking herds of elk. We didn’t see a single deer in my hunt unit, but did see some great bucks on the wrong side of unit boundary. I continued to pour over Google Earth; confident that a return trip in September would get me into the elk, but burning inside to see some new country and find a monster muley buck to hunt. Unfortunately as often happens the rest of summer was rapidly consumed with work obligations and scouting trips to other units and new country. I didn’t make it into the unit again, and for the first time in years I felt completely unprepared for my annual high country deer trip. With the realization that I didn’t have a good plan I poured my evenings into scouting from a distance on Google Earth once again. I correlated the areas that I had found bucks in during my previous hunting and scouting trips in other units and I was able to narrow down a second area that I was truly excited to lay eyes on.
My good friend Scott and I arrived at the trailhead late the evening before the season and had a fitful night sleep in a rain soaked tent. We hit the trail early, knowing we had a couple of hours to make the elevation required to get to my predetermined scouting location. As we bushwhacked through the wet timber I began to second guess my decision to undertake this hike sight unseen in the dark. My doubt was released as we broke out of the timber. Our timing was perfect and we were just ½ mile from the vantage point with grey light just starting to bring the mountainside to life. Scott and I split up to glass separate basins and we began to pick the country apart looking for that first animal of the season. We were both having a tough time finding any animals for the first 45 minutes of glassing time. Finally, I looked toward the towering peak to the north of me and thought I could just see two deer picking their way through the alpine. As I broke out the spotting scope I confirmed that there were two nice mule deer bucks enjoying the morning sunshine in the wide open expanses above timberline. As the bucks finally bedded down below a small rock pile I felt confident I could make the grueling hike over the backside of the peak and have a comfortable archery shot from above.
I took off after the bucks with four days worth of equipment on my back and Scott watching through the spotter to guide me to the correct rock pile with hand signals. After several hours of stalking I had run out of room at 83 yards above the two unsuspecting bucks. Eventually some hikers spooked the bucks off, but during the hours of watching them at close range I came to realize that the larger of the two bucks was a giant framed old buck. He looked to be 30” wide and tall, much bigger than I had inspected to encounter on this hunt. As I went back to work after Labor Day all I could think about was that big buck and getting back on him on Thursday. I also had a Utah archery deer tag in my pocket, but cancelled my plans to hunt Utah that weekend in hopes of catching back up to the huge framed buck.
Thursday morning found me back on the familiar dark trail heading up the mountain to get my first light vantage again. I was again ready for four days of trying to track down the huge framed buck, and my standards had changed. I was after the huge framed buck and I wasn’t giving up unless a monster buck presented himself during the hunt for him.
First light found some elk treading across the basins, but no sign of the bucks on their old hillside haunt. I decided to make my way across and up to some rugged country just west of where I had last seen the bucks heading to. At about 10:30 in the morning I was sitting in a large rock pile eating a snack and rehydrating while halfheartedly glassing. As I lazily looked upward I again saw two mule deer bucks well above timberline in the wide open grabbing a mid-morning snack. I instantly knew it was the huge framed buck and his companion. The country they had moved into appeared to be even more wide open that the previous weekend, but I was prepared to watch these deer for the next four days until the slipped up and bedded below a feature that would allow me to approach from above as I had done before on many muzzleloader hunts. As I sat there waiting for the inevitable change in the thermals that would give me the possibility of such an approach I broke out the sat phone and talked with Scott he reaffirmed my decision to be patient and wait the bucks out for the next few days if I had to. A buck like this would probably not give me another chance if I blew him out. After just 15 minutes of watching the bucks they disappeared below a small rise that looked like it would allow me to slip within 50 yards of the bedded bucks if I was willing to approach from below. With the wind still dropping down the hill hard and the heat of the day rapidly approaching I decided this opportunity was too good to pass up.
I quickly covered the quarter mile up to the bucks and just like that I was within 100 yards of the bucks. 50 more yards of calculated quiet crawling and I was in position 50 yards from the bedded bucks, watching their antler tips bob up and down as they lazily dozed mere yards away. After 30 minutes I noticed the big bucks antlers suddenly turn, and I knew he had sensed my presence. Before he could stand up I was at full draw with my 50 yard pin on him. I let the arrow fly and watched as it fell short smashing into a boulder. The bucks were confused and jumped back 5 yards trying to pin down what had just happened. I quickly knocked another arrow and put my 50 yard pin at the top of his back and released again. This shot hit home, but the strong crosswind had carried it behind the lungs and into the buck’s midsection. As the bucks moved off to the west the smaller buck kept physically pushing the big framed buck to keep moving. I watched as they moved across the basin and realized I would have a chance to cut them off at a funnel near timberline if I moved quickly. I was inclined to let the buck bed down and die, but with the smaller buck’s nudges I was worried they would make it into the timber below and be lost forever. I quickly dropped behind the ridge and ran down to the rock pile I had originally glassed the bucks from. As I crouched in the boulders the bucks came by at 75 yards. I gathered all of my equipment and prepared for the sprint to beat the bucks to the obvious funnel below. When I made it into position 10 minutes later I was perplexed as I couldn’t find the bucks. Just then I noticed them 200 yards from where I thought they would be, staring holes into me. I let them ease over the ridge and again cut the distance as quickly as my conditioning would allow me to at nearly 12,000 feet with a 40 pound pack on my back. When I reached the ridge they dropped over I looked down just in time to see a coyote jump out of the rock slide and square off with my buck. At this point the huge framed buck’s faithful companion finally left his side. I was just 60 yards from the wounded buck, watching him repeatedly run off the coyote like a bull with a matador’s spear in his side. Finally at 30 yards the coyote saw me sneaking in and took off running. The big buck stood broadside, almost completely spent but ready for the next predator approaching from above. As I released the arrow at the buck I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. He spun around and ran downhill with the arrow hanging by the fletching until his shoulder snapped it off. He made it about 60 yards before collapsing for good.
As I gathered my thoughts I felt the full spectrum of emotions that we as hunters feel when we take an animal. I was on a 20 minute adrenaline fueled mission to make sure I didn’t lose this majestic creature and to make sure I did this monarch justice. Now I had finally succeeded I was sorry for what I had put him through, yet overjoyed to have killed my first archery animal all coupled with a huge adrenalin dump. I can not do the emotional experience justice in print but many of you reading will understand exactly what I was experiencing.
As I prepare to cook the last package of steaks from that high country monarch tonight I am grateful for the experience and for the wonderful protein the hunt provided my family with. The buck ended up scoring right at 170” in velvet with a 31” mainframe and huge G2’s. I will always stare at my wall in admiration and gratefulness of that awesome buck.