Have you ever been there? The anticipation of a hunt you have looked forward to all year and in an instant the hunt is over but not the way you had envisioned it. The fall of 2017 was the second time I experienced this feeling. Now that might all sound like doom and gloom but here’s how it went down.
I would like to think of myself as kind of a mule deer junkie. The kind of hunter that targets mature bucks and the smartest bucks on the mountain. Now whether I’m any good at that may be up for debate. I would be lying if I said I didn’t dream all year about taking the biggest buck I could find home with me.
After failing to draw a deer tag or any tag for that matter, in the nine western states that I put in for and then having no luck picking up a tag on Colorado’s leftover tag day, I was beginning to feel quite desperate. My fall was looking pretty uneventful at this point. I could always get an over the counter tag somewhere but I wasn’t ready to settle for that yet. My Brother and Mother had drawn tags in a unit that I grew up hunting. This unit has produced some great bucks in recent years so I dedicated myself to picking up a tag in the new leftover tag process Colorado implemented. This process was in no way easy. I can conservatively say that I visited the CPW website thousands of times. Refreshing the leftover list seemed like the only use I had for my smart phone. Finally there it was, less then three weeks from the start of the season, the hunt code I had been looking for. Two tags were available. I frantically entered my information and sent the payment. I almost didn’t believe it until the tag came in the mail. Turns out my Father was able to get the second tag and this hunt quickly turned into a family affair.
With little time to prepare, opening day came quick. The weather was cold with snow in the forecast so my expectations were high. I made my way out to an area I was very familiar with. An hour or more of hiking in the dark and all I had to do was wait for the sun to come up. I could hardly make out the dark shadows moving below me but I could tell they were deer. I quite honestly didn’t know what my goal was yet. I could say 180 inch buck was the benchmark but really I wanted to find something that made me say wow. As the sun brought on first light there he was, a buck that made me say wow. 175 yards out and slowly moving away. I put my spotting scope on him to see what he really was. 28 inches wide and pushing 180 if not better. Exactly what I dreamt of yet I never even reached for my rifle. I just wasn’t ready to end the hunt minutes in to opening day though part of me wishes I would have. I met up with my brother and we turned up another solid 170 inch deer that we decided to let walk as well.
We spent the next few days on the sides of different hills glassing and huddled around little fires as we weathered the storm that moved through. We weren’t having any luck finding big bucks. We saw nice bucks daily but nothing like the two on opening morning.
I found myself hunting alone one evening. The weather had pushed more deer out of the high country and I knew there had to be new bucks moving into the area. Finally one caught my eye. He was a compact 4 by 5 with nice eye guards but I had already passed bucks much better than him. I moved further up the ridge glassing as I reached new vantage points. Anther buck caught my eye. The 4 by 5 again. He paralleled me for the last half a mile rutting does. I kind of couldn’t believe it was the same deer. I moved on glassing right up until I could almost no longer see. One last look below me and I caught movement. I coud tell it was a good buck. I quickly got my spotting scope I had just packed away back out. To my disbelief it was the 4 by 5 yet again. He was more than a mile from where I first ran into him. Looking at him through my scope I could see he had his ears pinned back. About the time I noticed that a much bigger buck walked right into my view. He was the “wow” buck I was looking for and this time I was ready to shoot. I scrambled to get my rifle set up and range the deer. Looking through my rifle scope was much darker than my spotter. I could see both deer, ears pinned back posturing up to each other and just walking in circles. The brush behind them in the low light made it tough to see their antlers. I had to get up and look back through my spotter to make sure I was on the right deer. Top buck is what I told myself. They went right back to circling each other and I went right back to my spotting scope again. This happened another two times and I was taking in down to the last minute or two of legal shooting light. One more time I told my self “top buck again.” Back on my rifle I dialed my scope to 540 yards. “Top buck” I said to myself one last time and squeezed off the shot. The flash of the muzzle blinded me for a split second but my scope settled back on the deer. I could see he dropped where he stood and the other buck was moving straight away through the cedars.
I was stoked! It wasn’t easy solo but I made it happen. As I made my 540 yard walk down the mountain I thought to myself a few times “I hope he’s a good buck.” I didn’t have any time to judge him and I had already passed great bucks. I got close enough to see antlers and I could see an extra point off his main beam. It was the 4 by 5! I thought there was no way. I passed this buck twice already yet there he is.
My hunt was over and even though he wasn’t the 180 class buck I passed earlier in the hunt he was still a great deer. This buck gave me a story and memory of a hunt that will remain a stand out in my hunting career. I learned some very important lessons on this hunt but I’m not convinced he truly was the wrong buck.