By Caid Evans
Colorado. In terms of big game management, Colorado has it figured out. I have been applying for Colorado for a few years and with the late seasons dates decided this was the year to cash in my points.. As a family we usually do at least one out of state hunt each year. This year was only going to be My dad and I as my brothers had other commitments. The unit we drew was not well known. I had never spoken to anyone who has hunted it. My attempt to find information on this unit was sparse. Limited information on the unit and not being able to pre-scout the unit caused some mixed emotions as we headed East in the first week of November. Having spent hours and hours looking at forest service maps, OnXmaps and Google Earth, I had 4-5 areas I wanted to look over in the unit. I spoke with the local game warden as well as the biologist who were overall unhelpful.
The forecast was hot! We were getting to the 70's during the day and upper 30's at night. Not what I was wanting for a hunt that success can largely hinge on the rut starting. Opening day we had made our way to about 8500 ft as the warm weather and lack of precipitation had me thinking the deer were probably not that interested in dropping their guard and chasing the does in the low country just yet. I had planned on spending the first couple days locating some numbers before getting aggressive about locating a big buck. Day one was a complete bust, I did not see a single deer. We passed a few other hunters and the country felt good but the deer had definitely left.
Day two was very similar. We used 4 wheelers to get gain some elevation in the morning. Storms had moved in and made a mess of all the roads. Fog made glassing very difficult. That feeling of helplessness was moving in as we were hunting a new area with very limited visibility due to the fog and still no deer. Later that day we finally found a few deer with one small buck. There were deer in the unit! Not that I had doubted it, but I was definitely in the wrong areas. That night it was back to the drawing board. I had previously printed out aerial view maps of the unit. Using these maps along with OnXMaps and what I know about mule deer in the late season, I decided on a different area I had not yet been to.
Seeing a bunch of trucks and camps in the base of the range you are wanting to hunt is a double edged sword. On one hand you have found an area that other people are also interested in. On the other hand, you now have an area others are also interested in! When I run into the situation I usually try to go high. We unloaded the 4 wheelers and took the road I had planned on taking in about 7 miles. We did not gain much elevation but this time of year I was hoping to stay around the 6000-7000 ft of elevation. We got to the spot I wanted to glass from that morning and found more people. Fortunately they were elk hunters who were not bothered or concerned with us intruding on their already established location. That morning we glassed up more bucks than we had seen in the previous 2 days. The bucks we located were pushing does and a not as shy as I would have imagined. My dad and I split up and covered areas about a mile apart. After a few minutes I turned my radio on just in time to eves drop on another hunting party in my general location talking about a 190-200" buck with 3 other mature deer working their draw. It was a little like listening to a play by play in baseball. After hearing their calls, in my head I was making my game plan had I been in their shoes. After 20 min of listening to the excitement, the big buck they were describing to be around the 200” mark did what did what they do best and disappeared into thin air. Selfishly I was a celebrating the big buck making an escap -- Not that I don’t want other hunters to be successful but that big buck was able to do exactly what we know big bucks do; disappear. Hearing about the other hunters encounter only intensified my glassing.
With my spotter on a mid 160” tall 3 point I heard 2 quick shots come from the direction of my dad. I gave him a couple minutes to be sure I didn’t mess anything up by calling on the radio and asked for an update. He said he took a couple shots at a tall heavy typical but the glare from the sun made it difficult to see where he hit. He watched the buck move up in to the junipers about 100 yards from where he was when he shot at him. After checking for blood and following the tracks into the trees he was convinced he missed. He decided he wanted to hunt the same canyon that night because the group of does the buck was with did not move off very far and would likely be back, we knew there was a good change this buck would return to reclaim his does.
The afternoon was similar to the morning as we were finding bucks to look over but no shooters. The burn provided lots of open space to find groups of does. It was as you would imagine, if you found 3-4 does there was always a young buck or two around them somewhere. With about an hour of light left, I spotted a larger group of does feeding out from the junipers on to an opposing hillside. As I looked over them I knew there would be a better buck behind them somewhere as this group had around 20 does so far. As I was scanning for the big boy a single shot echoed from a familiar location. I picked my head up to glass in his direction about the same time he called on the radio to tell me his Colorado tag was filled!
One More to Go:
He said he was pretty certain it was the buck he missed that morning. As we talked about what to do I noticed a bunch of the does looking back in one direction. I threw on my phone skope and captured a short clip of a good looking boxy framed typical walking stiff legged slowly up to his does. I radioed back and told him I found a possible shooter and I was going to make a play on him. I was currently 575 yds away which I am comfortable shooting but closer is always better right? I had the wind in my favor and the sun off to my R side. I had to descend across an open hill side about 100 yards to the next group of trees. I made it to the spot I had picked out to shoot from and realized I may have made the wrong decision. I was now on a steep hillside with no good comfortable shooting positions, yes I closed the distance to about 425 yards but I was unsure if I was actually in any better position to kill the buck. I threw my pack down and laid sideways perpendicular to the rifle which was a less than ideal shooting position. I corrected the minutes on my scope to account for the bullet drop and vertical angle which at this distance was 5.5 MOA.
The buck was pushing does in the open when he stopped broadside. I was comfortable with the distance but had some reservation about the shot. Pushing that feeling aside I put a little pressure on the trigger and at the bottom of my breath felt the gun go off. Because of my unorthodox position I lost track of the buck with the recoil. A very loud report distinct to hitting a rock realized my hesitation. I relocated the buck about 15 yds away from where he was when I shot. After again taking my eyes off of him for the second it took to cycle my action, he was gone. I didn’t know if he fell over or quickly covered the 10 yds to get into the tree line. I sat there watching all the does look around as if they weren’t bothered by the commotion. Regretting the decision not to set up my phoneskope to record the shot I replayed the last 30 seconds in my head. It didn’t take long to get that nauseous feeling that I has screwed up an opportunity.
I snuck down the hill being cautions not to bust the does out just in case he was not hit and was thinking of joining them again. I watched them for about another 45 min before they moved off and I could go survey the area. I had marked some deadfall he was next to when I shot. After combing the area for an hour I found no blood, no hair, no deer. I missed. Deflated I hiked back to camp in the dark. The next morning I returned to the same spot I had initially spotted the buck from last night at. I thought if the buck my dad killed came back maybe there was a chance I would get a second crack at this one. I watched for about an hour and decided to go back down to again look for any evidence of a hit from last night. Again I found nothing. I made a couple sweeps through the trees and in the only direction he could have gone without me seeing him and came up empty. As I was kicking myself for messing up on a big buck I glassed up another buck across the canyon. I watched him through my spotter for a minute. I could tell he had an inline and a kicker. His frame was not as big as the one I missed but he had a huge body and looked mature. He was over 1000 yards away, so I called my dad on the radio who was heading back down to pack out his buck from last night. He was in a position to back up and watch this buck as I moved in to set up for a shot. As I was moving down I jumped a decent typical with a good frame but no mass. A quick evaluation of the deer showed him to be young. I watched him move off and continued to focus on the nontypical above me.
I cut the distance in half when the buck started to move up where he would likely be gone. I threw my stuff down and set up. The range was 525 yds. I made the corrections on my scope and settled in. The buck stopped and looked down the canyon in my direction. Before I took the shot I already knew this one was going to count. After the recoil my scope fell right back onto the buck. The report was the characteristic sound of hitting an animal. The buck hunched up and didn’t take a step. I cycled the action and settled the cross hairs again. The second shot hit only an inch from the first as the bucks head whipped back and he piled up. We were tagged out in Colorado.
I moved up the canyon to find my dad to make a plan on how to get these deer taken care of and back up to camp. The warm weather gave us some sense of urgency in an otherwise perfect situation. Two deer down with the rest of the day to take care of them. Our bucks were about a mile apart. We broke them down and packed them to the top of the bowl were we could drive a 4 wheeler down to help with the remaining couple miles.
The hunt was a great example and demonstration of how using today’s technology like OnXMaps and Google Earth along with persistence and the application of your knowledge of mule deer can pay off even when the hunt got off to a very slow start. I am already excited to go back.