Its late august and the hot Texas sun has once again pushed me westward to the Colorado high country in search of my most respected quarry…a mature rocky mountain mule deer. High country archery mule deer hunting has got to have the largest learning curve of any of the deer species. I have personally never hunted such a wary animal. They truly are perfectly suited to their environment making them the most perfect prey animal and offering a very challenging hunt. In four years I have managed to harvest just one buck in 2007 with a muzzleloader on opening day that scored about 185. Although a good buck, I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to take him with my bow. This made my archery quest burn that much deeper. I was now fully committed to Archery Mule Deer; none of this lowland stuff…..IT WAS HIGH OR DIE. The next few years brought many more lessons and a lack of success, but were a blast none the less.
2010 drawing season was upon us when my most desired and most expected tag fell through. This sent me scrambling, trying to scrape up another tag. Luckily, it worked, and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I arrived a few days early to check on a few places in this familiar unit. To my disappointment, my normal deer groups were not acting as usual, and the deer numbers seemed to be even lower than 2009. I tapped three other basins and the numbers and quality were the same…down. With opening day closing in on me I was forced to break into some new country. As I approached one of the trailheads, I noticed a four wheeler that had arrived before me. I had “COMPANY”. I began my ascent keeping my eyes open as not to intrude on anyone. About half way through my climb, I saw a good looking basin over my left shoulder. I decided to take a short break and put in some time behind my big glass. My first scan revealed a large framed buck…the biggest I had seen to date. I instantly packed up and began side hilling around to the saddle that led to the next basin in order to get a closer look before the buck bedded. Twenty minutes later found me bedding a very wide buck that I had rough scored in the low to mid 180s. This is when the story gets very interesting for me. After the buck bedded, I proceeded to climb up and over to get to a better vantage point. As I crested the hill, I noticed another hunter watching the same buck as I had just bedded. Public land can be full of some very high highs, and some very low lows….initially, this was a low. As I cautiously approached the stranger, I noticed he was very well equipped, and obviously just as dedicated as I was. This is a crossroads many hunters come to every year, and I am quite disappointed as to how some of our big named hunters, that we look up to, handle these situations. I hear more and more of the “confrontations” on the mountain. High country mule deer hunting is very competitive and borderline cut throat if one allows it to be. The bucks are very visible this time of year and most of the time multiple hunters know of the best bucks. I extended my hand and introduced myself to the stranger….sat down beside him and we enjoyed about a half hour conversation about high country deer hunting. It turns out we weren’t as distant of strangers as I initially thought. Pat Loescher is an accomplished mule deer hunter and very good friends with a particular guide I am desperately trying to archery hunt with. As Pat and I talked, I could tell this was a low moment for him as well, he kept referring to the deer as OUR DEER. I quickly told Pat this was not our deer….it was apparent that he had done way more scouting on this buck than I had and it was his number ONE buck. I had only just found the buck an hour before. Is this public land….YES…did I have just as much right to hunt the deer as Pat…YES. However, there are unwritten laws of respect and honor that too many hunters just flat ignore….They let selfishness and greed rule their actions. I was not going to let these character flaws bring me down as a courteous hunter and human being. Pat told me where he was camped, and we went our separate ways. I typically hunt and travel by myself and tend to get a little lonely. I enjoyed Pat and my conversation so much, I stopped by his camp and we picked up where we left off….story after story. After a short while Pats brother, David Loescher, came out of the camper and joined in the conversation. David was another super guy, with just as many stories to throw in the mix. Pat had mentioned he had another friend helping out and shortly after David joined us…Drummond Lindsey arrived at Pats camp. This guy, Drummond, is a MESS. I am not normally the guy who is laughing out loud, but I couldn’t catch my breath. It was one funny crack after another. Don’t miss understand me, Drummond has a reputation for being in on big deer…I just didn’t know it at the time. I was on cloud nine surrounded by these guys, learning and hanging on every word and story we shared. We hit it off so well, I ended up camping with Pat for the next week. I assured Pat once again that this was not our buck, and he would have the buck they named Hank the Tank to himself.
Over the next week, I located several shooter bucks that didn’t work out for one reason or another. Unfortunately, Hank had not cooperated for Pat either over the last week. Hank stayed in a very hard to reach location where to drainages and two saddles kept the thermals battling one another all day long. Pat ran out of time before he could put his tag on Hank, which I know he would have eventually been able to do. I returned to Pats trailer barely catching him before he pulled out headed for home. We said our goodbyes and Pat insisted that I hunt Hank now that he was leaving.
Before Drummond and I parted ways, he said he would be happy to return and help me if I needed it. After hanging around these guys for a week, I began to see the pattern that repeated itself continually. Whenever these guys were on a big deer, they are never by themselves…they always had help or at the very least a spotter. I accepted Drummonds offer to return as a new found friend and help me. Drummond returned a week later and we went into the area where I had located a big typical. We found a lot of other good deer including a smaller framed deer that had a fork on every tine, but no big typical. Drummond couldn’t stand it, and I guess deep down neither could I, so we decided to go check on Hank. Drummond and I drove to the trailhead and split up. As I reached my lookout, Drummond, already had hank located. After a thirty minute march, I was within a quarter of a mile of the deer’s location. As I began my approach, the deer stepped out on the move. I was able to maneuver within one ninety seven yards of Hank before the thermals did me in. Hank and company went over the top. For the first time, Hank had left the comfort of his home basin and I was concerned he wouldn’t be back. Drummond had to return home, and I was again left alone without a deer.
I returned to look for the big typical with no luck. Over the next couple of days, I hunted the smaller framed non typical until he was killed by a muzzle loader hunter. The next morning I decided to go back and check on Hank. It was to my surprise that he had returned to his daily pattern. Over the next three days I was plagued by the same thermal patterns as Pat with the same results. On day four of this round with Hank I ran into a man named Dave Schaffer. We walked together to my vantage point where we quickly spotted Hank. I knew, by his location, that this was going to be the very best opportunity that I had had. It was perfect, and high enough that I thought the wind would be fairly dedicated. Dave offered to come back up and help me after he got his deer out. Dave returned shortly after 11:00am we developed a flagging system there on the mountain .I moved as quickly as possible to reach my position that was over an hour away. I was fifty yards downwind, and it was now a waiting game. I had been there about an hour or so, when I saw Dave moving around on the hillside. It was now 3:00pm, and by the flags that were in place I knew Hank was moving slowly away from my location. I began moving across an opening and up a small rise next to where he was originally bedded. As I peeked over, I couldn’t see anything. I moved left on top of a little knoll and still nothing. I knelt down and took a position and waited. Then suddenly I caught a movement to the left; Hank was feeding and had no clue I was there. Almost immediately Hank stepped from the brush, turned broadside and began to walk to my right. I was already at full draw. There was no need to range him; I knew it was thirty yards. I released the arrow. It was a good hit…a little back in the lungs…but I knew it was fatal. Hank bolted, wheeled and looked back trying to figure out the situation. Hank stumbled twice, but regained his footing both times and walked over a small edge and out of sight. I bolted back after my pack, knocked an arrow and began trailing after. I only went a short distance, turned the corner and found Hank expired. The guys named Hank the Tank because of his enormous body size. However, we all underestimated his actual horn size. Pat and crew thought Hank was around 34 inches outside. I, after watching him over the past few days had moved him up to 36 inches outside. When I saw Hank on the ground in front of me I instantly said to myself….He has got to be 40 inches…After a few challenging pictures, I got him quartered up, and prepared the cape and horns for transport out. I stopped at least six times on the way out not believing what I had just finally accomplished. Had I really just killed a 40 inch wide typical mule deer in the high country with my bow? Dave and I returned to my ranger. Dave said he had a tape, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. When we stretched the tape to the end, it stopped at 39 inches, and Hank was still going! It wasn’t till I got to town that I could get a solid measurement on him. Over the last few days I had been staying in town with my dad in a condo he had rented for fly fishing. When I got done Hank measured 39.5 inches outside and also had right at 40 inches of mass. With short fronts and beams, he was left with a rough green score of 186 2/8. I hope I will have many more opportunity’s to hunt 190 to 200 plus inch rocky mountain mule deer. But I doubt very seriously if I will see any more typical bucks that will stretch the width like Hank.
The main moral of my story is much more than a successful deer hunt. A person, or hunter for that matter, can do the right thing morally by his fellow man on the mountain and still come out with what he seeks. I came out with more than what I was seeking, I came out with honor and most important I came out with friends. Thanks to all fore mentioned people who were involved, you are all in part responsible for my success.