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My 2012 Western Adventure

 
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bigeasygator
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Mar-03-12, 
09:18 PM (MST)
"My 2012 Western Adventure"

Let me start by introducing myself. I've been a long-time lurker, and basically a first-time poster now! I read many of the 2011 HAC posts and thought what a great way to document and share not just the hunt, but the preparation, scouting, and work that goes into it all. I'm a relative novice to both Western hunting and the application process. My Western hunting career consists thus far of a drop camp elk hunt in the Flat Tops of Colorado (where I harvested a 5x5), an archery elk hunt in the Lochsa drainage in Idaho, and last year a once-in-a-lifetime archery elk hunt in the Valle Vidal in New Mexico.

Last year was my first year putting in for draw hunts. I used Cabela's TAGS service and was rewarded with the Valle Vidal tag. I put in for 11 tags last year and was certainly lucky to draw in my first year applying. This year, I'm having Cabela's put me in for a few tags but also handling many of the applications on my own. Here's what I'm planning on putting in for this year...

Arizona -- elk, deer, desert bighorn
Colorado -- elk, deer, rocky mountain bighorn sheep
Utah -- elk, deer, desert bighorn
Nevada -- elk, deer, desert bighorn, rocky mountain bighorn
Idaho -- rocky mountain bighorn
Oregon -- rocky mountain bighorn, elk (pp only), deer (pp only)
Montana -- rocky mountain bighorn, mountain goat
Wyoming -- elk, deer, rocky mountain bighorn, shiras moose
New Mexico -- elk, desert bighorn, oryx
Washington -- rocky mountain bighorn

That's a total of about 25 tags, most with very, very long odds. I already know I struck out on elk in Wyoming (not surprising for the unit I put in for). My best bets are likely to be Colorado deer and New Mexico elk, which leads me to what my base hunting plan this fall is (obviously depending on the draw).

I put in for a Unit 43 archery deer tag in Colorado as my second choice. Based on the previous draws, I stand a good chance at getting this tag and keeping my preference points. Right now I'm thinking this will be a DIY hunt (my first), but we'll see if I can convince someone to go. Unit 43 contains the Maroon-Bells and Raggeds Wilderness and looks absolutely breathtaking. I'm already excited just to get out. The second tag I'm hoping to secure is an archery elk tag in the Gila in New Mexico. If I don't draw, I very well may grab a landowner tag and plan on taking off two weeks with the Colorado deer hunt(Sep. 1-8) followed up directly by the Mexico elk hunt (Sep. 11-18). I'd like to book one more trip in October as well (possibly a combo mule deer/elk hunt in Idaho with Boulder Creek Outfitters, who I've hunted with before).

I'm fairly young (32) and not in terrible shape, but I've committed myself to get in shape starting now!! For those who have hunted the mountains, you know how getting in shape can't be over-emphasized enough. I'll share more on how the draws play out, how the training progresses, and about the gear I intend to use (I'm a bit of a gear junkie!) as the year continues! Happy hunting!!

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 Subject   Author   Message Date   ID 
 RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      May-02-12   1 
  RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      May-14-12   2 
   RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Jun-04-12   3 
    RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Jun-05-12   4 
 RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Jun-18-12   5 
  RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Jul-18-12   6 
   RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Jul-23-12   7 
    RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Aug-27-12   8 
     RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Sep-03-12   9 
      RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Sep-06-12   10 
       RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Sep-24-12   11 
       RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Sep-24-12   12 
        RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Oct-31-12   13 
         RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Nov-11-12   14 
          RE: My 2012 We...  bigeasygator      Jan-10-13   15 

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bigeasygator
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May-02-12, 
09:25 AM (MST)
1. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

Well, brief update on how the year is progressing. Hoping to post more pics soon, as these posts are always more exciting with pictures (as soon as I upload them...I swear!).

Well, to start, the training hasn't gone as planned thus far. Hoped to be running a bit more, but I've managed to find plenty of excuses not too! It's a hectic time here in New Orleans, and there are plenty of distractions, but I really need to commit to my training.

I've struck out on a few tags, but the bulk of the draws are still ahead of us, and if the backdoor results from New Mexico are true then I drew a Unit 58 deer tag. The hunt is with my bud Griz Montoya, who I met as my guide on a New Mexico elk hunt in the Valle Vidal last year. Still thinking I have a good chance on the Unit 43 deer tag in Colorado, and again, if the backdoor results are true, I'll be looking to book with an outfitter on a landowner tag in New Mexico. With that being said, my hunting season looks like this now...

June 11-15 Idaho Bear
August 31 - September 7 Colorado Archery Mule Deer
September 11-18 New Mexico Archery Elk
October 27-31 New Mexico Mule Deer
November 5-10 Kansas Archery Whitetail

I've been gearing up and sighting in the weapons over the last few months. I shot in my first 3-D tournament here in April and took home second place. The second tournament of the season is this Saturday so I hope to take some pics (and am hoping for similar results!). Also picked up a few new toys...a .54 cal Hawken's Rifle, a Remington Model 700 XCR II in .338 Win Mag, and a rifled slug barrel for my Benelli Super Black Eagle...looking to get them all to the range soon!

I can feel the fall getting closer and as my plans start to crystallize, I get that much more excited. This month I'll be focusing on getting in some kind of shape for the bear hunt in a month, continuing to practice with the bow and rifles, and keeping my fingers crossed on the draws!

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bigeasygator
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May-14-12, 
03:13 PM (MST)
2. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

One tag in the pocket and one more trip being planned. I did draw a Unit 58 tag in NM and am currently looking at a guided elk hunt in Unit 52 on a Landowner Tag in NM. Less than a month til I'll be chasing bear in ID. Hard not to start getting excited!

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bigeasygator
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Jun-04-12, 
06:44 PM (MST)
3. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

Been meaning to write an update for awhile. I think I'll break it down into a few posts, focusing mainly on my offseason activities.

I get jealous of all of you posters who get to spend the spring and summer months scouting and hiking the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Living in Lousiana makes that pretty hard for me. However, the spring and summer months mean one thing down here in Sportsman's Paradise...it's fishing season!!! In reality, fishing is pretty much a year round sport here, but for me the bulk of my fishing is done in the spring and summer.

This year I've been lucky enough to get out a few times. The first was a trip for redfish and speckled trout while fishing the Houma Oilman's Fishing Rodeo. The second was a trip offshore to some of the oil rigs to fish the opener of snapper season.

The trout fishing was slow the first day we went out, but we managed to catch a few under the birds (looking for seabirds diving on bait, and casting into it to fish the trout that are feeding on the bait too!). We changed gears and focused on some deeper canals to fish for redfish, and man did we find them! We caught our limit of 30 (for six people) in an hour or so fishing with live cocahoe minnows. We caught some decent ones (27" or so) and some great eating ones too! Here's some pics...

Truck loaded down for battle!

My buddy Jamie and his Dad, Jim with a nice redfish

Me with a good eating size redfish

Box full of good eating!

Here's our catch with the crew


The second trip was a trip offshore about 40 miles to some of the oil production platforms to fish for snapper (and whatever else would take our bait!). I have this perception that the bulk of the country thinks of oil rigs and platforms as dirty places that do more harm to the environment than good. Now I may be biased being that I work in the industry, but the truth couldn't be further from that! The rigs and the platforms are where everyone goes to catch the fish...and boy do they hold fish! Not only that the water is crystal clear and it's just a magical place dropping a line and not knowing what is going to take the bait. The rigs are home to snapper, grouper, amberjack, cobia, tuna, marlin, shark, redfish...well, you pretty much name it. That's some of the excitement of fishing the rigs...you never know what's going to be on the end of that line when you pull it up. This trip was brutal in that the seas were 3-4' with the occasional 5' wave and in a 26' center console that can be brutal. But we persevered and our efforts were rewarded! Here's some pics of the day, which resulted in a whopper cobia, a handful of mangrove snapper, and our limit of red snapper!

Backin' down the Regulator

Getting ready to blast off!

Fishing for mangroves

My buddy Jamie and the monster cobia (good eating too!)

Our final haul

So despite not getting to scout and explore the areas I love to hunt out west, I manage to keep myself busy...and my freezer full of delicious eats!!

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bigeasygator
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Jun-05-12, 
08:52 AM (MST)
4. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

I wanted to write a post on how my offseason preparations are going. As expected, I'm way behind where I wanted to be physically! I've got three months to get my a$$ in gear before the Maroon Bells whip my butt! Even though I haven't been doing as much exercising as I would like, I have been shooting my bow fairly regularly. In fact, I found a sweet archery club close by with a 3-D range and went ahead and bought a membership. I've shot in three tourneys and finished 2nd twice and 3rd once...not too shabby. I'm more happy that I've only lost one arrow in those three shoots! Here's some pics from the course

Taking the Bad Boy around the course

Shot at a sheep through the trees

That'd be sheep backstraps if it were real!

The moose target never looks as far away as it is...you can see why!

You don't want to miss this ram...those rocks are arrow eaters!

If you've hunted elk long enough, you've probably seen this before...

The shoots are a lot of fun and they definitely help. I've been practicing a lot at 60 yards and feel confident that if I get a shot at that yardage and the conditions are right I'll take it. Which brings me to my opportunities...

I drew a Unit 58 deer tag in New Mexico (any weapon) and a Unit 43 deer tag in Colorado (archery). Still working on getting that elk hunt lined up in New Mexico...it'll happen just not sure where yet. So my fall is shaping up like this...

September 1-8 Colorado Archery Mule Deer (tag in hand!)
September 11-18 New Mexico Elk (working on the tag)
October 27-31 New Mexico Mule Deer (tag in hand!)
November 5-9 Kansas Whitetail Deer (tag in hand!)

In addition, I'm leaving this Saturday for my bear hunt in Idaho with Boulder Creek Outfitters. The hunts will be evening hunts so I'm planning on taking the days to do some hiking and training. I'll be sure to post pics. Til then...


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bigeasygator
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Jun-18-12, 
12:49 PM (MST)
5. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

When do I get to go back? That's always the question I find me asking myself whenever I have to leave the mountains, and the end of my 2012 spring bear hunt in Idaho is no exception! We had an incredible time and I'm more fired up to get back to Colorado for the start of my first two week adventure in the fall.

We (my buddy David and I) were hunting with Boulder Creek Outfitters. This was my second hunt with Boulder Creek, my first being an elk hunt in 2010. Both hunts took place in the Lochsa drainage in some of the most beautiful land in this country, about an hour and a half drive west of Missoula, MT. The area holds a lot of history as this is where Lewis and Clark crossed the Bitterroot Mountains and there are many other tales still told today of mountain men, outlaws, and hunting parties that visited the region.

We flew into Missoula on Saturday before the beginning of our hunt scheduled for Monday. We decided to spend the night in Missoula and took advantage of our early arrival to see some of the sights around town and shoot our bows. Flying into Missoula is great, as the airport is filled with mounts of elk, moose, bear, pronghorn, deer, and other animals and just gets you absolutely pumped to hit the woods! After renting a car from the friendly folks at Dollar, we hit our first destination -- the headquarters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Welcome to Elk Country!

The Visitors Center of the RMEF is filled with a number of educational displays, some cool mounts, and a gift store that is sure to suck a couple of dollars from your wallet. Here's some pics from inside...

The grounds also has a short little hiking trail that we used to stretch our legs and take some photos with the friendly neighbor whitetails. My buddy David made a friend...

The second stop of the day was to the headquarters of the Boone and Crockett Club. I had no idea Missoula was the home to both the RMEF and the B&C but was thrilled to find out it was! Although the B&C headquarters were closed when we showed up, we spent some time looking through the window and also admiring the statue outfront.

Finally, we hit the hay after a busy day in Missoula. The next day found us up early in anticipation of getting on the road. After loading the car back up, we hit Highway 12 and drove the hour and a half to our next destination, the Lochsa Lodge. This was where we were to stay for the night before driving into bear camp. The Lodge is a cozy little place with a main lodge, a number of cabins on the grounds, and a general store. The inside of the main lodge is filled with a number of mounts and it just gets you in the right mood before starting a hunt!


We used the rest of the day to break in our boots by hiking a 14 mile loop on the Colt Killed Creek Trail (named by the Lewis and Clark expedition...I'll let you guess why!), grabbed dinner, and then went to bed with dreams of sows and boars dancing in our heads!

The modest camp accomodations of Boulder Creek are located about 40 miles downriver from the Lodge at the Wilderness Gateway campground. The setup consists of a main cabin and two guest cabins, of which David and I had our own. We were joined by five other hunters in camp who all knew each other -- Rob and his adult sons Bobby and Andy, and Wayne and his boy Weston, who was on the hunt as a present for starting high school. The folks in camp who took care of us were the owner Tim, his son Matt, guides Tony and Karl, and camp cook Alex. After some introductions, unpacking, and a quick lunch of BBQ'd chicken, we started rounding up the gear for the afternoon's hunt.

As this was my first bear hunt, I learned a lot about bear hunting. In Idaho it's legal to hunt over bait, which, in this country, is pretty much required as the timber is thick everywhere. Also, the weather was warm and sunny to start the hunt -- a good thing for bear hunting. The warmer and sunnier the better, in fact. That's spring bear hunting tip #1 for you!

Karl, Wayne, Weston, and I volunteered to take stands that required horses. Here's my bud Rover, who I ended up riding the first three days.

And some of the rest of the crew...

The ride into our stand area was about 45 minutes and the trail...well, let's just say it wasn't the friendliest trail I'd ever been on! Weston quickly earned his spurs, as this was his first time on a horse and it was a tough trail in points for even experienced riders.

I ended up hunting the same stand the first three days. It was a treestand placed 20' up in a patch of firs and pines. The bait was 13 yards away...a chip shot for me with my bow -- so no excuses!!! That first evening sit produced this guy, who the camp affectionately named Webster.

Webster visited me everyday I was on the stand. In fact, I've got some hilarious video of him burying his head in the bait with his two back paws sticking nearly straight up in the air. As you can see, this is clearly his bait!

As you can also see, he wasn't a shooter!! With no other action during the day (the trailcam pics were capturing a BIG bear coming in at night hitting the bait!), we decided to switch things up on Day 4 and I was put in a different stand.

The weather for Day 4 improved tremendously, as Day 2 and 3 brought rain and a chill to the air. Most bear activity tended to be at night, so the sits on the stand were generally from about 1 til dark, which was 9 o'clock. This day, we tried to extend the hours a bit and got on stand at about 10 in the morning. Treestand hunting is about my least favorite kind of hunting, but it still beats a day at work! With nothing happening for the first few hours, I left the stand at 2PM and met guide Tony to report back. He said to be patient, as they had pics of a blonde bear hitting this bait. With the words of encouragement, I was back in the stand about 3PM.

The bait sat on a nearly the spine of a little finger ridge, and my treestand was on the west side of the ridge in a tree about 30 yards down from the top but at about eye level with the bait given I was up about 22'. Tony told me to focus on the top of the ridge to the north and so that's where I spent most of my time watching. That's when the magic happened.

At about 5PM, while sitting in the stand just praying for something to come in, preferably that blonde bear, I looked back up the ridge to see a beautiful golden bear waddling down the center of the spine of the ridge. My heart went from 0 to 60 in .3 seconds! I told myself to breathe and relax, as the bear was still about 60 yards from the bait, but on a clear line towards it (albeit nice and slow). In what felt like hours but was probably a minute or two, the bear covered the remaining 60 yards to the bait, and I watched carefully making sure not to reveal my position.

As he passed one tree, I moved my hand up and clicked my release to the bow. Continuing to watch him. Keep in mind, after three days of watching Webster, this guy looked HUGE! Between that and the prettiest blonde coat I've ever seen, I couldn't slow my heartrate down. As he started to pass the last tree before the bait-site, I came to full draw. The bear paused and didn't move and I thought I was busted. I decided to stay at full draw and try not to move, and after what seemed like minutes but was probably only seconds, the bear cleared the last tree.

He stepped a few more yards and was broadside at 13 yards. Bear hunting tip #2 is that the vitals are more forward than you may be used to for a deer, so I picked a spot about a third of the way up the body in line with the middle of his front right leg, settled my 20 yard pin on it and released the arrow...THWACK!!!

With a snap back at a the entry point of the arrow and a little snarl, the bear bounded over the top of the ridge down the other side and out of view. It looked like I made a perfect shot, and after a few minutes I went to look for my arrow and blood. The arrow was burried halfway into a rotted stump behind where I was aiming and showed bright red blood -- a perfect pass throught! I walked a few yards up to look for blood and found a few drops. With a pefect pass through and a fresh sharpening of the G5 Montecs, I expected more blood. After about 10 yards of looking I decided to back out and wait for Tony to get back to help in the recovery.

The wait from 5 o'clock to 9 o'clock was agony!!! There's no cell reception and no walkie talkies, so I had no way to let anyone know what happened. Seconds ticked by until finally 9 o'clock rolled around and I exited the stand. I had grand plans of saying I didn't see anything and then showing the bloody arrow, but by the time Tony rolled up and asked if I got anything, I couldn't contain myself! He let out a whoop and some high fives and hugs and honest to God was more excited than I was. That's something I'll say for the guys at Boulder Creek is that they absolutely LOVE it when guys get animals. You'd think after two months of doing this and all the manual labor they might be sick of it, but nothing could be further from the truth and it's much, much appreciated!

After meeting up with the others to see if any other bears were down, we formed a search party to head out for my bear that consisted of me, David, and Tony (in fact, David shot a bear the exact time I did, but they decided based on how he was hit to give him til the next morning).

By 10:30 we were on the blood trail...of which there wasn't much. Bear hunting tip #3 is that given they're fat and fur, often times bears don't leave much of a blood trail. We first decided to head downhill and see if we couldn't stumble upon them. One fruitless hour later we were back at the top of the ridge, on hands and knees following starting from where we knew there was blood. Man it was tough. We had to look hard to find drops of blood the size of a fly. Certain spots we'd stop and discuss for a few minutes whether we thought it was blood or not. But finally, after marking our blood trail with objects such as a Coors light bottle cap and a powerbar wrapper, we had a decent trail going and saw that he was headed back towards the top of the ridge. Soon, David exclaimed he had more blood, and more, and more...literally five seconds later and a matter of three yards away, my bear lay piled up. He hadn't gone 30 yards from where I shot him. Then the whooping and hollering began!!! After some high-fives and some hugs, we posed him up for pictures. This is my first bear and will be a tough one to top.

Me with David

Me and Tony

One skinning job and a bunch of laughs and smiles later, we were back on the trail headed down to the truck. The cold beer waiting back at camp never tasted so good! Not only that, the other guide Karl (who I hunted with the first three days) was still up waiting to see what we came back with, too excited to sleep. Once he saw the bear, he gave me a big shake and a hug and was as excited as any of us. Again, I can't say enough about that. It was 2:30AM, he was due to take hunters out at 3:15AM, and he was too excited to sleep waiting for us to get back. Gotta love that dedication.

It was all the highlight of an incredible week in camp. The hunting was a little slow (we only brought in three bears, and unfortunately David never recovered his as we think it was just shoulder shot), but the laughs and the smiles weren't. I've made some lifelong friends and plan on hunting with many of these people again in the near future. We were happy for Weston, who just turned 14 and was one of the lucky few who did bag a bear. And despite losing his bear, David is absolutely hooked on hunting now and is both looking forward to our other hunts this year (he's going with me to Colorado for mule deer and New Mexico for elk) and getting back for next year's bear season. And although I've been hunting since I was 12, this is only my third big game animal and second with a bow. Having taken an elk and a whitetail, I can tell you that my hear has never beaten as fast hunting as it did as that bear was walking in and I can tell you I'm absolutely hooked on it as well! It's a great start to my 2012 season, which I'm already deeming a success!

I plan on doing a full body mount on it and now the fun begins as I get to pick what I want. I'll be sure to to post some pics when it's done! That's it for now. Amazing to think that my Colorado mule deer hunt is only two and a half months away...

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bigeasygator
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Jul-18-12, 
12:17 PM (MST)
6. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

This year is shaping up to be one of my most exciting hunting seasons ever. Harvesting the bear in Idaho was a great way to get things kicked off, but now my attention has shifted to the fall and elk and deer. I have four deer and elk hunts remaining this year.

The first hunt is a high country archery mule deer hunt in one of the most rugged units in Colorado. I've never hunted mule deer. I've never hunted in the high country. I've never set foot in the unit I'll be hunting. Living in New Orleans and with my vacation time taken up for hunting, I won't be able to scout the unit. So I'm keeping my expectations low for this first hunt. That being said, I've tried to do as much "scouting" as I could from home. I figured I'd share how I've honed in on a few areas to hunt.

All of my knowledge on the unit comes from general information gleaned from books (such as David Long's Public Land Mulies, Dwight Schuh's Hunting Open Country Mule Deer, and Mike Eastman's Hunting High Country Mule Deer) and specific information (or as much as people are willing to give) on the internet. I've learned a number of things from this sources, and some of the key messages are:

- the mule deer will likely be above timberline this year. I should be focusing my efforts at 11,000-12,000' and above.
- I need to try and find a high alpine basin that provides the mule deer what they are looking for, namely food, water, and cover.
- the best way to hunt them seems to be getting high, spending a lot of time behind the glass, and then using terrain to stalk into place.

There are some great tools out there to get a handle on where to hunt without ever leaving your home. Google Earth, topo maps, satellite imagery, etc will all help you find areas that look good to hunt. But for someone who has only a limited amount of time in the mountains, and who has never really scouted the mountains from home, this can be a daunting task. What does a basin look like? How do I know this basin will hold deer? What would make one basin better than another? These are questions running through my head...it also doesn't help that often times Google Earth uses imagery from different times of the year...so finding that lush, green summer basin isn't always a guarantee.

To narrow down where I wanted to focus, I started with a topo map of what seems to be the "core" area of my hunting unit.

Knowing that I wanted to focus on the "high country", I needed a way to highlight areas that were in that 11,000-12,000' range and above...and that's just what I did. I took two highlighters and brought out the inner 5-year old in me. On my topomap (that I found online off of a random website), the 3,500 meter line showed up as a bolder line than the other elevation contour lines. Same with the 3,750 meter line. As 3,500 meters and 3,750 meters correlate to 11,483' and 12,303' respectively, I wanted to shade only those areas to give me an idea where to focus. I started by outlining those contour lines on the map.

The next step was shading in the map. I shaded the area between 3,500 meters and 3,750 meters blue and areas above 3,750 meters pink. I used two colors to try and break it up and see where really high steep areas were. The plan will likely be to hunt high but focus the search in the areas at the convergence of the pink and blue lines (12,303'). Here's the map shaded in.

I then made a color copy to have a few versions of the map and to dull the colors a little.

You'll notice now that the basins really jump out at you, as do passes (which are essentially at the heads of drainages and basins). With this information, I've circled some of what appear to be the more promising basins to focus my time.

I'll spend some time on Google Earth to get an idea of where to camp and details of some of these basins. We plan to be pretty mobile, so I'm thinking we'll spend a few days towards the areas on the southern end of the map, and if we don't have much luck shift gear towards some of the more northern areas of the map. The area covered on the map isn't all that big, so getting from one area to the other in a day or two shouldn't be too terribly hard (beyond the fact that we're at 12,000' with 60 lb packs on our backs!).

If anybody has any suggestions or comments, feel free to send me a PM. I'm definitely willing to listen as this is my first time doing anything like this! I can't believe it's only a month-and-a-half away...

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bigeasygator
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Jul-23-12, 
09:24 AM (MST)
7. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

I'm getting anxious for my upcoming Colorado high country mule deer hunt...so much so that I decided to lay out my equipment today. Wanna see what a photo of seven days worth of backcountry gear looks like? Here you go...

There are a few items missing and there are a few items that are redundant and will be taken out...but this is more or less it (minus the food). My pack weight without food or water is right around 45 lbs. I've got another buddy coming with me so we'll be able split some of the load. I'm hoping to have my entire pack loaded down under 55 lbs for the seven day hunt. It's looking like I'll be able to hit that mark or be really close.

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bigeasygator
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Aug-27-12, 
12:20 PM (MST)
8. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

Well, my 2012 fall hunting season is starting earlier than expected. For most that would be a great thing. For me, it's a little bittersweet. While I am definitely excited to get to the woods and mountains a few days earlier than expected, the reason why isn't the greatest.

As I sit here typing this up on Monday, August 27th the city I call home is in the crosshairs of an approaching tropical storm. Isaac is scheduled to strengthen to hurricane status by the time it makes landfall. I don't play around with storms, and the evacuation now means I'll get to the trailhead in Colorado a few days earlier (I was scheduled to leave Thursday night). This storm isn't nearly the storm Katrina was, but I'm a little concerned that it's slow moving and sustained winds could pound New Orleans for an extended period of time. It's tough leaving friends and loved ones under such circumstances. You just have to have faith that all will be taken care of.

I'm headed to Colorado for 10 days now and then onto New Mexico for another week of elk hunting. I have a muley tag in my hand and my buddy has an elk tag for Colorado and we'll both be hunting elk in New Mexico. This will be my last post before I get back, certainly with lots of pics and hopefully a dead animal or two or three!

The F-150 is loaded up and I'm just waiting on my buddy to get back in town before we hit the road, sometime later tonight. This is the first of my two big hunting trips and I can't wait to breathe the fresh mountain air. Best of luck to everyone else who's hunts have started and are getting underway. See you in a few weeks!

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bigeasygator
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Sep-03-12, 
10:14 AM (MST)
9. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

When last I posted, I was in the process of evacuating from the approaching hurricane. As I was leaving the house I noticed this rainbow in the direction of the city...

I had a feeling everything was going to be ok, and I'm happy to report my home and friends and loved ones are all fine.

We kicked off our evacuation/hunting trip Monday night August 27th. Here's the truck loaded down for two people and two hunting trips (we follow this mule deer hunt up with an elk hunt in New Mexico).

Let the games begin!

We drove through the night and all the next day and by Tuesday night we were in northern New Mexico. We grabbed a hotel room with the trailhead in striking distance. We went through gear: checking, organizing, replacing, etc. Knowing we would be in the mountains the next day made it tough to get to sleep that night!

We left the next morning and after a few stops we were on the road to the trailhead. This is where the adventure really began. I bought a book on hiking my unit (the Maroon Bells) that said to get to the trailhead through Crested Butte. There were other trailheads close by accessible through Marble, and it showed the road going to those trailheads also went to the trailhead we wanted to get to. What I didn't know was that the road between those trailheads and mine is described as one of the most dangerous in Colorado! We ended up driving through an area known as the Devil's Punchbowl. Here are some shots of the drive in. This is the easy(ier) part of the road...

Here's what it looked like when things got real fun.

Those are sheer cliffs off the side and the road was just wide enough for my truck. Throw in sharp rocks and obstacles and it makes for one hell of a ride...especially coming from New Orleans with no offroading experience! The truck really did it's job and by taking our time we managed to get through it (I think David is just getting color back in his fingers from grabbing the "Oh Sh*t" handle the entire time!), with a few scars on the truck to remember the journey (I think it makes it look meaner!)

Not to oversell it, but it really was pretty scary and those are not the kind of situations I like putting myself in. It was a bit stupid and I was lucky the road conditions were good, it wasn't raining, and it wasn't dark. It certainly was a learning experience (on researching roads, offroading, etc) but I never plan on doing that again!

Once we got through the Punchbowl, Schofield park and our trailhead opened up on the other side. As the trip to the trailhead took longer than expected, we decided to settle in for the night at the trailhead. We pitched a lodge tent, got in some practice shooting, and generally relaxed. We were treated by a beautiful Alpenglow sunset. Yup...we were in the mountains.

The next morning we broke camp and donned the packs for the trip in to where we wanted to camp. Me...

David...

The trip in was supposed to be around 4.5 miles. Coming from an elevation of -10 feet and not getting in the training like we wanted, the trip took longer than expected. However, after about four hours and three miles, we jumped this group of bucks which got the juices flowing and picked our spirits up (hey, maybe the research worked!). Can you see them?

How about now?

The largest of the group was an average 3x3 and the next biggest was an average 2x2...either one of which I'd be happy to put my tag on!

David was wearing down from the hike in, and in reality so was I. We decided to set up camp about a quarter mile above where we bumped those deer, which was about a mile short of where we wanted to be, which was a basin on the other side of a ridge above where we set camp. We pitched camp and settled in for some evening glassing. My Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 set up...

Our full camp...

Our glassing was a little half-hearted as we were pretty whipped.

We decided we would wake up around first light and hike over into the basin I wanted to hunt and hope to catch some deer headed to bed. Plus we needed some water.

We hiked over the ridge the next morning (another half mile...man the distances out here are so deceiving and getting from one place to another is pretty much never easy!). Here's a view of the basin I wanted to hunt...

Some glassing didn't turn anything up and we decided to drop down to the bottom of the basin to get water. We were working our way down a ravine when I looked up and saw this guy at the bottom of the basin feeding on willows, and checking us out.


Luckily the sun was at our back and I don't think he could make out what we were. We stopped, I dropped the pack, and decided to put a stalk on as I was set on taking any buck I could and getting as much experience as I could. You will notice some pines to the right in the picture. I was about 150 yards away when I took the picture. The deer went back to feeding and I ducked into the pines on the right. By working my way to the bottom of them I was able to cut the distance to 90 yards. I exited the pines and posted up behind some willow, waiting for the buck to conceal himself feeding so I could move. He did just that, disappearing into the willows and I quickly dropped down into the bottom of the basin pretty quickly. I crossed back over the ravine and was to the left side of on the edge of the willows, which was the direction he was feeding in. But man, those willows are tall! I couldn't see him but hunkered down hoping he'd show himself. Then I caught a glimpse of antler...11 yards away!!! Was my high country adventure really going to end on my first morning of hunting? No...of course not. The wind swirled and just like that the antlers I was staring at were gone and the deer reappeared on the other side of the basin about 75 yards. I got close...too close in fact and I maybe should have played the wind better (David's comment, who was watching from where the photo was taken from, "Man, I thought you were going up to introduce yourself to him!). But man was that fun!

We grabbed water and hiked out of the bottom of the basin. We left water at the top of the basin as we decided moving camp there the next day. We took a different route back out of the basin this time. No way to avoid the uphill though...

But the view from the top was spectacular (our camp is the little white dot on the right).

Side-hilling it back I looked back and noticed we had company. I feel like I earned my mountain hunting badge seeing this guy. Yes, that white dot is indeed a mountain goat!

We glassed that evening and didn't turn up anything else. We made a game plan for the next day and decided to see if we couldn't find those five bucks we jumped coming into camp.

The area we camped in is relatively flat, but there are lots of little pockets that are hard to glass, even from up high. The best way to glass them would be from across the other side of the basin we were in, but we didn't feel like moving camp. Our vantage point did allow us to glass the willows below (about a half mile away up to a mile and a half way) and the area in our general vicinity (about a quarter mile).

There were plenty of deer in the willows below, but they all seemed to be does or small bucks and man, I'm not sure how I'd even get through that maze of willows!


While glassing, Mother Nature called and I found a spot to do some early morning "paperwork". While finishing up, I looked down and noticed what looked to be five deer staring at me from below...yup, it was those five bucks right in the area we bumped them coming in. The started moving out and that was pretty much the last I saw of them that day. Not sure where they came from, but they were in a little depression that was hidden from where I was glassing.

We decided to stick in our area as there seemed to be a bit of deer activity around us and I wasn't looking for a monster (the deer in this area are no doubt accustomed to having people around as there are a lot of hikers in the area. We hiked back over to get our water and then back to camp. The evening session didn't catch any deer leaving their beds. We awoke the next morning and moved glassing positions to put us in a spot to watch where those deer had been bumped (twice now!).

About 8 o'clock I noticed a doe moving our way, followed by an average 4x3 and a 2x2. Two other small bucks came up and joined the group. They joined up about 110 yards from us in a patch of pines.


These deer continued to feed right towards us and were in a patch of willows about 75 yards away. I grabbed my bow and moved into a position that would allow me a shot if they fed up behind us (as I thought they might). The sun was shining in our face (which wasn't good) and we were having a hard time seeing them over the willows right in front of us. Not sure if the deer saw us or heard us, but they went on alert and then bounded out of the area. They definitely didn't smell us. Regardless, they were gone but it was close to happening again! The 4x3 was definitely not in the group of five bucks and I think the other deer weren't either.

We seemed to be in a hotbed of activity, but have a hard time setting up to effectively glass it and hunt it. We decided to hike out for a few days to let the area calm down and get back in and hunt it hard for four days. I wish our set-up was a little better, but that being said we've been getting serious action (if anything we're a little too close). The area doesn't lend itself to glassing from far off given all the little valleys. Even if we don't punch our tags it's already been a successful hunt!

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bigeasygator
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Sep-06-12, 
09:30 PM (MST)
10. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

Well, my hunt is done...and I shot a monster!!!...just probably not what you guys are expecting. We hiked back in on Tuesday with the intention of doing some glassing Tuesday night, then hunting hard Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The evening glassing session turned up more deer than any other session so we felt pretty stoked prior to going to sleep.

The next morning had us glassing up the deer we spotted the night before. We quickly located three of the deer we saw on a knob about a half mile as the crow flies from camp, one of them being a shooter buck for me. We also managed to track another buck that left our side of the basin, crossed down into the willows, and was out feeding until around 10 o'clock, but we lost him in the willows. After a lunch of ramen and some gameplanning, we decided to move closer to the knob I mentioned to see if we couldn't get a different angle and possibly catch those deer bedded. My buddy and I agreed that if we had a shot at any legal deer we would take it.

We moved in the direction of the area we saw the deer, and when I was about 500 yards out I crested a hill, glassed the pines on the knob, and saw the rump of a mule deer sticking out from behind the tree (I swear I spot 90% of these deer by seeing their white rumps!). I motioned for David to slow down and we took a position in the shade of some nearby pines to set up the spotting scope and try and catch the deer.

After a few hours waiting them out, we hadn't spotted any more deer moving on the hillside. We were confident they were still in there, and decided to try a stalk even though we couldn't positively see any deer bedded. Besides, the area I wanted to stalk into was the area that we spotted the buck last night, and I was hopeful that the wind would stay right and that buck my feed on a similar path and I would be there to ambush him.

I covered the 500 yards slowly over the course of about an hour, and managed to make it up on the knob without seeing any deer get bumped. I set up in the shade in front of a small pine and took a seat over the willows the buck was feeding on the night before. After about 30 minutes, I noticed a deer through the willows and pines about 40 yards away moving uphill along the ridge of the knob. I then saw another, and another, and another...all in all, six does fed out 30 yards in front of me and continued to move uphill. One of the does looked huge, but I was really hoping the buck would be with them so I held out on a shot.

I managed to snap this picture of the does as they continued to move and feed uphill from me.

After about 20 minutes, the deer started feeding back towards me. One of the does had me pegged, and was constantly staring at me and stomping her hooves, but I stayed completely motionless (as best I could anyway) and the rest of the does continued to move my way. When the biggest doe in the group stopped 20 yards from me perfectly broadside, it was a shot that I couldn't pass up. At the release the deer scattered and I watched my doe move off downhill away from me. The shot was a little high and a tad back, but still looked like a high double lung shot. The recovered arrow (complete passthrough) seemed to confirm my thoughts...gotta love a bloody arrow!

I shot my first whitetail buck last year and the shot was in a similar location. I've noticed that deer don't go far when the get hit high in the lungs, but that they also don't leave much of a blood trail when hit high with an arrow. Despite a complete passthrough, there was no blood on the ground. Absolutely none. The deer disappeared over the ridge so we didn't see precisely where it went. A grid search down the slope revealed nothing. Then we took a trick out of the playbook from the bear I shot earlier this year and followed the path back that the deer were on when I first spotted them. That's where we found this...

Of course I had dreams of taking a velvet buck, and visions of monsters danced in my head. But this deer means a lot to me for a lot of reasons. This is the first deer I've shot truly DIY. This was my first time hunting the unit I did. My first time hunting the high country. First time hunting mule deer. First time stalking in on deer. The list goes on and on. So needless to say, I was all smiles.

Shooting a mature deer (and this deer was definitely mature!) on my own in the high country is a trophy in my book. You've gotta start somewhere, and this is a great bar to set for me. I did some research on the unit and noticed that out of 166 hunters with archery tags last year, only 15 deer were taken -- 7 bucks and 8 does. Not that that should be make this any more or less successful, it's nice to know that I got it done when less than 10% of hunters in the unit did last year.

The work started soon after the pictures were taken. This was also the first deer I quartered on my own. We used the gutless method and, while no doubt it wasn't perfect, were able to get the vast, vast majority of meat off the deer (including the tenderloins!). This is what it's all about...!!

I marked the GPS with the kill site and noticed we were just shy of 12,000' (11,800' to be exact!) -- I like to think I earned my high country wings. We loaded up the packs, and decided to get the deer out that night and come back in for camp. We got out in an hour, and drove to Crested Butte where we found an awesome little hole in the wall that kept the kitchen open for us. I'm sure they didn't know what to think when we walked in in full camo and with face paint on, but the folks were friendly, and once they found out we had a deer in the cooler on the truck, they told us to bring some meat in and they'd leave the grill on. How cool is that?? We ended up pan frying some tenderloin and I swear you couldn't tell the difference between it and a filet!

My Colorado hunt is now in the books and now it's off to New Mexico to chase elk for a week! Gotta love this time of year!

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bigeasygator
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Sep-24-12, 
12:25 PM (MST)
11. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

After being gone for exactly three weeks, driving for 3,000+ miles, and hiking another 100 miles my hunts in Colorado and New Mexico are over. I had been on a bit of a bowhunting streak, going 3-for-3 in my last three hunts. That, unfortunately, ended in New Mexico, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

After our adventure in Colorado ended (with a few days of R&R in Crested Butte -- a fantastic mountain town), we headed south for the Land of Enchantment. We were scheduled to meet up in the no stop light town of Magdalena on September 10th and had a few days to kill. I made plans to spend it with my good buddy Griz camped out in the Valle Vidal.

I met Griz last year when he guided me on an archery elk hunt in the Valle Vidal, and we've stayed in contact and remained friends since (I'll be hunting with Griz in NM at the end of October for mule deer). For anyone that hasn't been there, the Valle Vidal is truly a magical place. And while the place isn't known for monster bulls, there are plenty of big ones there.

Driving in my buddy got a feel for how special a place it is. We saw this guy out grazing.

And this group milling about.

We arrived in camp on Saturday night and stayed Saturday and Sunday night. The elk bugling at night didn't help us get any sleep -- both because they were loud and it got our minds racing for what was to come in a few days a bit further south. The two days were spent rearranging gear, relaxing, eating good food, and enjoying good company around the campfire.

It was a great precursor to our hunt -- our time in the Valle got us rejuvenated and excited for our hunt in the Gila.

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bigeasygator
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Sep-24-12, 
12:25 PM (MST)
12. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

We made the roughly five hour drive from northern New Mexico to meet up with our outfitter, GT Nunn and Frontier Outfitting, in the bustling metropolis of Magdalena. The meeting point was an out-of-business grocery store where we met two of our guides, Jo Don and Quadi, and our camp hand Diego. We also met one of the other hunters in camp, Dennis from Texas. GT would join us later as he was guiding the Governor's tagholder for sheep in New Mexico.

The campsite was a ranch about 20 minutes west of Magdalena. We pulled in and parked in front of what would become home, sweet home for the next week.

We quickly made ourselves at home.

In camp there were a total of six hunters, each with a guide. The hunters were me, David, Dennis, Marty (from Pittsburgh), and Randy (from central Pennsylvania). We each had a guide. I had Ryan, and the other guides in camp were Quadi, Rick, Andy, and Gary. The other hunter and guide were hunting out of a spike camp. That is one thing that is nice about going with an outfit like Frontier Outfitting -- the company and atmosphere around camp is always as much fun as the hunting and it's something to look forward to after a long day in the field.

This was pinyon and juniper country (P&J).

And some of the country would have you thinking NO WAY it could hold elk. But it did, like this open cactus flat country. Welcome to elk country??!

It absolutely floored me how a herd of ten animals could just flat out disappear in this country! From afar, it all looks open and you can glass quite a bit of it. But once you're in it, it's definitely quite a bit thicker, and it definitely helps if the elk are vocal to try and locate them.

If you had bet me anything that I would go into one of the prime units in New Mexico in the middle of September on a six day hunt and only hear one elk bugle, I would have taken that bet and called you a sucker. Well, that's just what happened. For whatever reason, the elk just weren't talking. The population in the unit, from what I was told, isn't as high as other units. But there's no doubt they were there.

We spent a lot of time glassing from higher vantage points.

We also spent a lot of time hunting fresh elk sign.

No, not that sign! This sign...

The terrain was very sandy in many places and it helped in picking out some fresh tracks. I learned more about tracking elk that week than I ever have. One morning, we managed to spot a bull in a bed a hundred yards away and decided to move in on him. We managed to sneak into TWO yards before we decided to pass on him...

Ok, ok...enough with the jokes. In all seriousness, the hunting was tough going. In our six days out, we only set eyes on about 6 bulls closer than a few miles away. One of them busted us at about 150 yards before we saw him, another one busted us at 300 yards, and three bulls we saw with only a few minutes of light remaining and too little time to do anything. The closest we got was about 75 yards on the one elk we did here bugle all week. We never got a look at him, as his herd of 10 cows busted us at about 60 yards while he was still bugling away in the trees behind them. We guessed it was a nice 350 class bull we saw from a few ridges over the night before. That would be the closest I got to a bull all week. No opportunity to draw back my bow. It sucks that my elk season is over (seemingly in a blink of an eye), and I wish I would've had a chance to at least draw back on a bull...but that's hunting. It was still an amazing week and I met plenty of new friends and learned a ton.

The good news is there was more action for the other hunters. Of the six of us in camp, three bulls went down. Marty, Dennis, and the hunter from the spike camp all shot 330 class bulls. Randy was hunting with a longbow and had he had a compound bow would have had a few 40 yard shots at some nice bulls.

Here's the three bulls that were dropped.

Diego with Dennis' bull.

Diego with the spike camp bull.

Marty with his nice bull, shot on the first night.

David was in elk everyday -- and some BIG ones at that. One day it was 370 bull this, 390 bull that, 350 bull this, bigger bull that! On the last day he let an arrow fly and, unfortunately, hit a bull too far forward. The bull jumped the fence into a wildlife refuge and they couldn't trail the bull anymore. He was sick at missing out on bringing home the meat and the trophy and wounding an animal, but bowhunting is a lot of learning and no doubt he has gained some valuable lessons on being prepared, on shot placement, and on elk hunting in general. Despite the misfortune, he is absolutely hooked and it's nice to know I've introduced someone to this great tradition and made a lifelong hunter and hunting partner.

Elk hunting is my passion and I can't get enough of it. And now that I'm 0-for-3 on archery elk hunts, opportunities missed and opportunities lost are going to fill my thoughts for another year. But that's what I love about it and you can be that I'm already dreaming about chasing bugles again.


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bigeasygator
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Oct-31-12, 
04:36 PM (MST)
13. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

I've already been extremely blessed on this 2012 hunting season and have created memories and taken animals that I will never forget. My latest trip to New Mexico for a mule deer hunt was no exception.

I was travelling solo this time from New Orleans to Taos, New Mexico. New Orleans to Shreveport, Shreveport to Dallas, Dallas to Amarillo, Amarillo to Taos...that's pretty much it. All in all, it would be about 1200 miles and 16 hours of driving...and plenty of this!

I left on Wednesday, October 24th and arrived the in the evening on Thursday, October 25th. There I met my good buddy Griz. Griz was my guide the year earlier on my elk hunt in the Valle Vidal, NM and we've remained good friends since. He invited me on this deer hunt and I jumped at the opportunity to spend some time in camp and in the mountains with him again.

All in all there were four of us in the hunting party -- me, Marcus (who was also our camp cook last year), Arty (a friend who turned Griz onto the unit), and Griz. All of us drew tags with the exception of Griz, so he was there as an extra set of eyes and an extra back and set of legs should we get one. Arty and Griz hunted the unit the year before (again, Arty had a tag and Griz was there for the fun of it) so they knew where the deer were likely to be and also knew they left a monster in there from the year before.

Thursday morning found us loading up the campers with the necessary supplies before it was off to Capulin which would be our homebase of operations. Ready to head off.

Once we settled into the RV park, we took a quick drive through the area we'd be hunting. The unit is in the very northeast corner of NM and right on the border with Colorado. The unit is predominantly private, and it takes a great deal of research and effort to know where the small plots of public land are and how to access it. Luckily, most of that legwork was done the year before. The drive through the country got everyone's spirits up. We saw well over 100 deer...albeit on private that we had no chance of hunting. Still, it's nice knowing there were animals in the area...and it was also clear they knew what was private!! The place was like a zoo! Here are some shots of the "scouting".

We had a dinner of lasagna and toasted to a successful hunt. Arty and Marcus enjoying some wine.

The next morning found us at our hunting location as the sun was cresting the horizon. The area was classic rimrock country, and unlike anything I've ever hunted. It was absolutely gorgeous. Essentially, the plan was to climb the various finger ridges coming off the rimrock cliffs (the rimrock runs east-to-west right along the border of CO-NM). These ridges would lead up to benches below the base of the cliffs. From there we would walk the benches and look into the various little drainages and canyons coming off the finger ridges. From where we parked the car, Marcus and Arty headed east and Griz and I went west. Here's some pics to give you a feel for what the country looks like.


We were quickly into deer. We saw five does as we were working our way up to the bench we planned on hiking, and not long after that we spotted our first buck. Griz spotted him and told me to come up for a look (FYI...Griz can hike these hills at about twice the speed I can so I'm always trying to catch-up to him!). I set up my tripod and spotting scope and managed to get a few pictures of the buck. He appeared to be a 4x3 with backs that weren't very deep. Here's the best picture I got (kinda hard to judge them as they're walking away).

I decided to pass on him, knowing there could be better deer in the area and it was only the first morning. We let him feed off, hoping there were other bucks with him, but if there were they were in front of him and we never got a look.

We stopped and glassed some of the country, giving the deer time to move off ahead of us. It was not long after that that it sounded like WWIII started. Shots started ringing out east of us in the direction Marcus and Arty were likely to be. It seemed like 6 or 7 in total. We eased on up the bench to a point where we were looking down into a canyon and saw Marcus below us.

Turns out the deer we saw as with two other bucks, and as we let them feed off they fed right to where Marcus and Arty posted up. Marcus was hunting for meat, so he wasn't going to pass on anything and Arty, well, let's just say Arty gets a bit excited when something legal comes into view (despite wanting to hold out for something bigger!). Marcus took a shot at the deer I let past, hitting it back. He put another round in that deer and hit back again. At this point, the other two (smaller) bucks ran, but actually ran closer to Marcus and Arty (I'm guessing the echoing of the shots had them confused as to where the shooting was coming from). As one got to around 100 yards from Arty, he put a round in him, and then fired off a few more shots for good measure as the deer ran off.

We searched for Marcus' deer for awhile to no avail, and then made our way to Arty where he had made quick work of his deer and was packed out ready to go. Can't say I've ever seen one quite loaded up like this, but Arty's a big boy and he made it work!

We searched some more for Marcus' deer but never turned up any blood and decided to give up the search, hoping that maybe the birds would let us know where he was. Marcus left to catch up with Arty to help him get his deer to town, and Griz and I continued walking along, down and up canyons, to try and catch up with three other bucks that Arty and Marcus saw crest a far ridge before the shooting began.

We hiked along, and ran into a group of five does.

We let them continue on ahead of us before we started up behind them. We crested the ridge that you see the top doe in the previous picture, and decided to post up there and glass the bowl below us the remainder of the day.

Our glassing turned up the does, which I managed to try out the digiscoping on. The Tines-up set-up really takes some good pics!

We managed to spot some deer (some does and a few small bucks) far off on the other side of the bowl, but nothing worth chasing (it's nice letting the spotting scope do the walking to find that out!). We called it a night and headed back to the truck while there was still light. We made another pass through the canyon where Marcus shot at the deer and didn't turn anything up. We made it back to the truck (about a 3 mile hike one way) just as the last light was fading...

A dinner of elk backstrap and tortillas and a few beers hit the spot and sleep came easy that night. The next day found Griz and Marcus hunting together and me teamed up with the tagged-out Arty. Marcus was gonna pass through that canyon one more time hoping to find his deer, and if not, head on to the bucks we spotted yesterday afternoon. Arty and I were going to hunt a bowl a bit off the road that we didn't touch the day before.

We parked the car at 6:30AM, and started hiking up the first little ridge a few minutes later. We stopped to glass ahead of us and on the ridge to the east about halfway up. As I was glassing the ridge to the east, I quickly picked out the white rump of a mule deer coming out of a bush. I couldn't see whether it was a buck or a doe, but upon closer inspection I saw the rack of a different deer protruding above the brush. As I'd never taken a mule deer buck, I wasn't going to hold out for a "monster", but I also wanted something that I considered a respectable buck. What's respectable?? Well, I figured if I saw it I'd know...and once I saw this guy I knew. I quickly ranged him at 300 yards. As they were just feeding along and had no clue we were there, I told Arty we should back out, use the ridge as cover, and we could sneak in about 100 yards closer. We quickly did just that. After cutting the distance, we crested a knob and picked up the deer feeding along. I dropped my pack and took a prone position and ranged the deer again...225 yards. As my Sako A7 in .308 was zeroed at 200 yards, I felt this was a great distance to take the shot. I zoomed my scope in, settled the crosshairs of the Swarovski Z5 just behind the shoulder, and squeezed the trigger.

The silence was broken by the report of the .308 and I lost the deer in the sight picture as the gun recoiled, but it looked to me as though he fell in the bush he was feeding on. I peeked up and noticed what I figured was the second deer running off. Arty saiid, "There goes one running off!" I asked him if he saw the other one and he said no. Arty said he's stay up on the ridge to get a vantage point in case something jumped up as I crossed the drainage and moved over to where the deer were.

As I began making my way over, a mule deer buck started moving back into the spot where I shot my deer. I assumed this was the second buck coming back to look for the one I shot at, still confused as to what happened (it's clear these deer don't get shot at too much!). I took this as a good sign (although there was some doubt as to whether this was the deer I shot at, as they were both close in size). I worked my way up to the bush I thought the deer fell in and nothing. Panic started to set in a bit until I realized I was looking at the wrong bush. I moved up the side of the ridge a little further and there he was. He didn't go a yard. The perfect heart-shot from the Federal Premium 150-grain Barnes Triple Shock X dropped him in his tracks. Looking at the watch it wasn't even 7AM yet.



Arty and I quickly got to work caping and quartering the deer. A few hours later and we were packed up and headed back to the truck, only about 800 yards away. I've been waiting to take one of these pictures with a pack loaded up with not just meat but some bone too!



We were back at the truck by 10AM, and after a few beers we headed back towards the campsite. Marcus and Griz showed up around 5PM. They weren't able to find Marcus' deer from the day before, but they did connect on one of the other bucks we spotted. Three tags filled in a little over 24 hours of hunting. Not bad at all.

I'm back in New Orleans now and it's a little bittersweet that my Western hunting adventures are over for the year. I'm already dreaming about next year's tags and wondering what memories I'll be creating. The areas I hunted out west this year varied from bear hunting the timber of northern Idaho's Clearwater country, to hunting mule deer in the high country above timber in the Maroon Bells, the the high desert P&J for elk in the Gila, and lastly to chasing mule deer in the rimrock country of northeastern New Mexico. I've taken a once-in-a-lifetime colorphase bear, my first mule deer doe (and first truly DIY animal), and a mule deer buck for the wall. It will definitely be hard to top this season. I leave for Kansas in a few days and a nice whitetail would definitely be icing on the cake!

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bigeasygator
(81 posts)
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Nov-11-12, 
11:15 PM (MST)
14. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

What is quite possibly my last big game hunt of the year is in the books. I hunted whitetail in Kansas last week with Hickory Creek Outfitters out of Sedan. Hunting big game in the Rockies is my passion, and as far as hunting goes, sitting in a treestand waiting for a deer to walk by is probably my least favorite form of hunting. But it's still hunting and that means I'd rather be doing that than 99% of the things in the world! Besides, hunting whitetail is pretty nostalgic for me. When I started hunting the woods and fields of western Pennsylvania as a 12 year old, it was whitetail that occupied my thoughts. While I had dreamed about North American safaris in the Rocky Mountains, it was whitetail that I actually got to hunt. And the sights, sounds, and smells of chasing deer in the fall bring back those childhood memories and the feelings and people that accompany them. I won't go into a long story this time, but I'll let the pictures do the talking (I fooled around with a photo editor to try and capture that nostalgia I was talking about). I managed to take an old warrior of a deer on the second to last day. He was white/gray from his face to nearly his brisket and looked like a ghost coming through the woods. I took the shot at 35 yards and he went 60 yards before going down in sight of my stand. Not sure I'll ever shoot an older (we guessed him to be 6 and a half) or more unique deer in my life. If it is the last big game hunt I go on this year he will definitely be a great way to close out the season, with me going four for five on hunts this year (three with a bow, one with a rifle). Hope you enjoy the pictures...















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bigeasygator
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Jan-10-13, 
10:08 AM (MST)
15. "RE: My 2012 Western Adventure"

My 2012 hunting season has more or less fully wrapped up. Over the New Year's holiday I went on what has become an annual trip to duck camp. Prior to the trip I picked up a new toy -- a Canon Vixia camcorder that I proceeded to cover in camo! I plan on having it accompany on most, if not all, of my hunts in the future. Because of that, I didn't take many pictures of the duck hunting trip like I normally do, but I did manage to grab over 4 hours of video! I put together a few minutes of video, more in an effort to get familiar with the video editing software than anything else. Here's that sneak peek of my trip...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sbeb6eR8Z0o

I plan on taking the remainder of the footage and putting together a full story, something closer to 20-30 minutes. Any suggestions are welcome!

Seeing as this is pretty much my last post for the year, I wanted to take this opportunity to wrap things up for 2012. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed putting this together and it has been a great way for me to keep a record of my season. Based on the few comments/PMs I received, it seems like you guys more or less enjoyed it and I hope that's the case. Just like with my new found videography/editing hobby, I'm always open to suggestions for better documenting or sharing my hunts and preparation with you all.

This last year has been a truly memorable one for me as far as my hunting career has gone. It was a year of many firts, and having gone 4 for 5 on big game hunts it was also my most successful year (prior to this year I had one bull elk and one whitetail buck under my belt!). Despite getting a late start in this Western hunting game, being in the mountains chasing animals is truly my passion and I'm already looking forward to 2013...to the applications, the draws, the preparation, the hunt, and the documentation of it all. 2012 has left me with a freezer full of meat, a few new trophies for the wall, and an overwhelming desire to get back out to the wild places with the wild things. Till next year...
Jason



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