I sat there wondering if I made a good decision passing on that big bodied 4x4. I wasnít too worried about it though, because I knew I just ensured myself that I could hunt longer and likely get to look over a few more bucks, but still, I thought he was a pretty dang good buck was going back and forth about it... The 4x4 had disappeared into the Aspens at 4:05 pm. After he was gone I sat there for a little while wondering if it was a good idea for me hiking in that far after not getting a minute of sleep the night before and putting a lot of effort trying to get out of the steep and deep hole earlier that day. But, knowing it was now the best hour of the day for spotting deer, I knew I was staying until dark.
Twenty minutes go by and I was scanning another hillside 2/3rds of a mile away and I noticed three Mule deer does standing on the edge of some Aspens looking out onto the open sage covered hillside where I figured they wanted to go. The lead doe took her time looking out into the open, and then she would turn her head to look back into the dense Aspen. After a few minutes she felt comfortable enough to head out into the sage. The two other deer joined her and headed out into the open as well. Then another doe came out, followed by another doe, and then another one. After a few minutes there were 9 does / fawns milling around in the sage.
I didnít even have time to think about that there may be a buck with the does before I saw a heavy but young 3x4 walk out into the sage looking to follow the does around.
I thought he was a pretty cool buck and I was surprised by how fat he was. He looked young in the face and didnít have a gigantic neck (at least as much as I can tell from .67 of a mile away) but he had a pot belly and just dwarfed some of the does in the group there. I wanted to get a picture of him so I opened up my pack and pulled out my phone. I took a picture or two of him but he was too far for my Vortex viper to get a clear shot, amplified even more so because of the somewhat fading light. It was 4:29 pm at this point. I put my phone in video mode and tried to record a short clip of him doing his thing there in the sage mixing it up with the does. I looked down at my phone briefly to watch him and make sure I followed him with the scope since he was moving around a lot. After I got the scope back on him I wanted to take another wider view/look through my binos.
I looked in the direction of the deer, found them and watched the group through my binos. I was able to make out the 3x4 in the group but could barely make out his antlers with my 10ís; I could just tell which deer he was by how much bigger he was than the does. On the periphery of the view in my binoculars I saw something moving in. I glanced over and immediately saw antlers and a big bodied thick necked buck making a straight line for the 3x4 with his ears folded back! I threw my phone off the spotter to take a look with my eyes and not through a stupid phone! I instantly saw that he dwarfed the buck that I thought was dwarfing the does! I did NOT need to sit there and think about him. This was the one!!!
For a split second i had to calm myself down. I had to think about it. Itís now 4:37, the sun sets at 4:55 and I have more than half a mile of sage fields to navigate, the buck is rutting, following does and trying to kick the other bucks ass, he may go in the entirely wrong direction from me, and Iím freakin tiredÖ It takes me half a second to make up my mind. ďI am NOT going to sit here and wait for tomorrowĒ, I though. I broke down my spotter and literally threw it in my pack and ran!
I donít like working myself up and running to get into shooting position, but in this situation I had to. When I took off in the direction of the deer the sun was already dipping below the horizon. There was also a layer of clouds on the horizon which pretty much hide the sun completely and I figured it would shorten my good visible light by quite a few minutes. I ran and didnít stop until I neared the top of the adjacent hill from where I originally spotted the buck from. I got to a point where I was able to see across an Aspen filled creek bottom/draw which separated me from where I last seen the buck. I eagerly glassed the other side. But I was breathing hard and my breath and sweat was fogging up my glass! I wiped off the condensation and looked across. No deerÖ Soon the glass got foggy again and I had to clear it off with my finger. I had to keep doing this every few seconds. One time I looked up and glassed and found a deer standing next to a lone willow type bush. I could see it had antlers. But I saw no does, so I wasnít sure yet if this was the 3x4 and he got run off by the big buck or if it was the big buck, or maybe it was a 3rd buck I had not originally noticed or what was going on.
In a minute or two I got more composed and was able to see through the binos longer without them fogging up as much. Setting up the spotter and trying and set the tripod legs in tall sage and on a side hill didnít sound like a good option. The sun had completely set by now and I was feeling really rushed for time and I just wanted to identify if this was the right buck or not! Also, I didnít want to take any more time than I needed; I am sure most of you guys already know that these bucks, when not with does donít usually stand around in the wide open showing themselves off for the world to see for very long. I put down my rifle, threw off my pack and got tight to a rock to steady my hand to see if I could identify the buck with my binos. I steadied, and I was able to see a G-3 on the right side, where the 3x4 did not have a G-3 on his right side. Itís him!
I grabbed my gun and rangefinder, ranged the buck, 380 yards. The only problem here was the sage was too tall for me to shoot off my pack, and the rock I was next to was laying in a way that didnít offer a good rest, at least it was not angled well in the direction where the buck was at. I looked up ahead and saw a rock about 5 yards in front of me that looked like it would make a better rest. I crawled through the sage and up to the rock un-noticed. I try and find a good shooting position on the rock, and while it didnít feel all that great I was able to get in a position where I felt steady and confident enough to take a shot. There were no other rocks up ahead of me, so this one would have to do. I aim and fireÖ and miss!
The buck takes off and gets into the Aspens. Itís a tangled mess in there and I can barely make him out, at times losing sight of him completely. He moves, then stops, then moves, then stops. This goes on for minutes. At one point he stops for a longer period of time but his vitals are completely covered by Aspen trunks. He stands for probably a minute (seems calm at this point) and then moves forwards at a normal walking pace. At this point light is fading fast. He gets into a small area of less dense aspen and I see him, all of him. I range him at 389 yards. I get on the gun and watch him through the scope, he stops, slightly quartering away, and I shoot. The buck flips sideways, goes down briefly, and disappears out of sight.
I donít know what I was feeling at that point. Surely very excited and also very happy. Excited because of how all of this went down, having to run so far, losing sight of the group of deer, then re-finding only one deer and it being the buck, shooting and missing, then re-locating him in the trees and getting one more chance at a shot, which would very obviously be my last chance at this buck because of the time of day and just how thick of cover he was in. I was also happy because he was the biggest buck I had seen not only in the days I was in Colorado, but also the best buck I had seen all season long, including hunting 10 days in Idaho. But, I also had one burning question: was he the right buck? I didnít look at him through to spotter to verify. I did see that he had a G-3 on the right side, but once he got in the Aspens I couldnít be 100% sure if I was watching THE buck or if in my haste I picked out movement, and hoped it was the buck I was after but in reality it may have been the other buck, the 3x4, or a completely new buck?
After I got myself and my gear put together, I put on my headlamp, I walked down into the now dark draw, crossed the creek and through the Aspen chocked bottom. I came out on the other side fully intending to find the buck. I climbed up the hill and started looked for his tracks out in the open but there were deer tracks everywhere, both buck and doe tracks. I tried to head into the Aspens in the area where I thought the buck went into, but it was WAY more dense in there from ground level than it was from looking across the draw, and I had absolutely no idea where he may have crossed into the Aspens because I had nothing to go on, it was pitch black now. I figured it wasnít a good idea to be walking through blow down and thick vegetation 3 miles from the truck all alone at night looking for a dead deer. So I turned around and headed back to the truck. I made it back that night, and went to sleep. Or shall I say I tried to sleep. I should have slept like a baby because I didnít sleep the night before, but I didnít fall asleep this second night for one minute. I wasnít sure anymore if I got the right deer, I wasnít sure if the deer was down or if it was a bad hit and it ran off. I also didnít like the fact that I left the deer overnight and did not at least gut it.
Morning came, and I was heading back in there in the dark wanting to find the buck ASAP. The one good thing about that night was that the temperature was low. The truck thermometer showed it was 11 degrees that morning, and the area the buck was last seen in was a North facing slope which had a good amount of snow covering the ground, so I had two positives going for me as far as cooling the deer.
I got to the area where I saw the buck (In the spot he was standing where I missed my first shot) before the sun cracked over the horizon. I started looking for the buck in the Aspens, I zigged and zagged a large area of the Aspen covered hillside. I started low, then went high, then went left, then went right, did some more zigging and zagging. No buck, no blood. So I got out of the Aspens, and went back to the one lone willow type looking bush I mentioned earlier. I found his track, but lost them in the tall sage and grass, some spots had snow and some spots didnít. I made a line, following a straight line in the direction where I last saw his tracks and again went deep into the Aspens. Again nothing.
Here is how thick it was in places.
Here is a more open area in the Aspens where I thought the buck may be. Lots of blow down here, and no buck.
Well balanced coyote.
I started to do a grid search and I was just walking up the hill on a straight line when I found him! It was the right buck. I walked within 10 feet of him and barely made him out in this thick brush. There was snow on the ground and still, he was camouflaged well enough that I almost had to step on him to find him. In all, I spent 2.5 hours searching for him that morning. I found where he was shot and where he slid down the hill and I NEVER found a single drop of blood besides the one drop of blood that was right next to him. Thatís my first ever experience like that. So just because there is no blood does not mean you donít have a dead animal on the ground.
My lips were so cracked it was painful to smile!
It took me all of that day and two trips to get him out, totaling 12 miles hiked, 6 with meat on my back. I made it out with the second load of meat well after dark that night, tired, but grateful for the buck I was fortunate to take and the season, albeit a pretty tough one, that I had.