Chasing 200

After years of applying for non-resident tags in Colorado, my son finally drew a coveted deer tag for the 2020 hunting season. In late July we took a trip to scout and familiarize ourselves with the area. While we only saw a few deer during our trip, we weren’t too concerned since the locals told us that the deer were way up high during the summer months. And since our hunt wouldn’t begin until later in the fall, our hope was that inclement weather would push the big deer lower. And when I say big, Dallas had high hopes of bagging a 180 inch buck, but chasing that magic 200 incher was his dream!

Months of waiting came to a close as we rolled into camp just after 4:00 a.m. on Friday morning, the day before the hunt. Although we were hyped and excited for daybreak, we did manage to sleep for a couple of hours. We awoke to the sound of our alarm and wasted no time getting out into the foothills. We knew that these mild temperatures would not last, so we welcomed the temperate day spent cruising around in the side-by-side surveying the area. By late afternoon the temperature had risen into the low 60’s and we had seen several deer, including a few bucks, but we hoped the snowy weather would soon arrive.

 3x4 mule deer buck  3 point mule deer buck

                         Saw some smaller bucks                                     Didn't have my good camera on this trip

Opening morning was busy with hunters but we still managed to see quite a few deer. We saw several smaller bucks including a couple of decent 3 points and a small 4 point. While we didn’t hear many shots, we did see one hunter take a heavy 3x4; not quite the caliber of deer that we were looking for. So in hopes of escaping the crowds and finding bigger deer, we decided that we’d spend the afternoon hunting the high country.

 hiking to the high country deer hunting  looking for high country bucks

             Got our packs, heading to the high country                  Almost to the top, looking for that high country buck

After hours of hiking we finally surpassed the 10,000 foot mark. The wind was blowing at a consistent 20 mph, gusting to 30, definitely not ideal conditions for spotting deer. By the time darkness encompassed the surrounding peaks, we had only seen a couple of smaller bucks and does feeding just below the scree on a steep slope 1,000 yards away. In spite of that fact, we were highly tempted to hunker down at the base of a big pine tree to spend the night since we were so far up the mountain. However, after a quick assessment of our supplies we realized that we only had several granola bars and fewer bottles of water. Plus the drop in temperature since sundown had been significant, so we chose to turn on our headlamps and head back down the mountain.

The next morning we were greeted to a few inches of welcomed snow; lucky to have decided against staying the night on the mountain. Again we found some smaller bucks during the morning hours, but nothing to get too excited about. By mid-afternoon a significant amount of snow had melted. The trapped ground heat from several days of warm temperatures created a mucky mess. The clay dirt quickly became as slick as ice which made travel up the mountain from camp almost impossible, yet somehow we managed.

That afternoon we sat perched overlooking a steep mountain slope. Below we noticed a single deer mosey out into the open, followed by another and then another. Slowly a total of 8 deer trickled into the open, followed by a small semi-rutting buck. We thought it strange that this small buck had all of these females to himself, but figured the rut hadn’t kicked in enough to attract a bigger buck. As we sat contemplating what to do next, a nice framed 4 point buck broke from the cover. We watched as he left the small herd and moved out across the flat and finally bedded below a juniper tree across the way. He wasn’t quite the shooter we were looking for, but we were encouraged by the sight of this buck. A couple hours passed as another day came to a close, with the forecast calling for heavy snow during the night and all day Monday!

 spotting for deer across the hillside  Colorado deer hunt overlooking valley

             Spotted a few deer, looking for a big one                        Saw decent buck overlooking the valley below

Morning soon arrived. I swung open the trailer door expecting to see tons of snow but to my surprise, the storm had not laid down more than a skiff. However the storm wasn’t a complete flop since the foothills above camp were blanketed in white. Just maybe enough snow had fallen up high to begin pushing more deer lower. We piled into our side-by-side and headed up the mountain. As we climbed higher, the snow started to accumulate. We were headed for an area where we had seen quite a few doe deer the day before, hoping to find a buck chasing those deer. Finally we arrived at the ‘zone’ and it wasn’t long before we spotted several deer contrasted against the snowy white background. The first buck we spotted was a small 3 point near a few does. Next we spotted a loner 3x4, things were looking up. As we moved on to the next draw we spotted a bunch of deer below us, but not a single buck in sight. Just as we were ready to move on to the next canyon, Mark spotted some deer moving up through the draw. “There’s a nice buck, get the gun ready!” he exclaimed.

Frantically we scrambled to ready the shooting sticks and to get into a clear shooting position. The snow that had been lightly falling for the past 20 minutes was now coming down a bit harder, making spotting animals past a few hundred yards difficult at best. Dallas was standing with his gun resting upon the shooting sticks and finally had the buck in his sights. He let it be known that the buck was a shooter. It wasn’t more than a couple of seconds later that he whispered that he couldn’t hold steady. He quickly dropped to a sitting position and adjusted the sticks accordingly. Again he stated that he wasn’t steady and needed to shoot from a prone position. But without anything handy to rest his gun upon, he asked Mark to sprawl out, flat on the ground, face down in the snow, in order to rest his gun across the back of Mark’s legs. I was standing next to the spectacle that was Mark and Dallas and could barely make out the outline of the buck’s antlers standing amongst the other deer 392 yards away. Dallas too was struggling to evaluate the true size of the buck through the obscurity of snow, but confirmed that the buck’s antler frame was to his liking. For what seemed like minutes, the buck stood motionless, exactly facing us from a small opening through the trees. Dallas was tempted to take the head-on shot lest the buck turned to its right and disappeared within a single step. As the whispers between us finally came to the conclusion that Dallas better take the less-than-desirable shot, the buck took a step to its left and presented a quartering to us shot. Instantaneously Dallas squeezed the trigger. I watched through my binos as the buck dropped like a sack of potatoes as the wallop from the 6.5 Creedmoor 143 gr. Hornady ELD-X bullet echoed up the draw!

Hoots and hollers and congratulatory high fives were exchanged once we confirmed the buck lay motionless for a bit. However, retrieving the buck would not happen immediately because unlike opening day when we carried our frame packs on our backs, our packs now sat stowed away back at camp; a bit of poor planning no doubt. It would now take us hours to make our way to camp and back, so we decided to firstly go check out the deer and then return later to pack it out. Just before heading down the mountain I took one last look at the deer’s location to get my bearings and noticed the buck was gone! The guys thought I was making a cruel joke, but I wasn’t. The snow was falling harder. We were extremely concerned that the buck’s tracks would soon be covered, so we hustled down the ridge!

When we arrived at the small clearing where we suspected the buck had dropped, all that was visible were a jumble of deer tracks – not a hint of crimson anywhere. We canvassed the area, but there was no sign of a hit. Panicked, we decided to send someone back to the point of the shot to verify our current position. But first I suggested we look a little further down the ridge. I thought it might be possible that we were slightly off the mark, especially since the surrounding terrain now looked much different than from the view above. Cautiously I ventured further down the ridge as Dallas and Mark continued their semi-circles looking for blood. After a minute or two I came upon a smaller opening that I thought just might be the point of impact. I eased another 10 yards into the opening -- there in front of me I saw the depression in the snow where the buck had dropped, but no deer remained. A few more steps took me closer to a steep embankment where I then spotted the toboggan sized swath in the snow where the deer had relaxed and slid 80 yards down the hill before coming to rest! I gave a big “woohoo” shout!

The guys were on me in an instant. I had not dared take more than a glimpse of the buck, instead giving that honor to Dallas. As Dallas led the way, I heard “he’s got trash – he’s big!” It isn’t often that you walk up on a buck and experience the opposite of ground shrinkage; he was instead a giant, a buck dreams are made of!

 iwenthunting deer non-typical 6x7 200 inch buck 

                                    Dallas with his dream buck -- non-typical 6x7   200+ inch buck!

It took some time to go and get our frame packs, but we got the buck caped and quartered in no time. And between the three of us the pack out wasn’t bad at all.

 quartered deer and backpacking out 

                      Mark and Dallas heading back up the mountain with our buck       

On our way out of town we stopped at the local gas station and were swarmed by the local deer hunters. They were more than anxious to hear our story and couldn’t believe a buck of this size was taken from the very mountains they were hunting. And one of the guys we met there happened to be an official scorer and offered to score our buck, we gladly obliged. When all was said and done, Dallas had not only surpassed his hopes of bagging 180 in. buck, but he had in fact broke the magic 200 mark with an impressive score of 205 ¼ inches!

 Colorado 6x7 buck  giant non-typical mule deer

                             Finally back to camp                                             Awesome contrast against the night sky