Was More Like an Easter Egg Hunt

As the RVs piled into the area and filled about every vacant void, the anxiety within me was building. Suddenly there were camps everywhere. Having never hunted deer in this part of Colorado I wasn’t sure what to expect come opening day, but from the looks of things it appeared as if it was going to be a cluster. But first let me back up a little…

 Colorado sunset over the cedars 

                         All alone on this trip since kids’ school / work schedules conflicted 

I arrived a few days before the start of the hunt. My plan was to familiarize myself with the area while doing some scouting but suddenly I was in for a bit of a surprise. As soon as I turned off the pavement, the easy-going-to-this-point trip turned into an absolute battle. Apparently Mother Nature had recently unleashed her fury by dumping a significant amount of moisture from the sky. The dirt road was a soggy mess. In fact, a better description would be a mud road since there wasn’t a dry piece of soil in sight. It was white knuckle driving as I did everything I could to keep my truck and trailer from sliding off the road and down the embankment. At the absolute first spot possible, I pulled off. This place was the location that I’d call home for the remainder of my stay.

 gumbo mud  frozen gumbo mud

          Gumbo mud stuck to everything                    After freezing it came off a little easier   

Without spending a single second leveling my trailer or arranging gear, I unloaded my Polaris RZR side-by-side and headed up the mountain. The forecast called for an overnight snow storm, so my goal was to get a few hours of scouting in before nightfall. As I maneuvered my 4 wheel drive RZR up the narrow slick road, I was happy with my decision to bring an OHV because relying solely on a truck to get around would have been impossible given the sloppy conditions. While I didn’t see any deer that first evening, neither did I see many hunting camps. However, with the hunt still days away I was very concerned that the hunting pressure might become heavy.

 overnight snow  mule deer buck in the snow

          Getting ready to face the snowy conditions                      Nice little buck on the edge of thick cedars  

The next morning I braved the snow and had a productive outing. For whatever reason, I never expected to find elk in the area but did. I also saw several deer, including a couple of small 4 point bucks, very promising. Time went on until it was Friday and that’s when the hunters began pouring in. I talked to several and most seemed to have a similar strategy and destination in mind, mainly because the area was so thick with cedar trees that most of the locale seemed unhuntable. From the looks of things, tomorrow was shaping up to be something like that of an Easter egg hunt where all the kids (in this case - hunters) gather into one general area, they line up waiting for the go signal (in this case - dawn to break) and the hunt is on! Next shouts (in this case - gunshots) ring out signaling the discovery of a hidden egg (in this case - a buck)! But even with the impending chaos that’s sure to be opening day, I made the rash decision to run into town to buy an over-the-counter elk tag. I knew that the decision to buy a tag was risky, but since I had already invested a significant amount of time and fuel money, I decided to take the chance that I just might see a bull elk.

 6 point bull elk  5 point bull elk

                 Completely surprised to turn up elk                                   More bulls had me contemplating O-T-C tag  

Opening morning came and hunters were indeed numerous. Fortunately I had located a destination glassing point days before and was able to easily arrive more than an hour before light. But it wasn’t long before hunters were walking down the ridge right past me. Soon I watched as headlamps danced along the pitch black hillside across from me as more hunters crowded into the area. Eventually the twilight sky revealed orange specks dotting the mountain, hunters galore. Yet surprisingly within that crowd I also spotted deer. In fact, just below me less than 150 yards away were ten deer including several young bucks and a small 4 point, but unfortunately none of them met my day-one criteria. It wasn’t long before gunshots echoed about. The sporadic blasts continued for the first couple of hours until all was still. It was then that I decided to pack up my gear to go explore in an attempt to locate more animals. Sometime after noon I located a perch that overlooked a small valley which provided a suitable vantage point so I decided to stay put for the evening.

 4 point mule deer buck 

                      4 point standing just below me opening morning

As the sun began to sink lower in the sky, a few deer meandered out into the open until there were eight. Through my spotting scope I began to examine each deer and noticed a decent sized buck. At that point I zoomed in for a closer look. Suddenly my heart started to race, the buck had a little kicker antler point! That unique characteristic was enough to instantly flip the take-a-shot switch. I grabbed my gun. However, for the next 5 – 7 frustrating minutes I fought with the glare in my scope. At low power I could see the deer but couldn’t tell which one was the buck. But as soon as I’d crank up the scope’s magnification, the sun’s glare completely obscured my ability to see anything, a complete whiteout. I switched back and forth between my spotting scope (from which I did not have trouble viewing the buck) and my rifle scope until eventually I was able to single out the buck; all that time worrying that another hunter might discover and shoot the buck out from underneath me. Time was running out. The buck had now fed up the hillside and was getting close to the cover of the thick cedar trees. I began to panic even more. Finally the buck was in my sights, it was now or never. I squeezed the trigger expecting the buck to drop -- it didn’t. Maybe I rushed the shot or jerked or slightly adjusted because of the glare, who knows but apparently I missed.

At the blast I mostly lost sight of the buck so I hurried to the spotting scope. At 600 yards I zeroed in on the buck -- he appeared to be unscathed. As the buck continued across the hillside on his final stroll into the trees, I got a very clear view of the buck and could not see any sign of injury or distress. Disheartened I watched as the buck quickly vanished. As day faded to night I continually replayed that missed-deer event over and over in my mind. And for the life of me I could not determine what had gone wrong; that haunting scenario plagued me for what seemed like forever.

 bullet grazed deer's rear end  4 point deer antler shed

  Guess I grazed the buck's hind end after all     Antler shed - only reward after frustrating day  

That next morning just before dawn, I nestled into the same spot where I sat roughly twelve hours before. While doubtful that the same buck would show itself again, I sure hoped he would, especially considering my limited viewing options elsewhere. As the glow of dawn began to light the hillside across the way, I searched but could not see any deer. Skepticism from the events of last night started to overwhelm me as I began to convince myself that I wasn’t going to see a single deer. However, a few more minutes passed and the lighting improved just enough that I began picking out individual deer amidst the brush. Finally I could see deer feeding out into the open. Gravitating from my binoculars to the spotting scope did the trick, antlers popped into view! Immediately I zoomed to 60x power and my heart skipped a beat -- there it was, the unmistakable kicker on the buck’s right antler, it was the same buck from last night!

In no time I had the gun resting solidly with the scope aimed squarely at the buck’s vitals. But unlike yesterday there was no glaring sunlight to contend with. Softly I squeezed the trigger. What seemed like seconds passed as the bullet traveled the 445 yards across the canyon. At last the Hornady 143 gr. ELD-X bullet reached its mark as the impact slammed the buck to the ground! Completely surprised by what had just happened, I grabbed the spotting scope and stared at the buck in disbelief. For a couple of minutes I sat admiring the buck until finally I grabbed my phone and started sending text messages to family and friends. One of the text responses I received was “go get your hands on the buck” to which I replied “it’s barely light, I’m going to hang tight to see if an elk shows up”, but in reality I thought -- fat chance of that happening.

 spotting scope on deer and elk 

         Ecstatic - just dropped my buck!

Relishing in my good fortune I continued to glass the surrounding area. A while later as the first rays of sun splashed across the canyon something caught my eye. There at the edge of the cedar trees was an unusual tan spot. I grabbed my binoculars and instantly saw two elk standing side by side – both had antlers! Again I reached for my indispensable friend, the spotting scope, and began counting antler tines. Fact: the over-the-counter elk tag requires that a tag holder shoot a bull elk that has at least four antler points on a given side. First bull - one, two, three, four, five – legal! Second bull - one, two, three, four, enough counting – legal!

Just as before, my Savage 6.5 Creedmoor was again resting solidly with the crosshairs of the scope situated perfectly on the animal’s chest. I touched off a shot. Another seemingly long delay but the result was exactly as before, the bull dropped in his tracks at 523 yards! Unbelievable, two animals down within ½ hour of each other -- I honestly could not believe my dumb luck!!

 5 point mule deer buck, sticker antler point  5 point bull elk

    Little "sticker" point added some interesting character           Definitely at the right place at the right time 

This good fortune actually had me excited for the grueling pack out job ahead, even though I’d have to do it alone. Fortunately I had an entire week of scheduled vacation remaining so there was no pressure to get back to work. I literally had days and days to spare. However, despite the semi-difficult pack out task, I was able to get both animals quartered and had the deer back to camp before dark. As for the elk, it took a little more work but it too was back to camp by late afternoon the following day. Tired and a little worse for wear, I took the next few days to sit back, relax and enjoy the outdoors before heading home.

 packing out elk shadow  Finally back to camp with both animals

                 The pack out is almost complete                                     Finally back to camp with both animals