I had always dreamed of sheep hunting. I think I read everything Jack OíConnor wrote on the subject, and the thought of getting my sights on one of those keen eyed, curly horned mountain dwellers sometimes kept me awake at night. After moving to Colorado in 1975, I started sending in my application for the limited draw license. Finally, in 1987, my dream became a reality. The coveted tag arrived in the mail. But that story will have to wait for another time. This story is about deer.
The reason I started out talking about sheep is that I found out that anywhere you find sheep in the mountains of Colorado, you will also find mule deer -- BIG mule deer! It seemed as though every time I raised my glasses on my sheep hunt, I saw a big mule deer buck. Some of these mule deer bucks were enormous.
One morning in particular, after hiking over the spine of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains from the east side to the west in the bone chilling early morning, I set up in what I thought was sheep heaven with my Zeiss glasses. I started looking just as the sun crept up over the ridge behind me. My heart skipped a beat as I spotted a large bodied animal with a cream colored rump within about 400 yards, but rather than curled horns, he sported a massive set of forked antlers. As I studied him, others came into view, until I was looking at a herd of 14 mule deer bucks, any of which would measure in the 180 class. But the one huge behemoth I spotted first was a true Booner. His antlers were at least 36 inches wide, and the bases were probably 3 Ĺ inches in diameter. He had a beautiful 4x4 rack with brow tines and lots of mass and deep forks. I would gladly have traded my sheep tag for a high country mule deer buck tag at the time. Colorado has a special mule deer permit for the Sangres that is an early season September hunt. It is almost as sought after as the bighorn sheep tags are.
Last year, my son Kenny drew this tag, and as I had promised, I took him to the spot where I had seen these deer 20 years before. Now, mind you, this is not just an everyday day hike that gets you there. We geared up for a full blown backpack hunt, intending to stay for up to 5 days if thatís what it took to fill his tag. Kenny is a strapping 23 year old that could probably carry his own weight on his back, so I had no qualms about letting him carry the tent, the stove, and most of the food so as to lighten the load on my worn out knees. Even so, I had about 35 pounds in my pack. His was more like 55 pounds. We started walking from the jump off point where we parked the truck at around 10 am, on the day before the season started.
I had planned our hike with the help of Google Earth, and took advantage of a couple shortcuts, so we made it to our camp spot just as the sun was setting in the west. Google said the elevation was right at 13,000 feet. We hurriedly set up camp in a sheltered spot and got out our glasses. The first sweep came up empty. Then I spotted what looked like a bunch of like-looking rocks about a mile across the valley below us. Closer inspection showed that all those rocks had antlers!!! 18 of them did, in fact. To save weight, we had not brought a spotting scope, but looking through the Bushnell Elite 5-15 on his 300 RUM showed that more than a few of these bucks were shooters. My son had decided his minimum was a good representative buck in the 24-28 inch class at least, and there were several of those. We ate a cold supper of MREís and turned in early with high hopes for the next dayís hunt. The wind woke us up sometime during the night, blowing at gale force to our dismay, but by sunup it had calmed and we started glassing again.
The herd of bucks were in almost the same place we had seen them the night before. The trouble was that to get to them we would be in plain sight most of the way down. Using the cover of the sparse vegetation at this altitude, and moving slow and easy, we were able to close the distance to a measured 600 yards. I felt very confident that Kenny could make this shot, as we had his gun dialed in with a drop chart all the way to 800, and he had practiced a lot. But he wanted to try to get a little closer.
There was a little swale in front of us where we could drop down out of sight, then come up on a point that would put us at about 300 yards. Just as we were coming up on the spot we had planned to make the shot from, a doe and fawn that we had not seen earlier blew out of the creek bed and spooked the whole herd of bucks. They ran back out to the 600 yard mark again and stopped. After ranging them and getting Kenny set up on his bipods, we started trying to figure which one to shoot. I liked a tall, wide racked buck that was in about the center of the herd, but we could not get on the same page as to which one and where he was before they got jittery and took off around the curve of the ridge. Oh well, thatís why they call it hunting and not killing.