High Country Roller Coaster

By Kevin Clerkin

Kevin ClerkinKevin Clerkin
Colorado, 2009, DIY, Public Land

My heart sank as the buck disappeared over the ridge. I had put so much hard work, thought, and research into the hunt, and after the shot I watched him disappear into the basin. Was the hit good enough? Did I catch liver and lung? These questions burned as I stood up to peek over the ridge. I could only see one of the bucks bounding away; the others had disappeared into the timber below...

My 2009 muzzleloader hunt was a result of the passion for mule deer I’ve developed over the past several years. On a previous hunt, I had set a personal goal to only take a mature deer. That season I ended up taking my first trophy mule deer on an exhilarating stalk through sagebrush flats. The buck grossed just over 183. My first taste of true high country deer hunting had been in the 2008 muzzleloader season. I went in almost blind on a statistically low success leftover tag, basing all of my hunting on hearsay. On that hunt I felt a shift from my traditional roots of waterfowl hunting and general rifle tags to the beauty and solitude of hunting the high country. I ended up hunting hard and taking a tall but narrow 5x5 with great mass - a great start to my high country experience.

As I was planning my 2009 hunt, I kept replaying images of giant deer I had seen. I had heard stories of huge bucks hanging out on the winter range through the rut. I thought to myself, “These big bucks have to be hanging out in the high country during summer.”

I decided to apply for a muzzleloader license. The season was in September, so I was sure I would be able to scout bucks in the summer and have a decent chance of finding them during the season. I scoured maps and used every tool available. I tried to find areas most hunters wouldn’t be willing or able to access, and areas people wouldn’t expect to hold deer. Before my scouting trips, I purchased Mike Eastman’s Hunting High Country Mule Deer and read it cover to cover. I also committed to running several times per week.

My brother Jason and I hit the trail for our first scouting trip in July. The day ended without seeing a single buck, but we had the lay of the land. Subsequent trips revealed several bucks, but nothing that I wanted to chase. On my final trip in early August, I left the trailhead at 3:30 a.m. to be in glassing position of a basin where my friend Nick and I had spotted several bucks on a previous trip. There were 75 elk working across the basin, with some large bulls hanging out on the other side. I was worried that the elk activity would push any deer out, but just as I was feeling ready to relocate, I spotted two bucks working down a screestrewn north face. When the larger buck bedded down uphill from a tree, I put the spotting scope on him. The longer I watched, the bigger he seemed to get. I couldn’t see his eyeguards, but his forks looked great. This was the buck that I would hunt.

Kevin Clerkin

For a full account of Kevin's adventure, go to page 18 in the February/March 2010 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.