August/September 2011 EHJ (Issue 126) - After explaining to Doug that it was bittersweet to end my hunt on the first day of the 2010 Colorado muzzleloader season, he quickly reminded me that in reality, my hunt started long ago. He was absolutely right! In my six hunting seasons since moving to Colorado, a mule deer tag was something I carried in my pack just in case one ran in front of me while elk hunting. However, after last year’s archery elk season had ended with another filled bull tag, I began dreaming of a new challenge - an early season, high country mule deer hunt.
That winter, I started researching everything related to mule deer hunting. Armed with a handful of mule deer preference points and lots of ambition, I concluded that I would try to draw a coveted muzzleloader deer tag. I was aware this would be a challenging hunt, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, I enjoy doing things the hard way, even when the odds are stacked against me. One of greatest variables in my decision of where to hunt was that my good friends, Spencer and Doug, live and breathe hunting in that area.
My first scouting trip was in mid July and we spotted 15-20 bucks that first weekend. After assessing the potential, I decided I would pursue a mature 170 or better buck - not a monster, but a definite trophy for this rookie! The way I figured it, "If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time!” That maxim has taken deep root in everything I do, including my hunting passions, so I decided not to waver.
The last evening of my summer scouting, I decided to check out a new basin Spencer and Doug had told me about. After a steep climb up a rugged avalanche chute and a walk farther back toward the head of the basin, I came to a perfect spot to glass the exposed alpine cirque that surrounded me. I spent the evening picking apart the alpine landscape and studying the terrain. As the sun began to set, I looked above tree line and spotted a glowing figure. It didn’t take long to note that it was a big buck; in fact, the largest I’d seen all summer. He was wide, with good forks, great mass and two cheaters on his left antler. I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in my field judging, so I tempered my expectations a bit, but I felt he could be over 30 inches wide and was well above 170. This deer dwarfed most of the bucks I had glassed. As I left the basin, I prayed that "Big Boy” would still be there next week.
The evening before opening day, I decided to hike into the basin. I pushed into to the same meadow where I had first spotted him and glassed every exposed part of the basin. I continued to pick apart the terrain, but as the sun went behind the ridge and darkness crept in, my heart and ambition slowly sank. In one last-ditch effort to find a deer - any deer - I looked up and scanned the cirque one last time. To my surprise, I noticed movement just at the edge of some subalpine fir. It was him! My spirit was renewed.
I recently read a fishing quote by John Buchan that translates perfectly to the realm of hunting. "The charm of fishing [hunting] is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable; a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” That opening morning, filled with significant hope of attaining the elusive, I headed off into the dark, damp and crisp morning, prepared to stay out up to five days.
For a full account of Lewie's adventure, go to page 22 in the August/September 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.