Above Timberline Adventure

By Michael Steward
Colorado, 2011, DIY, Public Land

Michael Steward - Above Timberline AdventureFebruary/March 2012 EHJ (Issue 129) - Buck fever was starting to overtake me as more and more adrenaline pumped through my veins. I told myself, "breathe, breathe, you only have one shot at this!” As the cool, crisp, highelevation air filled my lungs, I felt my senses sharpen and the muzzleloader steady. The open sights covered the buck’s massive body. My instincts quickly took over as I settled on my aiming point and began to squeeze. As he turned, thunder echoed through the basin and the smoke-filled air lingered for what felt like eternity. Finally, I could see him through the smoke. Big buck down! After months of preparation, a day of driving and countless hours studying topos, it finally happened above the timberline in Colorado’s majestic backcountry. I just harvested the buck of my dreams; a symmetrical deep-forked four-point.

I had an early season muzzleloader mule deer tag in my pocket and couldn’t wait to head to the high country. With the fear of losing a lung on top of a 14,000 ft mountain, I began to train like I have for no other hunt. Summers in the desert are always tough and it’s even tougher to stay in shape while trying to avoid the sweltering temperatures. Not being very heat tolerant, I bought a treadmill so I would not have an excuse for not exercising. For months, I ran on the treadmill trying to build my cardio and not go crazy staring at the inside of my house. Finally, September had arrived. Late Thursday evening, Tucson was in the rear-view mirror as my hunting buddy, Kyle, and I headed east down I-10 with the truck thermometer reading 106F.

After driving for nearly 15 hours and hardly catching any shut-eye due to the tight quarters of the truck cab, we arrived to the first scouting area. I had selected five separate basins during my long distance scouting efforts using pointers from friends, topos and Google Earth. As we neared the end of the road leading up the first basin, we were greeted with a light blanket of snow and 30-degree temperatures. Man, was it nice to be out of the desert heat. I was in awe as this was the first time I had set foot in Colorado’s backcountry above the timberline. A feeling of humbleness overwhelmed me as I stared up at the bare peaks and rocky slopes, which seemed to partition the sky.

As we looked around the majestic mountains, silence was interrupted by the wind slamming the truck door shut. This was taken as a sign to hit the trail and get some glassing in before the day got too late. Studying the terrain over for a few minutes we picked a distant vantage point, strapped on our boots, grabbed our packs and started hiking. After huffing and puffing and trying to get used to the lack of oxygen, we finally reached our vantage point to glass from. After only a short while glassing, the only words coming out of our mouths were "bucks, bucks and more bucks.” We had just started scouting and had already located 17 bucks.

Being from Arizona, where mature bucks are few and far between, we were ecstatic to say the least. Within a few minutes of glassing, we had seen several dandy mulies, many of which I would be more than happy to tag. A deep-forked four-point appeared and then just as quickly disappeared into the deceptively tall willows. That brief glance of the big elusive four-point was enough to determine that this spot is where I wanted to spend opening day. Kyle and I both knew that we found a definite shooter buck and that our scouting was over. As dusk approached, we marked our position, bedded a couple bucks in the 170 class and headed back to camp. While making our way out of the high country buck pasture, we tried to pick a route through the willow thickets and creeks, which would be navigable the next morning.

As we made camp and settled in for the night, I could not get my mind off what the next day would hold. Excited and restless, I felt like a kid again going hunting with my dad for the first time. I have been hunting mule deer for nearly 18 years and had not yet harvested a B&C buck. I have had some of the best memories of my life in deer camp with my dad and friends but still have not been able to harvest a big mulie. Replaying good times from hunting trips in my mind for several hours helped pass a sleepless night. Switching from past memories over to the possibility of new ones, I couldn’t get opening day out of my mind…would this finally be my opportunity to harvest a trophy buck and would that deep-forked four-point show himself again? When the alarm finally sounded at 3:30 a.m., I sprung out of bed eager get back to our glassing point we had left the night before.

Michael Steward - Above Timberline Adventure

For a full account of Michael's adventure, go to page 34 in the February/March 2012 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.