Lightning Strikes Twice in Colorado

By Mitch Crouser

Mitch Crouser Mitch Crouser
Colorado, 2005
Public Land, DIY

"Wouldn't it be something if a big old buck walked right across this clearing?" whispered my hunting partner, Mark Maunder, as we sat glassing for deer in the warm afternoon Colorado sun. The words literally had barely left his mouth when he exclaimed "Oh my God, there he is!" At that instant, a tremendous mule deer buck walked into the small clearing and began raking some sagebrush. "I think he'll go close to 200 B&C," Mark said as he scrutinized the buck through his binoculars. You can't let this one go. The fact that we could even consider passing on a buck of this caliber was crazy, but this had been our eighth buck over 175 B&C that we had seen in the past few days.

Our story began in 2004 when I drew a coveted mule deer tag for a limited draw area in western Colorado. Mark didn't have a tag, but being a mule deer fanatic, he came along to join me in search of a big buck. I did my research on the area, talking to state wildlife biologists, the BLM, the Forest Service, and other hunters. After doing the legwork, I was a little disappointed at what these people said to expect as to the caliber of deer in this unit.

Due to the distance we had to travel from our homes in Oregon, Mark and I would not be able to do any pre-season scouting trips. Our plan was to get to Colorado a couple of days before the season opened and check out some areas that had been recommended and a couple of others that looked good on the maps. We were going to need a little bit of luck too, since it's always tough hunting an area that you have never been to before.

Once we got to Colorado, we were disappointed that there were many more roads in the area than the maps had shown. We tried to locate remote areas that had no road access. We thought we had located just such an area on opening day after hiking up a rugged canyon for two hours in the dark.

We began glassing at first light and immediately spotted several mule deer, including a couple of nice bucks. We had been glassing for only 30 minutes when we were disturbed by the steady drone of ATV's closing in on us. The sound did not go unnoticed by the deer either, as they drifted out of the open sage back into the cover of the juniper trees. Mark and I went through this same scenario for three days - hiking to our glassing point by first light, spotting deer and then having ATV's drive into our area and scare the deer back into the junipers. Finally we asked a guy on an ATV how in the world he was getting up here - he obviously wasn't coming up the same canyon we were hiking every morning, and our maps showed no other roads coming into the area.

The hunter gave us directions and early the next morning we worked our way up the rugged road in my Ford crew cab. That day we saw a couple of good bucks that were more in line with what we had expected from this unit. The next morning we returned to the area. Right at first light, Mark spotted a buck bedded nearby. The buck had picked out a great spot to bed down. He was lying in a depression behind a big log with a dead juniper behind him. The buck's antlers looked incredibly tall, but it was hard to make out in the low light with the dead branches behind him. After waiting years for this tag, I wanted to make sure what I was looking at. Just then, the buck stood up and turned sideways, silhouetting his antlers against the morning sky. There was no doubt as to his size, and I took the shot, dropping him back into his bed. When we got up to him, we couldn't believe the body size of the buck - we estimated him at 350-plus pounds live weight and he would later yield 127 pounds of boned venison. He was the tallest buck either of us had ever seen. The buck was 29 inches wide, had 20-inch G-2's, and scored 193 gross B&C. We knew we had to figure out some way of getting back here next year.

After months of searching in 2005, I was finally able to obtain on of the coveted land-owner tags for this unit. Unfortunately again, Mark did not have a tag, but he decided to accompany me as we attempted to top last year's hunt, knowing that the odds of that happening would be like lightning striking twice in the same spot. We arrived at our hunting area a couple of days before the season opened. The increased moisture this year had really made a difference as to the quality of bucks we were seeing. One buck that we spotted three separate times in our pre-season scouting was a giant four point.

In the days prior to the season, Mark and I had the area to ourselves, but opening morning was a rude awakening as an armada of ATVs headed into our area at first light. With the disturbance of the ATVs, the big bucks we had been watching vanished. There were still a lot of does and smaller bucks coming out into the open, but not the big guys. We knew we had to change our tactics if we were to repeat last year's success, so we started hiking into more remote areas and glassing from the rocky knobs common to this country. We actually began to use the disturbance of the ATVs to our advantage. We found that the big bucks could be glassed from higher vantage points as they moved through the junipers throughout the day. We passed on several nice bucks in the 180-class over the next few days as we continued our search for the huge four point we had seen in the days prior to the season.

On the morning of the fifth day we passed on a big 30-inch four point because we decided his forks weren't deep enough. It seemed crazy to let the mule deer hunter's Holy Grail, a 30-inch buck, walk away, but we did. Later that day we hiked into a new area that really looked good. There was a rocky knob to glass from in all directions and several small openings in the junipers scattered around it. It was on this knob, as we sat glassing in the warm afternoon sun, that Mark said "Wouldn't it be something if a big old buck walked right across this clearing?"

Just then, a huge four-point buck along with another 170-class four point and two does walked into the clearing. As the big buck raked the sage in front of him, we could tell he was about 30 inches wide, but it wasn't until he turned to the side that we got the full view as to his overall size. Mark said, "I think he'll go close to 200 B&C, you can't let this one go." The buck was a long way out there and I wanted to cut the distance down, but every time I took a step on the crunchy ground in the dead still conditions, the buck would look up in our direction. As I was figuring out the best route to stalk the buck, three other bucks wandered out halfway between us and the big one. At this point, I realized I had to make the shot from this spot. I felt confident in my shooting ability since I had done a lot of practicing this summer and fall with my 12 year-old son Ryan, who had scored on a nice buck on his first hunt back in Oregon just weeks earlier. (See Ryan's buck in our Younger Generation Section)

I set up my shooting sticks for the steep downhill shot, took careful aim and slowly squeezed the trigger on my old .300 Winchester Mag. The shot felt good, but the buck bolted to the right, and out of my view. A second later Mark yelled "He's down!" Not wanting to take any chances, I watched the sage clearing where he had gone down for a few minutes, then scrambled down the rocky knob and out into the clearing. After a short search we found the buck in the sage. He was huge! A 30-inch spread and real tall. What an unbelievable buck! The shot had taken him right through the heart - perfect. The buck later scored 201 gross B&C. Lightning had struck twice in Colorado.

I would like to thank my friend Mark Maunder, who without his help I would not have been able to harvest these two great bucks. I would also like to thank my wife Lisa, for putting up with my hunting obsession for the past 20 years.