Velvet at 13,000 feet

An adventure in the mountains no matter how long or short is something that is sought after by many. Whether a person knows it or not, they have a longing to face the fear of the unknown and conquer obstacles once thought to be impossible. Sooner or later you come face to face with this challenge and find out if you have what it takes to push hard enough to succeed.

The following is my account of a successful hunt that happened on August 27, 2017, in Colorado and the couple weeks leading up to the day. During the hunting portion of my adventure I was alone, but before the hunt and after the kill I had many give me solid advise and lend a hand in my pursuits.

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I found out that I had drawn my deer tag while I was working in Africa in June. After arriving back in the States, I spent one day at home, and quickly went back up to Colorado at the beginning of July. The next month and a half consisted of losing some weight as I had bulked up quite a bit from the fantastic food in Africa, and traveling back and forth from Texas and Colorado while balancing school and work.

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I started scouting two weeks before the season mainly focusing on areas above 12,000 feet in elevation. The deer in this area, for the most part, spend the first part of the season up high before they migrate down. I loved the allure of the steep country and the difficulty that would come with planning a stalk in areas where the cover was minimal at best. Plus you always hunt where the animals are. I wouldn’t foresee myself hiking up some of these areas for recreational use but to scout or hunt; I would hike up and down until I could do no more.

I was fortunate enough to find an amazing buck in an area that I had not labeled as a spot to see a giant.  I watched him for the better part of two weeks doing my best to “guard” him per-say. Three to four days before the season started, my cousin and I were doing the usual race up the mountain before first light routine. We turned onto the 4wd road well before first light. Unfortunately, there was a guy unloading his four-wheeler decked out in Kuiu gear. I thought surely he was stopping at a spot before my glassing area. But sure enough, as we started our hike he was a few hundred yards ahead of us. A few hours later he came down, and AJ and I started talking. He was hunting elk and had killed a nice buck up there the year before. We started sharing some stories which led to a few scouting trips together and ended with a final pack out of his dad’s bull two weeks later along with a new hunting friendship.

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I set up a camp where I was planning on making my approach to this buck. He was in a very easy to access spot, and I felt uneasy as I do not enjoy hunting in crowded places. Two guys were setting up a camp a hundred yards down from me, so I decided to make small talk. My account of the story was that I politely informed Troy and Denny of the big buck’s presence, and told them that it was open game but that I would be up there first thing opening morning. Troy has a funnier version of it but anyhow that molded into an amazing friendship. We went up and scouted the area a couple of times, and they were very insightful on tactics for mule deer hunting to which I was very grateful. Plus, they cooked good food and had a warm tent.

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My plans for opening day took an unexpected turn when in the last hour on the day before the opener, the big buck vacated his area and ventured into country that was unknown to me. I decided to hunt my plan B spot which still had some very nice bucks. I camped up high that night and fell asleep under the stars. A light layer of frost was on my beard when I woke up and slowly moved out of my bag ready to conquer the day.

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These bucks had a habit of feeding in a lower basin before heading to the cliffs up high to bed for the day. At first light, I glassed the basin and saw one deer. I made the hike over to set up in a position that would put me within 70 yards of the bucks as they walked by. After an hour of waiting and not seeing any deer, I had two does cut across the rocks above me at 46 yards. To my disappointment, however, the two mature bucks took a higher trail and passed at 90 yards. I had another doe walk 20 yards from me as well which helped give me a little confidence boost in knowing I could get close to the animals despite the lack of cover. I watched them walk straight up the mountainside and bed high up just above a cliff. I located some landmarks and hiked back out to start the long trek to go around behind them. I’ll spare the details of the rest of the day, but it consisted of six hours of waiting just out of range of the bedded bucks unable to close the final few yards and one blown stalk on a nice buck after a mile stalk. It was an entertaining first day to which I decided was successful in that I had learned a few things about specific deer behaviors and how to navigate the rugged ridges.

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I awoke the morning of the 27th again with some frost on my beard and the coals of my fire smoking slightly. I made my way to glass where I had seen a few deer at last light the evening before. I located the bachelor group of bucks from the morning before, but this time they were on top of the ridge heading farther back into a hidden bowl. I was able to glass them for 15 minutes before they went out of sight. I boiled some water and enjoyed a quick meal of oatmeal and coffee, packed my pack, and started the hike straight up. The hike wasn’t impossibly hard, and I won’t play it up as something that was a trek that only I can do, but it was pretty dang rough. Gnarly is a term I like to use to describe it. It was just under 2,000 vertical feet up to the bottom part of the ridge. I was able to reach out and touch the ground straight in front of me for most of the hike to give you a reference for the steepness. Once on top, I was looking south into the hidden bowl for the now bedded bucks. To my surprise, I found them on the north side of the ridge almost at the top. They were a mile away or so. I only saw two deer, one was a large 4×4, and the other was a large 6×4. I knew both deer well from scouting and watching them the day before. They were bedded just below the ridge, and I guessed them to be 50-60 yards from the top of the ridge. A makable shot in the right conditions. The south-facing side of the ridge was made up of cliffs and very little room for passage. There were deer below me in the basin so I needed to stay as high as possible to keep my scent from busting them. It took about an hour and a half to get within 200 yards of the spot that I had decided would be my “kill spot.” A few places along my trek were difficult in navigating somewhat safely, but I made it threw none the less. This last climb up was tricky as it was steep and had loose rocks. I had to place my bow above me and clear out debris for two foot holes every time I wanted to move. There were some hidden crevices to my left, and the chance of there being a buck bedded up in them was high, so I moved slowly and with purpose. After the meticulous and somewhat grueling slow climb, I had cleared that area and was now focused on the top of the ridge 35 yards in front of me.

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There were three small saddles in front of me. My original plan was to come through the upper one, but it was covered in unstable rock making a quiet approach not possible. My second option was also covered in rocks so I had to resort to my third option which fortunately was covered in grass. I quietly took off my boots as size 13 feet can be loud and started inching my way up to the ridge. About five yards from the crest, I laid on my back. I moved slowly inching ever so close to the edge checking between every blade of grass for fur. I was just reaching the top when I spotted the tip of an antler through the grass just below me. Luckily my calculation had been wrong on the bucks being 50-60 yards away as this buck looked to be only 10-15 yards from me. I moved two feet closer and knocked an arrow. I was now able to see that the buck was bedded and was facing me. He was the 6×4 I had scouted. I was mentally preparing myself for the shot. I was calm and figured that he would be standing up in a hour or so as it was half past noon at that moment. Those next few minutes passed by so quickly as I was mesmerized at his antler movement. I was peering through a few blades of grass in front of me with my rangefinder. I needed him to stand up and move to the right for a clear shot through a slight depression on the ridge.

At 12:40, he stood up.

I quickly found that all the preparing I had done in the past few minutes and the months before went out the door as I came down with an extreme case of buck fever. He fed to my right and set up perfectly in my lane at 12:42. I ranged him at 36 yards.

I was watching his antler move back and forth and waited until I saw the rack facing away from me. I drew while laying on my back and slowly raised to a seated position. I rested my pin and squeezed. If you have ever just shot an arrow into the air and watch it for what seems miles, then you know what I saw next. My arrow went right across his back and is probably still flying today. I had no time to be frustrated. I quickly laid back down and watched the velvet antlers take two bounds and stop. I could tell he had no clue what had just happened and was not buggered very much. I grabbed another arrow from my quiver and knocked it. This time I was even more focused. Between both shots it was only 10 seconds at most but so much went through my mind. I knew I had shot high. First off, I’ll admit that it was user error for the most part. I had a tendency of shooting slightly high. My two adjustments I knew I had to make was to find my peep once I was on target and not beforehand. Steep angle shots require different hip movements to acquire your peep and add that to drawing while entirely horizontal, and you could have issues. I was also 3,000 feet higher in elevation than where I sighted in my arrows so that had a slight effect as well. At this moment I know that once I raise to shoot, I will have 5-6 seconds of a shot opportunity before the deer disappears.

I raise up to my sitting position while drawing. As soon as I do the buck turns perfectly broadside and we both lock eyes.

I didn’t have time to range again but I figured him to be at 40 yards. His body angled downhill with the side of his body where my arrow would exit being lower than the entry. I placed my 30 yard pin just in from behind his shoulder and halfway up his body. My plan was for my arrow to hit in the lower part of the shoulder and to exit perfectly halfway up on the other side. I released and heard the distinct popping sound that every bowhunter loves. The buck immediately disappeared off down a steep shale side. There would be no waiting to track him however as I immediately jumped up to my feet and ran to where he was bedded initially. As I was running towards the edge I ran ten steps from the large 4×4 who was still bedded down. He looked very confused as to what was going on. He quickly spooked out of there along with three other bucks. I came to the edge and saw a buck running below me. He looked to be somewhat clumsy in his steps but once he stopped and looked back up my way, I saw no wound and quickly figured that this was not my buck. At that moment I glanced to my right to where I had sat the day before for six hours, and just below the saddle I saw him.

The buck was no more.

It’s hard to describe what that moment was like. He had run 80 yards and had died within a few seconds of my shot; something that any hunter strives for. I moved back up to the saddle where I had made the shot and looked on my GPS, elevation: 13,025 feet. I had always dreamed of shooting a deer above the 13 mark, and somehow I had accomplished it. I started working my way on top of the ridge; slowly moving down the short cliffs that separated me from my trophy. As I got closer and closer, I still just couldn’t believe what I had just done. Doing it alone to me was quite the feat, but then again I had no one to share this moment with. But then and there if not just for a moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. In here, amongst all the cliffs, steep crevices, and endless openness, there lay my deer. As I walked up to him, he just kept on growing and growing. Not just antlers but body size as well. He was curled up on a steep slope, so the first thing I had to do was to drag him the short distance up to the ridge. It took all I had, but I was able to pull him the few short feet up which would make the process of breaking him down much easier. As I got him settled into his final resting spot, I just laid back. I don’t know how long it was. But for the time being, I had beautiful mountains around me and no distractions. Before pictures and before the skinning process began, I just wanted to stay in the moment. Sitting there next to my buck and looking at the view of the Rockies. Doesn’t get much better than that.

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Although I was alone that day on the hunt, many people helped in a huge way in making the whole experience a success:

First off, my cousin Josh. We scouted miles of country together and he also met me pretty much at the top just as I started packing out the buck. He flew straight up the mountain to my spot with much-needed water and broke trail for me as we made it down the rocks.

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Troy and Denny opened up there camp to me along with there immense knowledge of the country and bow hunting.

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AJ killed a remarkable bull the same day I killed my deer as well. He is truly a beast in the hunting realm and knows how to do it the right way

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And a last thanks to the Murphs, Whinneries, Dad, Mark, and Jason Huebnar.

 

 

 

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