Building points for the better part of a decade had me dreaming of chasing velvet mule deer with my bow above tree line. This last year, I was blessed with a tag in the Gunnison Basin of Colorado for early archery deer. I was finally going to have the opportunity to chase velvet bucks in the alpine country where my lungs and body would be tested. Coming from Texas and living at 3,000 feet above sea level, I knew the 12,000'+ elevations were going to smoke my body and mind. I bought a couple of books about hunting high country deer, watched countless videos, and listened to countless podcasts on the subject while training.
With draw results confirmed, I requested a Member Draw List from Huntin’ Fool and quickly emailed the four guys who had hunted this tag most recently. I had a blast spending hours on the phone with the previous tag holders, soaking up information and hearing their experiences, but I was concerned to hear all of them express disappointment with this hunt. One of the previous tag holders, Jeremy, was kind enough to share where he had seen numerous deer as well as allow me to bounce ideas and questions off of him.
I arrived in the hunting unit one month prior to my hunt and could not wipe the smile off my face as the scenery and terrain were everything I had hoped they would be. I was glassing deer before I could even get the truck in park. Satisfied with my scouting, I returned home with plans A and B in mind as well as a predetermined camping location. I arrived back in the unit the day before season with a friend, Branson, and while driving to my camp spot, I encountered another deer hunter, Andrew. At first, I think we were both disappointed to see competition, but after a brief conversation and some glassing, we agreed to work together. He too is a Huntin’ Fool member and had past years’ experience hunting this unit as well as extensive mule deer hunting knowledge.
The next morning, Andrew glassed up a buck he wanted a closer look at, and from 996 yards, he determined it was not a buck he wanted to pursue. He told me the buck was all mine if I wanted, wished me luck, and headed off in search of larger bucks. Hours later, I began ascending the steep mountainside to attempt my first stalk on a high-country buck. Along the way, I realized I had not replaced the rubber bands on my new Sevr broadheads after taking them out of practice mode and hoped that to be inconsequential. I dropped my pack with my water a good 500 feet below, and after a long, steep stalk, I found myself with a 50-yard broadside shot opportunity on my target buck at 13,400 feet. I meticulously went through my shot sequence and let an arrow fly, only to miss the deer completely, having no idea how or why.
Fifteen minutes later, the buck, along with his two bachelor buddies, settled back down and began feeding. I drew once again and proceeded through my shot sequence, settled the pin, and launched a second arrow. I heard a “whack!” but did not see an impact spot. The buck turned to run, and I could see his back leg pinwheeling on the offside. I had shattered his back leg below the knee. I was dejected, confused by the shot, and dehydrated. I assumed the broadhead had opened in flight and compromised the arrow trajectory. As soon as I got back to the truck, I pulled out my bow supplies and quickly restocked on broadheads, ensuring the rubber bands were in place.
Branson and I watched the buck where he bedded until dark. That night, I hoped the deer would die from blood loss, praying the femoral artery had been cut or that I would be able to find him again and finish the job.
The next morning, I quickly relocated the buck not more than 20 yards from where he had bedded the night before. Being in a good spot to stalk, I quickly began my approach up the steep, grey, rock-dotted hillside. After some patience and removing my boots and pack, I was able to stalk up on the wounded buck. I raised to range him, and as I did, he stood to stretch. I quickly dropped the rangefinder and drew, estimating him at 20 yards. I shot but was unsure of my impact location or if I had hit him. He hobbled about 90 yards and bedded, facing away. I snuck up to 40 yards and quickly shot him back in the body. He stood and turned broadside, so I launched another arrow. This time, it was a perfect double lung hit. He stumbled to the edge of a steep ravine, and as he tried to lay down, he tumbled sideways out of sight.
Confident the buck was dead, I started my careful descent down the slippery rock and shale chute, blood and hair seemingly on everything. After sliding and slipping down about 400 vertical feet, I spotted my buck lying dead in the rockslide below. Relieved and overjoyed, I made my way over to the buck to tag and admire him. I could not get over the body size of this mature mountain mulie buck and the fact that I had been successful so soon into the hunt on a buck larger and better than my expectations. He was 170" and a 4x4 with eyeguards. Branson made his way up to me, helped position the buck for photos, and then we got to work caping and butchering. I hope to return to help a friend or with another tag of my own and will make sure that I pay more attention to the details of my equipment readiness and have more proficiency with shooting my bow.
I am forever thankful to the Huntin’ Fool members who helped me in multiple ways on this hunt, my buddy, Branson, for taking off from work to glass and pack for me, as well as what I learned about hunting these mountain monarchs. There are so many little details involved with chasing these big bucks above timber – information, advice, fitness, equipment, mental preparation, shot proficiency, stalking, when and where to drop your pack, and willingness to return the favor and share information with others. Above all, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus for the opportunity to experience this hunt in breathtaking scenery and for a trophy on the wall as a reminder to never take any of this for granted.