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September 2021
Story by Ryan Dore
State: Colorado
Species: Antelope - Pronghorn, Deer - Mule

2020 began with very little to get excited about. Business began slowing down with everyone trying to save money from the unknown of how COVID-19 would affect them, my second son had to have a quarantine first birthday, and there were other complications due to the virus. That is why when I drew tags in my home state of Colorado, I couldn’t believe my luck. I drew my antelope rifle tag, mule deer archery tag, and Iowa archery whitetail tag. It was totally unexpected to draw my mule deer tag two years in a row.

My season started off with over-the-counter archery elk. OTC in Colorado has become very difficult to compete with due to all the hunting pressure and ranchers using the public land as grazing for their cattle, conveniently selling $10,000 landowner tags at the same time. Seems legit. Since I knew I had three other hunts to fill my freezer, I decided to be picky with what I shot in elk season. There was no shortage of excitement. My father does not hunt; however, he enjoys tagging along and sharing in the adventure. This year, he got his fix as we had cow elk within 10 yards on four separate occasions, multiple bull elk coming into calls that I couldn’t close on, and three black bears. It was a fun season with a lot of action.

Elk season was over, and now it was time for the 12-hour drive through Nebraska to Iowa. We woke up to roughly 10" of snow on our departure to Iowa and arrived at around 7:15 p.m. I was filled with overwhelming excitement to get in a tree stand the next morning. I had never hunted whitetail before, and I had been missing out. I had a lot of does, spike/fork horns, and turkeys for the first few days along with a lynx who was accompanied by four little ones.

On my first afternoon, I had a shooter buck come within 45 yards with a broadside shot. I did not take the shot as I was worried about hitting a couple branches between us if I would have released my arrow. That night, I described the buck to my guide because I was still having issues deciphering a big whitetail buck from a mediocre one as my background is in mule deer.

After two more cold days of sitting in a tree stand, I heard a big buck grunting behind me. I had never experienced this, and I was happy I had the opportunity. I had roughly 30 seconds to grab my bow and get ready. He was chasing a doe that happened to run broadside in front of my stand at about 15 yards. I thought, “Perfect, he will run to the exact same spot. Easy does it.” Of course, the buck instead decided he should stop almost directly under my stand. I was able to draw and put the arrow on him at 9 yards. Once again, there was a branch in my way. I held my draw, slowly stood to avoid it, and released. I ended up having to back out that night due to the shot being close to dark and we didn’t want to jump him. With so much anticipation, I barely slept that night. The next morning, I followed the blood trail to my first whitetail. What an exciting hunt this was with so many animals to observe!

Shortly after returning home, my antelope rifle season began. I remembered that I had not picked up that rifle for three years and needed to shoot it. Good thing I did because the sight was off about two inches at 50 yards. Being an archery hunter, I rarely keep tabs on my rifle since I only use it every three or four years for antelope.
My first morning out, I didn’t see much except the persistent horseflies and a couple porcupine. I’ve hunted this land every season for the last 10 years and have a pretty good idea of where the antelope like to hang out. At about 11:00, my heart shot out of my chest as I spotted the same 16" goat I’d been chasing in archery for the last three years. He was old, smart, and accompanied by 14 old does that did not make spot and stalk a cakewalk. For some reason this day, he was far away from the does bedded down. I quickly grabbed my rifle and took off across the rolling hills where I knew I could get within 500 yards quickly and belly crawl further in. I crawled into about 400 yards just as he got up and started feeding my way. Not believing my luck, I took my safety off. All of a sudden, the buck looked to his left and took off. My stomach felt sick as I watched him. My wife was plenty happy that night because I may not have filled my tag, but I did manage to collect a lot of cacti for her to pull out of my forearms and legs. It’s almost alarming how much pleasure she gets doing this. Maybe I should be worried. The next day at 11:20, I had another buck in the same area. Hoping it was the same buck, I hurried into almost the exact same setup. Unfortunately, it was not him, but being my last day to hunt, I decided it was a shooter. I pulled the trigger and hit him at 450 yards.

To end the season, I had my archery mule deer tag. On my fourth day out, we spotted six shooter bucks. Of these shooters, I had an old 4x4 that had the largest body I had ever seen. I wanted him just for the fact of how large the body was and the mass of the antler bases. Unfortunately for me, he got tagged that afternoon. On the fifth day out, we spotted one of the other five shooters. This buck we had named “Crown” due to the right side having a three prong that looked like a crown. We were able to predict where he was heading and ended up with a 45-yard shot. I pulled back as he was grunting at a doe and released my arrow. It was a clean hit, and now it was off to fill the freezer for the last time of the season.

I was not raised hunting, but we have always enjoyed the outdoors. The enjoyment I get spending time outdoors with my father and friends is something that could never be replaced. Soon, my two boys and the mystery child on the way will get to share in these adventures.