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September 2023
Story by John Kesler
State: Colorado
Species: Deer - Mule

I, like most people, have a desire to connect with my ancestors on some deeper level. My deep dive into a small part of my family history involves three continents, two world wars, invasive and native deer, a 73-year split, three random sheep, and one very steep hill.

Harry Hancock, my grandfather on my mother’s side, was quite an interesting fellow. He was a consummate outdoorsman, environmentalist, farmer, mountain climber, and above all, a loving husband, father, and grandfather. On the extensive list of things my grandfather did throughout his life, the time he spent as a government deer culler interested me most. He wrote stacks of journals, memoirs, and letters detailing pretty much everything. After a fair bit of reading and getting photos from old albums my aunts and uncle have, I had a plan. I was going to hunt like my grandfather did.

The first part would be to get a buck mule deer tag. The unit I wanted to hunt requires a few preference points to get a tag, and I had been banking points since I last got a nice buck in 2018. A quick check of the draw statistics showed I had enough points for a tag. Next, I needed the rifle.

My Uncle Blue actually has Harry’s rifle, but getting it to Colorado was impossible. Thanks to a handful of detailed pictures, I was able to discern all the information about his rifle. It was a Number 1 Mk3* Short Magazine Lee Enfield made in 1917 at the Enfield factory in England. Since I couldn’t use his actual rifle, I would need the next best thing, one of its siblings. Six months, a thousand-mile road trip, and many hours on the internet finally yielded success.

June 2022 had the big game results come out. Amongst a group of friends and my dad, we had drawn five elk tags, four deer tags, and most importantly, my buck tag. Two days before the season, we got a dose of winter with several inches of snow and temperatures hovering a little below freezing. We set up camp the next morning, and old hunting buddies Doc and Devin rolled into camp that afternoon and we headed out to do some glassing. Devin and I went up to a spot henceforth known as “The Bobsled Run,” and we hadn’t been glassing long when I spotted a group of elk. Six cows and a bull were feeding on a steep slope on the other side of the main creek drainage. The snow had pushed the elk out of the high country, and the opening morning was full of prospects.
Saturday morning was chilly as we took two vehicles up The Bobsled Run with me glassing elk from a good vantage point. Unfortunately, the elk were not where we left them. I decided to head down the road to check a piece of private property. Arriving at the large center pivot irrigated hay pasture along the main highway, I slowly drove along looking for deer. However, there was nothing worthwhile and an evening hunt around camp was equally uneventful.

On Sunday, Dad and I headed straight to the center pivot to see what would come across, stalking one buck to no avail. Late morning, we drove up the road we had camped along looking for a doe for Doc without success. We left Devin on a glassing knob for the evening, and Doc tended to camp while dad and I went to the pivot. All we saw were three wool-laden domestic sheep.

Monday morning, Dad and I headed to the center pivot. Feeding across the hill in front of us not 400 yards away was a herd of elk. We backed up and very quietly got his rifle and bipod. There was exactly zero cover between us and the elk, and I knew my dad wasn’t comfortable shooting much past 300 yards. Crouching and waddling across the ridge, we got to what I thought was as close as possible. A quick look at the herd revealed a large number of spike bulls and one cow in particular with a brilliantly white butt that stood out. Boom! I could see her flinch with the shot, and the herd began streaming up the hill. I noticed a cow behind a large ponderosa pine and could clearly see her white butt. I was praying she would go down, which she promptly did.

Tuesday morning, Dad went with Doc to find him a doe and Devin went with me back to the pivot on the chance the elk were back. They were nowhere to be seen, but a sizable buck piqued my interest. Settling into a perfect shooting lane between a couple of juniper bushes, the unmistakable rumble of a diesel pickup truck could be heard. The buck started running up the hill and never slowed down, disappearing over the hill.

Wednesday afternoon, our friend, Brad, and his son, Charlie, arrived at camp, which was now my backyard. There were a few hours of shooting light left in the day, so we headed out to try and get Charlie his first deer. It didn’t take long to find a couple of does, and Charlie and I started stalking up the hill. Just as we were cresting a small rise, we tripped on a different group of does. I set up the bipod, and Charlie dropped to a knee. A doe finally stepped clear and presented a shot. Boom! I watched dirt fly from under and behind her. Clean miss. The group continued up the hill as Charlie and I pursued them for another few hundred yards unsuccessfully.

That night, the weather packed it in, and Thursday morning, we awoke to blowing snow and several inches of accumulation. With the cold weather, we had no trouble making a couple stalks on multiple bucks and groups of does. We called it an early day when another wave of blowing snow moved in.

Friday morning was even better. The weather was nice, and the fresh snow had the animals out and about. I made a stalk on a pair of nice bucks but could never get under the 100-yard mark I had told myself I wouldn’t shoot past for ethical reasons. I didn’t see anything I wanted to pursue, so Brad, Charlie, and I continued to the road where my dad had killed the cow a few days earlier. We were barely off the highway when right next to a juniper bush was a bedded doe. I set up the bipod, and Charlie lined up the shot. Boom! His shot went low through the chest and broke a front leg. She hopped a few yards as I told him to hit her again. His second shot sealed the deal.

We met up with my dad, Doc, Devin, and Lindsay at our old campsite, and to my surprise, my dad had shot a buck that morning. We had plenty of daylight, so we went to do a little glassing. We found a group of does, and Brad made a stellar heart shot. I was now under a decent bit of pressure as I had two days left to fill my buck tag and we still had four cow tags.

Saturday morning, we all split up. I was on my own looking for a buck, and my dad would take Brad and Charlie who still had a cow tag. I made a couple of stalks on decent bucks without success. The crew headed home that afternoon to pack as they had to leave Sunday morning, but our friend, Lindsay, stayed with me on the off chance some elk appeared.

It was time for one more look at the hill across from the center pivot. I was driving slowly when a couple does caught my attention. Next to them was a buck with its head down. Lifting his head up, I could see he was a thick 2x3. I pulled over and grabbed my rifle. I got to within 60 yards and tried lining up a shot. The buck pegged my movement and started wandering into the timber. It was getting thick, but I was within 50 yards of the buck. He was with a small 2x2 in a thick stand of pines. I set up on the bipod and waited. The bigger buck went off to the right where I couldn’t see him, and the smaller 2x2 started feeding out into an opening about 40 yards away. Following in the steps of the smaller buck was the one I was after. As he stepped out broadside, I lined up and pulled the trigger. I knew the shot was good when he immediately shuddered and started rolling down the steep, rocky slope.

I had successfully hunted and ethically killed a deer with a rifle made in 1917 in its original military configuration just like my grandfather. I had a huge degree of respect for my grandfather before, but as I sat with the buck for a moment, it reached a whole new level.

Using a 105-year-old rifle has given me a wildly new perspective on not just hunting but the history of it. This hunt was an amazing experience and a way to better connect with my grandfather and his legacy. I will think back to this hunt every time I step into the woods for a long time to come.