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Driven To Never Give Up

March 2022
Story by Pat Reeve
Hunters: Pat and Nicole Reeve
State: Colorado
Species: Deer - Mule

Growing up in the Midwest and hunting whitetails most of my life, I never thought I would be hooked on hunting big mulie bucks. My love for hunting the species has grown over the years mainly because of harvesting several great bucks. In our busy life, we have a hard time keeping up with all the different state applications and deadlines. Working with the guys exclusively at Huntin’ Fool has really helped us plan our fall hunting schedule well in advance.

My wife and I were visiting the Huntin’ Fool booth at the SCI convention and discussing our next fall hunting plans and draws when Austin Atkinson brought to our attention that we each had enough points to draw a mule deer tag in Colorado. My wheels immediately started turning on where we could hunt. We have a good friend, Keegan McCarthy from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who had invited us several times to come out and hunt with him at his western operation, Black Elk Outfitters.

The news of being successful in the draw was no surprise, but the apprehensiveness of hunting a new spot and knowing nothing about the area had me a bit nervous. I decided to drive out early and buy an over-the-counter archery elk tag for the same area where Nicole and I planned to hunt mule deer. I felt this would give me a chance to learn more about the unit and scout the ranch for deer prior to my wife’s arrival.

Early in the week during my elk hunt, I located a couple of great bucks only to learn that they were both in the wrong unit. Depressed, I spent the next two days scouting the ranch where our mule deer tags were valid. Nicole arrived with our cameraman, Aaron Avestruz, around lunchtime on the season opener. We quickly discussed what I had discovered while scouting, and I expressed my concern about not having ample opportunity with multiple bucks. I told her that it was going to be a difficult hunt and we would have to work for them.

That first night, I was undecided about hunting mule deer, so I elected to keep after the elk while Nicole headed out with guide Scott Bean to try and find a mule deer buck. I hadn’t been in the elk woods for more than two hours when my cameraman (son-in- law), Brandon, whispered, “Nicole already shot a big one.” I was not surprised because I had witnessed her luck hunting big mule deer before.

Just after dark, Nicole rolled in with that smirk on her face I had seen many times before. She said, “You want to come see my big buck?” Shaking my head, I headed outside and was greeted by a beautiful 180" class 4x4.
“I thought you said there were no big ones on the ranch,” she jabbed.

That next morning was spent glassing different parts of the ranch. We saw nothing even close to shooting standards. The remainder of the day was consumed with photographing Nicole’s deer and processing it before darkness set in.

Day two of the hunt started at daybreak as we drove the Polaris EV silently up the trail to a highpoint in the ranch. We sat and glassed for an hour and then decided to drive a trail that led to the top of the mountain. We had just rounded one of the ridges when my guide spotted movement in the brush ahead. Up jumped two bucks, one was a small 4x4 and the other was a mature 3x3. After giving the mature buck a second look, we decided to pass on him and keep looking.

Day three of the hunt found us creeping up the same trail before first light. We searched high and low, but with no luck, we decided that breakfast and a nap sounded better than beating the brush, so we headed back to camp.
That evening, we were back at one of our high points on the ranch glassing the edges of the timber. As I focused on the furthest mountain, I caught movement in my scope. It was a couple bucks. One looked big bodied and had something big and dark on top of his head, but I couldn’t make out exactly how big he really was. Scott peered into my scope and said he looked decent, but he wasn’t sure if he was on the neighboring ranch. I urged him that this deer deserved a closer look.

Scott, Nicole, Brandon, and I headed to the base of the mountain for a closer look at the big buck. When we arrived, I immediately located the two bucks feeding along the center part of the mountain. I set up my Vortex Spotter for a closer look at the big buck. As I dialed the focus ring in, I couldn’t believe the size of him. He had forks upon forks and matching everything. I figured he could break the 200" mark and was the buck I would hunt for the rest of the trip. Scott confirmed that he was on the right property, but with daylight fading fast, there would be no way to get close to him. We watched as the giant fed with the smaller buck. He had no clue we were there, and we figured that in the morning he would be close to where we left him at dark.

The next morning, we were up and at it early. It seemed like an eternity before it was light enough to make out deer on the mountain. A huge herd of elk were scattered all over the face of the mountain. Finally, I spotted the big guy feeding with several other bucks. We glassed him as he started to move towards his bed as the sun hit the mountain. Eventually, he worked over a ridge and disappeared out of sight and into a big patch of isolated timber.
We made a game plan for the afternoon hunt. We planned to get in position during midday and wait for him to feed his way back out of the timber before dark. The only problem was that Nicole had to get a ride back to the airport so she could fly back home to Minnesota. Time was going to be tight getting her to the airport and then get back in time to climb the mountain and be in position before the deer started feeding.

It was hot as we started our climb. I had worked out a signal with Scott who stayed low at our spotting area. He was to put out my blaze orange Browning jacket if he spotted the buck. We weren’t halfway into the climb when I could see the blaze orange jacket already out. Just as we reached the crest of the mountain, I spotted the whole herd of elk. They were directly above us, and I could tell they knew something was up. We started traversing the side of the mountain and working in the direction of where the big buck went to bed earlier in the day. Finally, I had my eyes on him. He was at 150 yards, feeding with several does, and didn’t have a clue we were there. I quickly loaded my Browning 6.8 Western, and 30 seconds later, I crawled back to the top of the rocks, expecting to lay my eyes on the prize. What I wasn’t expecting to see was 300 head of elk standing exactly where the deer were just feeding. There was no sign of the deer.

After an hour of nothing, we started moving slowly ahead, trying to locate the deer again. Finally, we were at the edge of the timber. I decided to sit down and wait in hopes he would come back out. We sat there the rest of the evening and passed on a 170" class deer. It was a long walk off that mountain in the dark.

The next morning, we were back at the base of the mountain and glassing. This time, there were no deer at first light. We searched high and low for the big buck but saw no sign of him. I only had three days left in the hunt, so I knew my chances were slim to none.

The next couple days were spent glassing the ranch with no sightings of the giant. It was down to the last day of the hunt, and we were back at the base of the mountain. I pulled up the Vortex binoculars and started scanning. I immediately spotted two bucks on the mountain and could tell one was good. I didn’t want to get my hopes up until I could verify the buck with my spotting scope. As I dialed the focus ring in, he suddenly appeared in my view. “He’s alive!” I shouted to Keegan and Brandon.

We started up the mountain after he disappeared into a drainage choked with brush, and Keegan, Brandon, and I climbed about halfway up the face of the mountain. Once I figured we were on the same level as him, we started slowly working towards the lip of the ridge. Suddenly, the big buck was in plain view and bedded directly across from us on the opposite hillside. I set up in the prone position and steadied my Browning. Once my crosshairs settled on his vitals, I knew I was going to get my second chance. He stood up and offered me a 210-yard broadside shot. I slowly squeezed the trigger and my shot hit him perfectly. I followed up with a second shot, and the king was down.

As I walked up on the giant, he actually got bigger. I was amazed at his symmetry from side to side and his tine length, putting his G2s just under 19". His back forks that fork are what made him so special and one of a kind. He ended up gross scoring 229 2/8" Boone & Crockett and is my personal best. I want to give special thanks to Keegan and Chelsea McCarthy of Black Elk Outfitters, along with our guide, Scott Bean, for all their hard work. I learned a valuable lesson from this trip. Never judge a ranch by first glance and definitely never give up on a buck until the hunt’s over. I can’t wait to earn enough points again for Colorado!

Keegan & Chelsea McCarthy |