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Where are the Deer?

September 2020
Story by Matthew Rosenbaugh
State: Colorado
Species: Deer - Mule

My coworker looked into my office, stepped in, and said “Man, you just need to get out of here already! I can tell your brain isn’t here.” That was Friday, October 18th at around 3:00 p.m. I could barely sit still! I had been waiting 365 days for the day, and here it was. I had a quick run to Cabela’s for some last-minute action items, and then my dad and I were off to Colorado GMU 28 for a second season mule deer hunt. I had snagged a second season leftover tag, and knowing it was a tougher season to hunt, I was still optimistic about my chances and research. I knew this unit along with the others on the tag had potential for nice deer. The tough part was finding them in the thick pines before the rut began.

My dad and I headed up the mountain, telling hunting stories from growing up and many of his hunts along his own journey. We arrived at the motel and got settled. With my gear laid out, we decided on opening morning to hike in roughly two and a half miles away from the roads. It was a beautiful, crisp morning, and this was our first time hunting this area. It was prime for deer. Everywhere we looked was the potential to hold a big buck. As optimistic as we were, opening day left us stumbling. There was nothing in sight except a bull moose that was seen by a few others in blaze. I hiked roughly eight miles that day, sure to see something. I had nothing to eat from 6:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and I was hungry. Nothing showed for the long miles. However, one positive that came from that eight-mile hike was a 6-point elk shed I found along with the delicious dinner that my older brother stumbled upon on his way up to meet with us that evening. Nothing like elk sliders to top off the day!

The next morning, we woke up to a handful of snow. We planned on taking it easier that day because the eight miles up and down the mountain had potentially torn my meniscus. I was a bit wobbly but wasn’t going to give in to the pain. We glassed and glassed all day. We walked into a few draws with no luck and really no sign of deer in the fresh snow either. That evening, we decided to sit a beautiful creek, and to my surprise, we had a few does come within range. The only problem was that I knew the bucks wouldn’t be with them yet.

My dad and brother had to head back to Denver for work that night and I had the next two days off, so I decided to change the location I was hunting. I headed closer to Silverthorne, Colorado to an area where I had always seen does. I thought with all the new snow maybe a buck or two had moved in. My wonderful girlfriend has a house in Silverthorne with an incredible view across the valley.

That third morning, I sat on the back porch with the Vortex spotting scope and glassed as I drank my coffee resting on my knee. I picked up nearly 25 does across the ridge, all in different groups. This was a good sign! I was hoping a young buck would be around somewhere. I glassed for nearly three hours, and then roughly two miles away, I spotted a buck. It was the first buck I’d seen all trip. All I knew was that he was a mature deer. I called my dad and told him it was game on. I knew the buck wouldn’t move much considering the time of year, and if I was patient, I’d get on him. I took some photos for location reference, packed up, and headed out.
The first mile was flat through the valley bottom, and I knew the buck was bedded roughly one mile up the mountain from that point. I started climbing. Step by step, I made my way up the steep sage slope into the aspens and pine, glassing roughly every 10 feet to be sure I didn’t bump anything before I got to the buck. Once within 900 yards, I spotted the big pine he was bedded next to, and sure enough, he was still laying there. It was getting intense, and the mountain was quiet with my breath. I ducked into the trees and worked my way up. It took me roughly two hours to get to the last bench where he was bedded. Fingers crossed he was still there. I got on my belly and army crawled through the snow until I was able to poke my head above the ridge to see if he was still bedded. I saw nothing, and my heart sank. I continued to look and finally saw an antler move. He was bedded in the willows and blended in. All I could really see was his right antler when he moved his head. I laid my rifle on my pack and lay in the cold snow, just waiting. The buck stood up after about 30 minutes and turned broadside. I took a deep breath and squeezed. Boom! The rifle went off. I jumped up to be sure to get an eye on him. He ran straight towards me down the hill and fell within 50 yards of me. I was beyond ecstatic. I really had no idea how nice of a deer he was. I called my dad and yelled, “Big buck down!” I was thrilled and shaking. I felt blessed to have had the opportunity to make the stalk I did. One wrong step and it could have been over. Every decision I made determined that account.

I caped him out and trekked down the hill. My dad came up the next morning to help get the remainder of the deer out due to the pain in my knee. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast burrito and headed on home. This will be a hunt I will always remember. You truly don’t know what God is going to provide for you; you must just keep after it.