"Semi-live" Mule Deer Hunt (LONG!)

bigeasygator

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I'm calling this a semi-live hunt as I plan on heading back in for a few days starting tomorrow. My hunting partner, David and I, originally planned on spending a week out in the unit, however, living in New Orleans, Hurricane Isaac pushed up our hunt a few days as we evacuated ahead of the storm.

We kicked off our evacuation/hunting trip Monday night August 27th. Here's the truck loaded down for two people and two hunting trips (we follow this mule deer hunt up with an elk hunt in New Mexico).


Let the games begin!


We drove through the night and all the next day and by Tuesday night we were in northern New Mexico. We grabbed a hotel room with the trailhead in striking distance. We went through gear: checking, organizing, replacing, etc. Knowing we would be in the mountains the next day made it tough to get to sleep that night!

We left the next morning and after a few stops we were on the road to the trailhead. This is where the adventure really began. I bought a book on hiking my unit (the Maroon Bells) that said to get to the trailhead through Crested Butte. There were other trailheads close by accessible through Marble, and it showed the road going to those trailheads also went to the trailhead we wanted to get to. What I didn't know was that the road between those trailheads and mine is described as one of the most dangerous in Colorado! We ended up driving through an area known as the Devil's Punchbowl. Here are some shots of the drive in. This is the easy(ier) part of the road...


Here's what it looked like when things got real fun.


Those are sheer cliffs off the side and the road was just wide enough for my truck. Throw in sharp rocks and obstacles and it makes for one hell of a ride...especially coming from New Orleans with no offroading experience! The truck really did it's job and by taking our time we managed to get through it (I think David is just getting color back in his fingers from grabbing the "Oh Sh*t" handle the entire time!), with a few scars on the truck to remember the journey (I think it makes it look meaner!)


Not to oversell it, but it really was pretty scary and those are not the kind of situations I like putting myself in. It was a bit stupid and I was lucky the road conditions were good, it wasn't raining, and it wasn't dark. It certainly was a learning experience (on researching roads, offroading, etc) but I never plan on doing that again!

Once we got through the Punchbowl, Schofield park and our trailhead opened up on the other side. As the trip to the trailhead took longer than expected, we decided to settle in for the night at the trailhead. We pitched a lodge tent, got in some practice shooting, and generally relaxed. We were treated by a beautiful Alpenglow sunset. Yup...we were in the mountains.

 
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bigeasygator

bigeasygator

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The next morning we broke camp and donned the packs for the trip in to where we wanted to camp. Me...

David...


The trip in was supposed to be around 4.5 miles. Coming from an elevation of -10 feet and not getting in the training like we wanted, the trip took longer than expected. However, after about four hours and three miles, we jumped this group of bucks which got the juices flowing and picked our spirits up (hey, maybe the research worked!). Can you see them?

How about now?

The largest of the group was an average 3x3 and the next biggest was an average 2x2...either one of which I'd be happy to put my tag on!

David was wearing down from the hike in, and in reality so was I. We decided to set up camp about a quarter mile above where we bumped those deer, which was about a mile short of where we wanted to be, which was a basin on the other side of a ridge above where we set camp. We pitched camp and settled in for some evening glassing. My Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 set up...

Our full camp...

Our glassing was a little half-hearted as we were pretty whipped.

We decided we would wake up around first light and hike over into the basin I wanted to hunt and hope to catch some deer headed to bed. Plus we needed some water.
 
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bigeasygator

bigeasygator

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We hiked over the ridge the next morning (another half mile...man the distances out here are so deceiving and getting from one place to another is pretty much never easy!). Here's a view of the basin I wanted to hunt...


Some glassing didn't turn anything up and we decided to drop down to the bottom of the basin to get water. We were working our way down a ravine when I looked up and saw this guy at the bottom of the basin feeding on willows, and checking us out.


Luckily the sun was at our back and I don't think he could make out what we were. We stopped, I dropped the pack, and decided to put a stalk on as I was set on taking any buck I could and getting as much experience as I could. You will notice some pines to the right in the picture. I was about 150 yards away when I took the picture. The deer went back to feeding and I ducked into the pines on the right. By working my way to the bottom of them I was able to cut the distance to 90 yards. I exited the pines and posted up behind some willow, waiting for the buck to conceal himself feeding so I could move. He did just that, disappearing into the willows and I quickly dropped down into the bottom of the basin pretty quickly. I crossed back over the ravine and was to the left side of on the edge of the willows, which was the direction he was feeding in. But man, those willows are tall! I couldn't see him but hunkered down hoping he'd show himself. Then I caught a glimpse of antler...11 yards away!!! Was my high country adventure really going to end on my first morning of hunting? No...of course not. The wind swirled and just like that the antlers I was staring at were gone and the deer reappeared on the other side of the basin about 75 yards. I got close...too close in fact and I maybe should have played the wind better (David's comment, who was watching from where the photo was taken from, "Man, I thought you were going up to introduce yourself to him!). But man was that fun!

We grabbed water and hiked out of the bottom of the basin. We left water at the top of the basin as we decided moving camp there the next day. We took a different route back out of the basin this time. No way to avoid the uphill though...


But the view from the top was spectacular (our camp is the little white dot on the right).



Side-hilling it back I looked back and noticed we had company. I feel like I earned my mountain hunting badge seeing this guy. Yes, that white dot is indeed a mountain goat!


We glassed that evening and didn't turn up anything else. We made a game plan for the next day and decided to see if we couldn't find those five bucks we jumped coming into camp.
 
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bigeasygator

bigeasygator

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The area we camped in is relatively flat, but there are lots of little pockets that are hard to glass, even from up high. The best way to glass them would be from across the other side of the basin we were in, but we didn't feel like moving camp. Our vantage point did allow us to glass the willows below (about a half mile away up to a mile and a half way) and the area in our general vicinity (about a quarter mile).

There were plenty of deer in the willows below, but they all seemed to be does or small bucks and man, I'm not sure how I'd even get through that maze of willows!




While glassing, Mother Nature called and I found a spot to do some early morning "paperwork". While finishing up, I looked down and noticed what looked to be five deer staring at me from below...yup, it was those five bucks right in the area we bumped them coming in. The started moving out and that was pretty much the last I saw of them that day. Not sure where they came from, but they were in a little depression that was hidden from where I was glassing.


We decided to stick in our area as there seemed to be a bit of deer activity around us and I wasn't looking for a monster (the deer in this area are no doubt accustomed to having people around as there are a lot of hikers in the area. We hiked back over to get our water and then back to camp. The evening session didn't catch any deer leaving their beds. We awoke the next morning and moved glassing positions to put us in a spot to watch where those deer had been bumped (twice now!).


About 8 o'clock I noticed a doe moving our way, followed by an average 4x3 and a 2x2. Two other small bucks came up and joined the group. They joined up about 110 yards from us in a patch of pines.




These deer continued to feed right towards us and were in a patch of willows about 75 yards away. I grabbed my bow and moved into a position that would allow me a shot if they fed up behind us (as I thought they might). The sun was shining in our face (which wasn't good) and we were having a hard time seeing them over the willows right in front of us. Not sure if the deer saw us or heard us, but they went on alert and then bounded out of the area. They definitely didn't smell us. Regardless, they were gone but it was close to happening again! The 4x3 was definitely not in the group of five bucks and I think the other deer weren't either.

We seemed to be in a hotbed of activity, but have a hard time setting up to effectively glass it and hunt it. We decided to hike out for a few days to let the area calm down and get back in and hunt it hard for four days. I wish our set-up was a little better, but that being said we've been getting serious action (if anything we're a little too close). The area doesn't lend itself to glassing from far off given all the little valleys. Any input is appreciated! Hope it wasn't too long for you all, but I thought I'd share it all! Headed back in tomorrow morning...
 

7mag.

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Sounds like you're having fun, that's what is important. Wish I was hunting instead of working.
 

RosinBag

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Stalking mule deer feeding or moving is very difficult. Once spotted, watch them until they bed. Wait for the thermals to switch and get the wind blowing uphill. Move around the mountain until your above them and sneak down and kill them. Stalking a bedded deer puts the odds about 1000% better for success than stalking deer that are up feeding and moving. If your only choice it hunting feeding and moving deer, you should try and figure out a place to ambush them. The problem with this is it is hard to predict if the wind is going to match up with your ambush area. Either way, good luck....
 
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bigeasygator

bigeasygator

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Thanks RosinBag,

This has all been a learning experience for me. I think the one thing I've learned I need is a bit more patience out there! I haven't really done any "Phase III" and "Phase IV" glassing to find bedded deer and haven't been able to see any that I've put to bed. The first deer was, I believe, in a stalkable position given the thick cover present while he was feeding -- I maybe should have not got in so close as I don't need to be 11 yards away to shoot a deer or I could've watched him to see where he'd bed up (which could've been in a less stalkable position). The second group of deer I perhaps should have just hung tight and watched them. They went from 150 yards away when we first spotted them and worked to 75 yards away while we watched them -- I wanted to try and get in position to ambush them based on the route they were taking but perhaps I should've just watched which way they were going without trying to get set-up (and so much movement).

I plan on trying a little more patience and see if I can't do a better job of finding bedded deer out there when I head back tomorrow. Thanks for the suggestions! And thanks everyone else for commenting too!
 

RosinBag

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Just as an example, the buck I shot in Nevada this year. Spotted at 7:30, 1st bed at 8:30, moved two more beds by 10:00, started stalk at 10:30, moved beds two more times during stalk, shot at 1:30. Patience is huge on mule deer. If you ware with someone else who can always keep an eye on the buck that is best. They can then give you hand signals if needed. My buddy did the same four days later, with spotting deer by 8:00, put him to bed and didn't start stalk until 4:00 just to be certain thermals were steady and in the end dead deer. I generally look at it as one stalk a day as if you wait until noon, once it is over it takes you the rest of the day to get back to camp and recover.
 

Shrek

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This is great ! As flatlanders without experience this is close to my heart. I can't wait for next fall when I try my hand in this game. Keep it coming . :)
 
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bigeasygator

bigeasygator

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Well, my hunt is done...and I shot a monster!!!...just probably not what you guys are expecting. We hiked back in on Tuesday with the intention of doing some glassing Tuesday night, then hunting hard Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The evening glassing session turned up more deer than any other session so we felt pretty stoked prior to going to sleep.

The next morning had us glassing up the deer we spotted the night before. We quickly located three of the deer we saw on a knob about a half mile as the crow flies from camp, one of them being a shooter buck for me. We also managed to track another buck that left our side of the basin, crossed down into the willows, and was out feeding until around 10 o'clock, but we lost him in the willows. After a lunch of ramen and some gameplanning, we decided to move closer to the knob I mentioned to see if we couldn't get a different angle and possibly catch those deer bedded. My buddy and I agreed that if we had a shot at any legal deer we would take it.

We moved in the direction of the area we saw the deer, and when I was about 500 yards out I crested a hill, glassed the pines on the knob, and saw the rump of a mule deer sticking out from behind the tree (I swear I spot 90% of these deer by seeing their white rumps!). I motioned for David to slow down and we took a position in the shade of some nearby pines to set up the spotting scope and try and catch the deer.


After a few hours waiting them out, we hadn't spotted any more deer moving on the hillside. We were confident they were still in there, and decided to try a stalk even though we couldn't positively see any deer bedded. Besides, the area I wanted to stalk into was the area that we spotted the buck last night, and I was hopeful that the wind would stay right and that buck may feed on a similar path and I would be there to ambush him.

I covered the 500 yards slowly over the course of about an hour, and managed to make it up on the knob without seeing any deer get bumped. I set up in the shade in front of a small pine and took a seat over the willows the buck was feeding on the night before. After about 30 minutes, I noticed a deer through the willows and pines about 40 yards away moving uphill along the ridge of the knob. I then saw another, and another, and another...all in all, six does fed out 30 yards in front of me and continued to move uphill. One of the does looked huge, but I was really hoping the buck would be with them so I held out on a shot.

I managed to snap this picture of the does as they continued to move and feed uphill from me.


After about 20 minutes, the deer started feeding back towards me. One of the does had me pegged, and was constantly staring at me and stomping her hooves, but I stayed completely motionless (as best I could anyway) and the rest of the does continued to move my way. When the biggest doe in the group stopped 20 yards from me perfectly broadside, it was a shot that I couldn't pass up. At the release the deer scattered and I watched my doe move off downhill away from me. The shot was a little high and a tad back, but still looked like a high double lung shot. The recovered arrow (complete passthrough) seemed to confirm my thoughts...gotta love a bloody arrow!


I shot my first whitetail buck last year and the shot was in a similar location. I've noticed that deer don't go far when the get hit high in the lungs, but that they also don't leave much of a blood trail when hit high with an arrow. Despite a complete passthrough, there was no blood on the ground. Absolutely none. The deer disappeared over the ridge so we didn't see precisely where it went. A grid search down the slope revealed nothing. Then we took a trick out of the playbook from the bear I shot earlier this year and followed the path back that the deer were on when I first spotted them. That's where we found this...


Of course I had dreams of taking a velvet buck, and visions of monsters danced in my head. But this deer means a lot to me for a lot of reasons. This is the first deer I've shot truly DIY. This was my first time hunting the unit I did. My first time hunting the high country. First time hunting mule deer. First time stalking in on deer. The list goes on and on. So needless to say, I was all smiles.



Shooting a mature deer (and this deer was definitely mature!) on my own in the high country is a trophy in my book. You've gotta start somewhere, and this is a great bar to set for me. I did some research on the unit and noticed that out of 166 hunters with archery tags last year, only 15 deer were taken -- 7 bucks and 8 does. Not that that should make this any more or less successful, it's nice to know that I got it done when less than 10% of hunters in the unit did last year.

The work started soon after the pictures were taken. This was also the first deer I quartered on my own. We used the gutless method and, while no doubt it wasn't perfect, were able to get the vast, vast majority of meat off the deer (including the tenderloins!). This is what it's all about...!!


I marked the GPS with the kill site and noticed we were just shy of 12,000' (11,800' to be exact!) -- I like to think I earned my high country wings. We loaded up the packs, and decided to get the deer out that night and come back in for camp. We got out in an hour, and drove to Crested Butte where we found an awesome little hole in the wall that kept the kitchen open for us. I'm sure they didn't know what to think when we walked in in full camo and with face paint on, but the folks were friendly, and once they found out we had a deer in the cooler on the truck, they told us to bring some meat in and they'd leave the grill on. How cool is that?? We ended up pan frying some tenderloin and I swear you couldn't tell the difference between it and a filet!

My Colorado hunt is now in the books and now it's off to New Mexico to chase elk for a week! Gotta love this time of year!
 
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Shrek

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Super cool ! I know how proud you feel when at the end of the day you can say " I did that " not that "The guide was great". New type of hunting, in a new place, and with a bow ! Heck yeah !
 

HellsCanyon

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Big congratulations bud! Spot n stalk archery is tough and you made it happen! I'd be all smiles too! ;)

Mike
 
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