I have been hunting deer and elk in my home state of Utah all my life and have had some great success, so a few years ago I decided to venture into some new territory. I decided to try my hands at Colorado mule deer hunting. I was lucky enough to draw a tag in 2011 with my good friend Todd with three non-resident points. We both had drawn 3rd season tags in a unit that a friend had told us about. We had a great hunt and Todd was able to connect on a beautiful buck that scored just shy of 200” and I missed a great looking typical, boxy looking buck that would have looked great on the wall too hadn’t I missed…4 times! The hunt ended before I could harvest a buck and I was looking to redeem myself on another hunt. It would have to wait for a couple years.
Now two years later I looked at redeeming myself and bagging my first Colorado Muley! I had drawn another 3rd season deer tag that would allow me and my three buddies (Todd, Brian and Larry) to hunt units some great Colorado country. Now that we knew we had drawn tags it was time to do some planning/scouting. We would be hunting during the rut in November and had heard lots of good things about where we were headed. I had the good fortune of running into a fellow hunter during some service hours I was doing for my Utah deer tag and found out that he had once guided in that unit for about 10 years and was able to give me some good intel on where to start my hunt.
The hunt came fast and soon we were at deer camp. We arrived early the day before the hunt started, unpacked our gear, had some lunch and went out for a little look at what we could find to go after in the morning.
One thing I can never get used to is the sound of my alarm clock going off at 4:30 a.m. On most any other morning I would just roll over and hit the snooze button, but this was the first day of my ‘redemption hunt’. I quickly jumped out of bed and threw on my camo and made a quick breakfast burrito. The night before while looking at a map of the area, I had decided to hunt a little clearing just above where we were camped. It was right next to some private land so I hoped a nice buck would be wandering around up there and would cross over onto where I could hunt. I hopped on my 4-wheeler and headed out in the darkness. Just a mile or so up the road I turned off and headed up this old jeep trail and soon got to my spot. I got off the wheeler and started walking up the road.
The air was a crisp 8 degrees and there was about 8-10 inches of new fluffy white snow on the ground, but the cold wouldn’t keep me off the mountain. I ran into some fresh elk and deer tracks and soon spotted something up ahead in the clearing. There were three small bull elk just feeding across the face of the hill. I watched them for just a moment then kept going and followed the fence to the private property. I got to a small hill and just sat down for a while. A few minutes later another hunter came by so I decided to try another spot. I didn’t like competition on the hill.
After hunting all morning and not seeing much, I decided to head down to the lodge to get a few supplies for the rest of the day. While at the lodge, Brian and Larry had returned from there morning hunt with no success either. A few minutes later Todd returned. He handed over a camera telling me to look at the cool pictures he had taken that morning. As I scrolled through a couple I saw a picture of him with a nice buck. It took me a moment to realize it was from that morning. He said he had taken a buck right after it got light enough to shoot. We got on the quads and went over to pack the meat off the hill. I hunted the rest of the day without seeing much of anything respectable.
The next day, Sunday, was not as eventful either, but I was able to get into another area that looked very promising. The sun was getting ready to set so I didn’t make it to the bowl I wanted to get to. It would have to wait until morning.
The next morning, Monday, I parked the quad after a short ride and started to hike into the spot where I was the previous night. After about an hour I got to a nice ridge that I could hike along and see both sides just in case a buck was wandering looking for hot does. I saw a couple small bucks, but nothing that would get my heart pumping. A half hour later, I got to a nice little spot that overlooked a small bowl that looked like a good spot for deer. I sat down and set up the spotting scope and started searching. While scanning the openings on the hill, I saw what looked like a buck about nine-hundred yards away. I zoomed in my Vortex spotter and sure enough it was. He was a good buck with front forks that were a little crabby, but could be a last day buck. I watched him for about fifteen minutes while he chased some does around. The rutting activity was starting to really heat up now.
After the buck went into the trees I found some does in a bowl below me about four-hundred yards away. There were a couple groups with about 10 does in each and a few small bucks. The buck I watched had gone behind some pines and was headed down the hill so I was hoping to get a much closer look. Just then I noticed a small group of deer to the right of the bowl and it looked like there were a couple respectful bucks in with them. I maneuvered the spotting scope to get a good look and as soon as I looked in the eyepiece I saw him. He had just stepped out from behind the base of a big pine tree. All I saw was antlers. He was tending to his harem. At that moment I gave him the nickname ‘Shamus’.
I sat and watched Shamus for what seemed like an eternity. His long, massive antlers swaying back and forth as he moved through the snow. I videoed him for a few minutes while trying to decide the best way in to get a shot at him. He was about 428 yards out and wasn’t presenting a great shot. I needed to get closer, about a hundred yards closer. There were groups of does all around and I opted to just stay put as there were no other hunters in the area and I would focus on him until I got him. I watched him for another hour before he slowly went into the quaking aspen with the others. I sat there the rest of the day without seeing him again and thought I would have to try the next day.
After getting back to camp I told the guys what I had seen. Larry had been close to where I hunted and asked if he could trail along with me in the morning as I was now after Shamus. I said it would be fun to have another set of eyes. All I could think about that night was his antlers swaying back and forth, back and forth as I drifted off to sleep.
The alarm sounded the next morning and we couldn’t get to my spot fast enough. I just kept hoping Shamus would show his face again. As Larry and I got to the same spot where I had been sitting the previous day we settled in and started glassing. Immediately I picked out some does in the same spot as the day before where I had seen Shamus. All of the sudden there he was. Hello! He stepped out from behind the same pine tree as the day before. He looked majestic there standing in the snow. I ranged the distance at 423 yards, almost identical as the day before. Larry said shoot him. I hesitated as I still didn’t feel confident in taking that long of a shot that I hadn’t practiced before the hunt. I didn’t want to risk wounding him or having to track him very far. I went back and forth in my mind about taking him or not. While deciding, Shamus made the call for me and walked back in the trees. Part of me was kicking myself for not taking the shot, but I made the right choice. Larry said, ‘why don’t you use my gun’? I have a 24x scope and I’ll tell you how far to hold over. I agreed and took a couple dry fires to get used to the pull of the trigger. After getting a feel of the gun I settled it on the shooting sticks and waited for Shamus to come back out of the trees. We waited for about an hour with nothing. I knew he was in there as I could still see movement, but the trees were so thick there was no way to get off a shot. My patience was running thin so I made a game plan to go in on the low side and slowly get to the pine he emerged from. From there I would be able to see into the little hollow where he and the other deer were. It would take me only about a half hour to make the distance and hopefully I wouldn’t be seen.
I made it over about a hundred yards from the clearing where he had emerged. Just as I was about to make a move, I spotted something off my right peripheral. It was a small 4×4 with a doe. They were just feeding up towards the same way I was headed.
I slowly made my way around without spooking them to the base of a big pine. I looked for Shamus…nothing. I figured the only way was to go in slowly step by step and maybe, just maybe I would jump him. I took 3-4 steps and froze as I stood staring at a small 3×3 15 yards in front of me looking right through me. I knew the only way out was to just take some slow steps towards him and they would all bound out in front of me and I could get a shot off.
I took one step and the small buck jumped up out of his bed and took off away from me. The little bowl lit up with deer, one after another. They filed out in a line and I waited one after another. Where was Shamus? They all scattered and still he was no where to be seen. I stood there wondering if maybe he had skirted some pines in front just before I arrived and I spooked him without seeing him. The group of deer had split into two small group one going to the right and one group to the left. I decided to follow the ones on the right. The snow was deep so each step was a struggle and I was getting a little tired. I got to a small quaky and saw some movement about a hundred and fifty yards in front. I saw antlers and my heart started racing. Was it him? I pulled the bino’s up and saw those big deep forks, his face and front forks covered by a tree. It looked like Shamus but in all the excitement I couldn’t tell. This was a big buck and fit my expectations for the trip so I steadied my gun against the tree and looked through the scope, set my crosshairs just behind the front shoulder and pulled the trigger. BOOM!!!
He dropped in his tracks just behind a small berm. My trusty Rem.7mm did its job with a well paced heart shot. The rest the deer just walked off wondering what had just transpired. I walked over towards where he had fallen. I didn’t get to see him until I was almost right on top of him as the berm was concealing his location. I took one look and realized that it wasn’t Shamus. He looked just like Shamus only his antlers were slightly shorter in length, but the same configuration. I had taken my first Colorado Mule Deer trophy on a sunny, snow covered hill at 1:22 p.m. I jumped on the radio and called Larry, but no response. During my stalk he had decided to go on walkabout so I had to break down the deer on my own. I took a few minutes to thank the hunting gods for the experience of a lifetime, snapped a few pictures and started the process of boning off the meat for transport. I later found out after reviewing some video footage that the buck I had taken was the one I had seen in my spotter on Monday morning at 900 yards away on the hill.
A couple hours went by and it was growing cooler as the sun would be going down in a just an hour or two. The shadows started growing longer and I was feeling a little wore down after all the hiking at elevation the last few days. I opted to take the hind quarters, back straps, cape and antlers out with me and come back in the morning for the two front quarters. I hiked down the small bowl and headed towards the little creek that would lead me right below where I had parked the quad. The 120 lb. pack cut deep into my shoulders, but I managed to get back to the quad after a lot of stops to rest. I loaded the pack on and headed back to camp. Everyone was out hunting so I just got something to eat and admired my trophy which I nicknamed ‘Seven’ because I had taken him on the 5th of November (11/5). 1+1+5=7.
An hour later the guys showed up to get some supplies before going out for a quick hunt before dark. We admired my buck for a few minutes and saved the story telling until we got back to camp that evening. We had to get Larry and Brian a buck now with five days left to hunt. Nothing turned up that night and so we headed back for some chile-verde that was cooking back at camp. We weren’t roughing it too much as the a cabin we were staying at was equipped with everything.
The next day we got up and Todd and Brian were off to a spot that Brian had spotted a nice buck a couple days prior. Larry and I decided to go back in to the same spot as I had to retrieve the rest of my meat and we were hoping we might even get another crack at Shamus. We hiked up the ridge along the trail and headed over to where we had sat the day before. We had to cross this little saddle and as we neared it three does ran by and down the hill. We had hoped a buck would be following, but nothing. We went another 10 yards when I looked up and saw on the opposite hill in front a doe and a buck. For a split second I thought, ‘what if this is Shamus’? I grabbed my bino’s and put them up to my face and then I quietly yelled to Larry, ‘IT’S SHAMUS! TAKE HIM! Larry, without hesitation, grabbed his gun. I had shown Larry and the guys the video I had taken two days prior of Shamus and we all knew he was a great buck. As Larry set up the shooting sticks I called out the range…329 yards. He had moved down the hill a little from the last couple days and was about 250 yards from the big pine. Larry lined up the crosshairs and then…BOOM!
I yelled, ‘you busted his shoulder and he his hobbling up the hill, put another in him’! BOOM!’ You missed to the right I said.’ BOOM! ’just below him’ BOOM!’Right over the top of his back, he’s right there standing on that little knob, steady…steady’. BOOM! ‘You got him I yelled, he’s down.
High fives and hugs ensued and we were off running towards the buck. We crested the little hill and there he was, Shamus with his huge rack sticking up out of the snow. Larry was all smiles. We sat there for a moment and took what had just transpired all in. We had finally got the buck that I had been after for three days. Even though I hadn’t got Shamus myself, I was happy for Larry and extremely happy with the buck I had taken too. I took some pictures and then told Larry I was going to go grab the rest of my meat and then come down and help him. We boned the meat off and loaded it in Larry’s pack. With my pack full of two front quarters of meat as well as some gear, I had no room left. Larry didn’t want to make another trip in so we loaded the whole thing on his pack and headed for the trailhead. Lucky for us the mile and a half hike out was all downhill, but the loaded packs made for a slow hike back. Larry packed the whole thing off the mountain. His pack weighed what felt like a hundred and fifty pounds. We had all afternoon to get back and stopped many times before reaching the quads. We drove back to the cabin and met Brian and Todd and learned that they hadn’t had any luck but did see a couple promising bucks to go after that night a couple canyons away. The afternoon hunt proved to be uneventful as we headed back for the night.
Thursday morning we awoke to a foot of fresh powder. We rode the quads over to a trail that split that would allow Todd and Brian to cover one side of the hill while Larry and I covered the other side. Larry would be over on the next ridge to watch both sides so we had lots of vantage points. The morning hunt was slow and we only drummed up a couple small bucks after sitting all day on those ridges. We had filled three of the four tags and Brian wasn’t going to take a small buck home. It was big or bust for him, so we hunted hard the rest of the day trying to fill Brian’s tag. Larry and I had decided to drive down to a little pull off just off the main road and sit and watch a hill we thought might hold some deer. It was going to be dark in little over an hour as we sat looking through our spotters trying to put horns on the does we were seeing. Just then two buck came out of the trees sparring. They were a good thousand yards away and we could tell that one was a wide 28” 2×2 with super deep forks that would look awesome on the wall. The other buck was about the same width with an inline on both sides and with 3”- 4” eye guards it made this 6×6 irresistible. We quickly radioed Brian and told him about the two bucks and that he needed to get over as fast as he could. It only was a quick 5 minute quad ride and Brian was looking through the spotter. He made the decision to go after the buck with the in-lines. We quickly formed a plan as Todd drove up and told Brian that he needed to get to a lone pinion juniper that would put him about 500 yards below the buck. It was getting darker and he needed to hurry. Larry and I watched through our spotting scopes and fifteen minutes later they were in position. We heard Brian take shot after shot as light was fading fast. The third shot hit the buck in the shoulder and we saw the buck hunch and start limping. We saw the shoulder was busted and could see the buck get up and walk a few yards then lay down. The buck repeated this about a dozen times until it was too dark for us to see him. We made the call to come back first thing in the morning as to not push the buck that night. We would give him time to die and hopefully the next morning we would find him under the tree we last saw him under.
It was a restless night for all of us especially Brian. The last thing he wanted to do was wound an animal. He wanted a clean kill. We parked the quads and headed up the hill. We got to the spot where Brian had hit the buck and immediately found blood. We followed the buck’s tracks moving up the hill. Every ten to twenty yards the buck had bedded down and left pools of blood in each bed. We followed the blood trail bed after bed after bed. Every time we thought we were close the blood trail kept going. An hour passed, then another. I never saw so much blood, yet we still hadn’t found the buck. Brian was getting worried, we all were. The thought occurred to us that maybe we might not find him. We followed track until we got into some thick trees where we ran into other tracks that made it hard to know which were his. We also had very little of a blood trail left as it was slowing fading and all we were finding were tiny drops every so often, until nothing. No tracks, no blood, nothing. We hiked around in a grid pattern for about another hour with nothing. We each went off in a direction for about a thousand yards and after another hour of searching that whole hill we never found the buck. We assumed he had gone higher as his tracks were headed in that direction when we lost them in the snow. Brian was heartbroken and discouraged. We went back to camp to get some lunch and then hit the hill again to see if we could find him. We searched that mountain till dark then went back to camp. We searched the next day an nothing turned up. That night Brian made the decision right there to punch his tag and made the call to head home. Todd, Larry and I tried to tell him that these kinds of things happen and that we still had a couple days left to find another buck, but he had made his decision. The trucks were loaded up and we were off.
The trip was amazing and all good hunts must come to an end. We were all pretty tired, but happy hunters, especially me as I thought”Wow, I finally did it”. I bagged my first Colorado muley! It doesn’t get any better than that. We had three great bucks to show for it. I can only hope I will have more hunting stories from future Colorado hunts.