September 23, 2011
Last week I posted a photo of a high-racked mule deer that I was hunting in Colorado. This buck proved to be one of the toughest animals I've ever hunted! I drove to Durango, CO with plans of mule deer hunting a new property on a self-guided hunt. The first couple days I spent scouting, setting tree stands, blinds, and simply watching the fields. There was one buck in particular that looked truly stunning. A high-racked buck that towered over anything I had ever seen. After a week of hard hunting I had several encounters with this giant but still never had a shot opportunity.
Regardless of who you are there is a point where you start second-guessing your hunting style, decisions, and really start getting wore down. Morning after morning, evening after evening I would setup in one spot and the buck would come out across the field, or even worse where I had setup the night prior. I felt like I was always reacting to his movement rather than being proactive€¦but it's impossible to guess what a group of bachelor bucks will do.
Each morning the group of bucks would get up from a new location on the field and feed for an hour or two then head to the high country for the day. The land I was hunting only included the bottom fields, so there was no option of tying to stalk them during the day. A couple mornings I even decided to stay mobile, and not pick a stand. I would simply try to watch them and get to where they were going, however with that many eyes the task proved to be impossible, and there wasn't enough cover to hide behind or even to belly crawl (although I tried many times).
After 10-days of hunting I felt like things were finally starting to fall my way. There were always two fields I had to choose between to setup but my odds finally started improving. The rancher had just cut the alfalfa on one of the fields and would start bailing anytime now. I figured the commotion on that field would probably keep the bucks contained to the other field so my stand selection was cut in half. The second thing that helped my chances was the bucks were now running with a group of does and a spike. Now instead of just focusing on the bachelor group, I could also watch the does and spike to see what they would do and setup accordingly.
The last morning I decided to forget about all the stands, blinds and pick a completely new location. There seemed to be one spot on the field edge that the does and spike liked to cross when they headed to the high country. I checked the wind upon arrival in the dark and decided to setup about 50-yards off the trail and crawled into a clump of bushes and trees. I didn't even bring anything to sit on and covered my face in paint, sprayed down with Scent Killer, and patiently waited for the sun to come up. I was completely hidden in the brush with my camera by my side.
As the sun came up the deer started standing and feeding, first the does, then the spike, and finally the entire group of bachelor bucks were on their feet feeding. They were 600-yards away but at least they were in the same field I was. The does started moving much quicker and were making there way right to me. As I watched in amazement the group of does and spike fed across the field and exited the field right on the path I was hoping for, only 50-yards from my setup. This was a huge confidence builder knowing that I was camouflaged in well and my scent control was perfect because they strolled right by without ever noticing me filming their every move.
Two hours later, the bucks were still milling around and looked as if they were going to leave the field on the opposite side. I was heartbroken and actually shut my camera off for a while thinking they were gone. After waiting another 15-minutes I saw one of the bucks heading my direction. The next thing I knew the entire group was on the same path of the does and my heart was pounding!
I fired the camera back up and watched as they came closer and closer. My only saving grace was the fact that I was trying to film on my own as well so I had something to keep my mind occupied and the nerves somewhat contained. When they hit that hundred-yard marker I could hardly keep my hands steady. Now I was trying to decide how I would setup the camera for the shot. I decided to commit to the path he does have crossed and positioned my camera on this opening. Two bucks came through and I was shaking so bad I couldn't even range the exact distance. I remembered the does had come through at 50-yards and the bucks looked to be coming through around the same distance. As the first couple bucks passed I got to full draw and waited for the big guy to step up. He stayed back behind the others but still inside my shooting lane. With my camera pointed right on the opening I decided it was now or never. I squeezed my release and watched as my arrow sailed right to him. He took off the opposite direction and I spun the camera over and actually got him piling up right in the field in front of me.
After all the hunts I have done, this was probably on of the most rewarding hunts ever. I scouted this buck, patterned him, and ultimately stuck with it when others would have given up. In the end it was the persistence, dedication and patience that allowed me to harvest this beautiful buck of a lifetime.