Colorado Mule Deer

Colorado Mule Deer Hunt 2015  

It has been a while since I have written, I have been very busy with a lot of things lately, including a new job and a deer hunt.  No one in this audience wants to hear about my new job (although I am pretty excited about it), so I will write about my deer hunt a couple of weeks ago.

After 19 years of building up preference points for deer to hunt a high-success area in Colorado, I finally got a tag for the Three Forks Ranch 42 miles north of Steamboat Springs, CO.  Three Forks is a 50,000 acre cattle ranch and high-end resort with excellent fishing, hunting, and even snow skiing.  The ranch has good populations of elk and mule deer, and I knew that I had a pretty good chance at getting a nice mule deer.  I had not rifle hunted in 20 years, other than with a muzzle loader, so I was excited to be hunting with a rifle again, the first hunt with my Savage 111 .30-06.

I loaded up my truck with my canvas wall tent, wood stove, tables, cot, coal and everything else I needed and headed to the mountains the day before my hunt.  It had snowed the night before, so some of the mountain passes were a little dicey, but the snow covered mountains were beautiful.  It took about three hours to get to Steamboat where I got gas and then headed north out of town on a two lane county road for 30 miles to a forest road for the last 12 miles.  I saw a big bull moose just before the forest road; he was a very nice looking bull with a massive rack.  The forest road was dry in most places as it wound through the forest and mountain valley, but it was a pretty rough and narrow road.  The landscape was beautiful with aspens and pines covering the mountain sides and rolling hills.  You can see a video by clicking here.

When I got close to the ranch I found a good place to camp, and I pulled off the road to check it out (I was not allowed to camp on the ranch, but I was only a mile away).  As I was walking around I saw that several elk had been butchered there by hunters, and there were bear tracks all over the place.  I decided not to camp there.  I went back in the direction I had just come from to another spot I saw in a clearing next to a small stream.  I set up my camp, cut some firewood, and then went for a hike around the area just to explore.  I saw a grouse and a doe mule deer just as the sun was about to sink behind the mountains, I thought that was a good sign.  You can see a video of my camp by clicking here.


Deer Camp 2015

I headed back to camp and started to warm up some stew I made for dinner.  While that was heating up I was able to find an ESPN radio station that barely came in so I could listen to the World Series (I grew up in Kansas and followed the Royals my entire life).  It’s weird when I go to the mountains and listen to my radio; the stations seem to fade in and out frequently, and I was even getting stations from places in Canada.  But the ESPN station stayed tuned in most of the time, and I was able to listen to the Royals beat the Mets while I ate dinner and wrote in my journal.  After a long day I headed to bed, anxious for hunting the next day.

I wasn’t supposed to meet my guide at the ranch until 2:30, so I spent the morning cutting and splitting firewood, and then got all of my hunting gear ready before heading for the ranch a little after 2:00.  As I drove along the gravel driveway into the ranch I couldn’t believe how beautiful the place was.  There were huge lodge buildings made of logs, with high, steep roofs with big glass windows at the peaks.  A river wound through the property, and I saw several monster rainbow trout as I drove across the bridge.  There was a row of log cabins along a well-groomed lawn about 20 yards from the river, I really wished I could be staying there, it was just a gorgeous place.  But the deal the ranch made with the Colorado Parks & Wildlife prohibits people like me with a Ranching for Wildlife tag to stay there, even if I didn’t mind spending close to $800 a night to stay in one of those cabins.

I met Brian, the Recreation Director of the ranch, and signed the release papers in case I got injured somehow, and we talked while waiting for my guide Dave to arrive.  After about 15 minutes Dave pulled up in a Polaris Ranger, a four-wheeler with a bench seat in the front and a pickup bed in the back.  We talked for a little while, and then headed out in the Ranger to where we would be hunting.  As we drove I saw another huge lodge building made of logs and river stones.  I asked Dave what that was, he said it is the fishing lodge, I couldn’t believe it!  You can see a video of the drive by clicking here.


Truck at camp

As we traveled away from the lodge we headed off the gravel road onto a two track trail through some cow pastures towards Beaver Mountain which was a few miles away.  The rolling hills and mountain sides were covered with sage brush, and every once in a while Dave would stop and glass the hill sides.  We saw a few deer here and there, and then Dave asked me “So what are you looking to harvest on this hunt?”  I said “I’m not a trophy hunter; I am not going to pass on a chance at a decent deer.”

I had never hunted in this manner before, and I was amazed at how Dave could spot deer with his naked eyes while driving, and then he would stop and point out a deer to me like a half mile away.  At one point he stopped and got out a spotting scope and sat on the trail looking at a mountain side that was easily two miles away.  “There’s a big muley on the right edge of that draw, check it out,” Dave said as he scooted away from the scope.  “That’s a monster!” I said, “How can we get there?”  “We’ll take this trail around to the other side and walk up from behind.”  I was a little pessimistic that we would be able to go that far and have the deer still be there, but I trusted that Dave knew what he was doing.

As we drove along I spotted a nice deer about 70 yards off the trail.  “Dave!  There’s a nice buck right over there,” I said pointing towards the deer.  Dave stopped and we both watched the deer with our binoculars for a few minutes.  “What do you think, do you want to go after him?” Dave asked.  “Yeah, he’s a decent buck” I said.  He was not the monster that we had seen with the spotting scope, but I felt like this deer was worth hunting.


View from camp

We got out of the Ranger, I loaded my rifle, and we started to get into position for a shot.  The deer spooked a little bit and headed up the mountain.  Just then, a larger buck stood up about 120 yards away.  “Wait, wait!” Dave hissed, “That buck on the left is a better deer.”  We crawled through the sage brush and tall grass for a ways, and I could feel the adrenaline pumping in my blood.  The larger deer was alert that something was going on, but he couldn’t see us.  He was standing behind a big sage bush, but I could see his neck, head, and rump, but not his vitals.  I could see his tail twitching like he was nervous.  “What do you think about taking a neck shot?” Dave asked.

I was feeling pretty confident in my shooting since I had been practicing a lot, but your adrenaline isn’t pumping during target practice like mine was at that moment.  Taking a neck shot is risky; you have a smaller target in the spine, and if you miss you could wound the deer with a non-lethal shot.  “Yeah, I think I can make that shot,” I said.  I got into position, trying to settle my nerves and stop shaking.  I put the fore end of my rifle on a shooting stick, steadied the scope on the upper portion of the deer’s neck, and squeezed off a shot.  The deer dropped right there, he never took another step.

“Nice shot!” Dave exclaimed as he patted me on the back, “You got him clean!”  “Oh wow,” I said, “I can’t believe how much I am shaking right now.”  It’s funny what adrenaline will do to you, and in that moment of a hunt, it gets really intense.

We couldn’t see the deer on the ground, so we waited a little while before we started walking towards him.  I put another round in the chamber just in case, but I knew he was dead.  As we walked through the sage brush we crossed a small stream, and then headed up the mountain side towards the deer.  Sure enough, there he was on the ground right behind that sage brush that was hiding his vitals.  I had a great sense of accomplishment, yet remorse at the same time.  It is never easy to take a life, and I always have reverence for all animals that I harvest.  I knelt down next to the deer, put my hand on his head and said “Thank you buddy, you’re a magnificent animal.”  See a video by clicking here.

The deer had a very large body with a nice rack.  He was not a monster, but a good rack with 5 tines on one side and four on the other.  Dave took a few pictures before we gutted the deer and began to drag him out.  I have never dragged a deer like that before, but it was actually easier than I thought it would be, especially since we were going downhill.  Once we got to the stream it was a little more difficult, but between the two of us we got the deer to an area where Dave could pull the Ranger up, and we put the deer in the bed of the Ranger.

I had a big smile on my face as we drove back to the ranch.  It was probably the easiest hunt I have ever had, but it was still hunting, just a little different than what I am used to.  I still had to make a good stalk and shot, and my preparation paid off.  In all of my years of big game hunting, this was the first time I had ever brought an animal out on something besides my back or a horse; I think I could get used to that.

Back at the ranch we put the deer in my truck; I thanked Dave and shook his hand, and then headed back to my camp.  Once at camp I propped the body cavity open and let the deer cool down, it was pretty cold out and I could see that a storm was moving in.  I put a tarp over the bed of my truck to keep snow off of the deer.  Then I made dinner, listened to the World Series, and wrote in my journal.  What an amazing day!


My 5 x 4 Mule Deer

That night it rained quite a bit, and then it turned to snow.  For some reason my tent had a leak that dripped cold water right onto my face at about 2:00 AM, waking me up to see the heavy snow falling outside.  I stoked up the wood stove with coal and wood, but I didn’t sleep very well the rest of the night.  In the morning I left to take the deer to Steamboat to have it processed, and the forest road was a nightmare!  Only a few inches of snow accumulated, but the road was a muddy, slippery mess, it took me an hour to go 12 miles before I got to the county road.  Click here to see a video of the drive when I didn’t need two hands on the wheel.

Once I got to Steamboat I dropped the deer off, texted my kids and a few friends since I was in phone range, and then headed back to camp.  It was a rainy, snowy day, so I decided to pack up my camp and go back to Steamboat for the night and stay in a motel.  After a lot more driving on that forest road, packing up my camp, and more driving on the forest road, I got back to Steamboat by 5:00 PM.  My truck was caked in mud all the way up to the roof, which is about 7 ½ feet tall.  I checked into a cheap motel, got cleaned up, had dinner, and then spent the evening watching the World Series and writing.  The next morning I picked up the deer meat, hide, and antlers, and then headed home.  While it was a short trip, it was a good trip.  I got a very nice deer, experienced some new things, and had a great adventure along the way.

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