Every big game hunter I have ever interacted with has a sense of excitement and anticipation of what they will see and harvest on their next hunt. For most of us, I believe these thoughts start at about the end of legal hunting time on the last day of your present season and only get more and more intense as the days, weeks, and months slowly creep by. 1995 was no different for me! I had hunted mule deer in Southern Colorado the year before on a friend’s (Jim) land and was lucky enough to harvest my first big game animal. I ended up getting a nice 3X3 and was on cloud 9. I can remember that hunt like it happened yesterday!
After returning home, and reliving all of the details to every family member I could get in touch with, I soon learned that I would be invited back for the following season. Luckily for me, I was assigned as a recruiter in the Navy during that time so with the long hours and busy schedule, time went by surprisingly fast. Don’t get me wrong, I thought about and anticipated returning to this beautiful hunting property all of the time but, it just seemed to arrive sooner than you would imagine. I remembered all of the trails on the different parcels and could almost tell you every animal that I had seen the year before. I say almost because on the very first morning the year before, I stopped counting when the number reached over 240 deer within sight of my blind. Of course, these deer happened to be on the neighbor’s ranch and weren’t accessible to me; I was in awe nonetheless.
The day finally arrived for us to head west and north to the hunting grounds and that is when time eventually started to pass at a snail’s pace. The 14-hour drive seemed to take weeks! There were five of us in the truck and we all took turns driving. For some reason, when it was my turn to drive, the speedometer seemed to reach a higher number than when the others were behind the wheel. We arrived at the property the day before season was to start and began the construction of what would be considered our home away from home for the next five days. Among other small jobs, we dug a new hole for the outhouse, put up the tents, and cleared brush around the campsite, and cleaned out the camper that Jim used to leave year-round. Everyone pitched in and did their part and eventually our little camp appeared as if we had maintained it since the year before. We had just enough daylight left to take a few shots with our rifles just to make sure they were still shooting where they were supposed to. As night fell, we gathered around the campfire and started reminiscing and retelling stories of past hunts. Of course, since this was only my second year chasing mule deer, I mostly listened and soaked up all the tips and advice I could. There was one more order of business that we had to take care of before we could crash for the night. We had to draw for blinds. Jim had three parcels of land; 160-acre parcel (where the campsite was), a 240-acre parcel, and an 80-acre parcel.
(The top picture was taken from a blind on the 240-acre parcel. I watched in amazement as the doe in the picture sheltered her two fawns from a golden eagle that kept swooping down at the fawns. The bottom picture is of the blind that I got my very first buck from the year before.)
Although they all contained their fare share of animals, each parcel had its own advantages. The 160-acres were known for quantity more so than quality of deer (with a few elk sightings), the 240-acres had everything an elk or mule deer hunter could ask for, and the 80-acres was more known for the chance at seeing a lot of elk. Between the three, there were more blinds than there were hunters so, depending on which parcel you drew, you would also have a choice of the different blinds to sit in. Although two of the parcels were more known for elk (and a couple in the party had tags), we agreed that that wouldn’t hold any bearing on the draw. The hat finally came around to me and I drew the 80-acre parcel! At first I admit I was a little bummed: I had secretly wished and hoped to draw the 240-acres with hopes to return to my lucky blind from the year before. The 80-acre parcel was the only one with limited blinds. It only had two. There was an old logging-style road that went into the timber for a ways and eventually came to a “Y”. There was one blind to the right of the “Y” and at the top of an open field and to the left and at the bottom of the field was the other blind. The top blind was actually in the middle of the property but the bottom blind was on the fence line that separated Jim’s property with his neighbor’s. In the middle of the meadow was a small group of pines that was deemed the “sanctuary” and was not to be disturbed unless you were retrieving downed game. It was a little spot that allowed the animals to hide before they entered the surrounding neighbors’ open farm lands. Jim’s son Dan had drawn the other blind and would be hunting the “80” with me.
The alarms finally went off, well after I was up and ready, and we all loaded in the trucks and were on our way to our respective spots. Dan and I got dropped off and we all exchanged the traditional “good lucks”. On our way in, it was decided that he was going to hunt the top blind and I would hunt at the bottom. Although I had been on this piece of property the year before, I wasn’t as familiar with it as I was the others. We finally reached the “Y” in the road and swapped “good lucks” of our own, and went off in different directions. This is when the story gets funny; here I am, by myself, in the middle of the unfamiliar woods, trying to walk as quietly as I can down an old twig-covered road. I didn’t want to use a flashlight, as to not wanting to alert any animals of my whereabouts, so I used only the light of the stars to see my path. I had only walked 40-50 yards when I all-of-a-sudden heard a noise in the trees to my right. It startled me enough to bring the hair up on the back of my neck! I had no idea what it was but I knew it was too close for me to make a move. My first reaction was to scream at it like a little school girl but, luckily for me, I immediately remembered that I had a high-powered rifle hanging over my shoulder that would surely stop whatever it was if it decided to get any closer. So, I stood there frozen for what seemed like ten minutes. When I heard the sound slowly start to get father away, and determined that whatever it was, it was going the opposite direction, I decided it was OK to continue to my blind. I took another step and this thing let out a noise that would have scared Jason (“Friday the 13th”) himself! I swear to this day, I have never been so startled in my life! I couldn’t see what it was but I knew there were bears in the area, so my imagination soared! I didn’t dare make another move. As I was just about to scream out for Dan, I heard a more familiar sound. It sounded like some sort of hoofed animal bouncing away. Was it elk? Deer? Sasquatch? I didn’t know (and wouldn’t until later in the day). I reached the decision that I wasn’t going to move another muscle until I could see. So, there I stood for about 20-30 minutes frozen like a statue and scared to death of the monster that wanted to eat me! Finally, it became light enough for me to make out the trees in front of me and I could see the meadow that was on the other side. The puzzling thing was I didn’t see any animals in the trees or the meadow. I had no idea how my monster had escaped!
With my nerves back in order, I hastily made my way down the road and to the blind. The blind was constructed of metal scaffolding that had a plywood box attached at the top. The box appeared to have held up fairly well through the past winter and spring. The scaffolding, however, had a few loose pins holding it together, which I luckily noticed and secured before making my climb. Finally, I climbed up the scaffolding and into the box-blind. I took a quick look around and then started getting my gear out of my backpack. After all of my gear was properly in its spot, I quietly loaded my rifle and rested it in the corner. I then raised my binoculars and took a look towards Dan and gave a wave. He waved back and I couldn’t help but wonder if he had heard the monster from a little while ago. No sooner than I had scanned the tree line and just starting to look through the meadow, I heard a noise over my left shoulder. I ever so slowly peered out of the window and immediately saw a big buck walking along the fence line and straight towards me. He couldn’t have been more than 20 yards from the stand! I went into decision mode and was battling with myself on whether to shoot of not. I also knew that I couldn’t make a sound if I wanted to even have a chance at taking him, so I figured I would let him get out in front a little ways. Within seconds, he was directly under the blind and it was then that I made up my mind that he was a shooter. The only problem was I couldn’t move in the wooden box that I was hiding from him in, for fear of it creaking and spooking him off. I let him get about 20-30 yards in front of the blind and then slowly and quietly raised my rifle and put the crosshairs on the back of his neck. I contemplated on taking the neck shot but then decided that I would wait for a broadside opportunity. The buck took a couple more steps and then, as if he knew what I wanted him to do, turned broadside. I clicked the rifle off safe, he looked in my direction at the sound, and that was all she wrote! Ten minutes in my stand and my hunt was over! I chambered another round just in case and watched as he took his last breath. After a few minutes passed, I unloaded my rifle, gathered and stowed my gear, and climbed out of the blind to go tag and field dress my buck.
Unexpectedly, as I was field dressing it, I looked up and Dan was walking through the meadow towards me. He figured that he wasn’t going to see anything with me out in the meadow and wanted to offer a hand with the dressing. After finishing with the deer, he asked if I saw “the monster”! At first, I was confused as to what he was asking and then he continued to tell me of a huge buck and a couple of does that were at the top of the meadow at first light and had run down into the sanctuary. I asked him if he heard the same sounds as I had heard and if the sounds were in the same area as the big buck. He confirmed both and it was then that I realized that it was indeed this buck that had scared the bageebees out of me a short while ago. The deer and I must have startled each other and the buck was snorting and wheezing at me to protect his girls! I had never heard a deer make a noise before so I had no idea what they sounded like.
Eventually, the truck showed up at the prescribed time and we loaded my buck up in the back and took it back to camp for processing. Dan told his buddy, who had hunted the 160-acre property in the morning, about the big buck and they decided to go after him in the afternoon. Apparently, they weren’t in their blinds for more than an hour when the “monster” came running out of the sanctuary and presented an opportunity. Seven shots later, Dave claimed the biggest buck I have ever seen. Not only was he heavy horned and sported a non-typical rack, his body was huge! I just wish that he had been the one to have had to have gone through the scare in the morning! HA HA I spent the remainder of the trip sitting with the other hunters in their blinds and helping them spot game. Unfortunately, Jim sold the property the following year so there would be no return trips.