No More Dragging!
I wouldn't exactly consider myself an accomplished hunter but, I would say that I have had my share of success (and luck)! I started hunting rabbits and squirrels with my Grandfather at the age of 7 or 8 and did so until my family uprooted and moved back to Florida during my sophomore year of high school. My Grandfather never was really into deer hunting so he and I only got tags one season and only headed out after them twice (unsuccessfully). It wasn’t even my first deer hunt that got me hooked on chasing the elusive creature. Besides one other time hunting deer at a friend’s house in South Carolina, I had never really, seriously, pursued what is now my passion. Once moving back to Florida, I switched hobbies and concentrated mainly on bass fishing. At one time I even had grand delusions to be a professional on the circuit. Of course not having the money to get a boat soon brought my dream to a reality. During high school, I enlisted into the Navy’s delayed entry program and went to boot camp two months later. My first tour in the Navy found me in San Diego and Washington State and was everything I could have ever wanted. I was 17 years old when I joined and didn’t have a worry in the world! We were always gone and I couldn’t care less! After that tour, I moved back to San Diego (for what ended up being my new “home state”). I spent my second tour as a technician at a specialty S.E.A.L. team and had more fun than one should be allowed to have while getting paid to do it. I was fortunate enough to get to go on quite a few training missions with the operators and at one point participated in a land navigation course at one of San Diego’s local mountain ranges. It was during that trip that I first saw my first California mule deer! I was in awe! Although much smaller than the deer I used to see in Ohio, I was hooked none the less. The problem was, no one on the team hunted or even knew if you could hunt where we were training.
Flash forward a couple of years and I am now married. My father-in-law was an avid hunter at the time and one of his good friends had three parcels of land in Southern Colorado. In 1994 I got my first invitation to go hunting for mule deer on his land! I was so excited that I don’t think I slept the entire week leading up to my hunt. I ended up getting my first deer on the second day of the hunt. The deer was a respectable 3X3 that I dropped in its tracks at 249 yards with a weathered Remington 700 .270. I was on cloud nine!!! Fortunately for me, I dropped this deer right on an old 2-track and we were able to drive right up to it. Well, before the land owner eventually sold, I was invited back two more times and was successful on both of these trips also. All three deer in Colorado were recovered within yards of a 2-track or dirt road. No problems!
Flash forward a couple more years and I finally met a shipmate that was into hunting the local mountains in San Diego (the same ones that I had trained on several years before). The only problem was, he was a bow hunter! I had never seriously shot a bow but I knew if I wanted to be able to go with him, I had to get one and start practicing. And that I did! I ordered a bow from the popular company that a lot of us get our gear from and immediately started reading, shooting, tuning, reading, watching, shooting, shooting, and shooting! By the time the season came around, I was confident with my bow and headed out with my new hunting partner. We hunted hard for the season and, although I never harvested a deer that year, I had the time of my life! After the season ended, my new partner broke some bad news to me. He was retiring and moving back to Michigan!!! Well, although I was disappointed, I continued to practice throughout the offseason and headed back up to the mountain by myself the next season. It was the first day of the season that I met a new hunting partner. He and I hit it off right away and fortunately for me, he had been hunting these hills for his entire life. He showed me all over and I soon was rewarded with my first bow-killed local buck!
After we high-fived and bro-hugged, we took some pictures and then got to work and field dressed my prize. It was about that time that it hit me; we were about a mile and a half away from the trucks! The first 2/3 of the route was fairly flat, albeit at about 5500 feet elevation, but the last 1/3 was up an extremely steep hill. Luckily for me, I had someone with me and we made pretty good time getting the deer out. I had never been so tired in my life (yet). I had a couple more successful years hunting with a partner for the next couple of years and then in 2008, I was on a fairly-rare solo hunt. It was my first day out during the general season and I had planned on hunting with my bow in the archery-only area but had my rifle locked up in the truck just in case I changed my mind. After sitting for a couple of hours in my archery spot, I made the decision to head out to a near-by area that rifles are permitted. I quickly changed out of my scent-free archery clothes and decided to just wear a t-shirt with my camouflaged pants since it was already pushing 80° (we regularly get a heat spell in September-October). I headed out on a trail that I had been successful near in 2005
and immediately started glassing the hillsides for movement. After not seeing anything for a ¼ mile or so, I got the inkling to toss a rock down the hill to see if I could bust any bedded deer up. Nothing came up with the first toss, but after a couple more feet I tossed another. Although I didn’t see anything with the second toss, I could have sworn I heard something that didn’t sound like the rock hitting ground or bush. I continued on the trail for about 20 more yards and at this point, the trail made a hard left, which gave me a view of a flat area on the other side of the ravine I was walking beside. The flat area was 250 yards from my position and several hundred feet down in elevation. I immediately caught movement of a doe coming out of the area that I had tossed the rocks! I dropped down and slowly eased my way about ten or twenty yards down the hillside. The single doe quickly was joined by another, and another, and another, and finally there finally ended up being 7 in total. As I lay there with my rifle on the bi-pod watching the does, I noticed that they kept looking back towards the route that they had just come from. A few minutes later, I caught movement and there he was! I immediately recognized the buck as an old deer because of the white face and white patch on his chest and knew he was a shooter (forked horn bucks are very common in this area typically don’t get many more points). At 250 yards, he was well within my comfort level. I put the cross hairs on the vitals and sent the lead his way!
My hunt was over, but the adventure was just beginning. Since I was only a little more than a ¼ mile from the truck, I decided to go back and lock the rifle up and get more water. I eventually got down to my buck, filled out my tag, took a few pictures, and then field dressed the deer. It was then that it all sunk in; I was by myself! I started dragging and could only get 50 or so yards up the hill before I had to stop and take a rest and drink of water. At some point I remembered seeing someone carry a deer out with the fireman’s carry, so I got the deer on my back and trekked up another hundred yards or so. I shot the deer at 8:05 AM and had finished field dressing him about an hour later. By 12:30 I had continued dragging and carrying the deer up the steep hill and eventually ran out of water. After calling a few friends that I thought might be hunting nearby, I finally succumbed to the realization that there was no way I was going to get this deer out in one piece. I laid the deer down and quickly gave myself a lesson in quartering out a big game animal. After getting all the prime meat off and into my pack, I continued up the hill and to the trail and finally made it back to my truck at 1:30 PM. The thermometer in my truck read 88°! I now was definitely the most exhausted I had EVER been! The satisfaction of my solo hunt and subsequent success finally set in and somehow I regained enough energy when I got home to butcher and process all the meat. It was a day or so later that I made the decision, I would never drag another deer more than 100 yards and that’s only if it is on flat ground! Fortunately, my 2009 buck that I got with my boys in tow was only a couple of yards off a 2-track and the short drag was down hill!