Wednesday, December 08, 2021

2021 COLORADO MONTANA

QUESTION.  So go ahead, ask yourself, is it possible to go on a hunting trip that turns into the greatest hunting trip of your life and never fire a shot or have a tag to hunt? 

ANSWER.  Yes.

Our Colorado hunt began about 1,000 days ago when I met a local businessman/rancher in a remote little town on the Eastern Plains of Colorado.   Actually I met him twice that year;  once when I bought a non-resident hunting voucher and again while out hunting for deer.   He actually killed a buck on the last day of the season that year, a buck that I had missed repeatedly due to high wind.  I have a heck of a time with gusting 55 m.p.h wind,  maybe you do too.  Here is the buck I missed several times, pretty cool crab claws on the front!   


We kept in touch occasionally and I'd stopped to see him in person to let him know that if he ever had an opportunity to sell a Colorado nonresident deer voucher or two, to keep me in mind.

Fast forward to 2021.

The stars aligned and two tags were available for purchase.  Having two sons who did NOT draw nonresident tags in Montana for elk and deer made it an easy call to put them on a hunt together in late October.   We were in a rather sleepy unit for big mule deer but never forget, big mule deer are found in every GMU (Game Management Unit) in Colorado.  Genetics and nutrition go a long way to grow big bone!

Driving down to Colorado on I-25 at 80 m.ph. I spotted a good buck in the morning light in a canyon north of Sheridan, Wyoming and put on a NASCAR like maneuver to get stopped and get out the Swarovski spotting scope and put the iPhone to work.   This was a nice buck and he held tight for me to take the picture.  He was a long ways away for sure.  Can you tell it was windy?  


Upon arrival in Colorado, I got our lodging squared away and had a day before the season opened to do some scouting. If you have ever been to the flat, eastern side of Colorado you will know that natural moisture is rather scarce and ranchers have a tough time with keeping pastures in decent grass.   On my scouting trip that day I saw north of 40 deer and maybe a shooter buck or two.  I had a good feeling about things and my oldest son, a Captain in the USAF who lives in Colorado and works in Wyoming, his day-job involving sitting in an underground bunker with a large number of ICBM's at his command arrived the night before the season and it was game on!

Mid-day on opening day I was doing a short, couple mile loop through a picked corn field that had some great cuts and cover in the back end of the section with my son.  I was helping glass and carrying shooting sticks for him!  We were headed back to the pickup and met a gentleman who had pulled up in a truck and looked rather bewildered.  He was a hunter, dressed in the appropriate orange hat and orange jacket that is required in Colorado but was difficult to understand when he first spoke to us.  Turns out he had pulled up in the truck and was going to set up and take a stand along a fence line a couple hundreds yard from where we had parked but in walking out with his shooting sticks he had failed to properly input the clip into his rifle and it had fallen out in the picked cornfield.  We helped him find it and wished him well.  I will come back and revisit this gentleman later in this story but here is a picture of him.  Great guy and I hope he has a great holiday season ahead.  He has much to be thankful for.
    

If you have ever had the pleasure to hunt in the western United States you know that wind can be difficult.  Wind.  Blowing tumbleweeds and dirt, just blowing and blowing.   A local farmer we met had told us of a big buck he had seen some time earlier in the fall and had given us some pointers on where to concentrate our time and effort in the unit.  Being a good listener and having OnX software on our phones was key.   Cell phone service in the flatlands of Colorado is about everywhere and we knew we had to put in plenty of time behind the glass.   Having been hunting mule deer for over 50 years and my sons having killed a few good muleys we knew what to look for.  Where to look is the big question.  Big deer in Colorado can hide anywhere and are truly masters of disguise. 

On Day 2 my youngest son had not arrived due to some obligations in Atlanta where he resides so he wasn't going to be with us. My oldest was shooting a Sauer 6.5 Creedmoor and my youngest shoots a 6.5/.300 Weatherby Magnum, both rifles topped with good glass and both barrels threaded for a suppressor. Late in the afternoon we finally turned up a buck that was a true master of disguise.   We had pulled off a remote gravel road to open a gate and shed some heavy clothes before we planned to put on a good hike and cover some ground where we thought we might bump a good one in the windy conditions.    We took off from the approach and I have no idea how small that white patch was that caught my eye but it was but a speck.  I stopped, threw up the Swaro's, yes, I pack the 15 x 56's all the time and about went crazy when I made out the outline of a buck in the grass, motionless.   I told my son we need to get him killed but how?  The wind was raging, it was flat as a pancake and the buck knew we were there.  The deer turned his butt to us in the grass and would not move.  My son took the shooting sticks and started walking away from the buck which in itself was a great move to get a better angle in which to try a shot.  I had ranged the deer at a tad under 200 yards but in the wind it was a different ball game.  The first shot was a clean miss.   The second was a solid hit and he folded at 240 yards.  Not many mule deer hunters get to walk up on a buck with that many points.  9 on one side, 6 on the other.  Happy for my son was an understatement!  He will look sweet on the wall! 
      

My youngest got to Colorado and we had a good drive to the airport in Denver to pick him up.   We chowed at a Ted Turner MONTANA GRILL before heading out for the long drive back to the eastern part of the state.    The rifle season in eastern Colorado can be fickle if the corn isn't harvested as the big boys use the corn fields as their home base.  As corn is harvested they are of course, more visible and we were fortunate the weather was good and corn was coming down daily.  With my sons we make a pretty good team for getting good bucks on the ground.  I was blessed with great eyesight and nearly 68 years of honing that genetic trait with being a birdwatcher.   That eyesight must have been passed on to my boys and we have a great time in who can come up with the best "spot" on a deer.    Colorado is a great state for playing that game and it took a couple days for us to find a bomber.   We had found some good bucks but not great bucks.   We aren't hunting for meat on these out-of-state hunts as we are looking for the opportunity to put a beauty on the wall, probably what everyone who goes to Colorado wants.  

My youngest son works for the worlds largest consulting company in Atlanta and is an avid fisherman and bow hunter.   He took a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Georgia last year and is learning what corporate America is all about.  To be sure, a steady job in a southern metro area isn't conducive to killing big mule deer. At last light we were able to get our eyes on a dandy buck and had the evening to figure out how to make an approach at first light.  Nothing like OnX maps to give up-close data for getting landowner names to secure permission!  We knew we were up against an old smart deer.  This wasn't his first encounter with hunters and he had been through plenty of bow and rifle seasons to know that the rack on his head brought plenty of unwanted attention.  

I dropped the boys off on a county road and watched them head down into where we thought the buck might be.   The Colorado rut begins about 3 to 4 weeks later than the timing of major rut activity in TN and the buck we were after was not on any doe groups that we had been keeping an eye on.  Just an old buck that wasn't going to show himself in the daylight!  I bet you have been up against many bucks like that if you are reading this.  Show me a buck older than 4.5 years of age and I bet he fits the same narrative in nearly every part of the country.   The buck was exactly where we thought he would be and was in a difficult place to get a decent shot.   As you know, hunting elk or mule deer can be a matter of Nano-seconds and inches and this was no exception.   The deer was big, heavy-horned and at probably his greatest body weight of the year.   The first encounter the boys had, the deer won.   Three shots fired!  I was able to see the deer bounding away a mile or so off in the distance. My son had not had a good window to shoot through and the deer did what big bucks do, they vamoose quickly after that first shot.
If he were to go much further he would have crossed a paved road that was actually the boundary line to the GMU we had tags for.  We had no idea exactly where he was headed but knew he was probably winded and wouldn't go much more than a mile or two.  The boys had a long walk back to the truck and the wind was picking up.  Spirits were high after seeing him up close and personal.  We drove to where we thought the boys could initiate a good slow thorough stalk/drive and they bailed out with anticipation.  Sitting in the truck was excruciating but that is what Dads do.  Let them go and get it done at their speed, they didn't need Dad along to give any advice.   My job had been done long ago.  Much sooner than I anticipated I thought I heard a shot, then another, then another.  On the 5th shot I heard a tremendous "Thump" and a smile came easy.   I knew that sound and what it meant.   He was everything and more.

DIY, eastern plains, Colorado.  It doesn't get any better.  (for anyone who might inquire, we wear orange head gear in CO when hunting;  for better pictures we dress up some)

In writing this story I made it sound rather easy in going to Colorado and killing two beautiful bucks.  Looking back, it wasn't.   It's not easy anywhere in knocking down bucks like this unless you are on a special property.  This was do-it-yourself, seat of the pants, put on the miles, just do it hunting.  In all of this I failed to mention a few things.   I didn't mention being tailed by the game warden for two miles before she finally pulled us over!  Wow, what an attractive, professional LEO she was!  I didn't mention the thousands of wind turbines that crisscross eastern Colorado, I didn't mention the drought conditions, I didn't mention the great landowners, farmers, ranchers and ranch hands that we met and that most of them wanted and tried to help us get my sons a  good deer.  I did not mention why I am absolutely enthralled with using a suppressor when deer or elk hunting, I didn't mention getting steered to a great taxidermist in Colorado Springs and I didn't mention that our meat went to Americans who are less fortunate and vey much appreciated the free protein.  And last I failed to mention how blessed I am to be the Dad of these two young strapping American hunters. 

To conclude the tale on the hunter in the orange we encountered a few days prior, all I can say, he is lucky.  Turns out he had some dementia and a few days later spent a rather rough night outside.  He had gotten himself in a precarious jam, having "lost" his rifle, phone and pickup at dark. He was found safe and is probably done hunting alone at this point.   

As for me, I am still building points in Colorado, maybe some day I will get an opportunity that presents itself to use them.  All I wanted was an opportunity for my sons.  Blessed and thankful for the privilege and opportunity on those great mule deer is an understatement. 

Montana is in my blood and I was the only family member to draw non-resident elk and deer tags this year. If there is one word to describe the 2021 season in Montana I would have have to use a simple word, dry.   Very dry.  Dry as in drought and then some.  In April of 2014 we purchased a property in eastern Montana that we named, Ghost Ranch.   It sits on two miles of Yellowstone River riverbank.   Since our purchase we have been working hard to enhance the size of our mature deer and improve our habitat to ensure herd health while working to increase our protein food sources.  It's not easy.  Winters are rough, EHD and "blue tongue" are always prevalent in the fall, coyote and cat predation is year-round, and add to that a fair amount of stress after the heavy breeding the bucks do with all the does on the river-bottoms.   This year we were hit fairly hard with EHD/blue tongue.  Here are some bucks that were going to be shooters down the road but just didn't make it.  These deer were easily found and when spring arrives and we begin shed hunting we should find plenty of "dead-heads".   Many of the good bucks we had on trail camera's prior to the start of the rifle season never showed again, most likely dying from EHD.  It seems the EHD kills the older bucks and fawns.  Why I don't know.  I am not a biologist but if anyone can give me some insight feel free.  I am a pretty good visual behaviorist with stock charts and can find dead and alive  (find magpies, eagles,  crows and ravens, the rest is easy) deer  fairly well.  Long ago it was my goal to try to see 2,000 deer a year.   Anywhere, just watch and observe, from winter range in Colorado while skiing to any state in the country.  I learned a lot and fortunately am still in the learning phase of these magnificent Yellowstone whitetails.  I have a long way to go.     
       
    

      

I would guesstimate approximately 15 to 25 dead on my place this fall that I found.  Disappointing to see all that potential disappear so fast!  In life we deal with the cards we are dealt.

The fall started off with my youngest son drawing an archery antelope tag.  It was dry and a very high percentage of antelope and mule deer fawns in eastern Montana died in mid-June from the tremendous heat.  They simply cooked in those 104 to 107 degree days on the open prairie.  We had a whole lot of fun and spent 3 days together which in itself was priceless.  Lots of blown stalks, wind a major culprit and only one respectable shot opportunity that didn't pan out.

                                            

In early September my son had a good friend who was on the fishing team with him in college come to Ghost Ranch  and bow hunt.   Great young man and he had a great time getting this beauty.  He was fortunate to draw a tag!

We took 3 bucks off the Ghost Ranch this year.   This one was taken by a family friend during the rut and taped out rather wide!

   
I hunted hard for a mule deer and was soundly disappointed.  Never once saw a muley buck that I could remotely call "mature".   This whitetail I killed was simply an old warrior that caught my eye and reminded me of myself I guess, a tad worn down but still on top of his game, he wasn't getting his butt kicked by any younger bucks!    I passed up some magnificent bucks that will be better left for younger hunters, it's that point in my life.  I shot what I wanted and couldn't ask for anything more!  My wife hates this picture but it shows two things; just how happy I still get after so many years of having this kind of fun and two, that I still love sitting in a stand in the cold!
Elk hunting was tough.  The property I hunt had been hammered the first week of the rifle season.  The owner and his party shot 9 bulls, every one a 3-point (6 pointer for you in TN) or better and they shot 8 bucks!   Man, talk about some carnage!    Good on them, and it made it tough on me.   I spent a large amount of time trying to turn up a good bull and out of the 6 elk I saw in driving nearly 3,200 miles over the rest of the season, all were bulls and I was able to tip over the biggest one.   

  

I spotted these bulls at 520 yards and got to around 80 yards before the wind swirled and the big boy stood up.  It was a chip shot off the sticks and the hard work began.  Elk extraction is tough unless you have a tractor and my tractor was about 115 miles away.  My friend thumped a good bull too!

In reflection I feel terrible for the state of mule deer in eastern Montana.  It's not good now and may not get better any time soon.   I had gone into the Region 7 office of MT FWP and bought my tags before the season for non-resident trapping, migratory waterfowl, swan and doe tags.  I bought a doe mule deer tag and immediately tore it up.  The clerk couldn't even fathom my thinking but in my mind I just saved another muley doe and next years fawns.  You do what you can for the resource.  It's obvious that biologists are behind the curve with mounting pressure to sell more tags and raise revenue.  Never forget, follow the money and most things in life will solve themselves.

On a personal note, it's been a great year.   The markets started off the year so strong it was hard to believe and things have continued along amid all the lies and distortion that government wants you to believe.  My family is healthy and for that I am most thankful.  I had made a decision this year to get baptized as an adult and accomplished that in the Yellowstone River in the last warm day of the fall. 
The buck I killed last year in Montana finally showed up the other day and I put it up in it's rightful place.  In my old age it will be a nice deer to remember from where it came.   In that country the silence is deafening.  Believe it.   Where he came from and how he made it that far in life is hard to believe.  I was lucky to get it done!


Those two bucks came from different ranches about 3 miles away from one another.  I was lucky to get both of them.

I will leave you with a video I took the other day.  It's pretty cool of America's finest bird!

I hope you have a great Christmas season and that you had a whole lot of fun in the field this year.  From our house to yours I wish you a great 2022 ahead.

Never forget, the best is yet to come!  Believe it.



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