It defies logic but I don't make the laws. Having spent a large portion of my youth in Montana working on a large cattle ranch, (starting pay was $200 per month, working 6 days per week) I am familiar with mule deer. I have been after them now for about 55 years if memory serves. My first muley was in the "breaks" of North Dakota off of Hwy 22, north of Killdeer and south of Lost Bridge on the Little Missouri River. Open sighted Model 94 .30-.30. Went down on the 5th shot, I was a tad excited, been hooked ever since.
Fast forward to the fall of 2022.
The simple reason I hunted Colorado this year was because I wasn't able to draw a buck deer or antelope tag in Montana where I own a ranch. No elk or buck deer tag this year in Montana for Dean Parisian besides two whitetail doe tags which were filled.
Last year my sons had a successful hunt in Colorado and by successful I don't mean just filling their tags. We had a great time, met new friends, lots of laughs, hard work, ups-n-downs, good chow, great lodging, all in all, a great trip with the added plus of tipping over a couple of beautiful bucks. You can read about it here, just click on this link.
In Montana, the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks crowd are beholden to state legislators, MOGA (Montana Outfitters & Guides Association) and some very large landowners. Their crowing about adaptive harvest management and referencing the benchmark long-term averages pales in comparison to what Colorado does to manage their deer herds.
In Region 7 where my ranch is located on a couple miles of the Yellowstone River, mule deer numbers are dismal. Down and trending lower. In 2020 which was just 700 days ago they issued 11,000 mule deer B tags which invariably means doe tags though they give little regard to the simple fact that half of the fawns killed are buck fawns. A year ago MT issued 5,500 B tags in Region 7 and this year only 3,000.
Deer management by the seat of your pants is what I call it.
Running a season for 6 weeks into the rut is ridiculous but what do I know about managing mule deer? The last mule deer seen on my ranch was in 2018, killed by a shooter who I confronted trespassing on my property gutting it out. The resource is suffering and what is in place today has to end. The usual call to simply "follow-the-money" is a beautiful place to start in setting seasons in Montana. Call me out, debate me, phone me up personally if you think different but you know it's true. The years of pandering to the crowds of hunters, hotel owners, cafe owners, FWP personnel, outfitters, guides, gas stations owners, the gun lobby, the archery lobby, the muzzleloader lobby, the cartridge manufacturers, and on and on and on it goes. The resource is dealing with drought to their feed, hunting pressure, disease, predators, browse, water and on and on and on.
Not certain about what a bad winter might do to the Montana herds but the proverbial good old days are here today and it is not a promising future over the short term.
I was blessed with good eyesight and am usually capable of turning up a good buck when I need to. For the second year running I did not see a mature buck mule deer in Montana. I call a mature deer one I would shoot. It doesn't matter the width, the number of points, the palmation, the age. Mature is mature. I know it when I see it. To me, at my short tenure here on the Rock, pushing 69 years, there are two kinds of deer. The first kind of deer is the buck deer that you grab your binoculars and look and gander at just how big he might be and if ground shrinkage is an issue. The second kind of deer is where you say, "Oh My God", no binoculars necessary. In my experience, about one buck in every 30 to 35 bucks I look over are what I would call a shooter. Those numbers have been constant in my personal observations but that's me.
I was born into a trapping heritage and trapping predators was a huge part of my life growing up. I remember when government trappers in Montana had free rein to use M-44's and Compound 1080 back in the 60's and 70's, when it was a bonanza for the mule deer population. Now those tools are banished and with lower fur prices coyotes are still doing what they do best, they eat fawns.
My Montana trapping season started on a low note with this mangy song dog but the MB-550 did its thing! I love the Minnesota Brand line of trapping hardware and you will too, check them out, just click on this link.
If Christmas would come early I can only hope that Montana cuts the deer season in half, mandates that when you buy a tag you either hunt with a bow or hunt with a rifle, that you hunt in a specific Game Management Unit (Regional hunting zone) for your animal, that harvest data is mandatory, that fawn mule deer are off limits, that B tags (antlerless) are done away with in some units and that hunting during the rut is finished! Hey a guy can dream can't he? It's still legal to dream!
So in October my oldest son and I headed out to the eastern plains of Colorado. He will be starting his next assignment for the United States Air Force and should attain the rank of Major next year. He will be in training for a couple of years and will not have time for hunting big-game with his Dad or brother so I thought we should get after it this fall. He will have his sights set on much bigger game. He will be a student in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program, conducted by the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, which is the worlds only multi-nationally manned and managed flying training program chartered to produce combat pilots for NATO.
Colorado antelope are in pretty good shape all things considered. The state does a good job of watching population levels and allows for landowner vouchers so that farmers and ranchers who actually "raise" these antelope can monetize their "investment" in the herds. My son took his first antelope and I tipped one over that had a front leg about shot off. I could have probably found a bigger buck but when I saw that nice buck with such a massive wound I knew what needed to be done and did it.
The dry conditions are brutal for wildlife in eastern Colorado. During our antelope hunt we only spotted 5 deer, one fawn and 4 does which I thought didn't bode well for our CO deer hunt in a few weeks.
For some of you reading this, you may have been on a few other adventures with me over the years in this great TNDEER forum and you know I try to share the "flavor" of my time in the field with many who may never make it out West to experience what I hopefully do not, and will never, take for granted.
Not having a deer or elk tag in Montana allowed me to spend more time on the Yellowstone River. I am lucky to own a couple miles of shoreline on this 680 mile fishing paradise and the weather was beautiful to put plenty of good eating in the skillet all fall. My wife and youngest son love to fish as much as I do!
My son made the decision to become a Montana resident this year and recognizes it will probably be one of the finest decisions in his life. Next fall he will also be able to pay resident license prices which are an awful big savings.
Sauger, walleye, smallmouth and catfish are the staples in the Yellowstone River ecosystem! Hot butter in cast iron is the ticket!
In 2016 I met a young man who I had asked to help me get some physical work done I couldn't do by myself. He subsequently moved to Montana to attend college and our friendship has steadily improved. He played football with my son in Georgia and has turned himself into a great archer and outdoorsman. He took a nice bull with his bow this year, a great antelope on public land and finished it off by tipping over a good buck at Ghost Ranch.
He is a testament to hard work, constantly trying to get better at his craft and putting in the time. Hard work pays off in the field and he understands that you can't shoot big horns if you shoot little horns. It sounds simple but is hard for many to put into practice.
We had deer licenses for the 2nd rifle season on the eastern plains in a GMU that is deemed rather "sleepy". It doesn't have much irrigated ground and nearly zero public land. To say I was lucky to get a deer this magnificent is an understatement.
Here is the story behind the pictures. The farmer who we had purchased the landowner vouchers from had a great friend who had been watching this buck for what he said was 3 years. It was understood that this friend had first crack at this buck on opening day and that we would not interfere with his hunt. Well, along about midmorning the cell phone rang. It was the friend asking us where we were at. We were on foot 6 miles away from him and he was calling us, frazzled. He had walked in to where he had put the buck to bed the night before, got set up and on the shooting sticks and had simply missed two great shot opportunities to get that buck down. So what did he do? He hiked back to his truck and called us. He said the road hunters were everywhere and that we better hustle over and try to get this buck killed. I will say it here, never have I driven faster on a gravel road than I did that day. I pulled up my pickup next to his and he was just angry with himself for missing that buck. He said the deer were in a large sunflower field and that we better get over there and see what we could find. I drove off only to come over the hill where we were going to park and saw a pickup truck idling on the road, full of orange bodies that did not have permission to hunt that land. I pulled in to the approach in front of them, jumped out with my rifle, forgetting the shooting sticks and took off in the direction of the deer while my son took off to where we thought the deer were headed. I wanted my son to get a crack at this beast that we had only heard about and not yet seen. It was about a mile to the end of the flowers and the deer had sold out and were headed west and south. I was in good spirits, walking as fast as I could, having had a tough bout with a foot issue way back in March that cropped up from doing yoga of all things. I was out in some tall prairie grass with a small hill in front of me when I saw a muley doe, then two, three and more pop their heads over the hill looking my way. What did I do? I did immediately what any good mule deer hunter would do. I hit the deck flat on my stomach trying to hide in the grass. I guessed there were maybe 8 to 10 does in front of me about 140 yards out jumping around, nervous, in the wind and sun, having been shot at earlier in the morning. Then I saw the horns above the hill coming at me. Yes, this was a shooter but what do I do?
The does were wanting to head north into the wind and the buck was still behind them on the other side of the hill. I had no shot on him. I could only see his horns and part of his head and neck. I don't take head shots so I tried to get my butt on the ground and be ready to shoot from my knee. It happened quick, the does started to walk, then trot then get moving. The buck behind them. I had a shot at his back and neck standing there and missed. It was windy. He kept moving with more of his body showing, missed again. Third shot, missed. At that point he cleared the hill and gave me a look at his full body. He was a heavy buck and was on a very steady move without much undulation in his gait. At the fourth shot, I stayed in the scope and the buck disappeared as I heard the "whop" of the bullet.
So, here is the buck. Lots of bone going on for sure. I am not a "score" guy so no clue what that is all about with points everywhere. The only thing I know for sure is that the last two muley bucks I have killed, MT in 2019 and CO in 2022, have 32 points in total. Having friends who help friends is really the story of this buck. I am humbled and grateful that I took a call to come help harvest this deer.
On the third day of our hunt about 11:30 a.m. I saw 2 bucks move into another sunflower field. I had about 2 seconds to see them before they disappeared. We hadn't turned up any other decent bucks for my son and weren't sure if what I had seen for a couple of seconds were in the ballpark of being a shooter but we hatched a plan and the plan failed that afternoon. Complete and total failure. We saw the deer in a big group of does. The whole herd blew out across a county road and every deer we had glassed showed up except those two bucks. They had simply vanished! I couldn't believe it. They had disappeared without us getting eyes on them so as darkness fell we knew where we would be at first light.
The next morning in a cut corn field we saw him. At over a mile away we could tell he was a shooter. I dropped my son off a half mile from the corn field, told him to stay low, watch the wind direction and wished him good luck. I drove a mile north and watched this story play out. I could see my son in his orange hat and vest, Colorado requires orange head gear as well as orange on the body which I think is a beautiful law for safety. The buck was behind a doe that might have been smelling awful good to him and what do I see in my binocs is that doe head directly downwind with the buck in pursuit right over the hill towards my son who had creeped and crawled into a decent position. I was watching the buck in my binocs when he disappeared from sight and I heard the crack of the 6.5 Creedmoor. Tagged out! Once again, for two years running, we had killed the biggest two bucks we had turned up in that unit. If you want to know what GMU we were hunting in, look close and you will see the top of Pikes Peak in this picture!
Colorado is a special place but it too is having a hell of a time with mule deer on the eastern plains. Just ask the greatest guide and outfitter on the Eastern Plains, Scott Limmer of Commanche Wilderness Outfitters about what is happening to mule deer out there. Scott is all about the resource and runs to my personal knowledge the finest hunting operation in North America.
It was two great trips to Colorado with my son. I am thankful and blessed. Do it yourself, no kill-fees, no guide fees, just the $420 non-resident license fees for each animal, the landowner vouchers and high priced Biden gas. It is the good old days. Today and all the tomorrows ahead are the good old days, believe it.
This fall my youngest son spent a good amount of time trying to get a big bull elk killed. He didn't get it done and settled for a small bull at the end of the season. He passed on some great bulls in the early fall in hopes of getting an arrow into a monster but it didn't happen. He passed on cows, on calves and nice bulls for sure. At the end of the season he was with one of my lifelong hunting pals, and they found themselves crawling up on some small bulls and tagged out. My pal, now 73, had missed out on hunting Montana a couple years ago because he nearly died from Covid and then had to endure the surgeons knife this spring to get a new hip installed. I was tickled he took his first bull elk!!!
A good friend got his first archery deer kill this year at my place in Montana. He put in a tremendous amount of time in the deer stand in all types of weather. He never quit and loved wearing that blaze orange to his bow stand. As you may guess, I have little regard for camo when it comes to safety. Orange is safe. I like safe. The deer don't see it and frankly care less if it is orange or camo. Play the wind, play the sun, the shadows, stay fairly clean scent wise and you will be fine.