Anyone who follows my writing, videos, blogs — you get the idea — knows I’m smitten with DIY bowhunting. For me it’s the process, the work it requires. It’s the miles of running, staring at maps, hanging treestands, brushing in ground blinds, checking trail cameras and shooting countless arrows into foam that I crave. The feeling of knowing my success or failure rests squarely on my shoulders.
For the past month I’ve put the aforementioned “process” to practice in my home state of Colorado. While in search of mule deer that are sprinkled amongst the pungent sage flats and tamarack-lined creek bottoms near my home, my hope has been to send an arrow through the lungs of a mature buck. And I’ve had some great sits. I watched 21 deer mingle across a sage flat from a cottonwood perch, passed a couple young bucks from a ground blind and slithered across the plains just for the sake of going on stalk. It was all awesome, but I had yet to spy a mature deer. I wasn’t worried. I’ve had this particular tag four previous times and have never dropped a string during the month of October.
I had to make it quick, but I managed to slip in and pull a few trail cameras on Thursday, October 27. The first split of this Colorado season was set to wrap up on Friday before the boys in orange took to the field. Mostly, I wanted to replace batteries and put fresh cards in before having to stay out of the woods for two weeks.
I always hang a camera or two in an odd area — areas I don’t typically hunt — areas that go overlooked by other bowhunters. I pulled the card from my Wildgame Buck Commander Nano and went on my way. I’d had the camera in the same tree at the same location for nearly two months, and it had taken four pictures of deer. That all changed with the click of a mouse. I was shocked when the card revealed a mature 4×4 mulie buck. He’d strolled through the area twice in the last week, and, with temperatures forecasted in the high 80s and only one first-split evening left to sit, I figured I’d give it a go.
As you can see from the trail camera picture, the buck isn’t a giant by any means. Yes, I’ve killed much bigger, but, when bowhunting, I live up to no one’s expectations but my own. I set my own goals and live my own bowhunting dreams. It’s just easier this way, trust me.
Note: You will notice from the trail camera image that my camera is elevated and tilted down. The reason for this is twofold — one, passing deer don’t see a red glow, and two, they don’t spy any unnatural object plastered to a tree. It’s a little trick a master whitetail hunter taught me a few years back, and it has served me well.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect to see him. The conditions were horrible. The temperature at 5:30 p.m. was 86 degrees and a sultry, life-sucking south wind blew. When he emerged from a maze of standing corn with three other bucks and a handful of ladies, my jaw dropped. I had 12 minutes of legal light left, and lots of distance to close. I didn’t even take the time to pack up my Maven spotting scope. I didn’t grab my pack. I just went. I knew that if I spooked the buck he would retreat to the safety of the corn and would likely forget all about the encounter by the time my second split rolled around.
For one reason or another, all the stars aligned. The does led the bucks down a hill and into a drainage. I took off at full tilt. I picked a spot, guessing where the herd would emerge, and nocked an arrow. The does popped out 120 yards to my right, but the three bucks had yet to make an exit-the-draw appearance. I couldn’t believe it when I saw antler tips coming up the draw 60 yards to my left. The bucks picked the route I needed them to, and, when the 4×4 emerged, my SIG Kilo rangefinder read 53 yards. I dialed my sight, drew my bow and muscle memory took over. It happened fast — it had to — because time wasn’t on my side. My release broke, and the arrow was gone. I couldn’t see the arrow impact, but I heard it. It wasn’t the double-lung “plop” I was hoping for. It was a sickening hollow sound of an arrow going through guts. The buck hunched up, mule kicked and bolted. He didn’t run like a gut-shot deer, but all other signs pointed to it. I watched him cover 60 yards before losing him to the fading light and heavily timbered creek.
I didn’t go look for my arrow. I simply turned and walked back toward my scope and pack. I was disgusted with myself. This wasn’t a chip shot, but it was shot I practice every single day.
The decision was made, after visiting with my wife and good friend Jason Weaver, to give the buck five hours. I know, some of you are about to chastise me for not waiting all night. Let me explain before you tar and feather me. The coyotes in the area are thick, and the nighttime temps were forecasted in the 60s.
I’m not sure why the sound of the arrow impact was hollow. I’m not sure why the buck hunched up. The shot was bit a high, but it caught the top of both lungs. The buck was stone dead when we reached him. I was elated. Not only was this my first October mule deer buck, but it was the buck I went in to hunt.
I’m now measuring the arrival of November in hours rather than days, and it won’t belong before the Chevy is pointed east toward the Cornhusker State. I can’t wait, and I will keep you all updated. Keep hunting hard!