By Nicole Richards
CO, Mule Deer
I was in disbelief that I had lucked into a Colorado high country muzzleloader tag and knew I needed to be prepared to make the most of it. Between work and the regular summer scouting grind back home in Utah, I finally managed to slip away for a weekend to drive out with my husband, Skyler, and spend a couple days in the Colorado high country scouting for my upcoming hunt. I had never hunted in the high country before, so I was intimidated but excited for the challenge and new adventures. I spent hours upon hours reading high country hunting strategy books and articles, watching high country hunts on YouTube, studying my unit on Google Earth, training, dreaming, and obsessing.
The crisp wind took my breath away as we sped up the rough dirt road towards the high country. It was barely light enough to see, and I could just start to make out the jagged outlines of mountain peaks against the pale morning sky. I strained my eyes, searching for any dark spots that resembled deer in the light-colored grassy openings, hoping to spot some before they made their way back into the thick timber as we passed. Uncontrollable shivers coursed through my body as images of big velvet mulies and high country basins filled my mind.
The sun peaked over the mountains, casting its rays on the lush, green alpine basins surrounding us. I felt so alive and was in absolute awe. We spent the morning covering country and glassing miles and miles of prime mule deer country, searching for that special buck. That time of year, the bucks are all in bachelor groups, making them fairly easy to spot the first couple hours of daylight until they bed down and disappear into what seems like an open hillside. Everything was so different than what I was used to, and I loved it! We explored new areas for the rest of the trip and found some great bucks, saw some amazing country, and had a great time enjoying the outdoors together. We did not find a definite shooter and ran out of time, but overall, I felt like I had a great starting point and my hunt could not come soon enough.
After a month of anticipation and many sleepless nights, I was finally packed and headed back to Colorado. Skyler would only be able to hunt the first weekend with me before he had to go back to work guiding hunts in Utah and then I would be on my own. Thankfully, my in-laws, Jeff and Lisa, insisted on coming to keep us company at camp so I wasn’t alone the entire time and rented a cabin for us to stay in. I was pretty nervous to be hunting alone in a new place but determined to come home with a big buck, so I was willing to do whatever it took. We arrived at the cabin the second day of the hunt with enough time to get an evening hunt in, so we hurried and loaded up the gear and headed up to one of the promising locations we had scouted earlier.
Within an hour, I had spotted a bachelor group of bucks only 500 yards or so away. Skyler quickly set the spotting scope up to get a better look at them and waved me over. There were a handful of bucks in the group, but one in particular caught my eye. Its antlers had mass the size of an elk and multiple extras. My heart started racing as I watched him feed, starting to formulate a plan to close the distance, and then he turned. He was only 15" or so wide, extremely compact, and a size smaller than I thought. He was a super unique buck, and I knew I would probably never see one like him ever again. Skyler and I whispered back and forth trying to size him up and decide if I should go after him or not. Brokenheartedly, I finally came to a decision that he was not quite the caliber I was after, especially the first hour of the hunt, so we moved on.
We climbed to a higher elevation and moved to a new basin where we had found a good buck while scouting, hoping to get another look at him. Within minutes of glassing, Skyler aggressively whispered, “There’s a giant buck! Get the spotting scope now!” I fumbled around in my pack for the scope and tripod and quickly got it set up. Skyler moved it onto the buck and started freaking out and waved me over to look. I could not believe it! There were two bucks in the scope – the first one was the buck we had found while scouting, which was an old, pretty 185" typical, and the second was a much larger framed typical with an inline and a couple cheaters. He bedded, and I knew it was game time.
Together, we quickly discussed different options to approach the buck without being detected and get within shooting range. I had an open sight muzzleloader and knew I needed to get close to make it happen. We were at the very top of the mountain, and it was very open with little cover, with the exception of a few small draws. With the wind in mind, we decided our best bet would be to sneak down into one of the draws that led up to the ridge he was bedded on, pop up across from him, and hopefully be within shooting range. I loaded a primer into my gun, grabbed my pack, and slowly started to sneak to the draw. Within 10 minutes, the wind had switched and we had to change the plan. In order to stay downwind of him, we would have to get on the same ridge he had bedded on, sneak towards him from above, and try to keep the bush he had bedded next to in between us.
The moss-covered ground was soft and squishy and muffled our steps as we closed the distance. After what seemed like an eternity, we successfully made it onto the same ridge he was bedded on. The buck was no longer in sight, but we inched closer. We were close. I knew it could happen at any moment. I carefully extended the legs on my bipod to get ready for a shot. Skyler was in the lead and I was at his heels when I glimpsed movement through the willows. I grabbed his shoulder to stop him and looked up, and the buck was up and staring right at us. There was no time to think. My instincts kicked in. I knelt and steadied the gun and had him in my sight within seconds, calm as can be. Skyler whispered, “115, hold right on his chest. Take your time. Hurry!” The buck turned to leave, and I squeezed the trigger and was engulfed in a cloud of smoke.
Through the smoke, I saw the buck drop and start thrashing on the ground. I quickly reloaded the gun and started to make my way towards him. I was ready for another shot in case he jumped up to run, but as I approached, I could see that he was done and not moving. Unbelievable! I stared in disbelief at the gorgeous buck in front of me and was overcome with emotion. I had just executed a perfect stalk and killed the buck-of-a-lifetime on the first evening of my hunt in the most beautiful place on earth with my husband by my side. Everything worked out so perfectly, and I am beyond humbled knowing how rare this moment was. We were even able to capture the entire hunt on film, so I will be able to relive this hunt for the rest of my life.
We took photos, filmed an interview, took care of the buck with the light of our headlamps, and loaded the packs. After the long pack out and ride off the mountain, we got back to the cabin around midnight and Jeff and Lisa were waiting for us with smiles and warm chili.
Overall, this is one of my most cherished memories and probably my favorite hunt to date. My buck stretched the tape at 207"and 29 1/2" wide. I can’t thank everyone enough who was involved to make this happen. Big thanks to my dad, Travis Roundy, for sharing info on the unit after hunting it in the past and raising me to love hunting, Logan Hedges of Huntin’ Fool for helping me get the tag, Jeff and Lisa for coming with us to hang out and renting the cabin, and most of all, my amazing husband and best friend, Skyler, for bending over backwards to help me be successful and being by my side every step of the way.