By Chris Sawyer
CO, Mule Deer
4,745 - that’s approximately how many days Bill and I had been building Colorado mule deer points. The original idea came at our annual deer camp in the Missouri Ozarks 13 years ago after Bill had just cashed in his Colorado points and hunted the famed Dinosaur area with his muzzleloader and tagged a nice mule deer back when it was the place to go. Life gets in the way, so our 4 or 5-year plan became 13 years. After looking at our options with the points we had, I picked a unit for rifle and sent it to Bill. It was near the Continental Divide and looked awesome with huge bucks and great odds but steep terrain. Bill looked at it and replied, “Are you trying to kill me?” I asked what he had in mind. There is close to a 10 years’ age difference between us, by the way.Bill is a craftsman and builds his own front stuffers, so he wanted to make another trip with the .62 caliber rifle he built many years ago for hunting out west. Did I mention that Bill is older than me?
I called Huntin’ Fool for advice, and we settled on unit 21/30 which should take only 6 preference points. We contacted Huntin’ Fool member Joe who had hunted there the year before, and the advice he gave was priceless. Everything he said was spot on except the worst drought in 16 years. His dad had 8 points and they would see us there for sure.
Well, the points required jumped, not crept, up to 11 to draw the unit, so we didn’t get to meet Joe and his dad face to face. That was unfortunate since Bill would have had someone else to talk to in camp. Have I mentioned Bill is a talker?
I’ll jump forward to the trip out in my adventure van called "The Beast." A lot of laughs and McDonald's ensued with the first day getting us west of the Rockies, eating deer sausage and cheese with our sundowners for dinner next to The Beast.
Having time, we arrived to the area Joe had directed us to a few days early after a wrong turn on a two-track road that I thought was going to result in the most expensive towing bill I ever had. Yes, the road would end up at the camping/hunting area I had marked and downloaded on my phone with Hunt OnX. It was not mud but up to 10 inches of dust in a canyon with side scrubbing brush, tight turns, steep hills, and no place to turn around for miles. We finally ended up 50 yards from the road we should have taken after coming out of the canyon, and while unimproved, it looked like a super highway compared to our current situation. When I saw the proper road, I looked at Bill and said, “If these two roads don’t meet up ahead, we are bushwhacking the last 50 yards in The Beast to that road.” Did I mention we were pulling a trailer with two ATVs and if we got stuck there was absolutely nothing to hook the 12,000-pound winch to for miles? Well, the trail and the road met. Whew!
By now, we had dust in every crack and crevice of the van and us, which would be the standard for the rest of the trip. At about dark, we made it close to the final camp and stopped for the night. Steaks and sundowners for dinner! I got up the next morning, went through the sage up a hill to glass the tree lines as instructed by Joe, and glassed at least eight bucks with one being something I would shoot on the first day. The excitement builds! Joe’s advice was spot on.
We had a flat tire to deal with the next morning. Note, add a jack extension to The Beast’s gear list. Later that day, we moved to our final camping spot. We needed to set up on the main road so Bill's son could find us the night before opening day. Jon was coming down from Boise to hunt a few days with his dad. I hadn’t seen Jon in years ,so it was way cool to have him come to our camp. I will say the traffic was heavy on the road and the dust was thick, but it was a nice a camp and it turned out to be the perfect spot.
There were a lot of over-the-counter archery elk hunters heading to the end of the dusty road and the promise land of elk and a few mule deer hunters for the unit across the road. Cattle trucks and ranchers were there as well. Mind you, we were 23 miles one way from asphalt and 41 the other. If it rained, this stuff would be an impassable mess. Fat chance of that! We did not run into one hunter who had a tag for our unit the entire trip. Sweet!
The evening before the season opened, we had a shooter and 4x4 in velvet walk by camp at 60 yards while we had sundowners and dinner. That gets the blood flowing and the excitement builds for the hunt in the morning. However, we never saw him again.
When the hunting started, the weather continued to warm and got downright hot by midday. It stayed that way for the rest of the hunt. Based on Joe’s advice, we would hunt until it got hot and the bucks went into the timber and have lunch in camp since it wasn’t very far away and then head out for the evening hunt. We saw mule deer every day with Bill missing one while with his son, Jon, aka "Chop." I was going to pull the trigger on a wide one on day three, but the wind changed and it didn’t happen.
We were seeing nice bucks but not as big as we were told were there and the numbers were down a bit. Based on my conversation with the DNR, this had to do with the monumental drought we got to enjoy after 13 years of building points. It was the worst in 16 years! As we all know, the weather does what it wants and controls the hunt.
On day three, Bill asked me to start wearing a hat and a long-sleeve shirt when in camp. Apparently, he thought the mohawk I had leftover from an event before we left on the trip and the sleeve tattoo I had started were making people stopping on the road nervous and they were leaving rather fast. Bill likes to talk, did I mention that?
On day five, we were back in camp midday below the 40-acre patch of aspens and were talking to a group of elk hunters we had met from Iowa that was on their way out empty-handed and seeing nothing but other hunters and a bear eight miles in from the road. Apparently, they were okay with my looks since they actually came and sat in the shade of our camp with us before heading home. When they drove off after we had walked them to their truck, Bill handed me his water and said, “Hold this.” I was thinking he had to adjust his undies or something else of equal importance that requires two hands. At this point forward, I will refer to him as Sneaky Bill.
Sneaky Bill went into the tent and came out in his hunter orange and had a cap for his .62 in his hand. I looked up in the aspens and 20 yards inside the tree line was a nice 4x4 feeding and walking, maybe 60 yards from camp. Sneaky Bill got his .62 capped, and after a little help from me picking the buck out in the thick growth, Bill did a short stalk and dropped him. Sneaky Bill had everything on he needed except his glasses, Hence my location help. After high fives and a short drag, Sneaky Bill was going to be busy getting this guy in the cooler. I must say I was flabbergasted that Sneaky Bill didn’t let the guy who organized the hunt have the first shot. Did I mention that Bill is older than me and it’s verified that you get sneakier with age?
I grabbed my T/C and headed for the other side of the camp quakies. At this point, Sneaky Bill could break down his own dang deer! Only 100 yards from camp on the other side of this patch was a 100-yard wide clearing with a funnel and a bowl. The wind was in my favor as I stood in the shade behind a thick aspen tree on the edge. Just before sunset, I saw a nice buck, and as I tried to get on him, he disappeared in the growth. Side note here, I have cataracts, which allowed me to get a permit to use a scope on my T/C. While I was glassing with my Maven B2s, looking for that buck, I looked to my left and a 3x4 was grazing in the shady bowl just outside of the tree line. It was time to get the deal done, and in an instant, I knew I would be more than happy with this buck. Using the tree as a rest, I knocked him over at 100 yards, only 200 yards from camp, and only three hours after Sneaky Bill filled his tag.
I have done my share of packing meat and backpacks in spike camps for elk, so it was especially sweet not having to pack either deer. Neither of them were monsters, but both were quality bucks and we had a blast that was worth waiting for. The best advice from Joe was, “You don’t have to go very far from the road to kill a nice buck. The first three days, I was walking past all of the deer.” Yep, he couldn’t have been more accurate and we never would have spoken and had such a memorable experience if it wasn’t for Huntin’ Fool’s advice and members! When hunters tell me they aren’t building points but plan on it, my advice is always to start now and join Huntin’ Fool.
PS: He is no longer Sneaky Bill. I just call him Bill, one of the best and most talented people I know. This was our second trip together, and Bill is a pleasure to be with, even if he won’t get hearing aids.