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    Muzzleloader Muley Buck

    Hunting Colorado mule deer with a muzzleloader is an every-year event for Kevin Hayes. He has drawn the same unit and season as a first choice for three years in a row. Kevin spends time on the trails during the summer to scout for mule deer and knows his hunting area well.

    Kevin Hayes used a muzzleloader to bag this public-land mule deer buck in an area he hunts regularly.
    Kevin Hayes used a muzzleloader to bag this public-land mule deer buck in an area he hunts regularly.

    One mid-November morning, Kevin walked in about a mile from the trailhead before light, as he had done many times that season. As the sun was coming up, he had a close encounter with a couple of does that walked right up to him and eventually walked away. Kevin thought a buck would be nearby, but as the does walked out of sight, there was no sign of antlers.

    Leaving the trail, the hunter made a long loop up a ridge, bushwhacking back to the main trail. The forest was particularly thick with a lot of blowdowns, making it exhausting to hike in “sneak mode.” An active forest fire about a mile away limited how far Kevin was able to go up the trail. When he reached the main trail, it was already midmorning, and he thought about heading back down to the trailhead to grab a snack from his pickup. As Kevin was nearing a transition in the trees from pine into scrub oaks, he heard the unmistakable thud of a mule deer stotting into the trees, causing him to freeze in his tracks.

    The hunter caught a glimpse of antlers through the thick brush and knew he was going to try to shoot this buck. The buck was extremely close, but a dead pine blocked the deer’s entire body.  Kevin locked the hammer in place on his muzzleloader, took a long side-step and shouldered his rifle at the same time. A shooting lane opened, and the buck was broadside, slightly quartering-to. Kevin lined up his sights and pulled the trigger.

    The cloud of smoke cleared as the hunter watched the buck walk off into the brush. Kevin wondered if there was any way he could have missed the buck at such close range.  He began to pull out powder and another bullet when the distinct sound of a deer crashing to the ground brought instant relief.

    Kevin had hunted the same trail every day during that season and saw plenty of does, but this was the only buck seen during the entire season. Regaining his composure, he paced off the distance to where the deer was shot – 15 steps.

    The experience made the muley buck a special hunt for Hayes, as he did it solo – start to finish, from scouting and hunting to field-dressing the deer and packing it out. The unique experience created a special memory, as it was the first time he had completed a hunt on his own.

    Kevin said, “I was successful because I knew if I worked that area enough, I would find a good buck. I knew I was seeing the right sign and just needed to put the time in to make it happen. I was lucky because I quite literally almost stumbled into this particular buck!”

    Perhaps it was the incredible memories generated when thinking of the hunt, but Kevin swears his muzzleloader muley was a very tasty deer, and he reminisced on how tender and mild the meat tasted.

    Third Stalk Aoudad

    New Mexico offers over-the-counter licenses for aoudad, or Barbary sheep. The remote and rugged areas where the sheep live make them hard to access. Add to that the fact that the animals are extremely wary and have eyes like spotting scopes that challenge any hunter to get close. Austin Borders and his cousin Matt White embraced the challenge and headed for the desert. The January hunt extended their hunting season and kept them outdoors.

    Austin Borders (right) shot his first-ever big-game animal on a New Mexico aoudad hunt.
    Austin Borders (right) shot his first-ever big-game animal on a New Mexico aoudad hunt.

    This sheep hunt was special because the desert terrain is extremely unforgiving, and hikes can be quite dangerous if not taken slowly and methodically. The difficulty involved is what made the hunt appealing and is often the reason it creates strong memories, whether a hunter is successful or not. With any luck, Austin hoped to shoot his first big-game animal ever, and it meant a lot to him as he was hunting with his close cousin Matt, along with two new friends met during the hunt, Matt Church and Grant Hewins.
    The hunters were up well before dawn and hiked into sheep country in the dark. In the early morning light, they glassed sheep from approximately 2 miles away as they moved along cliff bands in a large canyon. The hunters were no strangers to the area and had encountered the same group of sheep the day before, but the animals had given them the slip.
    The cousins had stalked the group of aoudads for a little over a mile while moving through a large desert wash, being stealthy and quiet so as not to get picked off by the sheeps’ keen senses. They didn’t want a repeat of the previous day, when the sheep just vanished. The hunters got as close as they could and decided to set up on a small bench just above the wash for a shot.
    The sheep were approximately 1,000 feet up from the bench where the hunters had set up. Austin settled in behind the rifle, and Matt helped him dial elevation correction on the scope while Grant helped him get comfortable with the rifle by dryfiring a few times to calm his nerves. The sheep moved into position, and Austin chambered a round. The hunter lined up a nice ram, squeezed the trigger, quickly reloaded and shot again. Austin’s second shot folded a four-year-old ram in its tracks, and the four hunters celebrated success.
    The hunters expressed that their success was due in part because the new friends they met on this hunt helped glass, locate the herd and stalk it. Matt helped Austin with scope adjustments, and everyone provided support that proved beneficial, from the stalk to packing out. Even after putting on two unsuccessful stalks on the same herd the day prior, it did not dissolve their spirits, and no one gave up on the hunt. The young men are already planning a return trip to aoudad country in search of sweeping horns in the desert air.

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