column By: Brad Fenson | July, 19
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.
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.
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