by Jake Scharp
In early September of 2002 I harvested my first mule deer ever, and first deer with a bow. I had been archery hunting for two years with no success on any big game. The unit I hunt in Colorado is all public National Forest. It gets hunted extremely hard during the gun seasons, and all the animals become naturally very wary of humans. After speaking with the local game warden this year, and seeing some incidents myself, its sad to say, but it is obvious quite a bit of poaching goes on there. This helped me rationalize why the deer are so scared of humans even before the first archery season begins. I once read in Outdoor Life magazine that taking a mountain mule deer with a bow was the equivalent of a MLB team winning the World Series. This was my goal in life, to get within fifty yards and get a shot, horns or not.
The unit is covered with thick pine, and aspen trees, lots of water, and food everywhere. The only pattern I can see is the deer are moving up in the morning and down in the evening. I did a lot of rifle hunting in Oklahoma for whitetails, and there is absolutely no comparison. I hunted a lot of different properties in OK and they were all pretty easy to pattern, as whitetails are known for. In addition to the agriculture feeding, there was not a bunch of heavy cover. Here in CO it is 10,000 feet above sea level, with very steep rugged terrain to match. It is very physically exhausting to get around in the mountains. The cover is thick everywhere, this can make it hard to do any effective glassing for a spot and stock. The deer here seem to be nomadic, and wander around aimlessly. Im sure they have a destination, but I sure cant find it. Ground blinds in a good location are probably one of your best bets. I would see lots of good bucks, like the one below a day before the season opened, but could never get into bow range.
After two years of seeing tons of deer, but never letting an arrow fly, I was extremely frustrated! It was a couple of days into the season with the same results as years past. After a morning hunt till ten AM we decided to drive to the nearest gas station, get a cup of coffee, fill the water jugs, and sit on a civilized toilet. On the way back to our camp I was amazed to see three bucks run across the road a couple of hundred yards in front of the truck. I grabbed by bow, pulled up my facemask, and headed up the road after them on foot.
There was a little crest in the hill about fifty yards up, where I figured they crossed. I couldnt see over the crest, so I had to go up after them. I slowly began to stalk up the hill after them hoping to get a shot. As I reached the crest I peeked over the edge, and there they were feeding at thirty yards. I had to move up a little more to be able to see more than their heads. Two of the bucks had me in there sights as I went to full draw, and bolted up the hill. The third however looked right at me and stayed standing, it was his fatal mistake. I put my thirty pin on his shoulder, and let my arrow fly! He was quartering away uphill, and it looked like a perfect shot.
After examining my arrow, the shot wasn’t as good as I thought. I apparently was right behind his lungs, and hit his entrails instead (bow hunters worst nightmare). There was a lot of blood, and a good trail so I was hopeful of finding him. We decided to go back to camp, eat lunch to give him an hour to expire, then come back to find him.
We immediately picked up the trail and followed to where he had run back downhill, and across the road. Shortly after we headed down the hill, we jumped him up, and could tell he was pretty hurt. We waited awhile and continued on. The blood trail would dissipate to nothing at times, followed by large pools, so things werent looking to bad. He was impossible to see lying in the brush, and we jumped him up two more times going down the hill. He would go a hundred yards and lay right back down. The third time I watched him lay down about seventy yards down the hill. I crawled down twenty yards and put my fifty pin on his shoulder. I think he heard my bow go off, because right as the arrow was getting to him he stood up and disappeared. I thought for sure I just blew my best opportunity at getting him. My buddy walked down to me and said I could hear him tumble down after your shot. I didnt believe my friend, and thought he was trying to console me for mortally wounding an animal we couldnt get.
After getting to my arrow, I was amazed to see blood all over it, and a trail leading down the hill. I guess my second arrow did score a hit. Im sorry to say it was in his back upper thigh, as he stood up. Fortunately it severed a major artery, and that was all it took. He was dead as a doornail fifty yards down. The worst part was we were now of a mile below the road on a steep hill. They main valley road was a mile below us, but there were some sheer cliffs to negotiate going down. Nonetheless we decided to field dress him, and drag him back up the hill. This took us the better part of the afternoon. Thank you so much to my dear hunting buddies for helping me out with the work. When one of us gets one down the motto is teamwork. I am looking forward to seeing how much work an elk can turn into. Getting him out was no fun at all, but well worth the effort. The day in a whole was one of the greatest hunting adventures of my lifetime so far. I have spent countless hours at the range improving my shooting. Since this buck I have taken one bigger buck, and a doe. It only took me two arrows for the both of them. My archery skills advance every year, but I dont know that I will ever be able to say I have mastered mountain mule deer archery hunting. Below is a photo of me with my first muley buck at the kill site. He is only a little fork horn still in velvet, but he is one of the biggest trophies I will ever have.