Fall, 2010. I was pumped to have drawn a Mule Deer buck tag for second rifle season in Durango, Colorado. We were up before the crack of dawn. I guzzled my coffee and donned my layers of camo. It was a brisk fall morning and I knew I needed to wear enough clothes for the worst weather, but also be able to remove some in the event the sun decided to shine. We drove off in the darkness before anything was stirring.
We arrived at the bottom of the mountain and unloaded from the pick up. I donned my blaze orange and slung my rifle over my shoulder. It for sure felt like fall. We hiked up the mountain and as the sun began to rise we saw the frost sparkle off every tree and blade of grass. It was a cool 23 degrees in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Before we could even walk more than 100 yards from the truck, we spotted a descent little buck. He stood there broad side mocking me as he knew it was still too dark to shoot, and we were too close to the road and houses. I could not take him there, or should I say, I would not take him there. I admired him and imagined all the other deer we would find on the mountain.
We hiked along a small game trail and the fog rolled in so thick we could barely see ten feet ahead of us. I could feel the moisture in the air as the thick air rolled past. I wondered what could be nearby that would hear of smell us and never be seen. We hiked quietly through the oak brush and suddenly heard a crashing sound as something winded us and ran, breaking a branch. We whispered about what it must have been. We were in deer country, but we both decided it had to have been an elk. It’s stomping sounds as it ran were much too heavy to have been a deer. We looked for tracks and sure enough found a big bull track. We were looking for a buck so we continued on.
The fog cleared out and the rain began. The rain beat on the hood of my jacket as the wind tried it’s hardest to blow it back. We hiked on and on, stopping to scan across the valley. We looked under the trees, in the brush and fields to see if we could spot a buck. Nothing. I stood there with the water gushing off the front of my hood and I was thankful for my many layers and great gear. I was dry as could be beneath it all.
With each step my legs grew heavier as the mud clung on to my hunting boots. It held my feet down as I lifted my legs and ascended the mountain. With the thick mud hanging on, each step was tough as we slipped on the smooth, wet river rock. I panted as quietly as I could and we pressed on.
Atop the ridge, the rain slowed a little. The wind still continued. It ripped across my face. I held tight to my hood and ducked my head as we dumped over the edge of the hill to get out of the fierce gusts. I was sure the deer were doing more than we were. They were bedded down tight. I wished for the weather to turn, and my wish was granted shortly after that as the hail came. It didn’t last long, and it was just the last attempt by mother nature to get me off the mountain. The attempt was half hearted and we remained as the sun began to show through the gray clouds.
I removed my hood as the sun peeked out. I began to smile as the sun kissed my frozen nose and I remembered that all these challenges were exactly why I enjoyed hunting so much. I love to get out and feel mother nature. I like to become connected. Most of all, I enjoy the challenge.
I hiked as silently as I could feeling the earth under my feet. With each step I felt the rocks or the sticks beneath my boots. I adjusted my weight as I moved so as to not make a sound as well as to keep my balance on the slick, wet terrain. I moved a little more easy now that I wasn’t defending myself from the weather.
The deer also began to move. We spotted four does that had come out in the sun. They peered at us as though they knew it was not them that we were looking for. I admired their beauty, whispered “Good morning ladies.” and hiked down away from them and across the valley, through a bog and up another ridge.
The temperatures were rising and a now I was beginning to become soaking wet from the inside as I sweated in my layers of gear. We took a break while I silently slipped some layers off and put them in my pouch, leaving my rain coat on because I knew Colorado…. the weather may change at any time.
Once my gear was fully adjusted we hiked on. We spotted fresh elk tracks in the mud. What?! More elk tracks down here in the lowlands? This time of year this should be deer country. We searched around for buck tracks and spotted a few doe tracks, MORE elk tracks and a couple more doe tracks, and then even MORE elk tracks. We followed the top of the ridge, keeping to the trees and had the same experience nearly the whole way until I spotted some gray ears with white tips. Yes, it was more does. Five this time. I scanned around me to see if a buck could be hiding among them in the trees, but there was no buck in the group. They looked at me as I stood motionless and then they slowly walked over the ridge.
We knew there would be more deer so we hunted on. We hiked all day stopping to glass across the hills. We spotted small bucks across the valley. They were nothing large enough to shoot. We spotted nearly 40 does that first day, but never a good shooter buck. I didn’t let the day dampen my spirits. It was so great to be out there, and I still had several days to go! I went to bed with soar muscles that night from the hiking and dreamt of the days to come.