Hunting Mule Deer in the Backcountry of Colorado

Hunting Mule Deer in the Backcountry of Colorado

Where Generals Are Made

Shaun and I are tucked into nature’s umbrella, a shallow cave set unto the rocks 12,000 feet above where the dolphins play. It’s downright brutal out. Man evolved into what it is today, solely to stay out of these heinous elements, or at least this is what I’m telling myself at the moment.

We’re up here testing our grit in attempts to find elk, mule deer, and if all goes right, perhaps possibly sneak an arrow into a bear if the situation allows. We walk into this full well knowing that we would be punished by nature for having the audacity of challenging it’s wrath. There will be no mercy for the stupid on this trip.

The night before we started our leisurely stroll at 3:00 am. This would give us enough time to hike the necessary six miles back to start glassing before sunrise.

“I can’t believe they’re out in this weather.” I whisper to Shaun as I see three buck mule deer appear out of the clouds.

“Since the beginning of time they’ve been doing this same routine. Eat, sleep and avoid hunters. They don’t have the luxury of sitting on the couch and ordering a pizza when mother nature decides it wants to have a pissing contest.” is Shaun’s response.

This reminds me what a severe disadvantage we have over them. They spend every day honing their skills of survival, while I sit in front of a computer and slowly become less and less like my badass, wooly mammoth slaying ancestors.

“Yea, we’re screwed. Our chances may only be about 10%, but I tell you what, they fall to 0% if we’re home sitting on our respective couches, watching hunting shows of what we should be doing.” I throw back at him.


So that ends our long list of pre-rehearsed excuses that both of us had squirreled away for just such and occasion. Either do or don’t. That simple.

So we do… and then we don’t. We sit and plan stalk after stalk and have them fizzle out for one reason or another. On the third day an opportunity arises and we devise a plan that just might stand a chance.

Escape routes. I’m tattooing this on the back of my bow hand so I can see it every time I’m at full draw. If you hunt with a partner, this is one advantage you have in the woods that otherwise is diminished by not just one bumbling fool stumbling through the woods, but two.

Know where that animal will retreat to when person A blows the stalk. That way person B is in their direct path. And I happen to be person A in this situation.

We make the 1,200 foot drop from our glassing area into the valley that separates us form the 800 foot climb that holds the mulies. This grueling transition gives a nice incentive not to screw up, because if you do, you’re doing it again tomorrow. Get the job done right the first time and avoid the stair master the next morning.

The plan runs through both our minds until it is burned in. On our descent, we repeatedly stop and make sure the landmarks we picked out to keep us in the correct positions don’t become warped by perspective like a Funhouse mirror. As our angle changes so does the look of the landmarks. These repeated stops keep everything in check.

Fists are bumped and we go our separate directions. I’ll be making the stalk, Shaun will be lying in wait in their escape route. Neither of us are military, but we feel we should both be promoted to Generals because of our flawless tactics.

I make the climb, taking about 45 minutes to get into position. The steps are laborious, the angle of the mountain looking like GoPro’s recent stock gains.

I arrive. I can’t believe I actually hit my mark. Now, this seems like an easy thing to do when looking at a perfectly two-dimensional perspective from across the valley. But this flat map of a world from over there turns into a three-dimensional nightmare over here. Everything looks different. But the time we spent memorizing our landmarks paid off.

There he lays. One of the three. A abnormally wide 2x2. A rack as disproportionate as Dolly Parton's. I thought either one of the other 4x4s would be my pick, but man this guy has some character. And I love character.

I push in as the wind swirls around me. I’m feeling invincible after getting two amazing animals this season with my bow. I’m on fire right? That’s an asshole thought can give you asshole results.

I move in slowly with a juniper tree between us for cover. I watch my feet as I attempt to keep them on solid granite to silence my steps. Ten more yards and I will have this guy covered with my 30 yard pin. That’s what would happen if I took the time to check my wind.

I’m at my mark, however, he isn’t. Not a sound, not a blurred movement. Just gone.

Like a college student slipping out the back door of a less than inspiring one night stand, he’s gone.

"I was never that slick." I think to myself.

Now I sit and wait, hoping that my dreams of becoming a General don’t slip away with my botched stalk.

You’re on Shaun.

I wait for what feels entirely to long. Then he’s there. Shaun comes walking up the only chute that slashes the cliff the deer were only moments ago sleeping on. He has a smile on his face.

“Yea?!” slips out of my mouth.

“Well, yeah. And no. Both.” comes his response through his camo face mask.

“Enough with the mysterious horse shit. Spill it girlfriend.”

“The plan worked. After you blew the stalk (dammit, he knew...) they sauntered down the trail. I drew back, aimed at the closest…. And he proceeded to do his best Jessie Owens impression just as my arrow let fly. I missed, but I shot at my first animal ever with my bow.”

Success. Our plan worked-ish. No prize to hold in our hands, but that wound only lasts a heartbeat. We put a plan together, stuck to it and it worked. We were not able to control all the variables so the end result wasn’t a guarantee. I wouldn’t hunt if it was.

We walk out of the woods with smiles on our faces and an uncontrollable urge to get home. There should be a parade and some snooty dignitary waiting there for me. Time to get some stars pinned.

The General, over and out.


// Fred