A cold open
I love to see the first signs of spring, the early dawn and the warming rays of the sun. The songs of birds and smell of grass racing out from under the grip of winter. But it also brings with it a touch of sadness, a sense of loss, of a season gone. The coming of spring is the official end of the normal hunting season for us, an end for old opportunities, and the start of fresh ones. This past season was one of change, challenge, and a mule deer buck that I fondly called Chance.
If you’ve followed me for long, you may be familiar with my adventures with my Father. As years go by, I treasure every adventure we share knowing any one of them could be the last. None of us will make it out of here alive, so make those memories, and make them hard.
Dad had come to stay at my house for the deer hunt, we had the week to spend chasing mulies in the familiar Rocky Mountains that are enticingly close to my home. It was late October, and despite an early touchdown of snow, our mountains were uncommonly dry. My focus this year, as it usually is, was to get both my Father and Son to fill their tag. The sooner they do, the sooner I get to focus on the huge monster bucks that I never, ever, see.
Opening day had come and gone, our high mountain canyons were much quieter than normal. Barely a shot was heard all day, and at 9,000 feet ASL the clouds had packed in. Visibility was terribly short, and the cold bit so hard that after a short time we figured the deer were smarter than us, so we moved out.
Two days had passed since the opener, and we were getting anxious for success.
As it often does, our plan changed last minute on a Wednesday morning. We decided to go high, instead of going low as planned. In the darkness we drove up the steep and winding road, rattling the whole way. The sun was just peaking through the distant clouds as we settled at the spot I had hoped would bring us luck.
The always present breeze was waiting for us there, it brought tears to the eye, and shudders to the legs. But I like to tell people Im a tough guy, so I stood out there in the icy breeze, glassing the ever brightening ridges.
I knew that for Dad to get a shot, we would have to find something moderately close to the trail. I didn’t like the idea of packing out two bodies by myself, one is bad enough. I scoured the brushy hillsides as the suns rays brought out their details, looking for the tell-tail sign of deer. And almost as if on cue, I spotted a patch of white in a small open pasture below us. I checked it out… squinted through my wet eyes… then I checked again.
This had to be it, a lone deer, casually strolling through an open pasture only a few hundred yards or so from our glassing point. I quickly signaled Dad to grab his gear, and make his way over to me.
Nobody gets as wound up as I do upon spotting a buck, and the only thing that will wind me up even more is for people to casually saunter around while shootable deer stand there, unawares and vulnerable. My Dad seems to take great pride in maintaining the opposite composure in these tense and exciting situations. By the time he put down his hot chocolate, picked up his rifle, and sauntered over, I had the spotting scope setup on the buck, and was in the process of explaining to Dad the old routine; “see that tree? And the one behind it? And follow that line to the green bush…” Dad’s calm demeanor didn’t seem to help my tension, all the bushes are green, and there is hundreds of damn trees it’s a forest.
As Dad got into position on the edge of a steep drop-off, he aimed his rifle down into the pasture below. I often think that deer have a sixth or even seventh sense, to them it must feel like a hot ray of sunshine as a rifle comes to bear on them. This buck surely was blessed with that sense, no sooner had Dad aimed his rifle, than this buck began a hasty quickstep towards the edge of the treeline. If only he had the same saunter that Dad brought with him this morning, we might have been able to get a shot. But unfortunately, I watched him work his way into the trees, and into thin air.
My excitement soured a little, as I wiped the cold tears welling in my eyes from that icy breeze. Dad lay there, still behind his rifle, rolled on his side he gave me the “oh well” look. I kept looking into the trees, frustrated by our increasingly shorter time.
When your looking for deer, everything looks like a deer. As I stood there, over my Dad, ravaging the hillside with my eager eyes, a flash of movement caught my attention. A doe jumped from behind one of the hundred trees, but I quickly identified her as a non-combatant. Then out of nowhere, there was Chance.
He followed the doe downhill for a dozen or so yards, and stood there, with his twitchy tail pointed our direction. Using my brilliant landscape identification techniques, I again pointed out the buck to my Dad. Who quickly had a bead drawn on the handsome little buck. Chance continued to follow the doe, making his way a few more yards downhill. Our position on the ridge seemed perfect, there was no way for him to get away without us getting a shot off. But almost as though he had a hoof on my pulse, when my stress level was peaked, he decides to step behind one of the few little trees.
We both took a deep breath, and I knew that as soon as he cleared that small tree, Dad would light the fire that would strike him down.
Seconds seemed like minutes, and he finally came out of the tree, his young face looked on into the west. That is when Chance had run out, the hot breath of Dad’s .264 Magnum was already on its way. The shriek of the report was muffled by the Silencerco Harvester, the 140 grain Barnes Match Burner ripped through his left shoulder, he stumbled a few steps, then went down.
Dad slowly got up from his shooting position, and I told him what I had seen through the spotting scope. His excitement was hard to hide now.
I made my way down the steep hill, and Dad guided me into the Buck. He was a very handsome little four point, just the right kind of deer. After a few minutes of relaxing Dad slowly made his way down, and we set to work.
By the time Dad had made it to the deer, the sun was almost on us, and the morning had come alive with the sound of birds and the rustling of the breeze. The thin cold air that had enveloped the mountain all night long was finally carried away. Dad, and I sat there on the hillside, enjoying the beauty, cutting away the tender and savory flesh of this dapper little deer.
We took our time, finally warm in the sunshine. I watched my Dad as he sat on the hillside, snacking on a granola bar, sipping his water, it was hard for me to imagine him in a more happy place. I knew how much he loved being up here in these mountains, I knew he relished the time. He has been coming up in these mountains for sixty years now, and today was as good a trip as ever. His hands were crusted with the blood of another fine buck that would feed our family, shot with my Grandfather’s old model 70. Im sure I was smiling too, but inside I was ecstatic about the great luck we had, and grateful again for another cherished adventure with my Father.
We finished cutting up the deer, and let him cool in the still drifting breeze in the shade of the pine trees. Then we slowly made our way back up the ridge, resting as needed, until we got back to the top. As we drove home, tired and satisfied with our hunt, I realized that momentous Chance had made all the difference, and some incredible memories.