New hunters come into our midst all the time. Much like generations of deer come and go over the seasons, old hunters slowly fade from our camps every year and are replaced by newer and younger faces.
As sad as it is not seeing old friends and loved ones, the new possibilities of teaching the next generation is the only suitable substitute.
One of the newer faces around my fire this year was Leonardo, my wife’s oldest son. His very first hunting adventure happened only a few months ago. He was lucky enough to draw a pair of doe antelope tags, and we made an adventure out of the opportunity. If you haven’t read that story, click here to read it after this one.
After thoroughly enjoying his first big game hunting experience, Leo was even more excited for the mule deer hunt that would follow. We spend a few trips into the mountains during the summer to practice shooting techniques and prepare for what was ahead. Leo is a level-headed kid, responsible and astute. So I was quite confident we would see success as the sun began to rise that cold October morning.
In a stroke of luck, a storm front passed through our mountains in the early hours of opening morning. It brought rain and snow which was a good thing, but it also brought a fierce wind with it as well. Storm fronts like this one typically get the deer out of their hiding spots, and I was hoping to see them as the first rays of light began to cut through the cold and dark clouds.
My little brother, Leo and I hiked noisily up a steep and rocky hillside. Hoping to sneak into a good shooting position on the downwind side of the ridge. I say noisily because the wind blew so hard it pushed us uphill. None of the breaking of sticks or tumbling stones could be heard over the winds howl.
Just as official shooting light arrived, we had crested the peak nine-thousand feet above sea level. We found some solace from the wind, and we were immediately into spotting deer. A small group made their way over the next ridge a mere two-hundred yards away. After confirming that they were our only prospect, we slowly and as quietly as could be given the conditions, made our way towards the ridge they had crossed. Obviously not where they had crossed, but uphill from there hoping to have a better view of them from above.
My brother would stay and cover other vistas while Leo and I pursued the group.
We cautiously crossed over the crest of the ridge, keeping low and looking over the very tips of the brush as we went. I was very surprised to find the deer only a few hundred yards away from us. And I was also concerned as two of the group seemed to already be aware of our presence. I don’t know how, as it was still too noisy to hear us, and the wind carried our scent another direction, but none the less we seemed to be nearly busted on arrival. As I studied the group cautiously through my binoculars, one of the deer was quite conspicuous as he carried a white face and headgear much bonier than the rest. I whispered to Leo that there was a buck watching us, but it seemed as we had the time to get a rifle up and on him. I say seemed because we had been looking at them for over a minute and they still stood there, many of them eating.
As soon as we lifted our eyes back above the brushline however, they had vanished into the thickly wooded canyon below.
As we hiked back towards my brother, I explained to Leo about one of the rules of hunting.
Oftentimes you gotta screw up one opportunity in order to get in the right state of mind for a proper opportunity. So we chalked this one up to our practice run, and we searched out another stalk.
Only a hour or so later, we sat perched on another high point glassing a draw that we had spotted a few does feed across.
Upon closer inspection, we noticed that one of the deer in that opening was a spike. Being his first hunt, Leo was not exactly particular about antlers.
After a few goings on that ended up moving the deer into thicker brush, we spent almost an hour trying to pick him out in the fall colored cover he was hiding in. Even knowing exactly where he was, it was nearly impossible to make him out. I think Leo perhaps felt a little out of sorts not being able to see or make out the deer. But when another hunter spooked him from his hide, he hopped uphill into an opening.
As several of us struggled to keep eyes on the deer, Leo announced that he had him in his scope. Having previously dialed the proper elevation for the three-hundred yard shot, I told him if you’ve got a shot, go a head and take it.
I watched the hillside through my binoculars excitedly waiting to see how it would go. The chamber of Leo’s rifle carried a 122 grain Cayuga solid copper bullet loaded in a 6.5 Creedmoor case. The rifle itself was a Ruger American that he had practiced with earlier that year. On top of the rifle was a US Optics TS25X riflescope that Leo now had centered on the buck across the draw.
When his shot broke, the blast had been tamed by the Yankee Hill Machine Nitro N20. We both watched intently as the bullet cut the distance and hit the deer.
We kept watching him until he went down, where Leo and a friend closed in on him.
From there, we all followed their path to the thorny and burr covered thicket where Leo was already elbow deep in guts. We took pictures and shared congratulations and a hug.
After putting in the work, Leo had his very first buck in hand. We stumbled back down the way we’d come in, dragging the little buck towards our vehicle. I am quite sure that Leo enjoyed his experience and will likely return next season for round two. After hanging the buck in my skinning tree at home, we cleaned him up and made a delicious meal with deer tenderloins as the center-piece. Garden vegetables made it even more delectable.
As Leo and I sat at the table, chewing on the tasty spoils of our days work, I contemplated the conundrum we all find ourselves in. We are destined to spend the first half of our hunting career learning and sharing with familiar old faces of fathers, uncles, and other family and friends. And at some point in our life, it switches to being the familiar old face. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, I can only hope that someday my children will think back to the old days when I taught them and led them through these steep Rocky Mountains. And with any luck they will harbor the same warm feelings I do remembering the great men who showed them to me.
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