Many was the time that I woke up early in the morning, grabbing boots and other gear as I fumbled out the doorway into the winter cold. Though I was not the exceptional scholar my parents had hoped for, I eventually made it to school hours later but not after shooting up a limit of ducks in the muddy marshes near my home. Hunting has always been a passion of mine, but there came a time as a young man that I often chose other things over my beloved waterfowl. Life often has a way of distracting us from passions and responsibilities, and teenage boys seem to catch the lot of it.
Years later I returned to my old ways, and it seems the absence had only increased my passion for the outdoors and being a part of it. A whole generation later, it would seem that my son is in the same haze of youth we all passed through. He has hunted by my side since he was three years old, and even as a toddler he was always excited to do anything that involved the mountains. But the past few years he has been so busy with the life of a teen, friends and other activities to spend much time glassing the mountains with me. It’s natural I suppose that everyone chooses their own path and eventually decides where to focus their efforts and time, but it warmed my heart when several of my kids voiced a desire to spend the hunting season with me in the high country.
Despite their busy schedules and school, we managed to spend a few days enjoying the beauty of these Rocky Mountains. My son Ridley shew great interest in tagging along to fish, ride ATV’s, and shoot both pictures with his camera and his little Remington that I put together for him years ago.
Being an astute father with a taste for venison, I had ensured my kids would have at least one tag in their pockets this fall. Just incase the freezer got light. We spent a week in the High Uintas chasing after elk and Brook Trout, we celebrated Ridley’s eighteenth birthday up there at 10,000 feet. I could see the excitement of adventure even through the smug teenage faces he would make, and though getting up early was a challenge he still did it most days.
The country was just too beautiful to not have a good time, even though the elk hunting was pretty high pressure and not successful we still came home happy as could be. And laden with fish for the smoker, to be canned and put into storage for a rainy day.
As the deer hunt quickly approached, we prepared our gear and plotted our plans. Ridley ended up missing the first weekend of the hunt as he participated in his High School mountain bike team final race, which ended up being ok, as I had my hands full with my other son’s first deer. Mid-week Ridley caught back up with us, and he was excited as ever. I could see the competitive desire to outdo his friends who might also be deer hunting with their family.
I have found that consistency is what gets me within striking distance of animals. Not necessarily consistently going to the same place or anything, but consistently working hard to be in the best places I can be as often as I can. Furiously glassing and peering over every blade of grass to take advantage of every opportunity we might get.
Taking new and/or young hunters along is often a roll of the dice. I saw deer and bucks every day of the hunt, but it was often when my “pupils” were busy with something else. I passed more bucks this year than any year prior if I’m not mistaken, hoping they would still be there when I came back with my children.
It was a Tuesday afternoon when Ridley, my wife, and I returned up a canyon draw where I had seen several bucks earlier that morning. I carried my gun because I can’t be without it, but I was really there trying to get both of them on a buck. As we climbed steadily I pointed out a knob on a ridge to Ridley, and explained how I had seen a deer disappear there earlier that day. My hope was that him or any other buck was still hiding out in this little canyon, but when I told Ridley of my hopes he quickly shot down the idea saying “that was three hours ago Dad.” As we carried on up the ridge spine before us, the sun poured down over us making it nearly uncomfortably hot. Only a few hours earlier I sat on this same ridge uncontrollably shivering in the ice cold wind of a storm front, driving snow sideways across the mountains and blanketing the whole of it in white.
The contrast was incredible, but my hope for a buck was still high so we carried on. In a simple stop to catch our breath, everything changed quite rapidly. Incapable of turning off, my eyes peered through my binoculars combing the ridges for the sign of a deer. I froze as I turned and looked behind us, as my eyes made out the obvious outline of a buck laying in his afternoon bed. The same knob that I had indicated to Ridley earlier was now the complete focus of all three sets of our eyes. I was astounded that the young buck had simply laid there and watched while we walked right under him on the opposing ridge, and another set of hunters had followed the same path only a few minutes before us. Yet there he lay, confident in his hide. Obviously he didn’t know who he was dealing with, but he would very soon.
With as little excitement as we could manage, both Ridley and my wife lay their rifles across their backpacks to get the right angle for a shot. I feigned disinterest and avoided looking at him, as he was studying our movement. Ridley was in a good shooting position and watched the buck through his little TS8X riflescope while I helped my wife build a solid shooting position on the steep hillside.
Despite my disinterested attitude and the minimal movement, way up on that knob where the buck lay quietly three-hundred and thirty yards away, I think he was starting to get worried. I often think that deer can feel a rifle bearing down on them, like the all seeing eye of Sauron looking into the heart of whoever wears the ring. And with it comes the accompanying discomfort.
I wasn’t looking his direction when he stood up, but Ridley was on his scope and announced it to the rest of us. I immediately raised my binos to my eyes, and not wanting to lose our opportunity I told him; if he is standing up shoot him. As I said those words he was already starting his press. My wife and I watched through our optics as the first shot broke, and the buck jumped as if startled by the noise. Ridley ran his bolt as I told him he had shot just under him, the deer took a few steps towards the other side of the ridge but he stopped to give us one last look. By then Ridley had already sent a second bullet his way, and this one was perfect. I watched through my binos as the bullet impacted, sending a patch of hair into the air and the buck dropped from sight.
We hugged with excitement, and then we quickly made our way up the ridge to the downed buck. I am not one to trust a deer that I can’t see, so we snuck up on the buck who had died almost instantly but looked suspiciously alive. We gave him a moment of reverence, and then spent a few minutes examining what a fine example of a Rocky Mountain mule deer he was. He’d already had a close call during the season, someone had taken a shot at him nicking one of his antlers, but his luck had run out.
Ridley pulled out his knife, a knife my brother had given to him several years ago but he had yet to use it for its intended purpose. As we enjoyed the beautiful afternoon, Ridley did his best to clean the deer and fill his phone up with pictures of it. We didn’t kill any other deer that day, but not for a lack of effort.
I have watched my son grow up, and though he has his own plans it warms my heart to see his success and be a part of it. My greatest hope is that we can continue to share our passions with each other, and if at all possible continue to hunt together for as long as we’re able to. We make a pretty good team.