Tag Archives: Mule Deer

“The mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) is a deer indigenous to western North America; it is named for its ears, which are large like those of the mule. There are believed to be several subspecies, including the black-tailed deer.

Unlike the related white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), mule deer are generally more associated with the land west of the Missouri River, and more specifically with the Rocky Mountain region of North America. Mule deer have also been introduced to Argentina.

The most noticeable differences between white-tailed and mule deer are the size of their ears, the color of their tails, and the configuration of their antlers. In many cases, body size is also a key difference”. – From wikipedia

They are hunted widely throughout the western United States and parts of Canada and Mexico.

da photograph of an original oil painting of mule deer does under the dunes in Great Sand dunes National Park and Reserve, San Luis Valley, colorado. Artist Rathburn, 1990, from the author's personal collection.

Rocky Mountain Yard Art

 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes you can view a glimpse of it in the form of a big mule deer buck in the backyard.

 

A Trophy Class Mule Deer Buck Poses On The Lawn Of A Suburban Neigborhood, Nezt To A Raised Flower Bed, With Pumpkins Left Over From Holloween. Photography By Michael Patrick McCarty
Looking For a Late Season Garden Snack

Photograph by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher “standard of living” is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech”. – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

 

There are many great books about improving your property or backyard for nature and wildlife, and you might wish to pick up a copy of:

 

Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden: Creating Backyard and Balcony Habitats for Wildlife (Paperback)

“Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden” is a backyard ecologist’s handbook for helping wildlife thrive in the backyard or on the balcony. The book takes readers through the planning, design, and realization stages of creating wildlife habitats, using ecologically sound gardening and landscaping techniques, and 46 projects for housing and feeding birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. “Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden” teaches readers not only how to enhnace their garden but also how to encourage the survival of many native plant and animal species in North America, creating important pathways for wildlife, one garden at a time. The layperson will find the writing style and content entirely approachable, and there are loads of photographs, ilustrations, diagrams and sidebars to make the abundance of information easily digestible.

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Just Another Hunting Season Survivor

A Big Mule Deer Buck Trails a Doe During The Breeding Season in Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

Big Mule Deer bucks are experts at stealth, evasion, and concealment, and they always seem to completely vanish during the annual rifle seasons.

I have watched this guy come along for several years now, and he has returned once again to his favorite doe-chasing country on unhunted, private lands. A battered old warrior, for sure, and a survivor of bears, mountain lions, and the relentless coyote hoards.

He may be even bigger than ever, certainly taller, but not wider, and perhaps just a bit on the downside of his prime.  Still, he seems unchallenged among his competitors, though no doubt, some will run the gauntlet of horns before the end of the current breeding season.

My guess is he will die of old age before some lucky hunter can surprise him in his transitional haunts, if, in fact, they be anywhere where he could be legally hunted. I should know, for I have tried.

But there is hope, there is always hope…and there is always, God Willing, next year!

Long Live Big Bucks!

 

 

A Large Mule Deer Buck Poses Momentarily In It's Search For Does, During the Annual Rut In Western Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 

A Male Mule Deer Watches Over A Young doe During The annual Rut In Western Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 

A Trophy Mule Deer Buck Against Red Cliffs and Snow IN Western Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 

Photographs By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

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Mule Deer Country (Hardcover)

Mule Deer Country is an updated edition of a stunning book that is the result of an international collaboration between the worlds foremost authority on mule deer and a gifted and dedicated wildlife photographer. This new update of Mule Deer Country includes over 100 full-colour photos that depict all aspects of mule deer seasonal behavior, as well as their spectacular and beautiful habitat.

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In The Hushed Silence of Winter Storm

 

A Young Mule Deer Buck With Fresh Snow On His Back, Patiently Waits Out A Fast Moving Storm In The Colorado Rockies. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty
Laying Low and Hanging Out.

 

A Small Flock Of Canada Geese Walks Through A Field Of Snow And Grass, Searching For Food In A Rocky Mountain Winter Storm. Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty
It’s a lean, Yearning, Time of Year

 

A Trophy Mule Deer Buck On High Alert While Quietly Feeding During A Colorado Winter Snowstorm. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty
Hard to Hide Those Antlers

 

A small Herd of Cow Elk Weave In And Out of the Falling Snow During a November Storm in the Rocky Mountains. Photograph  by Michael Patrick McCarty
Out of the Storm

 

Michael Patrick McCarty

 

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Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone’s Winter Wilderness (Hardcover)

Powerful, brutal, beautiful, and at times, enchanting, winter in Yellowstone National Park is a world unlike any other. It is a season both abstract and profound, where super-heated water erupts into arctic air, where wildlife pushes snow in a constant struggle to survive, and where silence and solitude dominate the park’s deep wilderness. Photographer Tom Murphy has experienced Yellowstone’s winter wilderness as few others have, skiing far into the backcountry with heavy camera gear, an uncanny ability to weather cold and snow, and an artist’s eye for the sublime. His photographs reveal a majestic land where the air is clean and clear and where a wolf’s throaty howl carries for miles on a still day.

“Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone’s Winter Wilderness” shows us the splendor and force of Yellowstone’s long cold. In 130 photos we begin to understand the lives of the wildlife that must endure it; we begin to feel the inspiring power of a landscape still wild and pure; and we see nature’s beauty in things great and small. These photos are accompanied by Murphy’s thoughtful words that take us into the time and place of each image. The captions allow us to smile at a fox’s serious hunt for a mouse, to understand why bison stand stoically in geothermal steam, and to marvel at a sudden shift of subtle light that brings breathtaking grandeur to a nondescript little tree and just as suddenly takes it away.

As popular author Tim Cahill observes in his foreword, “These are photos that mirror a man’s passion, and I know of nothing like them anywhere. Murphy’s photographs are not simply stunning or striking: they are also knowledgeable and even wise.”


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Mule Deer In Motion – Hunting For the Rut

A trophy mule deer buck in the sagebrush in colorado during the annual rut of breeding season in search of does. Photo by Michael McCarty
Rut’s On! Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

Mid-November, Any Year

‘Tis the season when big Mule Deer bucks began to pour from muted landscapes in search of females, where just days before there were no deer.

‘Tis the time of frost and biting wind, then snow. The moment is filled with purpose and perpetual motion, and the promise of primordial ritual. It is the time of gathering, of courtship, and the battle for the right to breed. It is the annual Mule Deer rut, and it is happening now, all around us.

At no other time of the year are the bucks so visible, so distracted, proud, but yet so vulnerable. You cannot witness the spectacle without being drawn to the precipice, suspended there on the periphery of their stirrings.

I am lucky to live in an area of the West that has more than it’s share of mature and trophy animals. To watch them is to know them, at least as much as a human can.

To be there, in and around them, reaches towards the place in the soul where the wild things are. The scene reminds us that there are bigger things going on in the world just outside the limited vision of our everyday lives. It’s raw and it’s real, and it simply must happen. The survival of the species, of their’s, and perhaps of ours, is at stake.

To this I say, thank the heavens for the mule deer. May you rule the Rockies forever!

Good luck, and Godspeed!

A trophy mule deer trots quickly across a snow covered field in search of does
Which Way Did They Go? Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

A mature mule deer buck trails a mule deer doe during the November breeding season in western colorado
Herding Cats! Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

Another Big Buck With Something On His Mind

 

A big trophy mule deer buck with doe in full rut in colorado. Photography by Michael McCarty
King of the Day! Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

Big Bucks Rock!

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

To See More Trophy Bucks See Our Post A Head Full of Bone

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When a really big buck lopes along through the forest, sagebrush, or whatever, he is a sight to behold. The big body seems to churn along smoothly and fluidly. Powerful muscles carry him across rocky hillsides, through heavy brush, and thick forests. As he runs, he carries his head forward and slightly lowered, swaying his glistening rack back and forth to avoid obstructions in his path…A trophy buck sails along like a racehorse, especially if he wants to put some space between himself and something he doesn’t like…It’s interesting that many hunters, perhaps the majority, come completely unglued when they’re treated to the sight of a grand buck… – Jim Zumbo

 

A photograph of the front cover of the dustjacket of the book Hunting America's Mule Deer, by Jim Zmbo
Big Bucks Rut!

For Sale:

Hunting America’s Mule Deer by Jim Zumbo. Winchester Press, 1981. Hardcover, in Very Good+ condition, with a short tear to dustjacket. With gift inscription by and signed by Jim Zumbo.

$24.95 plus $4 shipping (in U.S.)

 

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Mule Deer Hunting Tactics by Mike Eastman (2012-05-03) (Hardcover)

Mule Deer Hunting Tactics is Mike Eastman’s second book on mule deer hunting. It covers not only the high country, but also the aspen-conifer and arid-sage country of the western states. In this book, Mike gives solid information on mule deer behavior as well as tactics for finding and harvesting a trophy buck. What is in this book: 1. Field Judging Trophy Mule Deer, 2. Research Section, 3. Hunting Strategies & Tactics, 4. Mule Deer Behavior-Early, Mid, and Late Fall, 5. Mule Deer Terrain Hunting Tactics, 6. Antler Growth, Age & Genetic History, and 5 Big Sections and 29 Chapters.

Mike Eastman has been hunting the West for nearly 60 years. He is widely recognized as a leading authority on western trophy big game hunting. Following in the footsteps of his father, Gordon Eastman (A pioneer in the hunting and wildlife filming industry), Mike successfully built Eastmans’ Publishing, Inc., an entity widely know not only as the authority on North American big game hunting, but also for its steadfast fair chase hunting ethics.


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Colorado Muzzleloading Memories

Bowhunting has always been my passion and the bow and arrow my weapon of choice. I might add that this has remained unchanged for nearly fifty years too!

Occasionally though, I have toted around the powder and ball. Not that much, mind you, but enough to know that black powder hunting has its own special romance and charm. And, I have often said that muzzleloading may be the most effective way to take a trophy class big game animal in the west. It may be even more true today.

Here’s a long-lost photo from the early 1980’s, taken in the middle of an epic rain storm on an elk and mule deer hunt on Red Table Mountain near Basalt, Colorado.

The bucks were huge and the elk were plentiful, but I’m afraid that the weather won the week on this trip. I also learned, forever, what it means to “keep your powder dry”.

I can’t tell you how much I now wish that I had taken many more pictures on this hunt, but I do remember being far more concerned about wind, and mud, than taking pretty photos. It rapidly turned into a battle for comfort, and survival, while waiting impatiently for conditions to change. Some hunts are like that, and it’s always best to be prepared, particularly when carrying around the old smokepole.

I did bring back a bucketful of memories, however wet they may be. I can still see those giant mulies staring through the mist and downpour, on a mountain where you can barely find a buck today,

And I can truly say, that those were indeed, the days…

 

An elk and mule deer hunter in northwestern Colorado poses on the deck of a small hunting cabin, somewhere on Red Table Mountain in the mid 1980's. Michael Patrick McCarty
A Dry and Warm A-Framed Port in The Storm. Photograph by Kevin McBride

 

A muzzleloader hunter poses for the camera in northwestern Colorado, about to set off for elk and mule deer on Red Table Mountain in the mid 1980's
It’s All Blue Skies For A Hunting Man. Photograph by Kevin McBride

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Black Powder Hobby Gunsmithing (Paperback)

From the rear cover of this 256 page book: “A Hands-On Book for Hobby Gunsmiths From a Black Powder Expert and a Leading Custom Gunsmith. Tools, technigues and projects for amateurs with a widely varying skill level – from kitchen table to home workshop.” And from the Preface: “This book entertains four levels of blackpowder hobby gunsmithing: Kitchen Table, Home Workshop, Hobby Plus Help, and Academic. Kitchen Table home hobby gunsmithing is so-named because this level of work can be accomplished on a kitchen table, ideally with a sturdy, portable board as a working surface. The tools required are absolutely basic: screwdriver, small hammer, pliers – tools readily found and reasonably priced. The Home Workshop level is done in a reasonably well-equipped workplace. Thousands of hobbyists own and work in home shops containing tools that range from basic to semi-sophisticated. Relatively high-level repairs, as well as embellishments, adjustments and refinements to muzzleloaders, are readily accomplished in the home workshop. Furthermore, full-blown custom muzzleloaders can be built in the well-equipped home workshop. Hobby Plus Help builds upon the Home Workshop level. Gun repair, embellishment, customizing, personalizing and all aspects of muzzleloader smithing can be successfully accomplished by the hobbyist who hires a little professional help. The hobbyist tackles all aspects of the project that he and his tools can handle. The fourth level of blackpowder gunsmithing is the Academic approach. Not all smithing can be done by the hobbyist, or even by the local pro, but this does not excuse the hobby smith from understanding the problem or adjustment. All dedicated shooters should try to learn as much as they can about firearms and gunsmithing.” Dozens of photos, illustrations and charts are seen along with the descriptive text.

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Mule Deer Under Mother Mountain

Nikon D3400 w/ AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (Black) (Electronics)

Before the Nikon D3400 Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens (Black), you chose your smartphone camera for convenience. Zooming was clumsy. Shooting in low light was nearly impossible. Capturing fast action was a game of luck. But after the D3400, you’ll see that you were compromising image quality. That some of the greatest photos happen when the light is low. That fast action can be frozen in perfect clarity. And that a camera and a smartphone can work together in harmony to make the photos you share absolutely amazing.FEATURES:Stunning simplicity – Photos and videos captured with the D3400 and a superb NIKKOR lens are as vibrant and lifelike as the moments they preserve. Shoot in extremely low light without a problem. Freeze fast-action in its tracks. Create portraits with rich, natural skin tones and beautifully blurred backgrounds. The photos you share will amaze everyone-even yourself.Camera, smartphone and cloud in perfect harmony – SnapBridge has changed the way cameras and smartphones work together-and only Nikon has it. Take a picture with the D3400 and it’s automatically transferred to your compatible smartphone or tablet, ready to share. SnapBridge works seamlessly with NIKON IMAGE SPACE, a cloud storage and sharing site, to back-up your photos and to help you create and share albums with your friends and family. The future of photo sharing is here.A camera designed for you – Compact and lightweight, the D3400 is designed to go everywhere you go. Even first-time DLSR owners will quickly feel at home-the camera’s controls are smartly laid out for comfort and intuitive control. The bright optical viewfinder provides a sharp, glare-free view of the world, and the comfortable grip enables precise handling.The gateway to better photography – The D3400 makes photography easy and fun, freeing you to focus on your natural talents-framing great shots, anticipating special moments and finding unique perspectives in everyday scenes. As your abilities grow (and they

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A Mule Deer Buck Stands Under Mount Sopris, Located In The Elk Mountains Range In The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Near Carbondale, Colorado
Mule Deer In The Heart Of The Mother. Photograph By David Massender

 

Only The Mother Knows…

 

The Ute Indians called her “Mother Mountain”, because of her twin summits; the Roaring Fork Valley’s early settlers knew it as “Wemagooah Kazuhchich,” or “Ancient Mountain Heart Sits There.”

No matter what name you use, Mount Sopris, located in the Elk Mountains Range near Carbondale, Colorado provides one of the prettiest vistas in the rocky mountains.

Without a doubt, her heart beats strong. The Mule Deer feel it too.

And maybe it’s just me, but it’s even prettier when Mule Deer are standing below, and upon it.

Just saying…

 

A Small Herd of Mule Deer Graze For Their Nightly Meal Under The Protective Gaze Of Mount Sopris, Near Carbondale, Colorado
A Fine Place To Dine. Photograph by David Massender

 

And I can’t think of a more spectacular place to hunt! I plan on doing just that, very soon.

Good Hunting…

Posted By Michael Patrick McCarty

Photographs Courtesy Of David Massender

 

A Small Group Of Mule Deer Enjoy The Fall Colors Under Mount Sopris (Mother Mountain), Located In Pitkin County Near Carbondale, Colorado
Living Is Easy Before The Snow Flies. Photograph By David Massender

 

You Can Read More About Mount Sopris Here

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The Last Mule Deer Doe

MOJO Outdoors Critter Predator Decoy (Sports)

After trying many versions, MOJO Outdoors™ has developed the most effective predator decoy on the market. The MOJO Critter predator decoy is light-weight, portable, simple and affordable. It has highly visible and tantalizing action using realistic prey-type fur that immediately attracts and holds predators’ attention. Intermittent, cyclic action for added realism. It calls ’em in and diverts their attention away from you. The MOJO Critter is proven to work on all predators and will greatly improve your success.

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“Biology plus politics equals biopolitics and this is what conservation departments are forced to play, often to the detriment of good game management.” – William Towell, Director Missouri Conservation Commission, 1957-1967
A Mule Deer Doe Strikes a Pensive Pose Somewhere in the West

 

October 19, 2013

 

I harvested a sleek young mule deer doe today, dropped cleanly with a fast-moving .270 caliber bullet well before the crack of the rifle had begun to die away in the thin mountain air. It was a fitting end to a hunt that had barely begun, yet at the same time a fine beginning to something so much more. Why then, did it cause a small pang of concern, like I had done something somehow wrong and irreversible?

It had not been a difficult hunt in the rugged landscape around me, where so often in the past it had been exactly the opposite. She had been standing with another doe just above a dirt access track stretching through a small parcel of public ground, and when the bullet hit her she had made one jump and came to rest in the middle of the road. A quick field dressing and a short flip to the waiting tailgate and she was off to the garage to hang and cool, and it won’t be long before some savory steaks and roasts hit the plate. It’s what dreams of wild game dinners are made of.

It was a planned meat hunt first and foremost, and in that respect it was a mission accomplished for which I do not apologize. I am a fan of mule deer for the table, though I do acknowledge that many people would disagree. To be honest, I would also admit that although I do like it, for the most part this western venison is not my favorite big game offering.

Given a choice, I would rather walk a substantial distance for some expertly grilled chops from a properly fed mid-west Whitetail. I would, and have, walked heroic distances for the well-earned privilege of packing back a heavy load of elk meat. I’ve also worn out a considerable swath of boot leather in pursuit of mule deer in all kinds of terrain, mostly in search of the all too few with some heavy horn on top of their head. I have not always been willing to walk so far just for a meal of mule deer.

This past Spring it occurred to me to try something different this year, and I don’t begrudge myself an easy hunt for a change. Lord knows that I and many of my friends deserve something short of an expedition occasionally, and one’s goals do tend to develop over time. I also wanted to give a mule deer a fresh chance in the culinary department, thinking that perhaps it might be best not to judge things on the taste of tough old buckskin taken well past their prime. A freezer full of protein also does wonders to combat the ever rising grocery bill.

The state of Colorado does issue a limited number of anterless deer permits for the regular rifle seasons, with an emphasis on “not too many”. To my surprise I was lucky enough to draw a license for an area close to my home, which made it all the more enjoyable. The rest, shall we say, is in the books.

What I failed to mention is that they were the only two deer that we saw that morning, in spite of a three-mile hike through some once great deer country and then, later, a short drive to another area. Nor did I say that I could easily see two houses from where my doe had come to lay, and I knew that there were several more not far over the hill.

Such is the reality of things in the ever more settled west. The deer are not always located in some far often mountain valley, and sometimes you must hunt them where they are. And sometimes you hunt them in places that you used to hunt, years before, in a place where not long ago there were no houses to see.

Things are changing rapidly in the Rocky Mountains, and the once vast Mule Deer herds have been dramatically impacted by that change. Populations have been in serious decline in Colorado and other states, for reasons that are not so clear and steeped in worried speculation. To be blunt, Mule Deer are in serious trouble, and their ultimate fate as a species is in real jeopardy.

I, for one, did not have to read a detailed report to come to that sad conclusion. The evidence is everywhere; the end result devastating. Herd sizes have dropped by 50% since I moved to Colorado in the mid 1970’s, and the absence of deer is remarkably obvious. As a result, the number of hunting permits have been severely reduced and tightly controlled, with less than encouraging results.

For some time it is has not been easy for a resident of Colorado to obtain a deer tag of any kind, and when you do it can be difficult to locate a legal buck. Finding a trophy animal can prove nearly impossible for even the best of hunter’s. It’s just not easy being a deer hunter these days.

Unfortunately, the worst may be yet to come. It is debatable whether the herds have stopped their terrifying free fall and reached a period of relative stability. Why then, one might ask, are there any doe tags at all?

What is difficult to pin down are the exact reasons for the decline, and public opinion is wide-ranging and increasingly heated. There is great debate over the effectiveness of the overall state big game management plan, and one wonders if there is really any plan at all. One hand does not always appear to be aware of what the other is doing across state agencies, and I can only hope that in this case the harvesting of a doe somehow contributes to the overall health of the deer herd in this particular game management unit.

I have heard most of the standard theories of cause and reaction. Of course I have a few of my own, or simply evaluate all of the factors in my own way. Some people are quick to put the blame on an overabundance of coyotes and other predators, and no doubt there is some truth to that. Others blame highway mortality, road building and natural gas drilling, and all forms of habitat loss. More than a few people say that what deer habitat that is left is of poor nutritional quality, and there is an increasing effort underway to remove sections of old growth forest and range and replace them with rejuvenated browse and plant communities. The long-term drought certainly has not helped, and maybe, just maybe, there are now just too many elk.

More than likely it is caused by a combination of all of the above, and I don’t know how it will turn out for the deer in the final outcome. Nor does anyone else out there really know for sure. It may be that Mule Deer are simply incapable of tolerating or forgiving the daily trespasses of man, and that their loss to history is essentially assured. That would be unspeakably sad.

I do know that the mule deer is a western icon of immeasurable proportions, and the Rocky Mountains would simply be a hollow and soulless shell of itself without them.

Call me selfish, but the possibility of their disappearance is not acceptable. I intend to smile over their big ears and bouncing, improbable gait for however many years that I have left, and I hope that you can too. To watch them brings pure and simple joy. To hunt them is an honor and a gift that should never be taken for granted.

I hope that the current trend of decline can be permanently reversed, for their sake and for our’s. I wish that there will always be Mule Deer to hunt, along with a place to hunt them that remains wild and free. Most of all I would like to shake the sinking feeling that I am hunting one of the last female’s of her glorious and irreplaceable kind.

Thankfully, that is still quite far from the truth, at least for now. It is not too late to help ensure that such an unthinkable day never comes.

In the meantime, I will do my best to use all parts of my animal as gratefully as possible. I look forward to many fine meals ahead, provided by an animal I both respect and cherish. It makes each small bite a most precious encounter.

Got any good recipes?

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Long Live The Mule Deer!

Michael Patrick McCarty

Interested in big game conservation? Take a look at the Mule Deer Foundation.

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A mule deer doe watching over her two young fawns somewhere in the west
We Need More of These

Coyote Predation is without doubt a significant factor in the overall health of mule deer populations. Common sense would lead one to believe that they must certainly be extremely effective at locating newborn and younger fawns. The literature is also replete with the idea that they are quick to make a meal out of the weak and the sick in any group. But are they capable, or willing, to go against a full-grown adult?

That question was answered, to my satisfaction anyway, one spring morning while turkey hunting in a remote mountain meadow…

[Post in Progress]

 

Mule Deer and Memorial at Storm King Mountain

Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire (Paperback)

In 1994, a wildfire on Colorado’s Storm King Mountain was wrongly identified at the outset as occurring in South Canyon. This unintentional, seemingly minor human error was merely the first in a string of mistakes that would be compounded into one of the greatest tragedies in the annals of firefighting. Before it was done, fourteen courageous firefighters—men and women, hotshots, smokejumpers, and helicopter crew—would lose their lives battling the deadly, so-called South Canyon blaze. John N. Maclean’s award-winning national bestseller Fire on the Mountain is a stunning reconstruction of the killer conflagration and its aftermath.

New From:$14.56 USD In Stock
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skeeze / Pixabay

 

 

A View Near the Top of The Storm King Memorial Trail Near Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Storm King Memorial Trail Near Glenwood Springs, Colorado

October 23, 2015

Today I hunted Mule Deer on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Climbing hard in the false dawn from the river below, I soon found myself enveloped in a gray, somber day, with light rain, low clouds, and misty vapors all around. It seemed a most appropriate collection of weather conditions for the moment at hand.

This is, however, not so much a story about big game hunting, as it is about, something else. I fully intended to kill a deer, but in the end, did not. Neither did I see a deer, and not one fresh track appeared in the mud within the view held tightly below the bill of my hat and hood.

Perhaps it was because the mulies were still tucked into cover, discouraged by the heavy rains of the last few days. Or perhaps it was because our usual snows had yet to appear in even the highest parts of the high country, and the deer had not yet migrated down to the lower elevations. Maybe, just maybe, it was just not the day to kill a deer.

But I came for other reasons too.

Fourteen fire fighters died on this mountain on July 6, 1994. Officially named the South Canyon Fire, it began with a lightning storm on July 2, and rapidly escalated from there. Fire crews were scrambling to catch up right from the start, and the town of Glenwood Springs was solidly in the crosshairs.

Residents prepared for the worst in terms of property damage and financial ruin, but no one could have predicted such a shocking course of events.

I remember exactly where I was sitting when the announcement of their deaths was relayed over the local radio. The impact of the news hit me like a sledge to the most vulnerable parts of my innards, so close to home, and not just because it had happened right down the road.

I was a fire lookout on a high peak in the Salmon River Wilderness of Idaho in the early 1980’s, and then after that an occasional  firefighter as part of my duties with the U.S. Forest Service. I would like to think that I know just a little about wildfire, though I hate to imagine the panic and abject terror they must have felt as the flames overtook them.

Wildfire can put a fear in you like no other natural force on earth, and I have felt that fear firsthand.  Fighting fires is an unnatural occupation, but one, nevertheless, that must be done. I would not be exaggerating to say that I have sweated and toiled alongside some of the most dedicated and indomitable people the planet has ever known. I became a far better person as a result.

Once, so many years ago, I called in a small lightning strike from my perch atop the mountain and then  watched in utter amazement as a dozen smokejumpers hurled themselves out of a perfectly good airplane, only to land in  a field of jumbled boulders and dead and dangerous snags for their troubles. They successfully contained the fire over a 24 hour period, without rest or sleep, and then humped their gear through snarled terrain to an exit point a few miles away. Those observations continue to influence my opinions on what it means to be “tough”.

Who would do that? Who would risk their lives to save oak brush and pinion and homes, often against impossible odds? Why did I do it?

That answer has never fully come to me, and it is far too easy to put myself in their boots. This could have been me. It might have been me, dying down in hot winds and flame, under some not so different circumstances. I feel for them. I grieve for them. They are my brothers, and sisters, who have left us behind far too soon.

Fire will have its way once it makes up its mind, and there is nothing to be done for it but to get out of its way. They did try, we know that they tried, but only nature and god knew their fate in advance. And though I cannot speak for them I would like to think that their soul’s may find some comfort in knowing that the South Canyon Fire and their ultimate sacrifice changed forever the way that wildfires are managed and fought.

Fire, in its infinite wisdom, consumes all that is presented before it. It does so  without judgement, malice, or aforethought, no matter what we may believe. But life returns, and wildfire is also the great rejuvenator. It cleanses with impossible heat and complete conviction, and clears the way for new growth and replenished habitat in an endless circle of beginnings and endings.

skeeze / Pixabay

In this case it created many hundreds of acres of mule deer winter range, and in the end, improved wildlife habitat for a multitude of creatures. It would seem far too small a compensation for so many human lives gone, but then, who am I to say? I am but one man, often so lost, in such a vast and unpredictable universe. Perhaps it is not for me to judge what is right and what is wrong, fair or unfair, nor to fully understand the true meaning of it all.

It took me twenty years to visit this place; to brace myself for the painful journey. I did not know them. I never met them, to my knowledge. But, I do feel them there, watching. I hope that they are not too sad, and that they do not miss this world so much. I pray that they feel some peace in knowing that they were doing some great things in the world, on that mountain of storm. I have no doubt that they never felt more alive, fighting for what they believed, in that wild and untamed country that they loved.

I know that there were hunter’s among the group, and I hope that they approved of my visit. I came to hunt deer, for myself, and for them. I came to honor the offering of kindred spirits, and bow my head in reverence. I hope that they were able to feel some of the joy that I feel when I hunt, a free man with a rifle on his shoulder and miles of unexplored territory ahead.

They remind us that life is precious, and short, and that any time spent hunting where there is still room left to roam is not to be taken for granted.

We will not forget.

May they rest in peace, with eagles overhead, and mule deer, and wild beings, and life, all around, forever.

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“In storm and cloud and wind and sky, In heart and mind and hand and eyes, A bond still binds too strong to tell, All those who flew with those who fell”. – Anonymous. Found on the Plaque at The Storm King Memorial

“Time is the hunter of all men, and no one knows this better than we do. That knowledge gives us perspective, and direction. A hunter is never lost in this great big world, not in life, nor even in death… “- Michael Patrick McCarty

 

A list of the firefighter names who died during the South Canyon Fire on a Plaque at the Storm King Memorial Trail Near Glenwood Springs, Colorado
In Memorium

By Michael Patrick McCarty


 

Glenwood Springs, CO, June 8, 2002 — In Glenwood Springs, CO, the monument to the 14 fallen firefighters in 1994’s Storm King Fire stands as a sentinel in front of this year’s Coal Seam Fire…Photo by Bryan Dahlberg/ FEMA News Photo

You can read more about the Storm King Fire and Other Fires Here

Below, are a few excerpts:

“For many of the specially trained crews that battle mountain wildfires in the American West, it was a blaze that made it more acceptable for firefighters to speak up or even decline assignments they consider too dangerous—once a rare occurrence that could result in a firing or ostracism in a profession that requires aggressive, type A personalities. No official report articulated that change, but among many firefighters it was an understood lesson of South Canyon.

The South Canyon blaze, which scorched 2,115 acres, accelerated technical advances in battling wildfires, from a new generation of fire shelters—small, protective “mummy” bags carried by firefighters that can be their defense of last resort from flames—to improved communications. “Immediately, we all had radios,” said one South Canyon survivor, Eric Hipke.

South Canyon also sparked more scrutiny of fire officials’ decision-making and strategies in battling deadly fires, and led to changes in the National Weather Service’s fire weather forecasting division, which doubled its number of fire weather forecasters and found ways to deliver up-to-the-minute weather information—including crucial details about wind, which can fuel a fire and its direction—to forecasters in the field. (Related: “Overwhelming Cause of California Wildfires: Humans.”)

After South Canyon, “incident meteorologists became rock stars,” said Chris Cuoco, the meteorologist whose accurate prediction of a dangerous weather shift during the South Canyon Fire never reached the firefighters on the mountain.

It’s widely accepted within the firefighting community that these and other lessons of the South Canyon Fire have saved lives during the past two decades. Even so, the dangers of fighting wildfires in the hot, dry summer remain real”.

From an article by By John N. Maclean

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Posted by Michael Patrick McCarty

https://steemit.com/hunting/@huntbook/mule-deer-and-memorial-at-storm-king-mountain

Colorado Enacts Seasonal Restrictions For Shed Antler Collection

 

A shed bull elk antler lays on top of the melting snow in Colorado. Photograph by Michael Patrick McCarty
A Late Winter Prize. Photograph by Michael Patrick McCarty

The Colorado Parks And Wildlife Agency (CPW) will begin enforcing new, sweeping, seasonal restrictions for shed antler and horn collection beginning March 2, 2018.

Thereafter, the closure will be in effect from January 1-April 30, annually, and will apply to all public lands west of I-25, with some additional closures effecting several game management units in the Gunnison Basin. These new restrictions will not apply to shed collection on private lands.

The purpose of this ground breaking regulation is to mitigate the recreational impacts on wintering big game animals, at a time when they are most vulnerable to stress and increased mortality. The restrictions were developed to address the specific needs and issues surrounding Colorado’s unique wildlife resource.

Repeat, or egregious violators are subject to a fine, and a levy of five suspension points applied to the application or purchase of any licenses issued by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The accumulation of 20 or more points within a five year period can result in the suspension of hunting and fishing rights for up to five years.

Additionally, the possession of each individual antler can be considered a separate violation, with additional fines for each, in aggregate. Violators may also be charged with the harassment of wildlife. Other federal, state, and county agencies can coordinate with CPW in enforcement action.

According to CPW, “If you are hiking in an area where there is currently a shed antler and horn collecting closure and you see an antler or horn, you are advised to leave it alone. There is now way for a CPW officer to differentiate between you and someone who entered the area for the purpose of shed collecting”.

The requirement of a priced permit, or license, for shed collection is not required at this time, though it may be required in the future.

You can read more about the new regulations Here.

By Michael Patrick McCarty

12019 / Pixabay