“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.
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…
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.
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.
“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
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”.
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.
“One hot afternoon in August I sat under the elm, idling, when I saw a deer pass across a small opening a quarter-mile east. A deer trail crosses our farm, and at this point any deer traveling is briefly visible from the shack.
I then realized that half an hour before I had moved my chair to the best spot for watching the deer trail; that I had done this habitually for years, without being clearly conscious of it. This led to the thought that by cutting some brush I could widen the zone of visibility. Before night the swath was cleared, and within the month I detected several deer which otherwise could likely have passed unseen.
The new deer swath was pointed out to a series of weekend guests for the purpose of watching their later reactions to it. It was soon clear that most of them forgot it quickly, while others watched it, as I did, whenever chance allowed. The upshot was the realization that there are four categories of outdoorsmen: deer hunters, duck hunters, bird hunters, and non-hunters. These categories have nothing to do with sex or age, or accoutrements; they represent four diverse habits of the human eye. The deer hunter habitually watches the next bend; the duck hunter watches the skyline; the bird hunter watches the dog; the non-hunter does not watch.
When the deer hunter sits down he sits where he can see ahead, and with his back to something. The duck hunter sits where he can see overhead, and behind something. The non-hunter sits where he is comfortable. None of these watches the dog. The bird hunter watches only the dog…”
From the chapter entitled “The Deer Swath” in A Sand County Almanac”, by Aldo Leopold.
I read this for the first time many years ago, and the basic premise of it has stuck in my mind ever since. It is classic Leopold, whose writings always seems to leave behind more thought-provoking questions than he answers. He was, and still is, one of the preeminent teachers of the natural world.
Looking back, I realize now that I have always sat with shoulders squared up to something at my back, watching.
Perhaps I am just a deer hunter at heart. It is the promise of deer, for which I wait.
Here’s a buck that I have watched grow up over the last few years. I can only imagine what he may look like next year – should he survive another Colorado winter and a long hunting season. The light may not be very good, but as you can see, he is a good buck by any measure.
Unfortunately, this buck roams from private land to private land and my guess is that he never steps foot in a place where you could hunt him. But then again, perhaps he does.
There is a small piece of almost inaccessible public land that borders his normal range. I think I shall hunt him there, next year. Or should I say, I will try.
A man has to look forward to something, particularly through the long interval between seasons.
The infamous Arizona Strip is home to world class mule deer hunting, and I happened to be lucky enough to draw an archery tag. My wife and our thirteen-month-old daughter came with me and dropped me off so I could take a quick two-mile hike and meet up with them right at dark.
I had an hour and a half of light as I headed away from the road into a wilderness area with only my bow and radio. The area was nothing but thick pines and lots of fallen trees, with old two-acre spot burns every quarter mile. As I came to the last open area, I only had about forty-five minutes of shooting light left.
It was a large meadow with nothing but fallen trees and six-foot jack pines every so often. I could see a small mound directly in front of me about 20 yards away that would give me a view of the entire area, so I slowly walked to the top of it and began to scan the meadow.
As soon as I looked to my left I saw a doe staring right at me on the far side of the clearing. I froze every muscle in my body and watched her for five seconds before I saw a buck pick up its head while chewing some grass giving me the opportunity to see how big he was. I could tell he was a four-point with what looked like tall deep forks in the back. This was the buck that fits exactly what I wanted.
To his right, I then saw three or four other smaller bucks and all were still feeding. I could tell that the doe was the only one who knew I was there. I slowly grabbed my rangefinder and brought it up to my right eye.
I couldn’t get an accurate reading on her or the buck since the buck fever kicked in and I was shaking so bad. My rangefinder read 28, 238, 100, 15, 73. I took a deep breath and then ranged a big pine tree off to her left and it read 102 yards.
Since I was in full camouflage and had a very soft breeze blowing on my face, I knew the doe wasn’t too spooked as she didn’t know what I was. I stayed frozen for 10 minutes until she turned her head to the right and I slowly ducked down so that a big fallen tree hid me from her line of sight. I then belly crawled to my left about 5 feet to a tree to block myself from her view.
I could still see the bucks feeding and facing away from me. I crawled straight towards the doe making sure to keep the tree directly between us. After crawling as slow as I could for 15 minutes, I finally made it to the tree. I slowly stood up and took one step past the tree and a small buck looked up right at me.
I knew I couldn’t go any further. I grabbed my rangefinder and ranged the bigger buck, he was sixty-five yards from me. He was still feeding and stepped broadside. I attached my release and drew my bow, putting my seventy-yard pin just below the base of his belly.
At full draw, I realized that I had a six-inch gap between two small pine trees just forty yards away. I knew if I could get just the arrow between those trees the flight path to the buck would be clear. I looked back at the buck and a smaller buck had stepped out in front of him. I decided to wait at full draw to see if he would move out of the way.
After about 30 seconds he took several slow steps and he was out of the way but now the bigger buck was facing directly away from me. After roughly 5 seconds, he took one small step to his left giving me a steep quartering away shot. I moved my pins from his heart to about three-quarters of the way back on his body and I softly squeezed the trigger on my release and held my finish.
I then watched the glowing red knock fly perfectly through the six-inch window until the shaft of the arrow disappeared as it penetrated deep inside the deer’s innards only leaving the fletching of a twenty-eight-inch arrow sticking out of the buck. As he ran off the 6 smaller bucks followed.
I marked the location on my radio and then met up with my wife and daughter before it got too dark. Then after an hour wait, and a slow thirty-minute tracking, we found my buck only a few hundred yards from where I shot him. These moments are why I bow hunt, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect outcome with my family.