2015 Colorado Wilderness DIY Mule Deer Hunt

Meatseeker

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I just got back from an amazing DIY mule deer hunt in Unit 501 - Pike National Forest, Colorado. If you like DIY deer hunting you gotta go try Colorado. I will try to summarize the trip and post some photos. First I would like give a special thanks to fellow HuntChat member Matt Breton (mbVT). Matt provided me with a phenomonol workout plan that I did all summer and fall to prepare for my hunt. Over the 3+ months I used his workout plan I lost 15 lbs, gained a lot of strength, and drastically improved my cardiovascular fitness. I went to Colorado feeling great.

We hunted a wilderness section of Pike National Forest. You can park your truck at several different trailheads... but there is no motorized vehicle access beyond that. Its pure boot power. We stayed in his pop-up camper at a public camping area in the forest rougly in the middle of the area we would hunt. Base camp was at 8,200'. Every morning we would drive to trailhead at O-Dark-hundered and hike in. We hunted meadow edges, burn areas, creek drainages anywhere from 7,900' to 9,600'. The temperatures ranged from 15F to 75F. I hiked over 56 miles during the course of the hunt, with most of it being fairly steep. The primary strategy was to get up high before first light to glass meadows and burns as the sun was coming up. I can't tell you enough how good the public land hunting is in Colorado. I saw over 75 deer and 30 elk over the course of a week of hunting. I passed up opportunities on spikes, fork horns, and 3x3's pretty much every day I hunted. We saw a good number of hunters everyday we hunted. However, with one exception all of them were either road hunting or within 800 yards of the road. We virtually had the place to ourselves once we got 1/3 of mile in.

There were supposed to be 4 of us in camp. Me, my buddy, his 12 year old son, and his dad. Unfortunately, last minute my buddy got called into work and was only able to spend the first two nights and the last night in camp. Myself and my friends dad both had buck tags, and his son had a cow elk tag. Me and my friends Dad took turns taking the boy for the day out to find elk.

Day 1: Got in and set-up camp around noon. Headed out to glass for the evening. 9 doe mule deer spotted

Day 2: First full scouting day. It was snowing. Got up high early and glassed a few valleys. Found a few groups of does out feeding and a herd of 22 elk! We jumped 2 shooter 4x4's on the way back to the truck. We were pumped for opening day!





 
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Meatseeker

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Day 3 - Opening Day: The plan was for my buddy to try to get his son on the elk we spotted the day before. Tom (his dad) and myself were going to get up high and try and provide intel over the radios as they tried to move onto the heard of elk. The elk were not in basin we left them! But around 9:30 am my buddy found the herd in the next basin. He was able to get the boy in position. Unfortunately, the boy got off two shots off a good rest at around 225 yards but missed. We later found out that the gun was way off because it suffered a pretty hard fall on the hike in. Bummer! Later that afternoon I had an absolute corker 4x4 (160" to 170") in my crosshairs at 320 yards. I found him bedded in the shade of small fir tree on the opposite ridge from where I was hunting. I was able to get a solid rest on my pack and felt good about the gun and the ballistics... but I could never get him to turn broadside long enough for a good shot. I saw 22 different deer on opening day.

Day 4: Hot, hot, hot. 45F in the morning 75F by noon. All the elk went way up (11,000') into the a very remote drainage that we would have had to spike camp at. No dice with a 12 year old and not all of the neccessary equipment. Hunted around 9,200 ft... found deer on the north slopes of mountains (shady side). Really tough hunting. Went through 3 liters of water by 2:00 pm. The air is so dry out there! Slow day. Saw 8 deer all does. Put on 9.6 miles on this day. Back to camp. 2 IPA's with dinner, another 60 oz. of water, a night cap of Aberloah 16 year single malt scotch, and in the rack by 7:45 pm.

Day 5: Warm again. Tried a new area about 8 miles from camp. Tom passed a 350 yard shot at an absolute slob mule deer. He had a solid rest but was not comfortable shooting is 338 WM that far. I jumped a big 4x4 on the way back to the truck out of creek bottom at like 40 yards. A scoped bolt action was not the tool for that situation... I had him in the scope running dead away from 60 to 90 yards, but didn't shoot. If I had a 7600 with me maybe I would have opened up on him!. Slower day, very warm, 2 bucks and 9 doe seen.





Here is Pike Peak in the distance. You can see the snow in the high country (>11,000).

 

Meatseeker

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Day 6: Started off a new trail head today and worked some low ground in a brushy creek bottom. We jumped an absolute toad! Pretty sure he was a legitimate Booner. He had a base 5x5 frame with brow tines and with a few kicker points here and there. He was high and wide with ridiculous mass... probably close to a 30" spread. We jumped him at 100 yards, he stopped at 250 yards. We both dropped to a knee and got a scope on him at 250 yards. My cross hairs were wobbling all over.... I didn't shoot and neither did Tom. I kind of regret that I just didn't let lead fly! I was waiting for the perfect shot and it never came. He bolted and climbed straight to the top of a high ridge. He stood skylined on the spine of the ridge about 800 yards away for about 10 minutes just starring at us. We split up and worked opposite sides of the drainage. Saw a bunch of does and a few small bucks. Passed on a gnarly little 3x3. After lunch took the boy to a different valley looking for elk. We got onto 6 cows at about 400 yards. We spent the afternoon trying to get a finger ahead of them but never could. With the sun starting to fall and 4 miles to the truck we had to let them go. Long day.... over 9 miles of boot treads spents.

Me hiking out on our scouting day





 

Meatseeker

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Day 7: Disaster strikes. It was warm in the morning so I decided to seek some higher ground. I climbed up to about 9,600 ft and about 4 miles in. I was side hilling this really steep mountainside and the rocks under my feet gave way and I took a nasty fall. I got bruised up a little, but my rifle took a couple of good bounces of rocks. I got back to camp around 1:00 pm and decided to take a few shots to see if my gun was still on. Not so much. My gun that was shooting sub-MOA, was now shooting a 6" group at 50 yards! In a bizarre twist of fate the same thing happened to Tom that same morning on a different ridge. His gun was rimracked too. We had no gunsmithing tools with us. We had no choice we had to head back to town. We went back to my buddies house about an hour away. Found a gunsmith about 1.5 hours away who could see us first thing the next day. The silver lining was that we got to take showers and sleep in a real bed that night. Hit the gunsmith the next mornimg.

Day 8: Opened up the gunsmith at 9:00 am. He remounted the scopes and bore sighted them. A half dozen shots later on paper and we were back in business. Hit the road and was able to get back into camp by 1:00 pm. Enough time for an evening hunt.

We tried a new spot that we kept eyeing all week that was pretty close to camp. It was any area with these huge grassy fingers that worked its way up to dark timber and then a steep rock face. The wind was perfect and the air temp was plummeting. We each took a seperate finger and made our way up. It was a perfect setup. There were scattered small fir trees all the way up the finger. This made it easy for me to sneak from tree to tree and glass all the nooks and gullys on this finger. About 3/4 of the way up I see a buck standing in the base of this small gully. I pull my gun up on him and I can see he has was a small 4x4. I debate for a minute and then decide that with only a day and half left, over 50 miles on my boots, and because I have never even shot at Mulie before I was going to try to take him. I don't have a good rest where I was kneeling and the deer was way out. I had one more tree to use as cover to get closer and lucky enough there was a deadfall sitting at its base. I dropped my pack and belly crawled to the base of the last fir tree. I glass out in the gully and I can see that he is still there. I rest my gun on the log and have a lock solid hold. I pull out my range finder and try to range him. Click.... nothing.... click...click....click.. nothing. There was swaying prairie grass right in front of my rangefinder so I couldn't get a range. I can't stand or sit to get above the grass... so I tossed my rangefinder down in disgust. I settled back into my scope. I am guessing that he is at 350 yards. My bullet drops about 10" at this range so I put the crosshair right at the top of his back, long exhale, KABOOOM! Nothing..... F$%K! Deer is still standing there and looking the other way because the sound bounced off the rock face 800 yards away. I jack another round in, hold on the same spot and squeeze....KABOOM! NOTHING! But this time I see the a dead tree that was just behind him splinter right above his back. AHHHH,,,,, full panic mode sets in. The deer now starts to move. He heads up the little gully and actually come about 25 yards closer and stops broadside again. This time I level the crosshair right on his boiler room and squeeze... KABOOM...... sphhht. He buckles and starts to run up the gully. At the same time a much larger buck that I never saw runs past him and out of the gully. He gets about 35 yards and tips over. Mule deer down! I range the distance now that I could stand and he only 250 yards. I shot over his back twice! Quick walk over and there he lay...



He is a small 4x4, but I am very happy with him. Had a great hunt, had some monsters in my crosshairs, and in the end I earned every once of him.



 
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Meatseeker

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Truly a fantastic trip. Like mbVT said if this looks like something you would enjoy.. then go do it! The hunting is really not that hard. For a fun DIY hunt it is about 50% physical prepartion, 30% planning and logistics, and 20% hunting effort. All of you big woods whitetail trackers would excel at this type of hunting. Just be physically prepared to put a lot of miles on the boots. Figuring out the mule deer isn't that hard. They like to stay cool and they need water every day. Plan your hunt around that and you will see deer.

A few things you absolutely need to have;

1.)Good optics. A good pair of 10x42 bino's is a minimum. I packed in a small tridpod with an adaptor and this made long hours of glassing much nicer. If you can swing a spotting scope that would be great to.

2.)Good hiking boots. Don't bring your knee high muck boots or whitetail tracking boots here. You need supportive hikers with an aggressive tread.

3.) A good framepack capable of packing out deer quarters. Most places you shoot a deer you are going to have to quarter it and pack it out.

4.) A hydration bladder. Its dry out there, you are going to be walking a lot miles. I drank about 3 liters per day while hunting

5.) A small survival kit in case you need to spend the night in the woods. Fire making supplies, water filter, space blanket or space bivvy bag, and some food (nuts and candy bars)

6.) A quality GPS.

7.) A gun capable of shooting comfortably out to 300 yards.


I cant tell you all enough how good the quality of public land hunting is out there. It really is a great place to hunt.
 

rpc55

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some awesome country there! congrats on a great hunt
 

sneaky_pete000

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This is awesome. I'm staying put while my kids are young, but in the next few years, I plan on hitting some DIY hunts like this. Its inspiring to see someone work hard and accomplish what they set out for Meatseeker...nice work.
 

mdab27

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Awesome! I would love to do that someday. Looks like a ton of fun! IF you dont' mind, how much did it run you $$? I guess it helps you have a buddy who lives out that way.
 

Cuse

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I also find the idea of doing this to be incredible and would love to do so. Congrats, this seems like an incredible time.
 

BDB

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Great write up, thanks for sharing and congrats on the buck. I used to hunt NM, CO and ID for elk and deer, one place a year. All DIY trips into the back country, it is an amazing experience for sure!
 

JDK

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Great hunt.

Did you have to draw tags or can you purchase them over the counter?
 

Bucksaw

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Really enjoyed reading this, sounds like you had a great trip. Congrats on the deer. Now that you have been there anything you would do differently?
 

Meatseeker

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JDK: This area is a draw only area. For a non-resident on average you will need 2 preference points to draw a mule deer buck tag for the third rifle season. So you could draw a tag after two years or at worst after 3 years of applying. Add a year of preference points to draw a bull elk tag for the same unit.

mdab27: Rough cost assuming you have the right equipment (pack, boots etc) and would be splitting it with one other guy I would put at $2,000. Airfare: $400, Tag: $350, Food: $250, Truck Rental: $250, Luggage Fees/Shipping (meat, camping equipment): $350, Incidentals: $400.

You could do it cheaper with 4 guys, a club cab pick-up, and a travel trailer to carry all your equipment if you have the time and will to add 3+ days of driving to the trip
 




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