Mule Deer

Persistence or Luck? - A Colorado Mule Deer Story

August 06, 2021 | Pnuma Outdoors

Author: Joe Kavanaugh

It started after becoming a statical anomaly on the draws this year, for the people that nerd out on the draw odds stats, you know what I mean. I was left with no tags and a bad attitude. However, I did have one option, to find and buy a landowner voucher. Yeah, I know, that would make me an accomplish in the growing problem of money ruining hunting… It’s a rich man’s game, well I’m not that!  Fortunately, I was able to track one down. Unfortunately, it was in a unit I had never stepped foot in. Since I was helping out my good buddy with a once in a life-time sheep tag in July and August, I was left with exactly 2 days to scout.



I made the most of those 2 days and stomped out as many miles on my boots as I could. As well as covering most of the unit in the truck… and with all that effort, I was able to locate a grand total of 2 bucks that I would be call “shooters”. TWO! Only T.W.O… I guess that is what I get for not putting in the time, but it was better than nothing!


Shooter Located

On the first morning of opening day, I was glassing the basin for my bigger “shooter” and found him... and realized very quickly I had given this buck too much credit and he wasn’t what I thought. A little confused and pissed, I didn’t know what to do…. So obviously, I did what most high-country hunters do, I went straight up the mountain to check a different basin. Which was a huge waste of time and energy and quite frankly a nice kick in the rear! I came back to the original basin and hoped to find a deer that had been dropped from the heavens... which, in hindsight it may have actually happened. Cause the first deer I found was a 4x4. Spoiler Alert, it was the buck I ended up killing. But trust me, the story doesn’t end there and not that easy.

At that point I didn’t think he was a great buck, but respectable... I know, a buck in the hand is better then, you get it. I figured it was worth an approach and thought might as well get a failed stalk under my belt (great attitude, I know). It was later in the day and thermals and the directional winds were consistent, so I started my approach... following deer trails thru the tall willows I got to the patch I had marked on my map. After a few minutes of stalking around this pine tree, I saw velvet tips slowly walking towards me. It was him and another smaller buck, his “bodyguard”. They were 55 yards at this point, I came to full draw three times and every time the smaller buck stepped in front of him.


Nothing But Air

I tried to hold my draw as long as possible, but I had to let down. Catching a little movement, the smaller buck knew something wasn’t right and started to walk away. Being within 60 yards of these deer for 10 minutes, my emotions were firing! As the 4x4 started to walk off, I ranged him, stopped him with a deer bleat, came to full draw and proceeded to send my arrow over his back... I had just caught the worst case of buck fever I had ever experienced. Swing and a miss!

The next day I looked all over that basin and couldn’t turn him back up, figuring he was in the next county by now, I packed up my camp and hiked out and on to plan B.


Second Chances

Call it Karma, call it luck, I call it skill… totally kidding. I was able to turn up my secondary buck, which honestly was bigger and should have been my primary buck. Oh well, live and learn. I was able to bed him and get to 70 yards, but the willows were too tall for a shot. So, I had to wait him out, which took 5 hours... 5 hours of no cover, no shade, and basically no water... brutal. But I knew the buck only had a couple options on where he could go when he moved, and all of those options would give me a shot. I liked my chances if I could keep my wits about me. Like I had hoped, he got up and slowly fed up the mountain, giving me a chance to sneak along the edge of the willows and cut him off. I ranged him 3-4 times, and it looked like he would stay on the trail at 46 yards.  I dialed my sight, looked over the willows and he was in the opening. I stood up, settled myself and the pin and let it fly... my stomach sank, again, right over his back again... wanting to cry (might have a bit) and throw my bow, I re-ranged where he stopped. Obviously, he had taken a different trail that I didn’t see while I was trying to stay hidden.

Devastated and knowing you don’t get many chances like these in one season. I figured I could head back in after my opening day buck. Instead of packing in camp, I would go light and fast and try to mob the 4-mile hike into the basin.



Third Time’s A Charm

Making great time, I got to my glassing spot around mid-morning. Again, the first deer I picked up was the same 4x4 I had missed. He looked like he was in his primary bed for the day and I made quick work to slip into 90 yards or so with very little effort.  As I was cresting a ridge, I heard the willows explode... but it wasn’t the deer, it was a moose. The moose ran out and the deer followed suit but had no idea what was happening. The buck ran about 200 yards and bedded. This bed was in a much better spot for him, not so much for me. I stayed at 200 yards and played the waiting game again. He got up 5 times, walked in a 10-yard circle and bedded back down. As the sun started to set and I was losing my patience after 6 hours, he got up and started to feed up the basin. I knew this was my only chance. I was able to sneak down to the edge of the creek, where I was able to parallel him with the creek and high willows in between us. We did this dance for about 125 yards, and seeing an opening coming up, I knew that’s where my shot would be coming from. As he fed out into the opening, I came to full draw, I anchored, bubbled my sight and squeezed the thumb trigger...  as the arrow was in flight, he took a step and the arrow hit him back... but a lethal shot. I marked the last spot where he bedded and back out, mostly due to fading light. At first light, I was on the blood trial. He only went about 150 yards from the shot and was done.


When I walked up on him, there was zero ground shrinkage. I thought he was a mid 160’s buck but after putting the tape on him, I was pretty far off, he scored 181 1/4.

Thrilled on how this hunt turned out. It sounds “Cliché” but it shows that you can turn any situation into a positive one, if you’re willing to put in the hard work and stay after it.

- Joe Kavanaugh

Instagram: @joe.kavanaugh