CPW Field Journal
When it comes to outdoors expertise, no one understands Colorado’s fishery and wildlife resources better than Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s diverse staff of wildlife managers, park rangers and biologists. For these dedicated individuals, working for CPW is not just an occupation but a way of life. When they’re not enforcing fish and game laws, patrolling state lands or conducting fish and wildlife research, most CPW employees are avid sportsmen and women who spend their leisure time hunting and angling throughout the state. Here, CPW staff share their personal stories and experiences, provide on-the-ground field updates and offer a unique, “inside” perspective on all things hunting and fishing in Colorado.
In this segment of CPW Field Journal, CPW employee Michael Scott shares his experiences big-game hunting with his son and daughter.
Hunting with My Kids
I can remember some of my first hunting trips when I was a kid. I remember sleeping on the floor next to the door so that my dad wouldn’t “forget” to bring me; nodding off in the Scout on the drive up to the hunting areas; and eating lunch with my dad, my brothers and my uncles on the tailgate while listening to the Denver Broncos game on the radio.
I also remember my first deer: a small 4×4 that my uncle Steve packed out, whole, on his back after we got tired of dragging it. At the time, I was pretty sure that it was the biggest buck I had ever seen. As a matter of fact, I remember many of those hunts much more clearly than hanging out with friends, playing sports or the many other activities of my youth. My childhood memories of hunting are the ones that mean the most to me.
This is why I try to make it a priority to take my kids and other family members with me when I go hunting. Having to compete with kids’ school and sports schedules, as well as planning which licenses to apply for based on preference points, etc., doesn’t always work out perfectly. But because it is important, we make it a priority and do the best that we can.
Both of my kids are hunters and have shot big-game animals before. My daughter Sarah is 16 years old and already has a doe and a cow elk to her credit. She brags that she is the first of her cousins to shoot an elk and the youngest to shoot a deer when she was just 12 years old. My son, Christian, has only been hunting for two years, but he harvested his first buck (a 2×3) last year.
This year, we decided to hunt the same unit again, this time without Christian’s cousins and uncles. They had all drawn fourth-season licenses and we had drawn third-season tags. I also had a third-season buck tag, as did my girlfriend Shannon, although, I really wasn’t planning to use my license except to back up Christian or Shannon, if needed. As it turned out, there was no need for a backup plan.
We only had a day and a half to hunt because Christian had football and school the week before. So we decided to hunt the second weekend of the season, when it worked with his schedule. The weather had been cold, and we hoped that the early snow had moved some of the deer out of the high-elevation timber and down into the pinion, juniper and sagebrush country that most of us associate with mule deer. Christian had higher aspirations this year. He told me that he was holding out for a heavy, dark-horned buck that was at least a 4×4. I grinned as I told him that his expectations may have to change by the second day, but that we would see what we could find. Although I had some other spots picked out to hunt, Christian was pretty sure that he wanted to go back to where he had killed his buck the previous season.
We spent the first hour of daylight hiking up a snow-encrusted ridge to get beyond where most of the other hunters had gone, and where we could glass hidden benches and hillsides. At one point, Christian and I split up from Shannon while she hiked through the trees below us. While we were sitting on a rocky outcropping, I saw a doe walking across the sagebrush flat about 200 yards below. Christian then saw a buck following behind. The buck, however, was definitely more interested in the doe than anything else.
I whispered to Christian to lie down on the rock and get ready for a shot, but he decided to try shooting from a sitting position. “Buck fever” then got the best of him. I watched the deer and waited for him to take a shot. Christian then changed from a sitting to a prone shooting position and again readied himself. The buck soon followed the doe into the trees, and we never saw him again. When I asked Christian why he didn’t shoot, he told me that he was shaking too badly and didn’t feel confident enough to pull the trigger. I assured him that he made the right decision, and that it was much better to pass on an iffy shot than take a chance on wounding an animal. He agreed. But I am sure he was haunted by thoughts of ending the season empty handed.
Shannon soon rejoined us, and we continued to hunt the remainder of the morning. We saw several other does and small bucks but nothing we wanted to shoot. That afternoon and evening, we hunted a different spot and saw no deer at all. I began to get nervous for Christian and Shannon. I wanted both of them to get a deer, but it was not looking good. The weather had been warmer during the last couple of days. The earlier snow that forced deer to seek lower ground was now starting to disappear. We needed a good plan for the next morning.
The next day, we decided, again, to hunt the spot where we had seen the buck the day before, but this time we decided to hike farther up the ridge. As we drove in that morning, Shannon suggested that we drive farther up the road to see if we could find a closer access point. While we were driving, she spotted a small buck. We all watched as it crossed a ravine and trotted down through the sagebrush. I looked at Christian and asked him if he had lowered his expectations yet. He said, “Yes, but not that much.” Hopefully, that little buck would make it to the next year and have an opportunity to grow.
We drove farther up toward the trailhead, and Shannon spotted a nice buck that was feeding in the service-berry bushes high on the ridge. We have a standing rule in our hunting camps: The person who spots the animal has the first opportunity to harvest it, and this was no exception. Despite being a seasoned hunter and having harvested a nice, 6-point bull several years earlier, Shannon has never killed a buck. This was a great opportunity for her. But instead of keeping the opportunity for herself, she pointed the deer out to Christian who then asked if he could shoot it. Shannon readily agreed.
We parked the truck and made our plan for stalking the buck — a 4×4 and slighlty larger than the one we saw the day before. All three of us hiked up the hillside, trying to be as quiet as possible in the crusty snow. We split up again, and I told Shannon that if she got the opportunity, she should shoot the buck. I didn’t want her to pass on taking a shot and have all of us go home empty handed.
As we crested the top of the hill, we could see the buck feeding a 100-yards away from us. The sagebrush was too tall for Christian to lie prone, but I didn’t want him to take a standing, offhand shot either. Christian knelt in the sagebrush and steadied himself for the shot. I could hear his breathing and see him visibly shaking. His nerves had gotten to him again, and he could not take a clean shot. Again, the buck walked out of sight.
Christian and I have practiced over and over on how to control breathing while shooting, but there is little that can prepare you for the adrenaline rush that comes when you are about to shoot at a live animal. We moved to a spot where we could see the buck again, and I whispered to him to take several long, deep breaths. I gave him the “OK,” and Christian again prepared for the shot. Suddenly, the rifle cracked with a loud “bang,” followed immediately by Christian yelling, “I got him! I got him!” For the second year in a row, Christian had made a clean, one-shot kill.
As we all stood admiring the buck, Christian could not stop talking. This buck was just what he wanted: a 4×4 that was dark and heavy. This was a beautiful buck by anyone’s standards. But for a 13-year-old boy, it was a true trophy. Later, Christian thanked Shannon for the “umpteenth” time for allowing him to shoot the buck. I could see that she was as happy for him as I was. And I could not have been more proud of both of them.