It is 3 a.m., and my dad is ready to head out. After weeks of anticipation, the time had finally come. Finally, I was going on my first hunting trip for a mule deer. After jumping out of bed, stuffing my face with whatever breakfast was available, I boarded our van. We had started packing the evening before for a weekend of hunting and camping under the stars, and now it was finally time for the adventure to begin.
A distance of 105 miles from my home in Highlands Ranch awaited our hunting spot; Kremmling, Colorado . It was still dark at 6 a.m. when we reached our youth hunt coordinator, Ted Zagone’s, quiet residential subdivision. Mr. and Mrs. Zagone were very welcoming. Mrs. Shelly Zagone offered us hot chocolate, coffee and sandwiches. Mrs. Zagone showed me the pictures of her son who serves in the United States Navy. She was so proud of him and missed him so much. I felt so happy for her and hoped that I would make my parents feel proud someday of my accomplishments.
My dad grabbed some coffee and soon we piled into Mr. Zagone’s huge white truck to go meet Lyle Sidener, Area Wildlife Manager. We were later accompanied by another youth hunter, Shiloh, and her mother, Tonya French. It was still a little chilly in the crisp morning air. Both Mr. Zagone and AWM Sidener had mentored us earlier in August to range our gun and get on target. I remember Shiloh being an excellent shot during practice. After quick greetings and a gear check, we all loaded up into Mr. Zagone’s truck and went past the locked gates of the Rusty Spurr Ranch.
As we rolled into the ranch, we came up on a corral area with some beautiful, brown quarter horses. This would be where the first hunter, in this case Shiloh, would set up and wait, safely away from the horses. Shiloh, Mrs. French and AWM Sidener got off the truck and slowly melted into the brush.
We decided to drive further away up the hill. Sure enough the sound of the approaching truck had a group of about eight does and bucks cross right ahead of us into the tall aspen. I spotted them immediately in the morning light. We drove around a curve so we were out of their sight and stopped. We planned to walk in a semi-circle toward them so as not to spook them and gradually push them to Shiloh.
Our hike took us through some sage brush, aspen forest and fallen timber. We made noisy progress through the fallen leaves and underbrush. Through the trees we could see white butts leaping across the woods. We saw them split up, some went downhill and while a few more disappeared into the heavy-timbered dark forest up the hill.
Bang! A solitary shot rang out in the quiet morning. The shot appeared to have come from the direction of Shiloh. We stopped in our tracks and listened. Sure enough, in a few minutes we found out that Shiloh had her deer down.
We quickly got back to the truck and went to meet our group. Shiloh was smiling as she stood over her deer. She had made a perfect shot and dropped the deer where it stood. We all congratulated Shiloh on her perfect kill-shot. AWM Sidener got down to field dress the doe.
Hearing the shot, Mr. Han Smith from the Rusty Spurr also drove up. He congratulated Shiloh on her harvest. After a few pictures, we loaded the doe on to the truck and Shiloh bid farewell to us and was dropped off by Mr. Zagone.
Mr. Smith gave us a few tips and advice on where he sees deer on the ranch. The corral and the surrounding area seemed to be the best spots to hunt. He suggested walking the adjoining ridge as a great hike and vantage point to see the entire area.
As Shiloh drove away, I hoped I could execute a similar kill-shot and be successful. I felt happy that Shiloh could return home and join in her school’s football game as a cheerleader. I smiled to myself thinking, just how many kids could say that they harvested a deer first thing in the morning and were back at their school game by 9 a.m.
Morning Hunt Part II
As the deer seemed to have headed into the forest, AWM Sidener, my dad and I decided to hike into the forest to look for them. Interestingly, the first thing that I learned on my hike was about our surrounding vegetation. We had pine, aspen and sagebrush. AWM Sidener pointed to the sagebrush and said it was called Artemisia tridentata, commonly called “big sagebrush.” He plucked a few green leaves from a sagebrush to show me why it is call tridentata.
The three ridges of the green leaves really did look a trident and resembled the contours of a tooth. Native animals and birds depend heavily on sage seeds and leaves. Most of them have evolved to digest the oils present in the sage. These oils also give sage its characteristically strong smell. In the dead of winter and drought, the big sagebrush provides critical sustenance to a variety of animal and bird species.
I repeated the name a few times to myself trying to memorize it. I think I will remember tridentata all my life. And maybe let a few more folks know about the mighty sagebrush.
No sooner did we start our hike, maybe 50 yards into it, we came across blood on the snow—sign of a fresh kill with at least two large blood stains on the snow.
AWM Sidener inspected it carefully. We could see a few shreds of mule deer skin and hair and there seemed to be some coyote activity. There were no bones to be found. AWM Sidener suspected that it may be a mountain lion kill, where the carcass was carried away by the lion to be hidden for later consumption. Also AWM Sidener told us that mountain lions would stuff their kill under a tree or bury it under leaves and twigs so no other animals would take it. The lion would then return the carcass and eat it over a week. I looked around warily. We could be watched by the lion right at that moment. I took a step closer to dad and AWM Sidener. I heard lions usually prefer smaller prey. This was to be a deer hunt, not the other way around.
The three of us continued our hike into the timber with an eye out of the surroundings. We decided that dad would walk further up into the timber while we walked a parallel path in case deer would get pushed downhill toward us. On his walk, dad cut across fresh tracks and it looked like the deer had moved away from us instead of toward us.
As we did not see any deer, we decided to meet up with Ted who had returned after dropping of Shiloh and her mom. Mr. Smith also swung by. After some discussion, we devised another strategy, AWM Sidener and I would be stationary and wait, while dad and Mr. Zagone walked the high-ridge perimeter and maybe push deer down toward us.
After about an hour, this gentle pushing technique worked like magic. Deer did get pushed, but they were too far from us, like 250-300 yards and moving really fast. The sun was almost overhead, so it was decided to abort as the deer could get spooked out of the area. We planned to take a break and resume later in the afternoon, as now the sun was high and hot. During the heat of the afternoon, deer usually find a quiet shady spot to rest and ruminate. Usually they are active later in the day as they are up to feed again. It was impossible to creep up on them as the forest floor was strewn with dry leaves and broken twigs.
We returned to Mr. Zagone’s house. While he took the opportunity to get some car maintenance work done, we grabbed a bite to eat and rested up. In the afternoon we saw a bald eagle soar up in the sky. The majestic eagle was hunting for fish over the Green Mountain Reservoir.
That evening after refilling water and feeling refreshed, we met back around 3:30 p.m. It was still hot but some shadows were slowly forming. At the gate of the Rusty Spurr we took time to glass the edges of the timber. AWM Sidener who is an expert in animal behavior was watching for deer to emerge from the forest. After what seemed to be an eternity, lo and behold, two does appeared almost like ghosts. At first it was hard to even spot them due to their coloration blending with their surroundings. The deer were too far away, so we decided to try getting closer and put a stalk on them. Mr. Zagone and dad drove away to look for other possibilities. AWM Sidener and I crept up on the deer and got closer. The wind was all wrong and blowing directly from us to them. The deer smelled us long before we got ready to shoot and slowly melted back into the timber for safety. I never even got set up for a clear shot. We aborted our stalk and started walking back. On the way back the wind changed moving toward us now. AWM Sidener and I traded a knowing look at each other.
Suddenly, we saw Mr. Zagone’s truck coming back toward us and dad wildly waving his arms. They had found more deer further up the trail. So we quickly jumped into the truck and headed back to where they saw them.
On the way AWM Sidener spotted a doe just 50 yards away, and we came to a slow halt. That stopping sound of the truck made a few more deer pop up their heads up around the first deer. They seemed startled and started bounding off into the timber.
We got off the vehicle and got setup for a shot. There were about six does with one huge buck. The deer reached the timber and slowed down. The buck stood broadside looking at us. The nearest doe at about 150 yards started feeding facing away from us, offering a perfect “Texas Heart Shot.” I shifted my attention to a doe deeper into the trees. AWM Sidener asked me to pay attention at the doe closest to us. He was sure that it would slowly graze to a better broadside profile.
As things calmed down, I got a perfect clear broadside view of the doe. I slowly steadied my scope crosshairs on the doe and thumbed my gun off safe. I started squeezing the trigger slowly. When the gun went off, it surprised me.
With the recoil, I lost sight of the deer for a second. I quickly reloaded and acquired my target through my sights. Oh No! She was running. I followed the doe again. AWM Sidener was watching all along. I saw the deer veer off to the left, stumble and fall. I waited for it to get up. It didn’t. Deer Down!
Instead of all of us going to look for the deer, AWM Sidener stayed back to not lose sight of the spot where the deer fell. We carefully marked the spot with a few reference trees and fallen logs. Dad and I quickly walked towards the spot. Dad spotted her right away. I approached slowly to make sure it wasn’t going to get up and scamper away. I got next to it and poked it to make sure it was dead. It lay in the middle of a wild rose bush, reminding me of the last time I got pricked by a thorny bush. I could imagine the pain. We moved it out of the bush and into clearing. There were smiles all around for harvesting such a beautiful deer. A thousand things raced through my mind: I felt remorse about taking a life. I felt sad for the deer. I was glad that I had practiced so my aim was true and it was an instant kill. I was proud of my first mule deer doe.
My mentors, AWM Sidener, Mr. Zagone and dad congratulated me on a “One Shot, One Kill” well-executed hunt.
Dad’s rules are simple on hunts: I was to carry my gun, take care of my gear and field dress my harvest. So with a few starting tips from AWM Sidener on field dressing, I got started. This was not an easy task for me but with some help and advice, before long the deer was field dressed. I traced the entry wound on the carcass and it seemed like a precise shot. I signed the carcass tag of my deer license and attached it to the leg. We dragged and lugged the deer to the truck and headed back—a pretty successful day of hunting.
Thank You Rusty Spurr, HPP and CPW
I was fortunate to experience a premium mule deer hunt which included patient advice, tips and tricks about deer hunting, habitat, field dressing and safe gun-handling. My mentors were super friendly, informative and took the time to explain to me reading sign and the art of anticipating animal behavior. I really appreciate the effort my mentors took to clear up their busy schedules and took time away from their family on a Saturday.
This opportunity for Shiloh and me was specially created through Middle Park Habitat Partnership Program. The HPP develops partnerships among landowners, land managers, sportsmen, the public and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reduce wildlife conflicts, particularly conflicts associated with forage and fencing. I am grateful to all ranch owners who provide permission for youth to hunt on their property. These are rare occasions when new youth hunters can learn new skills in a safe, unpressured environment.
Thank You Rusty Spurr, HPP, and CPW for inviting me. My first mule deer hunt experience was really awesome, as I got to be outdoors, hike beautiful country, stalk deer and understand more about the habitat that makes Colorado sustain such an amazing variety of wild animals. I’m also grateful for the chance to make that unique connection with nature.
Written by Shiv Ghosh. Ghosh is 14 years old, lives in Highlands Ranch, is an Eagle Scout and an avid outdoorsman. Colorado Outdoors congratulates Ghosh on his safe and successful hunt.