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"Big Buck Success"
Written by Cory Dolechek

Big Buck Success
Prior to the Colorado license application deadline I was doing my usual scouring over draw stats and research material. I had three deer preference points and I wanted to spend them wisely. I was trying to decide between building points for an area that I had taken some nice bucks in during previous years versus applying for a unit that I hadn't hunted before that would allow me to hunt the current year. I chose to take a chance on the area that I wouldn't have to wait on, so it wasn't a big surprise when the draw results came out and I had the tag. I started my research immediately. After contacting the usual sources; previous hunters, wardens, biologists and local people, I had more leads on places to hunt than I had time for.

I spent a couple weekends during the summer and a couple more weekends before the season opened scouting the area and learning the roads. I hadn't seen any big bucks and I wasn't seeing a lot of deer, alive or hanging on game poles. Before the season started, I doubted my decision. I pondered turning the tag back in, getting my preference points back and waiting a few more years to draw a different tag. My research supported the trophy potential of the unit, so I chose to keep the tag.

The season opened with a snowstorm. Because of the poor visibility, glassing was not an option so I hit the timber to hunt for the morning. It didn't take long before I cut some fresh tracks. A little later I was watching a nice buck push his does up the hill through the aspens. He was about 25 to 26 inches wide, heavy and dark horned. He hadn't grown rear forks so he was safe from me. It was very encouraging as the season was only an hour old and it appeared the rut was on. I spent the rest of the day hunting the aspens without seeing anymore bucks. I hunted some open country that evening and I watched a big buck on private ground run into the oakbrush when he heard an ATV coming down the trail. There was some BLM bordering that private so I went down and found where the buck had jumped a fence onto public. I tracked him until I ran out of daylight and sadly never saw him again.

Big Buck Success
The second and third days of the season were uneventful. It warmed up and most of the snow melted off. It appeared the warmer weather had stalled the rut. I decided to pull camp and head to another area. I went into town to gas up that night. At the gas station I met a couple of guys that obviously took their deer hunting very seriously. They had already passed on some bucks that would make most hunters' knees shake. They suggested an area to try where they'd seen a good buck. That's all I needed to hear. I had a plan for day four.

The fourth morning came with strong wind, it was no surprise that glassing didn't turn anything up at dawn. I headed into the timber before the sun had cleared the horizon. After a while I cut a fresh buck track headed up hill. It hadn't been long since he'd been through. From his trail I could see he was picking his path carefully through the trees. He always chose the thickest cover so as not to expose himself. A couple of times he ran out of good cover and he was forced to move through sparse aspen stands. He'd run through them. Everytime I tracked him into one of those openings I feared that he had caught my scent, because he'd run like he was spooked. But, once he made it through the openings and back into the timber he would settle down and return to a fast walk. The buck was taking me for a good hike that morning; he never stopped once, going uphill the whole time. Then his trail meandered through some deadfall. I could tell he had slowed down a bit. I figured he was thinking about bedding down. I stopped and glassed the timber. Waited a while, took a few steps and glassed again. The wind had been swirling and I was worried about him picking up my scent.

Then it happened! I took a couple of steps and there he was, 70 yards away, standing in the timber. I thumbed the safety off as I raised the gun to find him. He was facing away from me and looking downhill. The shooting lane through the timber was too narrow and I couldn't see his horns. He knew something wasn't right. He kept re-positioning his ears, trying to pick up a noise he'd heard. I had no idea how big he was. Then he turned his head and I caught a glimpse of the right side of his rack. I saw he had an extra point or two on that side, but I still didn't know how big he was. He didn't stand long, he started flicking his tail and I knew he was going to leave. He stepped forward and I lost sight of him in the trees. I moved to the right trying to pick him up again. I caught another glimpse of him as he walked through the timber, but it was too thick. I feared that I wouldn't see him again.

Then I got a break. I had moved enough that a good shooting lane had appeared. I knew it was my only chance. I caught movement as he headed uphill towards the shooting lane. I leaned up against a pine to get ready for the shot. He walked into the lane and I saw enough of his head to know that I wasn't going to pass on this one. At the sound of the shot, I saw him go down in the scope before the recoil took my sight picture away. I jacked another round into the chamber and headed for him, still following his trail. I found his bed before I got to him. He hadn't been in it long. When I got to him he was done. The bullet had broken his neck before he even heard the sound of the shot.

What a great buck! It's hard to find words to describe all of those feelings flooding your head as your mind is trying to catch up with what just happened. I sat down next to him and re-played everything over and over again in my mind, hoping that I would never forget anything from those last ten seconds.

As I was packing the buck off his mountain that afternoon I could see from his tracks that he hadn't left his security area since it had snowed. His hormones must have gotten the best of him that morning. He had dropped some elevation to check for does. But he still had his wits about him as he returned to his bedding area once the sun started lighting up the day.

I'm glad I didn't turn that tag back in before the season started!