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A Season with a Difference
Written by Jay Ortega

A Season with a Difference
Opening day of the 2004 Colorado big game archery season found me sneaking into my favorite hunting spot, a secluded meadow below a series of avalanche shoots. On my climb through the darkness, my fears that there would be no elk in the area were laid to rest by the sound of a bull bugling from the steep terrain above me. As legal shooting light approached I set up on the west end of the meadow behind some cover that gave a good view of any approaching elk. I removed an arrow from my quiver and placed my bow on the ground in front of me. My first series of calls were met with an immediate response from a bull high above me and another one further to the north. A third bull then joined in. This one sounded much closer. He sounded like he was at the other end of the meadow. I held out little hope for pulling in the two distant bulls, but I felt I had a real chance for the one at the far end of the meadow.

I began to get more aggressive with my calling and the nearest bull responded in kind. I picked up a branch and began to rake the brush and ground in front of me. The nearest bull screamed back his response. He sounded like he was getting closer. I was peering through the bush in front of me trying to catch a glimpse of the approaching bull when I heard the sickening sound of a branch breaking directly behind me. I had that "busted" feeling of a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I slowly moved my head around and saw an elk a short distance behind me. At first I thought it was a cow coming to see what all the fuss was about, but as the elk continued out of the shadows and I saw a massive rack. The elk stopped 15 yards away with his head behind a tree. I knew this would be my only chance. I grabbed my bow a tried to knock the arrow. The arrow wouldn't slide over the string. In my panic, I saw that my release had somehow hooked on the string between the knocks. What followed could have been a scene from a Keystone Cops movie as I fumbled with the arrow and the release. Finally, I got the arrow knocked and the release in place. I turned hoping to find the bull still with his head behind the tree, but he had vanished.

I tried to put the missed opportunity out of my mind and returned to calling the near by bull. Despite my best efforts, he remained hung up out of range. As the sun climbed over the mountains the elk fell silent and moved off to their bedding areas.

My last few years of big game hunting had been a study in Murphy's Law. If it could go wrong, it did. But this year there was a difference. This year I had finally drawn an either sex deer tag for this area. In addition to some nice elk, I had been seeing some truly impressive bucks.

A Season with a Difference
I hunted hard the rest of that day and the next two. I saw more elk and a few deer, but never got another opportunity for a shot. I left slightly down hearted, but vowed to return in a few weeks.

After two long weeks of work I was able to return with two of my hunting buddies that had muzzleloader tags. With the start of the muzzleloader season, the woods were alive with the sounds of hunters on ATV's and motorcycles. I took my bow and hiked as far as I could away from the main trail. I saw one very nice bull with his cows and some deer, but all too far away for a shot. As darkness approached, I saw another hunter appear in the meadow I was watching. I decided to abandon the meadow in favor of hunting my way back toward camp along a secluded game trail. I was trying to hurry and be quiet at the same time as the light was fading quickly. As I came up over a raise, I nearly bumped into a deer. The deer made a few short bounds and stopped. I was shocked by the size of the rack on the deer. I tried desperately to find a shooting lane, but some short aspens were in the way. I stepped to my left to try to find an opening, but the deer spooked and ran to the top of a nearby ridge. I thought he would continue on out of sight, but he stopped and stared back at me. I searched for a shooting lane and found a narrow gap in the aspens. The release of the arrow was followed by a loud Whack! The deer quickly raced out of sight.

It had all happened so fast that buck fever did not set in until after the shot. My knees began to shake. Had the deer really been as big as I thought? Had the shot been good or had that loud whack been my arrow hitting a tree?

After waiting a few minutes, I walked to where the deer had been standing. My yardage estimate had been accurate, but I could not locate my arrow or any blood. The light was now gone and I decided not to look for the deer with my flashlight for fear of pushing him out of the area. I had a very long night of replaying the shot over and over in my mind.

I was back at that spot at first light. After 20 minutes of not finding any sign, I was beginning to think I had missed the deer. Then, I noticed an aspen leaf with what looked like blood on it. While examining the leaf I noticed it was at the start of a heavy blood trail. After a short tracking job I found the deer. The buck, if anything, was bigger then I had thought. After drying, the deer was scored for Pope & Young. It scored 189 1/8 gross and 183 6/8 net. This buck of a lifetime had truly made it a season with a difference.

I would like to thank Ken Hill and Jeff Kostelecky for helping me pack my deer out, but mostly I would like to thank my wife Lisa for putting up with a husband that is obsessed with many types of hunting.