The Deer Hunters Four Letter Word...LUCK
By Larry Pasero Jr.
What is luck? How does it work? Why do some appear to be luckier than others, do we have a say in the luck we enjoy? Let's start with the Dictionary definition of luck.
2. Good fortune or prosperity; success: We wish you luck.
The words luck, lucky, luckiest, luckier...are some of the most common words spent over a campfire or heard during any given deer season. Why do we put so much stock in luck? What is luck to the modern day Muley hunter? Do we need it? Often "luck" smiles on our quarry and passes us off to its cousin, better known as "defeat". Offered here is a working example of Luck, from a wide eyed first time muley hunter.
I first questioned both sides of luck one late afternoon in a deep Colorado canyon. If you look on a topo. map it's referred to as a gulch. With a high rim rock ledge to my left and a pinion juniper rim to my right, it felt as though we were driving through the gauntlet. The canyon spread only a few hundred yards from side to side and would be as familiar to any western hunter as the walk to the school bus stop. As "Luck" would have it, the rut was in full swing. Deer and elk weren't very "lucky" just two years earlier. At the tail end of the winter of '92 "Luck" took a few months off and thousands of animals perished in late, deep snow and poor winter range conditions.
"Luck" hadn't given me much to work with in the first 3 days of a 5-day trip. As we crept down the center of the canyon in our trusty old Jeep, I caught myself dosing off several times. The gentle sway and bump of the ride and the heat from the vents slowly lulled me to sleep. "Lucky" for me Dad was driving. All at once "luck" seemed to change and smile on our little Gulch. Just ahead, not more than a hundred yards off was a group of does, seven of them. I thought, "seven lucky does". As they grouped up to chuckle at the dirty red jeep limping to a stop, I slid out into the crisp 7-degree Colorado afternoon. "Lucky" for me I remembered my sock hat.
As I scanned the group, desperate to find a set of antlers, I noticed the uneasiness of the group. They were awfully intent on looking back up the steep canyon wall. As "luck" would have it, a nice 3x4 buck was watching the drama unfold and thought it right to contribute to the scene. This old buck exploded like a derby entry hot for the rail, in great leaps and bounds he closed the distance and passed the group on a dead run. I quickly mounted my Ruger 7mm mag. and poised myself for my first ever shot at a muley buck. Little did I know pulling that 5 pound trigger would start a lifelong addiction.
Suddenly, calm came over me, yeah buck fever was rocking my world, but a sense of quiet came over me. The buck was moving from my left and charging hard to get to the juniper stands on my right. As the duplex passed his shoulder I unconsciously squeezed and absorbed the recoil of the magnum charge. As I re-chambered, I could the see the buck stumble and regain his feet. The brute strength and fight of nature over took this buck and helped him to the base of the hill. I quickly flanked right over a small sage bump and found him surrounded by his harem. I was "lucky" he wasn't up in the trees yet. The buck was "lucky" my follow up shot was low. The first shot on the run had grazed his brisket. The second had missed completely. "Lucky" for us he was leaving a good blood trail on fresh snow. Not so "lucky" was the fact that a snowstorm was materializing as we searched. As the light of day began to give up and fall behind the western slopes, I frantically played cat and mouse with this buck for what seemed like forever and a day. Dad and I decided the best-laid plan would be to let him fade over night and pick him up the next morning. It seemed so simple. Little did I know "luck" had just exited with most of the remaining November light.
Darkness happens like a snap of your fingers in this part of the world and "un-luckily" we hadn't grabbed our packs with flashlights and survival gear. No biggee I remember thinking, the Jeep is just one canyon over. Where's "luck" when you need it?
We started to head back through knee-deep snow. The first hour had passed without much "luck"; we had been turned around on top of the ridge. Our hastened pace bled the confidence out of our frozen stiff bones. We'll be lucky if we ever find the Jeep I shamefully thought. "Unlucky" for Dad, a few branches submerged over a deep spot covered in powder lured his legs deep to the waist. With no water, damp clothes and the mercury dropping, "luck" was long gone, and desperation had joined us for the journey. It pains me to type these next three words, "WE WERE LOST".
After the majority of our energy was lost getting Dad out of the snow hole, we stumbled down the hill to what appeared to be the center of the canyon. With nothing more than an INDIGLO light on my watch, we came up with a plan. Dad would steadily move down the canyon in search of the Jeep, I would trek up canyon. First one to find the Old Girl would honk and rescue the other. Off we went. On that starless, moonless Colorado night I learned the true meaning of cold, dark, and lonely. Never since have I been in a situation that denied me the vision of my hand not six inches from my face. Confidence had faded faster than the afternoon light. "Lucky" for me the chained up Jeep had cut a pretty good track in the frozen ground. On hand and knee I crawled, one hand at a time, trying with all my senses to stay in the rut. In the canyon I could hear two wild horses we had seen on countless occasions. They paralleled me. I must have scared them as much as they scared me. They hissed and whinnied, stomped and bolted back and forth. For the sum of all fears, the sound of another living thing was a simple reassurance and inspiration to press along, so I did, hand over hand followed by soaking wet knees.
When driving along in the Jeep, the terrain felt flat. On hand and knee you come to appreciate the gentle elevation changes carved by hundreds of thousands of years of erosion and runoff. Every stone and pebble became familiar. Every yard, a victory of its own. I remember inching my way over three gentle rises in my search. As I topped out over each, I thought I'd be "lucky" enough to find what I so desperately sought. The repetition became nauseating, hand, knee, hand, knee…stop listen…Horse stomping in protest of my existence. Over and over this sequence and cadence repeats. The fear of being lost or slowly freezing to death is a sobering experience. I want to kick myself for ignoring the rules of the game. Never leave your truck without the right tools. That thought is interrupted by the discovery that about 14 hands ago it appears I lost the feeling of cold. Some sort of drive began to take over. A second wind? Some primal urge to fight, not take flight?
"Lucky" for me I remember the lyrics to two Chris Ledoux songs and another by Hank Williams Jr. As I sang to the horses my pace quickened. "Lucky" for me these horses enjoyed bad country singing. With renewed confidence I started up the third rise. I stopped just before the top, as I had done at the last two rises. I collected myself, took a few deep breaths, and tried to envision the Jeep ahead. Once I felt confident, I would continue up over the little crest and expected to see the Jeep, until this third try, I had failed.
I steadily placed hand in front of knee and peaked over the third rise, there in all its glory was a beautiful red 4 door Jeep Cherokee, with two doors open and the dome light on. I guess in some twisted way, I was "lucky" that we had left the doors open, otherwise there would have been no way to see it. The fear of the wild horses trampling me or becoming mountain lion fare quickly subsided. New fears materialized. How was Dad doing?? Do I have frostbite? Where are the keys? Will the Jeep start after having the doors open for over two hours in single digit weather? There was only one way to find out. "Lucky" for me dad left the keys in the ignition. Like the best Sears "Diehard Battery" Ad on TV, the old Jeep fired up. I honked a few times and decided letting off a round would send an even longer traveling message that I had found our rig and help was on the way.
As I motored down the road I glanced at the tachometer. By my groggy calculations, I had traveled an honest half mile by hand in snow ruts to find a Jeep with the doors wide open in single digit weather right before a snow storm would dump a foot of clean powder. Pretty "lucky", ehh? After nearly getting stuck twice, I found Dad a few hundred yards from where we split up. "Luckily" we had some water and some dry clothes to change into. With smiles from ear to ear, and a sense of relief, we putted back to camp for a hot fire and some dinner. It seems most of that nights conversation revolved around how "lucky" we were to be alive. Selfishly, in the back of my mind I wondered how "lucky" I would be to find my first muley buck tomorrow morning. Somehow, Dad knew what I was thinking, and assured me that the buck would be there for me.
The alarm clock went off at 5, even though it didn't seem to be too happy about being up that early. I was "lucky" the fire dried all my thermal underwear overnight…it was 3 degrees! After a quick breakfast we warmed up the trusty old Jeep. Off we went to find my first muley buck on a beautiful blue November Colorado morning. The eerie silence made us feel like we had returned to the scene of a crime. "Lucky" for us we picked up a good blood trail. After an hour, I was excited to find a good amount of blood in the bucks bed, surely he would be stone dead ahead. Another hour later I felt pretty "unlucky" when we came upon a gut pile; "lucky" for someone else, they finished or found my buck. I felt good the deer wasn't wasted.
Some would say you make your own "luck", others might believe you can be a victim of "luck", good or bad. I've never thought I was "lucky" to get a buck, just "lucky" to get the opportunity. One thing is for sure, you can't get "lucky" seated in a lawn chair at camp holding a sandwich. Someone once said that luck is made with equal parts hard work and preparation. Learn a lesson from my experience, make your luck by being prepared for the worst, and you'll feel nothing but lucky when the results are favorable. Looking back, this wasn't a life or death situation, without a little "luck", it could have been.
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