In Chapter 1 I described my first western bowhunt with John Lamicq in the Book Cliff Mountains of western Colorado. Back in the early 70’s, the Colorado bow season for mule deer opened on the third Saturday of August. Depending on the date that Saturday fell on, I could go to Colorado to bowhunt and be back for the first day of the West Virginia University semester. Most years I could do it, a few I could not.
The luxury of being able to bowhunt for mule deer in an area that reeked of big bucks would end in the late 70’s, when they changed the opening date of the season, but while it lasted it was my big hunt of the year.
This 1974 Colorado mule deer bowhunt was my third in four years with John, and as always I looked forward to it. I knew from previous experience that the world record mule deer roamed that area, and in fact, on earlier hunts, I=d seen him. Several times I got close to some truly monster mule deer, but something always allowed them to give me the slip. One instance I remember in particular, happened on the edge of some rough cliffs, where the big bucks went to bed during the heat of the day. I had six huge velvet-antlered bucks coming off the top of a sagebrush, aspen-covered ridge, headed for the rim rocks. I hunkered behind a fallen dead spruce not fifteen yards from the trail they were on. The biggest of those bucks was a huge six by six with extremely tall tines and great mass. He was the biggest mule deer buck I had ever seen, and remains so today.
They fed slowly down the mountain until they were in a swale thirty yards away, with only their antlers showing. And the huge buck was in the lead. The wind was coming up the mountain so everything was perfect. Suddenly I saw all the antlers turned and looking back up the mountain and the bucks got very fidgety. I quickly glassed the hillside, and there was a mountain lion, casually walking along. He paid no attention to the muleys but they sure were bothered by him. As the lion disappeared over the ridge, the mule deer suddenly ran straight away from me, never to be seen again. So close, and yet so far.
Little did I know that on this hunt, I would have another mule deer/predator interaction that would make this adventure a bit frustrating, but memorable. I love mule deer and miss chasing them as I did back then. Follow along as this adventure unfolds.
The sound was unmistakable; antlers on brush. It came when I least expected it. My last evening’s hunt in Colorado and I was leaving the woods, not to return again for another year. I was hurrying to meet the truck, and frankly, seeing deer was the last thing on my mind. After all, I’d had five fantastic days of hunting and had seen fifteen bucks that would have qualified for the Pope and Young record books.
Four years earlier, I’d taken a Pope and Young four-by-four in the same area and in 1972 I missed an even bigger buck at close range. So I was satisfied when calling it quits for another year. Then, as I neared the top of the aspen-covered ridge, I heard deer.
I had the feeling that the loud feeding probably meant a large buck, maybe several. Within thirty seconds my premonition was confirmed. Feeding above me on the skyline were three huge bucks, not forty yards away. But there were aspens and plenty of snowbush between us and, even worse, light was fading fast.
I had to cut down the distance in a hurry. I had confidence in my fifty-nine pound takedown recurve and my aluminum shafts tipped with Zwickey broadheads, but there was just too much brush between me and the bucks. Quickly I took out my deer call and gave one short, quiet grunt. I’d not had much success with this call on whitetails back home, but muleys tended to be inquisitive at times, so I crossed my fingers and gave it a try.
The reaction was immediate as the smallest four-by-four looked my way and began walking down the hill. Another soft grunt started the second buck on his way too. He stopped fifteen yards uphill, offering a perfect skyline shot as I started to draw my bow. But even though he was bigger than anything I’d ever shot with my bow, the biggest muley was right behind him.</p>
A third loud grunt brought his huge rack out from behind the snowbush. He was now thirty yards away and obviously not coming closer. I now had three inquisitive bucks feeding within thirty yards and had to shoot soon or blow it all. In the fading light I thought I saw a small opening on Mister Big, so I drew and released.
“Damn! Too low, David, too low.” The feeling was exactly the same as in 1972, when I undershot a standing record-book muley on Henderson Ridge, at twenty yards. But it was the missed bucks that brought me back to Colorado each August.
I was hunting out of John Lamicq’s bow camp in the Book Cliff Mountains about thirty miles North of Grand Junction, Colorado. For three of the previous four years, my professor schedule said, “Go to Colorado”, and each trip left me with the anticipation of a return visit. I wasn’t hunting alone. As always my father had driven out from his Pennsylvania home and a friend from Morgantown, West Virginia, Jim Hamlin, also joined me. Two wildlife professor, Dave Anderson from Penn State University and James Applegate of Rutgers University, who were old college chums were also there. Neither had ever hunted this part of the world and they were impressed with the scenery as we drove up the 9,000 feet to Douglas Pass.
“You’ve got to be kidding, Dave”, Jim said, as we slowly worked our way back nine miles of dirt road. “This wasn’t made for cars”. The sight of a coyote and a few deer shortened the trip and soon we were greeted by John and his beautiful wife, Diane. There were thirty-five bowhunters in camp, from all over the country and each had his pet method for sharpening broadheads, tuning his bow, etc.. Camaraderie in such a camp develops in a short time and we felt right at home.
I was glad to see old friends from earlier years. Bob Hayes from Indiana was back for the fourth straight year. Though he’d killed a buck every year, the big one just kept on an eluding trail.
“This is your year”, I hopefully predicted and later this little prophesy came to pass. “Dave, I’d like to put you and your gang on stands out on Horse Ridge for the first few days”, Lamicq said. This was fine with me, for that was definitely big buck country. As before, I’d determined that those little forkeys would be safe until the last day of our five-day hunt, for I was looking for a trophy buck.
At 4 A. M. the camp was up. A quick cup of coffee and we piled into the back of the pickup to take off. Horse Ridge was at the end of the line and I selected one of the last tree stands our guide had erected on the ridge.
The truck emptied one by one. My stand was typical of most; an aspen meadow bordered by sagebrush and located in a saddle. I settled into the stand high in an aspen as a sharpshined hawk scolded me. At 6 A. M. the sun started to peek over the ridge and I heard my first elk bugle. He was over on Henderson Ridge and the sound was enough to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Fifteen minutes later, I saw my first deer, a forkhorn feeding toward my stand. He was to become a regular visitor to that area and I saw him six times in the next three days.
By 9 A. M, my stomach was screaming for breakfast and the truck didn’t come any too soon. All the others had the same stories; they saw a few deer, but got no shots. But Bob Hayes broke his small buck string and had himself a beautiful four-by-four hanging back at camp.
That afternoon my little forkey friend returned, but with a two-by-two companion. I also saw my first big buck, a four-by-four feeding about 400 hundred yards downhill from the stand. Fading light prevented a stalk. The next morning I stayed in the stand for two hours, then got down and started out through an aspen grove. Not 500 yards from my stand I spotted a nice buck feeding. Then I saw another. Both were big four-by-fours. I slowly closed the gap to fifty yards. Just as I was getting in position to shoot, a third huge buck stood up and looked directly at me. The deer showed little alarm, but turned and walked off. One thing was certain; Horse Ridge was big buck country.
Our last night involved some planning. Applegate built a new stand near a waterhole. Dave Anderson was going down into a small ravine where he’d seen some deer and Jim Hamlin was heading for a new stand down the mountain. I moved about a half-mile below my original stand. A trail I discovered in the morning was crawling with deer sign, so it was here that I’d spend my last evening in Colorado.
At five in the evening, I started down the trail. Fifteen minutes later, I had deer feeding all around me. There was nothing to do but crouch down and wait. A forkey fed away from me, too far to shoot. A three-by-three was bedded down fifty yards away, but there was too much brush to allow a clear shot. And he was a bit too far. Then another bigger buck stood up and ran quartering away. I took a quick, but short shot, but the arrow harmlessly flew over his back. I sat down and did a carving of that shot, leaving my name and date in the bark of that aspen.
I waited until dusk, then started up the mountain. Then after hearing deer feeding, I spotted what I’d been waiting for; a buck feeding in the snow bush above me. There wasn’t just one, but three real dandies, all of which would make the book. As described at the outset, I waited, then finally shot too low, or so I thought at the time.
At the shot, all three bucks took off. Two were gone immediately, but one ran in front of me and stood about thirty yards away. A large limb from a tree was in my way, so I knelt and took a shot. I heard a loud ‘thwack’ and he crashed off through the aspens, making a real racket. I heard him fall, then run again, as I marked the spot with my handkerchief. The pickup truck was slowly winding its way toward me, so I quickly ran up the trail to intercept it.
Ron Fisher, the assistant guide, was driving. After a short discussion, we decided to return early the next morning to look for the buck. I had mixed emotions as I tried to fall asleep that night. I felt that I’d made two good hits on the deer and that he had gone down quickly, but there was no way to be sure.
The next morning Ron Fisher and I headed back to Horse Ridge. We returned to the marker and slowly unraveled the track. The first arrow appeared to have been a low hit in the chest area, with lots of blood where he stopped. The second arrow probably was in the front shoulder. We took our time, marking the trail with bits of tissue.
“He’s hit hard”, Ron said, “and he can’t be far”. But two hours later, we weren’t so sure. The trail was good for one hundred yards, then totally disappeared. No blood. There can be no worse feeling that leaving a deer in the woods, especially after two solid hits. Since I had to be back in West Virginia in two days, I had to be out of camp by noon.
“I’ll come back this afternoon and find him”, Ron promised. By then there will be some flies around, maybe a raven or two, and I’ll locate him. It sounded unlikely, although I’d seen it done before. He could be anywhere close to us and we’d miss him. He could be laying up under that blow down over there, I conceded.
The walk back was long, the drive home even longer. But two days after I was back in West Virginia, John Lamicq called to tell me that the antlers of my buck were being shipped. Ron had returned and when he did, a huge black bear boiled out of the brush. When Ron went in there, he found my buck lying beside a big blow down, not fifty yards from the last blood sign. With an inside spread of 28 inches and a green score of 168, he would qualify for the book with lots of room to spare. A great buck, in great country; a great adventure.
There really isn’t much to say. Both shots were what I originally thought. The first was low in the lungs and the second penetrated the front shoulder. Both were mortal shots, and he didn’t go over 100 yards, yet we couldn’t find that buck. Thankfully Ron went back in there and jumped that bear. The meat was eaten, and in the heat the hide was spoiled. So John and Ron got the antlers for me. I contacted my taxidermist, bought another hide and had this deer mounted.
This buck gave me just one of many big buck memories from Horse Ridge. In 1986 I booked another mule deer hunt with John and we camped on Horse Ridge. There were some bucks there, and on the last day I shot a smaller buck, but it just wasn’t the same. Oil shale had opened up that country, and there was more traffic. One day, while John and I scouted a deep canyon in the big timber, we stopped to eat a bite. I glanced over and saw what looked like a carving on an old aspen. I went over and there was an old memory. It was a crude, barely discernible, carving in the bark of the aspen showing a running buck with an arrow flying over its back. Above it was my name and a date, 1974. What are the chances? I took a photo of that carving that day, but for the life of me I can’t find it. No matter. Memories, like old carvings in trees, tend to fade away.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. David Samuel spent 30 years as a professor of wildlife management at West Virginia University. He is now in his 44th year with Bowhunter Magazine, where his Know Hunting column still appears. He currently writes the Know Whitetails column for the Whitetail Journal, The Future of Hunting column on www.bowhunting.net and writes a weekly outdoor column for WV newspapers. His activities on behalf of wildlife are diverse: from initiating the West Virginia Bowhunter Education Program to helping get bowhunting legalized in many European and African countries.
He has won honored lifetime achievement awards from the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, the Wildlife Society, the Quality Deer Management Association, and Whitetails Unlimited. He is in the SCI Bowhunter’s Hall of Fame, and his greatest honor was being inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 2007. He has written 9 books, with his three most recent books being Whitetail Advantage, Whitetail Racks, and the one being presented here, An Empty Quiver – A Lifetime of Bowhunting Adventures. You can find the table of contents for the two whitetail books, and get autographed copies of all three of these books on Dr. Dave’s website, www.knowhunting.com.
For more also go to: Straight Talk Interview: Dr. Dave Samuel