Part 5: Consumating The Deal
There was no need for an alarm the next morning, as I’d been awake for a good while when it finally sounded off — it was 3:30 a.m. Rolling out of my bivy sack in the darkness of a cold, alpine Colorado night, a star-filled sky greeted my appearance. Far in the distance the sound of a bugling bull elk reached my ears. Oh how I hoped and prayed that he and his kind wouldn’t play a negative role in the outcome of my morning efforts — actually, it seemed very strange to be hoping to stay away from an elk! Oh well — this was a BIG deer morning … I hoped.
Here is an alpine mulie the author took on a different hunt.
Heading down the slope below my base camp, I made my way into the bottom of the drainage that formed the headwall of the basin where my trophies resided.
With big-antler visions floating through my head, I finally reached the small, rushing creek in the valley floor just as first-light arrived on the scene.
Picking my way up the valley floor, it was a constant battle climbing over the debris along the streamside. Old debris from avalanches — in the form of broken trees, brush and all sizes of boulders — littered both sides of the stream, making progress both difficult and noisy.
Realizing that my current choice of routes wasn’t working well, I simply waded out into the ankle deep stream and proceeded forward. Now, my path was primarily clear of debris, and the noise of my passing was covered by the rushing stream. But did I mention that water was seriously cold!
As I neared the upper reaches of the drainage, the stream began to fork into numerous incoming flows, and the surrounding terrain began to flatten and open. Now able to gain glances steeply upslope toward the object of my pursuit, I soon spotted “the bench” looming yet 1/4-mile ahead and 500 vertical feet above my position. Reaching the bench before the bucks arrived, without being spotted in the process, was the challenge ahead. Staying low, slinking along, I headed for a meeting with fate.
Staying directly below the buttress of the bench, I was able to keep my stalk hidden from the peering eyes above. A couple of times, one or two of the bucks appeared well above the bench, heading steadily downhill. Clearly they didn’t like being out on the open tundra during daylight times, and they had full intent of reaching the security of their beds on the bench as soon as possible.
Needing to be the first to arrive at the bench so that I could be in control of the situation, I pushed myself forward in the thin air. The last 200 yards of my ascent was hand-over-foot climbing, occasionally requiring the forward placement of my bow on an overhead ledge, followed by a short climb to retrieve it. As I neared the lip of the bench, I feared that the bucks had already arrived. Just inches below paydirt, I quietly nocked an arrow, clipped on my release and slowly peered over the edge.
The view that came into my sight was one that I’ll not forget in all my lifetime! All seven bucks were spread out on the bench before me, at distances ranging from 30- to 60 yards! The closest buck was a really nice one, maybe the fourth-from-the-largest of the bunch. The monster was on the far edge of the pack, at about 50- to 60 yards. Assessing the situation in a split second, my mind locked into “kill-mode” on the closest buck. Putting a pin on vitals, I touched of the shot before giving the reality of the situation a second thought. A few seconds later, I stood on the bench watching as six of the seven bucks headed fast downhill toward timber — my trophy lay motionless a short distance away!
The photo from the early 1980s — the buck the author took in the story.
Today, even as I write of this encounter, bittersweet emotions flood over me. I had just killed my first “book” mulie, at the end of an incredible pursuit, and for such, I was thrilled. Yet, at the same time, I also knew that I’d just closed the door on an irreplaceable opportunity.
To this day, 30-plus years later, I can still say with all honesty that I’ve never seen another mule buck with antlers as large as that buck, that day — he was truly a once-in-a-lifetime animal.
Check out my website at www.eddieclaypool.com for a complete list of the gear I use nowadays. Good luck! Good hunting!
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Eddie Claypool provides tips on bowhunting, with an emphasis on whitetails. Claypool has harvested 63 Pope & Young-class recordbook animals including 35 whitetails (Coues included), 16 elk and eight mule deer. All the animals were taken on do-it-yourself hunts. Learn more about Eddie on his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/sportsmansguide#!/eddie.claypool