Colorado Mule Deer

“I doubt anything will to happen. I’ll just bring the Christensen Arms Traverse 300 WSM rifle and a couple of Norma rounds,” I said to myself, shutting the truck door and leaving my pack behind. It was the 4th day of the second Colorado mule deer season and thus far, plagues of close calls and inconsiderate hunters marked the week. Weary from multiple unsuccessful days on an over pressured piece of public land, my friend Chris and I needed a change of scenery so we headed to a small, nearly landlocked parcel of BLM land. By “Landlocked” I mean only one way in and one way out, up a very steep hill. Seeing another truck parked at the base of the hill did no favors for my confidence in the subsequent hunt.

Mule Deer Hunting Gear

Snow and sagebrush crunched beneath our boots, releasing the distinct aromatic smell of sage. Carrying only the Christensen Arms Traverse, two Norma Oryx 300 WSM bullets, a map and my binoculars, I started up the hill. Chris, with the same thought, brought his rifle, a few rounds, binoculars, and a rangefinder. At the top of the hill where it plateaued, I observed a sea of snow-covered sagebrush, broken up by small patches of timber, but with no deer in sight. The map showed a road about a mile and a half long that would take us to the back of the BLM land. We began our search for the elusive Colorado mule deer.

The more deer sign we found in the snow, the more excited I got; the kind of exhausted excitement only a hunter would know. As we worked our way to the back of the BLM land, the shadows grew longer; my hopes began sinking further with the sun. But sitting atop a ridge overlooking a natural bowl, we spotted deer across the field! “I only see does,” I said to Chris. Does do nothing for us, we have buck tags.

I kept glassing, and seeing two small bucks across the little valley, I immediately deployed the bipod the Christensen Traverse. “430 yards,” Chris said. I lay in the snow holding the crosshairs of the NightForce NXS 3.5-15×50 scope above the buck’s back, the carbon fiber stock cold on my face. “Are you going to shoot?” Chris asked. “I don’t think so, I don’t know how far the bullet will drop at this distance”. 300 WSM is new to me, and while I’d zeroed the rifle I hadn’t factored in that distance.

best mule deer ammo

What an incredible combo this proved to be! Christensen Arms Traverse, Nightforce NXS scope and the Norma Oryx in 300 WSM.

Stalking

Seeing another ridge about 100 yards in front of us, I tell Chris if we can get to that ridge, I’ll make the shot from there. One of the does looks right at us as we started our descent… Busted! Or so we thought.

We slowly sit down and wait for what seemed like an eternity. She goes back to feeding. Chris and I slide on our butts down this hill into the wooded bottom below. Hastily, we climb the next hill. Nearing the top, we hear rushed movement in the bottom. Out of nowhere, three big bucks run out of the bottom, headed right towards the BLM’s property line! They stop right at the barbed wire fence, looking back at us, preparing to jump to private property. Lying facing uphill, I tried to spin to my right to see the deer. Awkwardly shouldering the rifle with my left hand, I get on target. “297 yards!” Chris says in excitement.

Four days and nearly 30 miles had all come down to this. It’s now or never, Chris and I both shoot. Two bucks jumped the fence, unscathed. The one I shot hunched up, I instantly knew I had made a marginal shot.

I cycled the bolt crudely with my right hand, still holding the rifle to my left shoulder, to fire my second and last shot; I missed. The buck hobbles downhill towards the bottom.

Mule deer hunting rifle

This was a certifiably awkward position to shoot from.

The minutes following the shot felt like hours. Chris and I sat on the side of this hill, excitedly dumbfounded. After about 30 minutes, Chris says to me “You go back to the truck, grab the sled and knives, I’ll stay here and watch to see if the buck comes out of the bottom.” I ran the mile and a half back to the truck, through shin deep snow.

After reaching the truck, I race back to Chris, sled and knives in tow. I find him looking around the area where we shot at the deer. I’ve been gone maybe 45 minutes. The deer he shot at was about 20 yards behind the deer I shot. “I can’t find any blood, I think I missed.” he tells me. We continue to look around the area for more than an hour for blood, resorting to our phones for flashlights, trying to give the deer in the bottom time to die. No blood, no hair, nothing; it looks like a clean miss.

We decided to see if we can find the deer I shot. Blood, guts, stomach matter and tracks pave our way down the hill. No more than 75 yards away, there he is; a beautiful 4×4 buck lay dead.

Upon examination, the Norma 180 grain Oryx bullet did a fantastic job bringing a sudden end to what was a marginal shot at best. The bullet entered through the back of the intestines on the right side, and exited through the back of the left lung. The uneasiness in my gut faded as excitement overwhelmed me. This buck is the first deer I’ve ever killed on public land, it’s the biggest buck I’ve ever shot, and this was my first time hunting in Colorado!

The Rest of The Story

My elation didn’t last long, I knew the night was far from over. I filled out my tag, attached it, and started field dressing the deer. All of it under the light from a cell phone flashlight. With the temperature dropping below zero and a long drag ahead of us, Chris and I loaded the buck into the sled. Tying his antlers to his back legs so he would fit, we set off towards the truck, moving 50 yards at a time. With 1.5 miles, mostly uphill, between us and the truck, we knew this was going to take a while.

Four hours later, we finally reached the truck. I started the engine to get some heat going and we loaded the deer into the bed. In the minutes following midnight we began the 2.5 hour drive home. Exhaustion quickly overtook me. But the excitement kept me going, the weary, good kind of excitement all hunters feel when they close the book on a successful hunt.

Thinking back over the experience, my gear made all the difference. The Nightforce optic is bright, contrasty and clear. Anything less and I don’t know if I’d been able to see clearly enough to take the shot. The rifle is a joy to carry and shoot. With a carbon fiber wrapped barrel and carbon fiber stock, it is lightweight. Since it comes with a nice muzzle brake, the light weight doesn’t mean you take a beating shooting the 300 WSM. And that Oryx ammo… The Norma bullet covered my lack of precision brought on by the incredibly awkward shooting position. So gear matters, and this time I’m confident I wouldn’t have brought this buck home without it.

Mule deer hunt