Quest for Velvet
Bowhunting Colorado’s High Country Mule Deer
During application season in 2020, I knew I wanted to chase velvet mule deer above the timberline, I just didn’t know which state would provide me an opportunity. After doing some research, I decided to go all-in for an archery tag in Colorado. Once draw results were emailed, it was official; I had an archery mule deer tag in my pocket. It was time to get serious.
I patiently waited for July to arrive, knowing scouting trips in late summer gave me the best chance at seeing bucks with near-full-grown racks. I scouted as hard as I could being from out of state. I spent a total of 12 days in the high country in late July and early August. It took effort and a lot of gas to get out there and back, but it was oh so worth it. The days I spend scouting are almost as meaningful to me as the days I spend hunting. At the end of the 12 days, I had narrowed down which two basins I would spend my time in on opening day. I had a “hit list” of bucks I couldn’t wait to chase with my bow in my hand.
Opening morning was cold and frosty. It had snowed a few inches above the timberline two days earlier, leaving lingering cold temperatures. As the sun rose and the frost dissipated, my dad and I scanned frantically for the bucks we had put to bed the night before. Unfortunately, we were not alone in the basin. There were three other groups of hunters, one of which was set up only a few hundred yards from us.
We noticed that the group closest to us was getting their stuff ready, which indicated to me they had located a shooter buck. The next thing we knew, he had closed the distance and put an arrow in one of my target bucks. Looking back, they beat me to him. They had the buck stalked and killed before I even laid eyes on him.
Feeling a little sorry for myself, I sat and glassed, doing my best to stay positive. Luckily, I had good help with me. My dad, on the opposite ridge, indicated he had found another “shooter” buck. After contemplating stalking the buck for a few minutes, I decided the opportunity was too good to pass up. His location and the terrain around it were ideal for stalking. I slipped out of my hunting boots and put on a lightweight pair of running shoes. Staying silent on a stalk is crucial. Picking up my bow and strapping on my release, my heart rate began to increase.
I started the climb not knowing whether I would end up shooting the buck. I figured if I got close enough and decided he wasn’t “the one”, I could back out and chalk it up as good experience. I looped slightly above the deer and began to sidehill toward his location. When I was about 200 yards from the buck, I checked my wind with a squeeze wind indicator, and it was absolutely perfect. I took each step slowly and cautiously so as to not give away my location. I knew I was getting close when finally the buck raised his head. I saw antler tips silhouetted against the willow bush he was feeding on. I ranged him. 33 yards.
Before my next step, my brother-in-law Matt relayed to me that another hunter was also stalking in on this buck. The other hunter was uphill to my left and in a bad spot for wind. I knew I had only a few seconds to take my shot. This information jolted my adrenaline, and I was now in “kill mode”.
With the buck feeding, oblivious to my presence, I took three big steps to close the distance. The hillside rolled slightly and kept most of his body hidden. After those last few steps, it was time. At full draw, I felt calm and solid. I went through my shooting process and got a perfect break in my release. The buck whirled and I instantly knew it was a hit! Oh, that feeling! If you’ve been there, you know. He ran downhill to my right and disappeared.
Following the blood trail for longer than I had hoped, my dad and Matt eventually met up with me. We kept after it and finally I heard Matt yell, “there he is!” As we walked up to him, he grew on us; his body was gigantic! I have never seen a larger mule deer. It was a feeling I will never forget. The moment you realize all the hard work has paid off is unforgettable. I never dreamed I would kill a buck on opening morning, but luck was on my side.
Spending time in the Colorado high country has changed me. I feel more grateful for the wild places I get to adventure in. The places that mule deer call home are some of the most beautiful on Earth. My “Quest for Velvet” in the high country was achieved, but I left with more than just a beautiful buck. I left with much more than what I had sought. The combination of velvet mule deer, high country, and bowhunting can leave a lasting impact.
Martin Fox, CO Mule Deer