Gastro Gnome - Eat Better Wherever

Colorado High Country, bittersweet redemption


New member
Mar 9, 2014
This hunt meant a lot to me in so many different ways.
The last few years I’ve been watching Nate Simmons backpack all over the high country of the west hunting elk and early season mule deer with a bow.
I grew up backpacking the hills of Arkansas and Oklahoma so at times I found it relatable but never could connect to the archery hunting piece of it. I grew up hunting whitetail in a tree stand with a rifle. Archery was always a mystery to me and seemed so daunting to tackle. I moved to Arizona when I was 19 and learned about the draw system the state held for big game tags. My first thought was that it was so ludacris. As a kid I could go to Walmart and spend $30 in the sporting goods section to pick up a buck and a doe tag, and an additional doe tag for the special doe hunting during Christmas weekend. As I learned more about the draw I just couldn’t get over how silly it seemed that you had to put your name in a hat to get a chance to hunt. Arizona offers two over the counter archery deer hunts during the late summer and early winter for most of the state. This quickly became attractive for obvious reasons and thus started my dive into archery. This really was the start of my love and respect for western big game and what it takes it tag these animals. My respect for the draw process grew as I learned the value of it.
Fast forward several years, I had tagged two 300+ bulls and a couple of respectable mule deer with my bow. As my archery skills grew and more exciting episodes of the Western Hunter rolled across my DVR I started to crave a new adventure. In the first season of Western Hunter, Nate Simmons hunts high country mule deer in Colorado without success. He talks a lot about his passion for that country. His emotions are on full display as he works so hard only to miss a couple of real trophies in the high country. Watching a grown man show so much emotion in that beautiful country made me suddenly realize, that was going to my next adventure. I couldn’t get Colorado out of my head.
The task seemed so far out of reach I couldn’t help but feel intimidated and wonder what the hell I was getting myself into. I began researching all the things that goes into hunting out of state. I posted several things on hunttalk and Eastmans, searching for some guidance from all the experienced hunters in the west. The responses were few and far between and as I navigated through the regulations, I still felt lost in where I was even going to go. After months of researching and scouring google earth I finally had a unit picked out that was only 8 hours from home. I recruited a buddy to hunt with me we finally put in.
We got our tags in the mail, packed our gear and headed north. The whole drive up I was intimidated. I couldn’t wait just to see the mountains of Colorado let alone hunt them. We finally arrived to the trail head and I couldn’t help but finally be excited. We hiked what felt like straight up the mountain. We struggled with the elevation coming from only 2900 feet. We saw 4 bucks on the trail up and I finally was able to feel good about not only my unit choice but the specific location I chose to hunt. I have read stories about how “there’s a deer behind every tree in Colorado” and couldn’t wait to see what that meant exactly. We finally topped out to the lake I had found on google earth. 12,400 feet felt like 12 million feet. As we pumped water from the lake that I night I was so dizzy from the elevation I almost fell in the lake several times. Off to bed we went in what turned into a sleepless night. We had topped out in the dark and I couldn’t wait to see our area with the sun up.
We woke up to a group of bucks just up the hill from our camp. With each buck we saw that day it was more and more weight off my shoulders as I started feel good about the location I had researched for months before this hunt. Opening morning came and first light we spotted 8 bucks in a basin. One buck was non typical 3x3 that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of. We bedded the bucks and I dove off the mountain down into the basin after the group. Long story short I was able to sneak up to 65 yards of the bedded bucks. I ranged several areas around the group. I stood up hill of the bucks waiting for them to stand. The wind swirled and they stood. They all knew I was there but didn’t know where. I drew on the 3x3 and let it fly. The arrow clipped a bush and disappeared. The buck jumped up the hill towards me and stopped still not aware of where I was. I knocked another arrow and let it fly without ranging. The arrow flew just over his back. At that point he saw me and ran down the hill another 20 yards or so and stopped. I again instinctively knocked an arrow, guessed the yardage and let it fly watching it sail just over his back again. He had seen enough. The buck bounded down the mountain and was gone.
I sat down, with my bow in my lap, and examined in my head what had just happened. I had dreamed of a perfect stalk like that for years. Everything was perfect, I had prepared so hard for that moment and I blew it. I was almost in tears thinking about the 3 shots the buck had offered me. I let myself down. It took everything in me to continue hunting the rest of that trip. I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfect of an opportunity I had earned and blew it. We hiked up and down the mountains for 6 days. At 12k feet it got tiring. We were fighting blistered feet, elevation sickness, hunger, rain and snow. The biggest fight for me though was my own mental strength of the lack there of. That buck I had 3 chances at was haunting me. It was like his ghost was following me around the wilderness teasing me that I had missed. Our hunt had come to an end, we packed up, and headed down the mountain. The drive home was more deflating not being able to look in the rear view and see a set of velvet antlers I had dreamed I might see leading up the hunt. As I cruised home I wondered if I even had it me, if I possessed the skills or abilities to even be successful on a high country archery hunt. I decided right then that I wasn’t going to quit going back until I was successful.
All off season I worked hard. We collected our tags, loaded gear and headed north again, same unit as last year. I thought the whole drive up about my own mental toughness and how much it might get tested again this year. We hiked the mountain and pitched our tents. We had got into the mountain early enough to do some evening scouting. My buddy and I split up to cover more country. I headed for a basin we hadn’t hunted last year, I was ready for a new place, something I hadn’t seen.

I topped out on a hill side, set up my tripod and began glassing into the basin. I immediately spotted a group of nine bucks with 2 in the 170-180 class range. I was immediately excited to be back. I continued glassing. As the sun set I was about to wrap and head for camp when I spotted him. At the time I didn’t know but the buck I had just found was going to haunt me forever. This buck was a toad. I got the spotting scope out and starting counting the points. He was a 6x7 plus eye guards. This buck was easily over 200” and at least 30” wide. I was so excited I wanted to stand up and turn back towards camp and yell for my buddy to get his butt up here and look at this. I knew how unrealistic this was as he was several miles in the other direction but I was tempted to try it anyway. This was the buck of a lifetime, certainly the biggest buck I had ever seen alive. I returned to camp, sat with my buddy eating mountain house and all we talked about was that buck. To bed we went and just like last year another sleepless night thinking of this buck. We woke and I couldn’t make my oatmeal fast enough.
I returned to the hillside looking into the basin again. I tried to make the sun come up faster as I was nervous the buck had left the area in the full moon night. I began glassing and ten minutes in I found him. He was all by himself, perfect for a stalk. I watched him into mid-morning and finally he bedded for the morning. I checked the wind and up the basin I went. The hill side was so steep I was on my hands and knees most of the way just to keep from rolling down the mountain. I got to the same elevation as he was and began working towards him praying the wind stayed in my face. As I got within a 100 yards I dropped my pack and boots as the ground was a little crunchy. I snuck up to the group of bushes where I thought he should be and peaked over the bushes down the hill. My heart jumped into my throat as I immediately saw his 13 velvet points were sticking up out of the bushes he was bedded in. The first hour I stood there I was just talking to myself trying to calm down and prepare mentally for the shot. I was cussing my buddy cause the night before I raised the question “if I get on this deer how am I going to be calm enough to shoot him?” He said simply “just don’t look at his antlers”. As I stood over this buck I started to laugh to myself because the only thing I could see was hit antlers.
I had an arrowed knocked and ranged the shot at 33 yards. I decided that when he stood up I was going to squat behind the bushes in front of me, draw and stand back up for the shot. Finally after what seemed like 3 hours he began to stand. I squatted down, drew, took a deep breath and slowly stood back. To my surprise he was quartered to me slightly. The way his antlers were in the bush it looked like when he stood he would be broad side. He spotted me right away and I let the arrow go. It was what I thought a perfect shot. He turned to jump and I could see the arrow in him and blood on the bushes immediately. I was fired up. My first thought was back to last year in my mental struggle with missing that buck. I thought of all the hard work I had put in and was feeling thankful for my wife and kids. The sacrifice they make being away from me to allow me to come up here and experience this. I walked back, got my boots and backpack and returned to the bucks bed to start on the blood trail. To my surprise the blood was significantly less than I thought. I followed the trail down the mountain and the farther I went the worse I felt. I started to feel a hole in my stomach thinking of this deer with an arrow in it running around still alive. My fear got worse the farther I went. The blood drops got farther apart and eventually I lost it. I walked all over that mountain chasing drops of blood and tracks. I was devastated. I laid down on my back in the wild flowers of the high country. I could feel the sun burning my face as I caught my breath. I started thinking about my drive home last year and asking myself If I had it in me, If god had blessed me with the ability to even do this successfully. Again, like last year it took everything I had to pick up my pack and hike back to camp.
I got to my tent, dropped my gear and climbed in on my sleeping bag. My buddy was still out hunting so I just laid there in silence. I was bummin hard as my disappointment quickly turned to anger. I wondered why I had such bad luck. I laid there for a while just pondering what happened.


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New member
Mar 9, 2014
My buddy finally showed back up, I told him the story. He was bummed for me but he offered his opinion and he was right. Its things like this that make archery so tough, yet so rewarding. The reward is an unbelievable feeling that’s why we opt for the bow instead of the rifle.
I laid in bed that night wondering about that buck, praying he was still alive and would survive the winter. We woke to a cold crisp morning. We were both sore from the previous days hiking. We were slow to make our oatmeal and get moving. We sat in camp behind our tripods glassing the surrounding mountains as we ate breakfast. We immediately a group of 9 bucks a few miles away. I immediately felt motivated again. We grabbed our gear and started the hike towards them. As we got closer we made a plan for me to get in the chute below them as my buddy hiked around the backside. Our thought was that they would go down one chute or the other to bed. As watched the group from a distance our plan started to fall apart. The bucks started down the mountain in the only place we wouldn’t get a shot. I got tired of being patient and turned aggressive. I started up the hill towards them. I lost sight of them in the contours of the hillside. I got close to top and suddenly saw the tips of antlers. I kneeled real quick to avoid them seeing me. I peeked over group of bushed in front of me. I could see two bucks, one of which was the one shooter buck in the group that I had picked out before we left camp. I ranged the buck at 83 yards and with no additional cover between me and the deer I decided to take the shot. I practice pretty regularly at 100 yards because like Cameron Hanes says, if your confident at 100 your dead on at 50. The wind was dead so I knocked an arrow, laid on my side, drew my bow and stood up on me knees. I took a deep breath and focused on the 12 ring behind his shoulder. I let the arrow go and the split second I did I knew it was a perfect shot. I watched in what seemed like slow motion the arrow cut the air to the buck. I heard the sound we all love when the arrow hits the animal. The buck jumped and took off down the mountain. My buddy heard the commotion up the hill and came running up to meet me. We gave the buck some time and started after his blood trail. I immediately was disappointed as the blood was very minimal. I was worried to say the least. We followed a drop here and drop there following mostly his tracks as he tore up the mountain on his way down. One track at a time as minutes turned to hours. I was sick. No way was this going to happen to me two days in a row.

We sat down to take a break and I had finally decided my fear was true. I didn’t have it in me. I was not born with the ability to do this. I was bummin hard I even started to wonder what hunt I would try next year and decided it would certainly be easier than this.
All these emotions and thoughts I have mentioned seem so ridiculous as I’m sure you are all reading this thinking I’m crazy. Well you are right. I wanted this so bad for so long I was obsessed. And as I worked so hard to get myself within bow range of these deer but wasn’t able to get it done I was more and more devastated by my lack of success.
After we finished our lunch we continued on the trail following tracks and occasionally blood on some bushes. I started to get down and was almost following my buddy blindly as he helped me follow the trail. It was so hard not to give up. We cleared some trees and down into a clearing when I saw some velvet antlers sticking up from the bushes. I had to double take it. I just sat down right there up the hill from the buck. I did it. I did it, I actually did it. I had been dreaming of this picture for a few years now and to sit there in the broken alpine country of Colorado at 12,064 ft., listening to a bull bugle in the distant drainage, it was a better feeling then I ever imagined.

Besides my marriage and my 4 bada$$ little boys, I knew right then it was the biggest accomplishment of my life. I read once that to kill a big mule deer you have to go sheep hunting. Coming from Oklahoma and now living in Arizona I never really understand that. I knew then, looking at the mountains around me as a snow and hail storm blew in, exactly….what that meant. As I admired the buck I had tagged I felt some guilt thinking of the buck that I had shot the day before, still praying he was alive somewhere.
We began the long process of cutting the buck up and packing him back to camp. I packed him back to the trail head as my buddy continued hunting. We hunted another 5 days with my buddy missing 7 times in total. We met some great people in an elk camp up the creek from us. We had dinner with them 3 of the nights and made some friends out of it. It was the greatest outdoor experience of my life.
The buck eats well. Thanks for reading.


Well-known member
Jul 12, 2010
Congrats on your mule deer. That's a super nice archery buck. We PM'd a long time ago, back when you were making plans and researching. Glad to hear how it turned out.


Well-known member
Sep 12, 2014
New Zealand
Awesome hunt, well done!

I'm hoping to do an archery deer hunt in Wyoming next year, would love to see a deer half as big.

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