The one that got away … again and again

I am fortunate to live in such a wonderful place with endless opportunities to hunt right out of my backyard. Within a 15-minute drive, I can be in two Wilderness areas, countless acres of National Forest and hundreds of miles of BLM. Routt County is truly a hunter’s paradise.

But every year out of these thousands of areas to hunt, I’ve found myself obsessed with a small parcel no bigger than a football field. And even more ironic, I’ve found myself in pursuit of one animal.

This is a hunting story that began three years ago and continues today. I first encountered my nemesis bugling opening morning of archery season in 2009. It was a clear, crisp morning and the sun was just beginning to rise. I was hiking into my “honey hole” when the I first heard him. I thought how odd to hear a bull bugling this early in the season and wrote it off as just another hunter. But as my hike drew me closer, my suspicion changed. I was instantly surrounded by his harem and had cows all around me. They winded me and were gone in a flash. I briefly saw the bull collect his cows before disappearing into the shrub oak. That was the start of our long relationship.

As the season passed on, I found myself one step behind this magnificent bull. I had several close encounters, but never the chance for a shot. I ended my season harvesting a cow.

Season two came and went in much the same manner. He started bugling very early and had cows with him the first week of the season. It was a season filled with great adventures, but he continued to remain one step ahead of me. After endless hours in the woods, again I failed to get a shot off at him, but I was fortunate enough to harvest one of his satellite bulls. I felt proud of my achievement and was excited to have a freezer full of meat.

Opening day of archery season, year three, could not have come fast enough. I entered the woods early and expected the big bull to be gone. It’s public land, and trophy animals don’t last long; they’re either harvested in rifle season or find a home on private property.

As the sun rose over the horizon, the woods were quiet. Could he be gone, I thought? As the weeks went on, I found little fresh sign. The woods remained silent, with only a few stray cows roaming the property. My honey hole had dried up and the big bull had moved on.

Closing day I went back into my area, looking for a cow I had seen earlier. As the morning light illuminated the valley, I heard my first chirp of a cow. The wind was perfect and I began my stalk. As I made my way through the shrubs I saw a sight I will never forget. Feeding 75 yards away was the bull I’d been chasing for years — a magnificent 6X6, with a long, perfectly symmetrical rack.

I never thought this day would come. The stars were aligned, the wind was perfect and he was feeding away from me. For once, I had the upper hand. I approached within 20 yards, nervously drew my bow and was ready to let an arrow fly. My day had finally come. As I took a deep breath and readied to shoot, out of the shrubs came a doe and a fawn right between us. She stopped and stood 10 yards away. I lost my shot and was now face to face with a curious doe. I froze hoping she would walk away, but anyone who has ever spooked a deer knows that they usually let out a big alarming huff and start stomping the ground. I finally had my chance but was about to be outsmarted again. The woods grew momentarily quiet. I stood as still as I could. A loud BARK! broke the silence and the bull, cows, doe and fawn all scattered in every direction. Foiled again!

I left the woods that evening not knowing if I’d ever see the big 6X6 again. If I don’t, it’s still been a wonderful adventure. And I’ll be back to my honey hole this year hoping for that familiar bugle.