One special place is made even more special by one special buck.
The sunrise was only a few minutes old as I comfortably sat high in a massive cottonwood, enjoying the new day. The South Platte River flowed silently, 100 yards south of my position.
After nearly 20 years of trying, I finally arrowed a trophy Colorado whitetail.
It was my third day of hunting in mid-November, the peak of the whitetail rut in Colorado. Earlier, as I'd crossed the river and hiked a half mile to my stand, I'd predicted another 10-hour day in the tree. That's a long sit, but with the rut smoking hot, I would enjoy a full day in the stand.
Now, peacefully taking in the sights, I jumped at the sound of two branches breaking successively. Without even looking behind me, I instinctively stood and grabbed my longbow off the hook.
The buck trotted to a scrape halfway between the river and me, pawed the scrape a half-dozen times, and then turned toward me and followed a trail to another scrape 25 yards west of my stand. Clearly I could see five points on each beam, and my heart raced at the sight of his beam mass and the length of his tines. Gripping my bow, I mentally geared up for a shot I had prepared for all year.
Many of my hunting buddies have accused me of being an extremely lucky bowhunter. While I have had many special hunting moments, and I do seem to get a deer in Colorado every year, I've certainly been challenged to harvest a truly large whitetail buck in Colorado.
I've been wandering around the South Platte River bottoms for almost 20 years, and I've had the good fortune to acquire ownership interests in two acreages that are occupied by both mule deer and whitetails. The properties lie only an hour's drive northeast of my home in Denver, so they're pretty handy to scout and hunt on the weekends.
While the trophy quality for both species in my hunting areas is okay, the whitetails aren't even close to the caliber of deer in states like Illinois or Kansas. I'll admit, I like to score my deer, and as a senior member of the Pope and Young Club, I like to enter my deer into the P&Y record book. Still, during 18 years of concerted hunting, I had taken only one whitetail deer in Colorado that met the P&Y minimum of 125 inches, and I'd taken a couple of others that just missed due to broken tines.
I once asked one of America's leading bowhunters why he had never bought a western ranch for deer and elk hunting. He is wealthy and could easily afford a large acreage. His response was that he wanted to hunt only trophy animals, and he didn't want to be tied to one place.
My stand, high in an ancient cottonwood near the South Platte River, overlooked a hot scrape.
With my Midwestern farming roots, I have a little different view. I like to own land and to hunt "my place." I truly enjoy hunting the same land year after year, even if I know of better places to find trophy animals. That being said, I still craved to shoot a trophy buck on my own land along the South Platte River. Any 4x4 or 5x5 with heavy bases and long tines would do.
Oh, I had come close. Two years earlier, I was sitting in a cottonwood the Saturday after Thanksgiving when three record-book bucks chased a doe down a slough. I wasted no time in reaching for the grunt tube around my neck and blowing three grunts in succession. A 140-class 4x4 stopped, and when I grunted again, he was on his way. A heart-pounding rush tingled through my body as I tensed for the inevitable shot.
However, at 30 yards and closing, the bruiser veered west and stopped behind my stand tree, where branches blocked any chance for a shot. He then walked directly away, ignoring my pleading grunts. I don't think he outwitted me. I just think he took the wrong fork in the trail, didn't see a doe, and left.
And so it had gone for many years. Even with my own land, low hunting pressure, and preseason scouting, I could not get a big buck. Would it ever happen?
Now things finally seemed to be coming together. If this long-tined 5x5 would follow the trail, he'd pass in front of me at 15 yards.
Suddenly the trophy buck veered off the trail and walked behind some tall willow trees.
Oh, no, not again! Things were not going as planned. The buck was not taking the anticipated trail. With every step, the 5x5 was escaping my well-laid trap.
As the buck walked away -- 24 yards from me at a severe quartering angle -- a large, dead branch at chest level blocked my shooting lane. With my brain screaming shoot now! I stood on my tiptoes high enough to shoot over the branch. Wobbling at first in my weak stance, I finally locked in and released. The arrow pierced the buck's liver, one lung, and the heart. As the arrow exited next to the brisket, the old buck lurched forward, valiantly cleared a low dike, leaped across a stream, and collapsed.
After nearly 20 years of bowhunting the Colorado riverbottoms, I had taken a trophy buck, my biggest Colorado whitetail ever. My 10-hour sit had been cut short, but I didn't mind at all.
The author is an attorney from Broomfield, Colorado.
Author's Notes: I shot my Colorado buck with a 53-pound Alaskan Black Wolf longbow, Carbon Express Heritage 150 arrow, and a 125-grain Razorcaps broadhead. My clothing included Thorlo socks; Filson merino longjohns; a Woolrich shirt; and King of the Mountain coat, pants, vest, and hat.