Another year, another tag, another hunt. Year after year we put in for the draw here in Colorado, hoping that we will have a chance to pursue deer and elk so that we can fill our freezers. We each typically draw a tag or two, and might even pick up a leftover tag or an over the counter tag. We make our plans, get everything ready, and set out with the hope of making the “I got one” phone call. But year after year there are many obstacles that must be overcome, many of which are completely out of our control. This year in particular has made this even more evident.
I drew a buck tag for units near my home in Grand Junction, Colorado. I’ve had this tag several years before and I was really looking forward to the opportunity. Since I was going to be hunting close to home, I knew I could probably hunt three or four days during the 10 day season. However, I am also a high school teacher and football coach, which makes getting out difficult. My weekends tend to get swallowed up by other obligations in the fall, and I can’t justify taking time off of work. So despite having the opportunity to hunt close to home in an area that I am familiar with, I don’t have time to scout or prepare in a way that would increase my chances. Instead, I would spend Friday night coaching, run home, get everything together, and figure out where I was going the following morning on my way to pick up coffee. I’ve done this before, and I know that if I can just get one opportunity, one shot, I can come home with that feeling of accomplishment.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this year. I had two opportunities, but those aforementioned obstacles were in full force. One opportunity was thwarted by a twig. A single “pop” alerted a tall four by four buck of my presence and sent him bounding away. I could have quickly pulled the rifle to my shoulder and fired off a shot that may have found its target at a mere 20 yards. But a miss would have sent the bullet careening over the edge of a ridge. It simply wasn’t worth the risk. The chance of that bullet hitting someone in the area I was in was astronomically low, but making a decision like that is incredibly stupid and never worth the risk; so I moved on. My next opportunity was hindered by a single branch. The contorted branch protruding from the small, dried up juniper obstructed my view of a bucks vitals. With the branch at 15 yards and the buck at 30, all I could see was the deer’s head and legs. I waited patiently for the buck to move so that I could take a more reasonable shot, but during that wait another public land hunter fired up an atv and sent the buck into a panic. Once again, I could have fired off a shot. He stopped not once, not twice, but three times. Each time the deer stood in the crosshairs for a moment, but never presented an opportunity that I was comfortablce with. The last thing that I ever want to do is injure an animal. If I am to squeeze the trigger, I want to know that I’ll be taking meat home.
As frustrating as these moments were, these situations occur. In fact, it seems to happen to me a lot. I don’t have a lot of time during rifle season to fill a tag and I’ve accepted that I’ll make plenty of trips home without meat in the bed of my truck. Fortunately, there is always a silver lining. I was able to go spend time outdoors, wandering around on public land. I spent time glassing several dozen does, had a few exciting moments, and managed to make it home every night without any problems. Enjoying the entire hunt is what makes it…. well…. enjoyable. Otherwise, the focus would remain on those aggravating moments and I couldn’t put myself through that year after year. I’d miss out on the sights, the scenery, and that sense of freedom that is experienced while looking for those “bring home the meat” opportunities. Since I cannot fathom a life without these types of experiences, even the aggravating ones, I look forward to all future hunting seasons, even those that leave my freezer empty.