Written by: Fred Eichler
To me, life is about squeezing as many first experiences in as possible. The funny thing about first experiences is they seem to stick in your mind. Your first kiss, your first vehicle, first gun, first bow…..
My first Mule deer for me is another first that will always stand out. I’m sure your first is the same.
The first mule deer or any animal you harvest makes you feel like an explorer. Everything is new. When it comes to mule deer the hair has its own unique texture. The big ears are an eye catcher that also have to be inspected up close. The forked antlers if present are also amazing to touch and look at. The gray and white coloration and even the hooves and small tail with the black tip are unique. It is one thing to look at an animal; it is another thing to actually put your hands on it and to use the meat to nourish your body. It is an intimate knowledge of an animal that I think Native Americans respected and understood more than most. It is something that is hard to explain to a non-hunter.
My first mule deer ever was actually a big doe I harvested with a recurve bow. My buddy Blye and I were in Northern Colorado west of Fort Collins. We went up to hunt the afternoon so we both got off work with no problem. Me from the archery shop I was working at and Blye from his dad’s electrical contracting company. I had a beat up Jeep CJ7 with about 200,000 miles on it which wasn’t that reliable so we took Blye’s truck. When we got to the area we were going to hunt in the mountains we each picked a different drainage to sneak up and decided to meet back at the truck at dark. I hadn’t been sneaking up my drainage long when a big doe jumped up in front of me and took a few short bounds up the steep ridge. As mule deer so often do she looked back to see what had spooked her. I drew my recurve back and let fly. I will never forget the beautiful arc of that arrow as it flew between us and struck the doe right in the chest. She only made it about fifty yards before collapsing. You would have thought I shot a booner buck as excited as I was. In fact, I was so excited that in my haste to dress the deer I slipped with my knife and stabbed myself in the leg. It was a lesson learned and despite being a deep puncture in my leg I had been fortunate because I didn’t hit any major arteries or veins. I felt pretty stupid and Blye had to help get that doe off the mountain and then he drove me to my little apartment to get my leg cleaned up. That doe was taken more than 30 years ago. I still have that recurve and still have a scar on my leg to remind me of that day.
My one regret on that hunt is that I didn’t have a camera and never got a picture of me and that deer. It is still vivid in my mind and I can still remember every detail.
My first Muley buck was another first that hasn’t faded at all with time. I was camping with another buddy up in the mountains when an early snowstorm hit the high country. It was early September and my buddy Lee and I were around 10,000 feet. The snow line was below us so we decided to drop elevation and get out of the snow. Almost all the tracks we had seen were heading straight down the mountain so we figured that was what we needed to do.
It was late by the time we had broke camp and dropped a few thousand feet in elevation. We only had a few hours of light left so we decided to split up and sit on trails to see if we could get lucky. I found a trail with quite a bit of sign and remember finding a perfect deadfall to sit on. The old tree had fallen into another and slid to the ground so I could sit on one log while using the other tree that was still standing to rest my back against. It seemed like the perfect spot. I had not sat in the spot long when I spotted a tree whipping back and forth. It took a minute for me to realize it was a mule deer raking the tree working on rubbing the velvet off his antlers. I also realized it wasn’t one buck it was three bucks! One was huge and I will refrain from guessing a score because I would surely exaggerate. The next one was a nice 3 x 3 and one was a little 2 x 2. All three looked like fresh meat in the freezer to a kid making archery shop wages and living on Ramen noodles. Of course I was hoping the biggest one would come in range but it just wasn’t in the cards. The middle buck started coming towards me and was almost “spitting distance”. Sorry, it is a term I grew up with. The buck finally turned and I drew my recurve and picked a spot right in the erase of his shoulder. Fortunately the buck was close as I mentioned and my arrow found his chest. A short tracking job and I was standing over my first mule deer buck. Another first and one that I still cherish.
Other exciting and rewarding experiences in the field for me have included guiding clients on their first animals. It is fun for me to reflect on over 25 years of guiding on how many clients have made lifelong memories in the field that I was a part of. My wife is a prime example.
I set up some treestands in a great area where our clients have taken some great animals. My Stealth Cam trail cameras had shown me that some great bucks were in the area. I had one of my guides take my wife to one of the treestands. A really nice buck came by out of range and she doe bleated him right in to fifteen yards and nailed him as he was rubbing a tree.
I often thought over the years that it was not possible to top the amazing feeling of harvesting your first until I became a dad. However, taking your kids out and watching them hunt and passing on the tradition. It doesn’t get any better than that.. Our boys have been raised hunting and eating wild game. Even though they grew up shooting small game our three boys couldn’t wait to reach the age of twelve. It is the magic number to legally hunt big game in Colorado. For our oldest the mule deer will always be a special animal because it was his first big game animal in Colorado. It was also special to him because he used his grandfather’s old .257 Roberts to take the buck that we found together while glassing a small valley.
Our middle son Seth also shot his first mule deer with that old gun and scope shortly after he turned twelve as well.
I have changed the way I think about certain things as I have grown older. Some things I thought were important in my youth don’t seem so important anymore. For example, I never thought I could top some of the experiences I have had in the field hunting. I have learned that it is easy to top my own experiences by sharing in my children’s experiences afield. I am not a grandfather yet but I hope to be one someday. If I live long enough to guide my own grandchild on a first experience, I guess it will be a first for both of us.