Live Hunt: The Emergency Room Buck

I'm not a mule deer hunter at heart. You see, I have what's called ELK A.D.D. When the bulls start to bugle, everything else in life seems to fade away, including mule deer.

But this year it was a little different. A friend invited me to hunt some prime mule deer habitat in western Colorado. I couldn't pass it up. This hunt was to be a little different than my standard 5-mile hike into the remote wilderness. It was private land that bordered oil company property, where we also had permission to hunt. It was a short hike in, so what it lacked in beauty it also lacked in physical punishment.

My hunting partner and I headed out a day before the season to get a few bucks bedded down for opening morning. Everything was working out as planned and several bucks were spotted, so we walked back to camp to make dinner. It was getting close to nine o'clock when my Mountain House Chili Mac was ready to eat. Little did I know that this simple meal was going to cause a whole lot of pain.

I finished dinner and headed into bed when my stomach started to bother me, it was just below my rib on the right side. The pain was unbearable. I kept changing sleeping positions in hopes that it would go away and I would get some sleep before the morning's hunt. This, unfortunately, did not happen. Pretty soon I was vomiting uncontrollably.

At 1:00 a.m. I woke up my buddy and told him I needed to go to the hospital.

At about 2:45 a.m. we arrived at the E.R. in Rifle. The doctor immediately gave me painkillers and an ultrasound. He informed me that my gallbladder was the issue and… it needed to be taken out!

Polite as I could be, I informed the doctor that this was not an option. One way or another, I'd be back on the mountain come sun up. The doctor understood, I think. We agreed to me spending the night in a motel across the street and I'd head back to the hospital in the morning when the pain meds wore off to see if I was able to go hunting.

By 10 a.m. the doctor cleared me for the woods. By 2 p.m. I was back on the mountain. On that short walk in my partner and I stumbled on a point we didn't see the first time around. It was much more accessible than the area we scouted. This spot was also a good bit lower in elevation and the terrain was, well… unique to say the least. It was covered with oil equipment. But it was productive. Less than half an hour on the point and the Swaro 80 mm spotter dialed in two mature bucks. One was an enormous 6x5 that would gross in the 190's, the other a 5x4 with a non-typical right side. The 5x4 had a much bigger body and seemed to be older.

I grabbed my binoculars and started to pick apart the best way to approach the deer. The first 800 yards seemed to be a relatively easy stock because of the large clump of trees between the deer and me. I dropped my pack and spotter and the stalk began. I made good time getting to the clump of trees and was able to walk upright for the entire distance.

After getting to the clump of trees I checked the wind and thermals. Good. So I peaked around the trees to get an eye on the bucks. It wasn't good. They had pulled a Houdini on me. I went into panic mode for a second and started scanning the surroundings looking for velvet racks. In less than 30 seconds I found the smaller of the two bucks in the strangest location: he had moved about 100 yards away and bedded between two oil containers!

I shouldn't complain too much, though. The location made my job even easier. I hooked to my left and closed the distance to 50 yards, checked the wind and thermals one more time and started my final approach. When I got within 30 yards I think the painkillers kicked in. I wasn't quite as jittery as I normally get in bow range. I still did not have a shot at the deer and actually couldn't even see it at this point, so I went to full draw and started taking one small steep at a time working around the oil tanks.

Now I was within 25 yards of the deer and wasn't sure what was about to happen. At 13 yards the bucks nose and antlers peaked out. He was looking in the other direction. This was going to be a slam-dunk! I got to seven yards and the deer picked me up. He started to blow out of his bed, but I was anchored and ready to shoot. I dropped my pin on his lungs and released.

Well, he just kept on moving. The arrow was a clean miss just over and behind him. All I could think was reload dummy, reload! I knocked an arrow and let out a quick grunt. The buck stopped to look back. I placed my forty-yard pin on his heart and released another arrow. THWACK - the sound of heart and lungs deflating. I knew my shot had gone through his heart.

I quickly ran up the hill and tried to see where he ran. I hoped the buck had gone down already. At this point I was shaking and tried to get myself back together. My nerves were a wreck from feeling sick, the hospital, the oil can landscape and missing that first shot.

I quickly found my arrow. It was covered in blood. The blood trail started from that immediate point of impact and lead off into the woods. After about 35 yards of blood trailing I found the buck piled up against a huge patch of sagebrush. I can't explain what I was feeling at the moment. My mind was running about a million miles a second. It was a long 24 hours.

The buck came in at 4x5 with a giant body. The department of wildlife estimated his age at 7 years and a weight of over 250 lbs. I couldn't have been happier. Under the circumstances I was extremely lucky that I was even able to hunt.