“My number one priority is that I want to be able to continue hunting the mountains,” I said as they examined my knee. She looked at me and explained the situation, “You may have to adjust your lifestyle.” Which was her way of saying, “You may not be able to do that anymore.”
With knee surgery scheduled for May, I didn’t apply for many tags this last year. The first surgeon I met with was talking full knee reconstruction, 9-12 months recovery time – no way I’d be able to get in a tree stand let alone climb a mountain. Thankfully, the specialist I went to see recommended that we just fix what we could arthroscopically and then if I needed the full rebuild later we could go back in and do it. That 12 month recovery time just got cut down to about 12 weeks. Bingo! Time to find a tag!
All the draws were done, so I was looking for OTC or leftover tags and I was able to pick up a Colorado leftover archery mule deer tag. It was in some rough country, but I figured I’d be alright.
After spending the first couple days looking over and learning the unit, I got up Monday morning and glassed the high stuff I could see from camp. Nothing. Time to head up the mountain. It was early season and warm so I needed to get high. I was camped at about 10,800 ft. and needed to get to 12,000 or higher. This was rough country, lots of cliffs, so I had to pick what I thought was the “easiest” route and get going. I got most of the way up the mountain and got myself into a bad spot. It was too steep to go up and almost too steep to go back down. I only had about 100 more feet to climb and I didn’t want to go back down. It had taken almost two hours to get to this point.
Having my knee scoped had prevented me from training during the summer, so my legs weren’t nearly as strong as they needed to be for this country but I still made it up the mountain. I ended up covering 5 miles and over 1,500 ft of gain that day.
Once I got on top things were going pretty well overall, other than the fact that I hadn’t seen a single deer. It was warm, way too warm, and there was very little daytime activity. So, in between glassing sessions mid-day, I figured out a different route back down the mounting using the OnX maps that I had saved to my phone.
Sitting on the side of the mountain for hours, with nothing to do, nowhere to go, is such a 180 from the normal day-to-day of “real life”. Lots of time to think. I was fighting off the frustration of not seeing any deer by focusing on the positive – I’m actually up here hunting when I didn’t think I’d even be off crutches at this point in the year. I kept reminding myself that it’s hunting, it can happen fast. Four hours later, after glassing over a great looking basin all afternoon, I hadn’t seen a thing. Afternoon storm clouds were building, and I did not want to get caught above timberline in a rain storm, or worse a lightning storm. Thankfully the clouds stayed south of me. I knew though, that I needed to head down in the daylight since I was taking a new route through steep country and thick timber. There were a couple other basins I could get to pretty easily though, so I wanted check them before I headed down.
As I got to the next basin it was getting fairly late in the afternoon. I just kept thinking that there should be something moving, but nothing. Strange. This looks like great country, I can’t believe there’s nothing here. Then…boom…just like that I catch part of an elk in the timber. He moves a little and I can see it is a nice 6×6, the biggest I’ve ever seen while hunting. He’s 570 yards away, the wind is perfect….but I don’t have an elk tag in my pocket. This is an OTC archery elk unit, so I think I could go to town and get an elk tag, but that would cost me half a day of hunting. I decide I’ll just get back up here early in the morning, look for deer, and see if he’s still in this nice huntable little pocket. If no deer, and if he’s still there, then I’ll head to town for an elk tag.
It was getting late and time to head down. The “quickest, easiest” way down was still steep and tough. The first section still had snow and ice, way too dangerous. I had to go around and work my way down a rockslide. It was steep and the footing wasn’t great. “This will be tough in the morning, but doable,” I thought. A quarter mile later I ran into two more bulls, a 5×5 and a small 6×6….I should have had an elk tag in my pocket! As I get to the timber I think, “I just need to follow this little stream the mile and a half I have left.” Sounds easy enough. Man was I wrong….my legs, and especially my bad knee, were not ready for that. It was steep, and wet, and there were a lot of dead falls. “Ok…focus. Slow. Careful, controlled steps. Don’t blow your knee out.” It was a struggle. As I took a little break, I made plans for staying on the mountain overnight if I did blow my knee out. “I have fire starter, some snacks, a pistol – if something happens, my best option is to hunker down for the night.” By the time I finally made it down the mountain I realized that I may not be able to get myself back up and down that mountain, let alone pack out an elk. “I need to do the right thing, the smart thing…..I can’t go back up there.”
It was hard, really hard, to walk away from that hunt in a great mule deer unit with a great bull located, but it was the right thing to do. I love to hunt the mountains, absolutely love it, no place I’d rather be, but I knew I had to keep my priorities straight. Doing my job and taking care of my family need to come first….and I can’t do those things if I’m laid up with a bum knee.
Most hunts are physically demanding in one way or another. A major injury, even just getting older, could make it impossible to keep doing what you do. Get out and do them now, because nothing is guaranteed! And when you do get to get out there and hunt, give it all you’ve got because you only get a limited number of days in the field and those could come to end at any time.
Gear on this trip:
Bow – Matthews Vertix
Arrows – Easton FMJ
Broadheads – Rage Trypan
Binos – Vortex Diamonback 10×42
Spotting Scope – Vortex Razor 15-45×65