of 1969, my wife Shirley and I headed away from our home near Galveston,
Texas, elevation about 20 feet. We were embarking on a totally new experience,
camping out, and for me a muzzle loading hunt for Mule Deer in the pristine,
clear, sweet smelling mountains of Colorado.
We were to meet my mother and stepfather at their home on the banks of
the Arkansas River, near the outskirts of Salida,Colorado This river is
world famous for it's rapids and the festival for kayak racers which is
held for them along it's beautiful banks each year. This cold clear mountain
waterway was also teeming with Rainbow and German Brown trout. My step
dad, Bill Paul, said that whenever he had a craving for fresh fish he
could amble his way down its banks and catch his limit for supper.
The Coloradon's had, to me, a strange custom of cooking these trout, scales
and all. It was explained to me that the scales were so small that you
could hardly tell it. I had my own opinion about that, and not caring
much about fish anyway, except for catching them, said I'd try some. Shirley
and I even caught our own supper. They weren't nearly as bad as I thought
and didn't taste all that bad.
Bill had also guided me a year earlier for a Boone and Crockett Mule Deer
Buck with my trusty old Remington model 700 30/06. After a day of acclimatizing
ourselves to the higher altitude, at least as much as possible. We loaded
our gear into the Bronco and headed out over Monarch Pass to a back country
spot about 20 miles past the one time ghost town of Crested Butte, Colorado.
The Coloradons called us Texan's, "Flatlanders."
The Aspens with their myriads of colors ranging from yellows to golds
to reds and oranges were breathtaking, as we rode by mountain sides, valleys,
and slopes covered with them. After awhile we finally arrived at our campsite
situated in a beautiful wooded glade next to a swiftly flowing, gurgling
stream, which we would utilize for bathing, washing, and drinking during
the days of our hunt. We pitched our tents and gathered a big pile of
dry wood for a camp fire that night. It was decided to take a few hours
to scout the mountain that loomed above us, in preparation for our hunt,
which would begin well before daylight the next morning. We wound our
way up the mountain on a not so great logging road. A couple of miles
from camp we came across a barrier of dirt, branches and logs, that Bill
said was bulldozed up there by the Forest Service to discourage people
from using the road. This thing was five or six feet high and pretty rough,
so I figured we walked from there. Bill said "no way, my Bronco could
get over it." He instructed me to cross over and guide him over to keep
him from puncturing a tire or getting the chassis hung up on a log, or
branch. If you remember the old war movies where the tank towers over
a soldier as it tops a bank, you know what I'm talking about. From where
I was standing at the bottom of the pile, I could just about see the whole
bottom of that bronco as it topped the pile of debris. We proceeded on
up the mountain and came across a very different scene than we'd ever
seen, (we being my wife and I). Here, nearly to the top of the mountain
was an old half fallen down log cabin which in itself is not all that
strange, but on the slope beside it were hundreds of logs strewn down
the side of a ravine extending nearly a hundred yards. These were logs
that had been cut only once, down their length, and were called slabs.
Bill said that this was the result of an old sawmill site that had been
abandoned in the early 30's.
But wait, that's still not the strangest part. As we stood at the edge
of the slope gazing down at the many hundreds of logs, an animal, a cousin
of the mink, the Timber Marten, with beautiful rusty red fur, darted out
of the jumble of logs and bit the toe of my boot, then darted back into
his hiding place. Talk about a surprise! Big time!!!
We did our scouting and made our way back down the slope. After a hearty
meal we sat around the roaring campfire. As I gazed into the crystal clear
night, I saw more stars than I'd ever seen. They looked like twinkling
diamonds, sparkling against a black velvet cloth. As the fire burned down
and we shifted the wood, columns of sparks rode a hot updraft, looking
against the backdrop of stars and dark timber like fireflies winging their
way to heaven. It goes without saying that nobody had to rock us to sleep
We awoke the next morning to an overcast sky with a slow drizzling mist
falling at the lower elevations at our camp to mixed sleet and snow as
we worked our way to the higher part of the mountain.
This is definitely bad news when hunting with a blackpowder rifle. Both
our rifles were both originals in the vicinity of 100 years old. Both
were the 50 caliber, Hawken type and shooting the traditional round lead
ball propelled by 100 grains of fffg blackpowder. These were the traditional
front loader, smoke poles, unlike the new easier loading weapons of today.
We also carried our powder horns and possibles bag, in which we carried
caps, balls, starter paddle, wadding, barrel grease, and a short starter.
Both were made of rough tanned buckskin with fringed edges. My wife had
hand made mine for me and had decorated it in a traditional tribal beaded
design from my partial Indian heritage to the Blackfoot Indians. You've
all heard the old adage, "keep your powder dry," and with these old antique
weapons you find out exactly what that means and how hard it is to do
in a continual drizzle.
As we eased up the slope through the aspens and "black timber", evergreen
forest we saw a few does and another of those furtive, rusty red, Timber
Martens. The first three days were not fruitful at all. Nothing but up,
down, and wet. On the fourth day about halfway up the mountain we spotted
a small buck between two trees down slope at about 125 yards. Remember
that old adage about keeping your powder dry! Bill finally got a chance
for a shot. He eased the hammer back and started his trigger squeeze,
while holding his sight picture thru the old Buckhorn sights. But, nothing
happened when the hammer fell. Naturally, Bill's head lifted slightly
but kept the weapon pointed toward the buck. About 2 or 3 seconds, which
seemed like 5 minutes, the weapon went off. It was a miss. A classic example
of what not to do with a slow ignition. But, I'd bet a lot that I, and
most others, would have done the same thing under the circumstances.
One afternoon as we stood high on a slope looking across a valley to the
next mountain, I felt a strong connection to our hunting forefathers who
carried and used the same type weapons to protect them selves and their
families and hunted with them to feed their families as well.
On our last day, as we headed down the mountain to camp, in the quickly
lengthening shadows, would you believe, a big fat Muley doe walked right
across our trail and stopped to look back at us. It was my turn to shoot
so I pulled back the hammer and eased back on the trigger. The only noise
I heard was a loud metallic click. A bad cap. As I was pulling my glove
off with my teeth in a frantic effort to pull the bad cap and replace
it with a good one, I hoped. Bill was ahead of me and handed me a fresh
cap as I got the bad one off. I got the fresh one on, cocked the hammer
and drew a bead on the doe, which had moved a few yards to my right and
part way down the slope at about 30 yards. This time there was a satisfying
explosion and inevitable cloud of powder smoke. When the smoke cleared,
there it was, my first Rocky Mountain Mule Deer with a muzzleloader.
By the time we got a couple of pictures it was getting pretty dark. By
the time we got her field dressed and back to camp, there was just time
for a last tasty meal around the campfire and then into our bed rolls
to get some needed rest in preparation for our breaking camp the next
morning and heading back to our home in Texas.
by Steve Mahurin on August 22, 1999.