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Muzzleloader Muley
By Steve Mahurin
     

In October 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 that night.

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.

Written by Steve Mahurin on August 22, 1999.

     
     
Muzzle Loader Muley
     
     


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Steve Mahurin
25 North Heights
La Marque, Texas 77568
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Email: samahurin@comcast.net

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