Matt Howell Hunting Trip
Photo Credit: Matt Howell

This chapter of the Legacy begins in June 2014. It was a warm Saturday afternoon in my hometown of Durango. I was helping a family friend clean up a garage sale when he asked me, “Are either of your boys left-handed?” Having no idea why he was asking such a random question I replied with the truth. Neither Nate nor Cole were left-handed, but I had found out the hard way that Cole, my 12-year-old, was left eye dominate when I bought him a right-handed bow. To my surprise, he said, “Perfect, I have a left-handed youth model .270 I want to give him under one condition; when he outgrows it he must pass it down to another youth.” Needless to say, Cole was more than ecstatic to receive the rifle. He had drawn a third season rifle mule deer tag in Colorado so the new rifle would be put to good use.

This would be Cole’s first Hunt

Opening morning found us hunting in fresh snow above 10,000 feet. We covered lots of ground and glassed many canyons turning up no sign. It was obvious that the snow had already pushed the deer to lower elevations. That afternoon we dropped below the snow line and hunted around 8500 feet. This was an area I knew held lots of bucks. A forest fire had hit this area 10 years ago, so we hunted hard along the edge of the burn. With the sun setting, a major storm moved in unleashing lightning, hail, and heavy rains. We booked it off the ridge without seeing a single deer.

Rifle, Hunt, Father Son
Photo Credit: Matt Howell

Day two started the way day one had ended; heavy rains and major lightning that kept the deer locked down and us in the truck. As the storm let up, we put on our rain gear and headed out hoping to catch some deer moving between storms. A few hundred yards up the ridge we cut some fresh tracks and decided to follow them. It was a great opportunity to teach Cole how to read and understand deer tracks. We discussed the possible reasons the deer were headed the direction they were and the possibilities of where they might be.

Reaching the top of the ridge we found a nice spot to watch and glass the canyon where the deer had gone. An hour of glassing brought no sign of deer, and as the distant rumble of thunder dictated that we work our way back to the truck. The rain came quickly and despite our rain gear we both were soaked. Slipping and sliding our way down to the truck, we came across another youth hunter who had harvested his second buck, a nice 150″ 4×4 with chocolate antlers. Seeing the success of the other hunter stoked Cole’s passion and he stated that he wanted to harvest the first legal buck we found. Making it to the truck we decided to hustle home, dry off, refuel, and then head back out to a new spot.

With the storm system beginning to dissipate, the deer were up and moving early. It didn’t take us long to locate a group of 11 bucks feeding in a grassy draw. Cole’s constant smile grew into an ear-to-ear grin full of excitement and nerves. This was far from the perfect setup. The 22 eyes combined with the open rolling terrain made it very difficult to get within range. Not to mention the wind was not in our favor. After spending 2 hours circling the bucks and getting the wind in our faces we were finally able to make a game plan.

The bucks were now bedded in the tall grass below us. To our left was a small draw where we could crawl and hopefully get within 200 yards. Taking our time, we covered the first 2/3rds of the distance on our hands and knees. The last 100 yards we covered on our bellies, slowly setting up the shooting sticks for the deer 233 yards out.

Now we had to wait for the buck Cole wanted to stand. The cold breeze and wet ground, combined with the excitement of being set up on a good buck, brought an uncontrollable shake to both of our bodies. The minutes seemed like hours and my mind raced with ideas of how I could get the bucks to their feet before shooting light faded away. As I sat considering our options, Cole nudged me and pointed towards the bucks. A couple of the smaller bucks had stood up and were starting to feed. I knew shortly the bigger bucks would stand and stretch.

With light fading fast we made the decision to shoot the first mature buck that gave us a good shot. The three biggest bucks were bedded off to the left of the group. Two of the bucks stood and began feeding towards us, offering no shot. The biggest buck rose to his feet, stretched, and began feeding towards the rest of the group. Cole was ready, gun steadied by the shooting sticks. I calmly walked him through his steps; “Pick a spot, breathe, and gently squeeze.”

Even though I knew it was coming the report and concussion of the rifle caught me by surprise. I could hear the hit but missed seeing where the bullet struck. I told Cole to reload and shoot again noticing the buck was hit hard as he stood hunkered up. The bucks didn’t know where the shot came from and began to get nervous and jumpy. With the deer moving around, Cole could not get another clear shot. The bucks decided to move off to our left and into a small draw.

We moved forward to get a better view and bumped his buck who was already bedded. The buck limped out of view before Cole could get on him. A few seconds later all of the other bucks exploded out of the other side of the draw. One was missing. Working to a higher vantage point we glassed the tall, thick grass as darkness settled in. Unable to locate the buck we decided to back out and return at first light. Cole was about to experience his first long, sleepless night.

Photo Credit: Matt Howell

First light found us glassing for Cole’s buck. Moving to a new vantage point I finally located the tall tines of the buck. He was bedded about 30 yards from where we last spotted him, and to our surprise he was still alive. The grass he was bedded in allowed absolutely no shot. We had to get closer. Working our way closer and closer, we found ourselves less than 75 yards away, but still unable to get a clear shot. I tried to get the buck to stand by whistling and waving my arms but he just laid there looking at us. With no other option, I told Cole to get ready and we began walking straight at the buck. At a mere 20 yards, the buck exploded from his bed. Cole pulled the rifle to his shoulder and squeezed a shot off dropping the buck in his tracks.

The flood of emotions that went through my body at that moment is indescribable. Respect and honor for the animal that gave his life, pride, and joy for my son, combined with the values/morals that this hunt instilled in him, and the happiness for the meat that will fill our freezer all brought tears to my eyes. Sharing this moment with my son will always be a highlight of my hunting career and the legacy that I create!

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