I came over the top too fast. From a wind-beaten bush, a great buck sprang up. My shot came as a reflex, but the bullet caught the buck’s ribs and sent him tumbling. Luck was my salvation.
Hunting that ridge was part of a successful strategy I had used before. The technique entailed prowling along trails a short rifle shot below the crest, moving across the thermal drift with the sun to my back or side. In sunlit places at dawn and dusk, keeping to shady slopes during midday, I’d glass clumps of white-bark pine and subalpine fir, with occasional looks into and across mountain basins. Through mid-October in most alpine deer range, bucks stay high. Young bucks typically move in bachelor groups, veterans by themselves or in pairs. They bed just off the ridge so that they have more escape options and a view. The best places are where snowmelt or springs keep forbs green through autumn.
Because the mule deer’s summer and fall range is much bigger than its winter range, finding early-season deer can be daunting-until you realize they prefer specific hangouts near timberline. Then you’ll find lots of bucks with your binoculars.
Hiking ridgelines in the Rocky Mountains can be done from a base camp, but you’ll spare yourself vertical deadheading if you carry camp on your back. Map out a three-day route, either a circuit or a linear path with a dropped-off vehicle at trail’s end. If you shoot a buck at midpoint, you’ll have no more than a day’s pack out. Every day you’ll be in new country-a delight even when the deer outsmart you. Plan it right, and you’ll find yourself on rims seldom reached by hunters operating from base camps.