Professional free skier Drew Rouse tagged this 200-class velvet mule deer in late August near his home in Eagle County, Colorado. Rouse shared with Field & Stream the details of his remarkable hunt, which capped both a 7-year odyssey to kill a big muley and his recovery from a serious skiing accident that could easily have ended the 32-year-old's life. Photo by Ben Koelker.
Rouse travels the world competing in professional big mountain free-skiing competitions. “Basically you go out and ski steep terrain and jump off cliffs,” he says. In March 2010 he was in Snowbird, Utah, for the world free-skiing championships. “Practicing the day before the competition, I caught my edge in a bad spot and went airborne doing about 60 miles an hour. I flipped a couple of times, landed on my back, blew out my knee, tore an ACL for the fourth time, fractured the C7 vetebra in my neck and got a concussion that had me throwing up for three days.” Doctors told Rouse he was lucky. “It was a long recovery, and it still hurts,” he says. “But I could easily have died.” Photo by Barnaby Wattenmaker
Rouse told his nurses that he was finished with the sport. But after taking a year off to recuperate, he returned to the mountain. In January he tore cartilage in a knee after a tumble while skiing. He was still able to compete in a free-skiing competition in Chile this summer, finishing 22nd in a field that featured 50 of the best free skiers in the world. Less than a week later, on Sunday, August 28, the second day of the mule deer season, he set out with friend Ben Koelker to hunt elk and mulies on National Forest land near his Avon, Colorado, home. Though he didn’t know it yet, his bum knee would help him put a tag on the biggest mule deer of his life. _
Photo by Ben Koelker_
“We got up early, about 5 a.m., and hiked in,” Rouse recalls. “Right at first light we saw a 5 X 5 bull and six cows. We both had elk tags, but I was holding out for a 6 X 6. I called the bull in for Ben, but he stopped at 50 yards with a tree in front of his vitals, and Ben couldn’t shoot him.” Note the elk antlers on Rouse’s pack: “I’ve found rattling antlers to be very effective when calling to elk,” he says, “to add a little realism to your setup.” _
Photo by Ben Koelker_
The elk eventually moved off and the men continued to hunt, checking out some backcountry wallows torn up with elk and deer tracks. Photo by Ben Koelker
As the sun rose higher, Rouse– who also had a muley tag– turned his attention to deer. “We hiked around the mountain for two hours, hiking and glassing, hiking and glassing.” Photo by Ben Koelker
“Ben wanted to hike to a lake, but the knee I’d blown out while skiing had really started to hurt and I couldn’t go any further. I told Ben I needed to start heading back to the car.” _
_ Photo by Ben Koelker
“We turned around and went a couple miles back toward my truck. We passed a couple of tree islands, and one of them sometimes holds a lot of deer–there’s a spring in there where I shot a deer the year before. So I dropped into that one and Ben went into the other.” Rouse struggled through tangled blowdown for a quarter mile. “My knee was hurting so bad I decided to head out to the edge,” he recalls. “That’s when I saw a huge mule deer feeding on the other side of the meadow. It was the kind of deer I’ve been looking for for seven years.” _
Photo by Ben Koelker_
“I know deer like this live where I hunt, but I’ve never been in position to put a stalk on one. Usually they see me and blow out of there in a hurry. But I saw this one before he saw me.” Photo by Chris Hood
“He was feeding about 75 yards away and he wasn’t paying me any attention. I used the tree line to sneak in to 70 yards. When he put his head down to feed, it was hidden behind a real big aspen tree. I knew he couldn’t see me so I just walked straight out into the meadow kind of quickly.” Photo by Chris Hood
“I put the range finder on him and he was 49 yards. I figured that was close enough. I practice out to 100 yards and have pins set that far.” _
_ Photo by Ben Koelker
“I put my 50-yard pin on him and shot. Well, I must have ranged some vegetation or did something else to get the range wrong, because my arrow clipped his brisket and sliced it open.” Photo by Chris Hood
“He wheeled and took two steps and was standing there looking around. I real quick nocked another arrow and put my 50-pin on him a little higher this time. I hit him behind the shoulder. I thought I’d made a really good shot, but I couldn’t tell for sure because he was quartering to me. Later I figured out that I put the arrow through his liver.” Photo by Chris Hood
The deer kicked and ran to the top of a rise, where he stood unsteadily before disappearing over the hill. “I thought it was a good hard shot, and I saw blood when the arrow hit,” Rouse says. “I figured he was hit real bad.” Photo by Chris Hood
“I called Ben and said, ‘Hey, I shot a 190-inch mule deer. Get down here.'” After 45 minutes they started following the blood trail, but lost it after 300 yards. They were standing near a mountain bike trail when another friend passed by on his bike. “I told him I’d just shot the biggest mule deer I’d ever seen, but we’d lost the blood trail and after an hour of searching we weren’t sure what to do. I was really bummed. He said he’d keep an eye out.” _
_ Photo by Chris Hood
“He got a little further down the trail and he started shouting at us. The deer was lying in the middle of the trail about 100 yards beyond my last search loop.” But the hunt wasn’t over yet. Photo by Chris Hood
The deer got back on its feet and slowly disappeared into an aspen grove. “I couldn’t believe that he was still on his feet.” Rouse crept into the grove, within 10 yards of where the deer lay in heavy cover, and delivered the coup de grace with an arrow through the lungs. “He took a few more steps and finally keeled over…He was the toughest animal I’ve ever seen.” Photo by Ben Koelker
Initial measurements taken by friend Chris Hood led to published claims that the 13-point buck could be a new Colorado state archery record, but subsequent measurements put that in doubt. Photo by Chris Hood
“We’ve figured out that with the velvet on he’d gross score around 207 4/8 typical, after only about 10 inches of deductions,” says Rouse. He will have the rack measured again without the velvet and figures a score in the 190s is likely. “I think his gross typical score will still put him in probably the top 5 archery for SCI, and I’ve had people tell me that he’ll make top 20 Pope & Young.” Photo by Ben Koelker
Rouse believes his experience as an avid backcountry skier has contributed to his deer hunting success over the past seven years. ” I know that area probably better than anyone, even in the summertime, and I know those deer are out there,” he says. “I happened to catch him before anyone else put a stalk on him this year.” Photo by Chris Hood
August capped a remarkable comeback for Rouse, who was unable to draw his bow for three months after his skiing injury. “It’s almost indescribable to come back from an injury that could have taken my life, to go to South America and ski really well and then come back to Colorado and shoot a deer like this. It’s like August was the best month of my life.” _
_ Photo by Chris Hood
Living just 10 miles west of Vail, Rouse skis until June, mountain bikes all summer, hunts through the fall and picks up work photographing and reporting on ski competitions. He says the adventure lifestyle contrasts with that of his Maryland family, most of whom are lawyers. After his accident, he contemplated moving back east to join them. “People always ask me why I didn’t just quit. Why stop now when I’ve put so much into it? When you’re playing poker and you put all your chips in the middle, you don’t just fold. You play it out.” _
Photo by Chris Hood_
Rouse says his aunt, who died a week before his return to professional skiing, will be in his thoughts as he looks at his mount. “She always told me I’m doing the right thing to live my life the way I want to,” he says. “And then after she died, all these good things happened to me. It almost seems like she had something to do with it. I’ll think about her, and how fortunate I am that I can still walk, and still hunt and still do the stuff I love.” Photo by Chris Hood

Professional free skier Drew Rouse tagged this 200-class Colorado velvet mule deer in late August. Rouse shares the details of his remarkable hunt, which capped both a 7-year odyssey to kill a big muley and his recovery from a serious skiing accident that could easily have ended the 32-year-old’s life.