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Seven Days In the Sandia Mountains

Seven Days In the Sandia Mountains

Editor's Note: For this #Throwback Thursday, we present the story of then-13-year-old Canyon Young, originally published in November 2010. If you're out there, Canyon, we'd love to hear what you've been up to in the last five years!

A slight breeze whistled through my bowstring as I slowly made my way up the ridge that separated Sunset Canyon from the rest of the west side of the Sandia mountains. My dad and I topped out on the ridge and looked over a smaller drainage that we simply called “The Bowl.” On the opposite side of The Bowl stood a small finger ridge that parted the main part of the canyon from this drainage. I glanced to my right and spotted two does staring holes through me from 35 yards away. Soon we realized that a group of a dozen does surrounded us, all which I could have taken pretty easily.

After the years I’ve spent deer hunting, this seems to be how it works. For most of the deer hunts here in New Mexico, the bag limit is one fork-antlered deer or better. So many times I’ve been within easy rifle or bow range of does and spikes, but, of course, I can’t shoot them. I must admit that I wouldn’t pass on a doe if I could have one. I’ve also had plenty of opportunities on legal bucks, and even took a nice buck with my rifle back in ‘06. Last year in ’08 on this same hunt, I had four shots on different bucks, but failed to close the deal on any of them. This year, I hoped, would be different. I had a much better bow setup that I had practiced with almost every single day since I got it. I had also been running, hiking and lifting weights to give myself more of an advantage over last year.

This was the first day of my nine-day, youth- and bow-only deer season in late November, in a meat-hunter’s paradise, which just happened to be a 30-minute drive from my house. But unfortunately, we went home that night without even sighting a buck.

The second day, we decided to hunt in Sunset Canyon again, this time using a different approach. We walked up the bottom of the canyon to a point where we could see the entire south-facing ridge of the canyon. Here we would glass this ridge. I spotted some deer with my rangefinder, serving as binoculars, and a few minutes later confirmed one of them as a legal buck through our cheap-o $50 spotting scope. For a stalk, I planned to go up a draw until I was even with the deer, and then move across the hillside to within my effective range of 50 yards and under. My dad would stay in the sage-covered bottom of the canyon and use hand signals to tell me if the deer were moving.

Fortunately, the deer ended up not moving from the place we had spotted them. I kept track of where they were while maneuvering around the big rocks and cactus that covered the hillside. During the stalk, one doe had me pinned down a number of times. I thought for sure she would blow my cover, but by not making eye contact and remaining motionless, I kept the doe calm. Half an hour later, I was at full draw on the small buck, standing broadside to me at 45 yards. I centered the bubble in my level and settled the red 45-yard pin behind the buck’s shoulder. The arrow arched through the air toward the buck. In the heat of the moment, I couldn’t really tell if I had hit the deer or not, but what I could tell was that my shot seemed a little high. We looked for the deer as well as any blood, soon confirming I hadn’t closed the deal.

That evening, we hiked up onto the ski slopes on the east side of the mountains up at 10,000 feet. We got a short look at a buck that we had patterned over the course of the off-season. But we never managed to get within bow range of him. We walked all over the ski area through the deep snow, but never saw him again.

The days started flying by. We tried several different places on the west side in the high desert foothills, as well as the east side in the subalpine spruce-fir forest. I got somewhat frustrated when I got within bow range of probably 20 does that I could have taken without a problem, but we struggled to find any bucks.

It was the evening of the seventh straight day of hunting without any luck. We had hunted hard on the west side that morning. Now we were walking through the trees and snow toward the ski slopes. We had planned to do a little walk around the ski area and call it a day when legal shooting hours ended. We were on a trail that went south, crossing all the ski slopes. We were walking through the stretch of trees between the last two ski slopes when we spotted some deer moving through the trees in front of us. We moved back a little to a ski slope. We didn’t want to just chase the deer through the trees. I’ve done that numerous times before, and, of course, it’s never worked for me. To avoid doing this, we devised a plan with old redneck gun hunter origins. My dad was going to walk down a small clear cut that connected the slope we were on with another, and then circle back, hoping to push the deer out of the trees so I could get a better look at them.

My dad started walking down the clear cut while I backed up into the edge of the trees on the north side of the slope.

The light was fading. There was no sound except for the deep, lonely whistle of the cold breeze blowing down the ski slope. The ski-lift chairs gently rocked back and forth as they hung from their cables. I looked to my right and saw the smaller mountains to the east where my house was, a few thousand feet below where I stood at over 10,000 feet. It was an eerie silence.

After a few minutes, snow crunched on the slope, and instinctively I looked up. Our plan had worked and the deer were walking right at me across the slope, well within 100 yards. My heart started beating faster. There were seven or eight deer, one of them a nice forky buck. He chased a couple of his does around as they got closer and closer. Soon, they stopped. After a moment, the does trotted back toward the trees on the south edge of the slope. The buck still stood in the middle of the slope, quartering toward me. I ranged it at 45 yards while it looked away. After what seemed like an eternity, it turned broadside and started walking after its does. At this point I was very excited and shaking some, so I tried to think of the deer as my broadhead target back at the house. I drew my bow and whistled. It stopped on a dime and stared through me. I centered the bubble in my level and tucked my 45-pin right behind his shoulder. Right before I pulled the trigger on my release, I asked God to guide my arrow. And that’s exactly what He did. The arrow zipped through the air like a beam of light. Although I couldn’t see the impact because it was starting to get dark, I heard a solid “thwack.” The buck ran off into the woods.

My dad and I met up in the middle of the slope. He was at the edge of the trees and had seen it all happen. We found where the buck was standing when my arrow connected. We also found plenty of blood on the slope in between where the deer had been hit and when it entered the trees, which assured us that the arrow had connected with the buck where I’d wanted it to.

We somehow managed to wait for an hour before we started on the blood trail. By this time, it was dark. We had a bit of trouble here and there with tracking the buck (especially with just one flashlight). Along the trail, we found the back 10 or 12 inches of an arrow. At first, we didn’t think it was my arrow. It had two red and one orange fletchings. But we soon realized that this was my arrow, just soaked in deer blood. We lost the blood where it crossed the trail. We knew exactly where this spot was, so we just decided to just back out and come back the next morning.

I’m glad we decided to do this, because the next morning, we had my mom and little brother out to help. My dad had also called my grandpa that night. My grandpa is very experienced in blood tracking and said that we would find my buck that morning. He was right. After no more than 100 yards from where we left off on the blood trail, we found the buck lying dead on the edge of a smaller ski slope. My dad and I were thrilled.

For the entire time I’ve been hunting in my life, my biggest dream was to kill a muley buck with my bow on the ski slopes of the Sandias. Of course, though, I was sure that wouldn’t happen any time soon, if at all. Well, I had just fulfilled that dream. I green-scored my forky buck at 56 7/8 net P&Y, so no, it’s definitely not a record-book animal, but I don’t care a bit. I think it’s impressive enough that I even killed anything. All that really matters in bowhunting is the thrill of bowhunting. That buck was my first big-game animal taken with a bow. What I and many other people thought was almost impossible, if not completely impossible, turned out to be very possible. The odds were stacked against me. Killing a mule deer with a bow is hard enough for full-grown men, and I was 12, a week from being 13! Why was it possible, then? It was possible because I worked hard and didn’t give up. And, more importantly, I trusted that God would get me there. Now, I’ve got even more bowhunting goals to reach because I know I can do it. So as long as you keep at it, never give up, and trust that God will get you there, I believe anyone can accomplish any bowhunting goal they can think of. That’s just something that every bowhunter should always remember.               

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