By Bruce Hutcheon
Gunnison Basin 2020
4Basin Units 55,54,66,67
After 17 years of applying as a resident of Colorado, my name was drawn for a Gunnison Basin 4th season tag. The Gunnison Basin is world renowned for Boone and Crockett Mule Deer. There’s not a serious mule deer trophy hunter who hasn’t had the Gunnison Basin on their bucket list. Here’s a list of the top five states for Booner bucks
Top 5 Booner Mule Deer Hunting States Since 2010
With numbers like this for Colorado it’s not unreasonable for a nonresident to wait 25 years to get drawn. Throw in tag creep and it is become darn near impossible to draw more than one premium tag in a lifetime. I remember talking with Garth Carter of Hunting Fool years back and he told me Apply, Apply, Apply for the tag of your dreams every year in every state you could afford.
Reaching 74 years of age, with two total hip replacements and a pinned right shoulder I wanted a relatively “easy” hunt that would demand limited hiking or climbing but still demand strong mental and shooting abilities.
The 4th season bucks are entering the rut, have followed the does to the vast sagebrush environment found throughout the Gunnison Basin. These aren’t sage brush flats seen in parts of the Wyoming Red Desert but rolling hills, steep drainages and small islands of aspens and dark timber. Throw some oak brush, ponderosa pine and willow thickets along creek bottoms you have all the diversity of cover that trophy bucks go looking for receptive does.
Once I got notified that the tag was mine, I had a hard decision to make, DIY or Outfitter. My research started in the mule deer forums, Monster Muleys (https://www.monstermuleys.com/). The response was enthusiastic and generated a lot of questions. I soon realized that it would be a difficult DIY hunt without a lot of pre scouting, digital research and scouting via goHunt Insider. (https://www.gohunt.com/INSIDER%20)
The most important piece of information I got was how critical glassing would be to my success. It would require moving from ridge to ridge across the vast unit, sunup to sundown. The advice rang true because I averaged over 100 miles per day in my 4 Runner. Yes, I had to drive my own rig due to COVID-19. The second important piece was that I should have a minimum of two other people on my hunt team to glass more country every day.
It became apparent due to my fall hunting schedule that DIY was out of the question, so I began the process of finding a local Gunnison outfitter. IMO, there are numerous qualified outfitters that hunt the Basin, but some are not locals. Key to a successful hunt is to hire a local outfitter. They do not come cheap but, in the end, they can get the boots on the ground and find shooters prior to season. During the hunt having a team of seasoned guides made the difference in locating bucks and determining very quickly if they were shooters or not.
Plus, my team had been hunting the basin for years and had a very impressive success record on B&C bucks. The guide team; Colten, Cody, and Ryan
Check out the data for drawing a Basin tag here: https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Hunting/BigGame/Statistics/Deer/2020DeerDrawRecap.pdf
I had some last-minute rifle issues that made my mind up for me as to my choice of rifle that would join me on the hunt. My Remington 700 Mountain Rifle in .280 Remington with a 140 gr Sierra Game King bullet travelling at 2900 fps and topped with a 2x8 Leupold scope would get the job done out to 400 yds when sighted in at 3.5” high at 100 yards.
My optics consisted of a Vortex Razor HD 20-60 and Swarovski 10x42.
Best buck from preseason scouting was found by Colten. He never was seen again.
Day One found us on a ridge we would visit almost every day. When it was clear and winds were favorable, as we did have gusts during the hunt over 40 mph, this ridge offered 30-mile views north and west. You might note the sizable herd of elk heading up the ridge. Yes, there are plenty of elk in the basin come 4th season.
Below is a photo of exactly the behavior we were looking for from the bucks, having them performing a lip curl. “By mid-to-late November across much of the West, does are coming into estrus, and buck’s testosterone levels peak. Prior to and during estrus, mule deer does produce pheromones. Lip curling allows a buck to determine if a doe is entering estrus. The buck traps scent from a doe's urine in its nose and mouth, and then lip-curls. This allows the buck's scent-analyzing device in the roof of its mouth to pinpoint the doe's status.”
It’s going to be a long Day behind the glass for Colten and the rest of the team but that’s the kind of effort required to locate a B&C buck. Time and quality glass are the two investments you have to make. Its more important to spend a couple of thousand of dollars on great glass and forgo high priced camo, rifles, or trucks.
More does from day one. There has got to a buck close by. There were bucks close, but they were all 3x3 or 3x4 which was not on our menu.
Day’s best buck was over a half mile away, but Colten’s Swarovski scope dialed him in. I took a pass due to his location. We never saw him again.
Day two more of the same, Travel – Glass – Travel. The guides never took their foot off the gas all five days. Sunup to sundown they went from ridge to ridge looking for “the One” aka “Mr. Wonderful” unfortunately for the team we never saw a 190” or 200” B&C class buck.
Promise in the am but no shooters. Here’s a small 4x4 on the prowl but he does not make the grade.
Mature three by four with his ladies. Fun to watch but of no interest.
Dark thirty, about 6:00 am to be more precise. If you’re not willing to get up at 4:30 travel to your unit and be behind the glass at first light till shooting light is gone then rethink hunting for trophy mule deer in the Basin. Yeah, you can grab a nap depending on the temperature and wind, but you’re chances of success decrease dramatically if you’re not in the field the entire day.
Motherload of does, where is the toad? There are over twenty does in this photo and the buck has yet to show himself. We never got a photo of him due to going to red alert when he came out of the dark timber just before shooting light departed. He was a very tall four by four with a tight frame and deep forks. You might have seen a likeness to him in various catalogs or hunting magazines. He made the hit list for day five.
Day’s best buck was not what we were looking for. Potential for day five but a pass today.
Let’s get er done today but Mother Nature up to no good. Bucks are up and moving all morning, the issue was fog moving along the ridges causing us to stop the trucks and just wait it out.
Being Saturday, the elk hunters were out in the biggest numbers of the week making it a challenging day from a spotting standpoint. There were trucks in every saddle and on every ridge.
The bucks knew where they were safe as they didn’t care if you had a deer tag or and elk tag, they knew the game and it was to find secure cover and what better than on private ground.
The fog drifted away as the day warmed up and I jumped in the side by side with Cody and we went looking for bucks in small hidey holes and creek bottoms. This buck was just asking to go on my wall but on close scrutiny he was way pass his prime. It was exciting to see a buck closer than a couple of hundred yards.
On Saturday, Cody and Ryan had glassed up a mature buck with heavy dark mass, deep back forks but was short on the width I was looking for. He was at the top of the day Five hit list along with two other bucks. This is where he lived and was keeping his ladies waiting for them to come into estrus.
Day Five came with a bright sunrise and the team on the go looking for the final day buck. We found him on a north facting where he had been herded up the day before. It was a matter of figuring up just where he was heading with his does, making a move to get on him and closing the deal.
From the ridge above and west of him we dropped into the sage and went about a mile to get ahead of him. When we first stopped he was a good mile away truck in the timber. We used some small ridges to close the gap to just under 300 yards. He was moving his does through the ponderosa pines and I waited to set up on him till he cleared the does. My first shot was 5” in front of his heart and ripped through his brisket.
Dang sunlight in the scope made it a difficult shot. He headed downhill then abrupting turned up hill towards the dark timber. He made the infamous mule deer error because at 306 yards he stopped and looked back, then the lights went out with a neck shot off my shooting sticks. Ironic as it may be the neck shot hit his spin and deflected to exit through his brisket. He was on the ground and one for the wall.
The Joy of the Hunt
Neck shot, 306 yards from bare grassy bench in background off shooting sticks.
Two rounds, one entrance, one exit
My smile says it all
Heading for the wall
Guides: Colten and Cody
In the background about a mile down hill you can see my white 4 Runner parked in the middle of the photo.Thanks to my three amigos! Time to celebrate
I am a blessed man
2020 4th Season Tag Punched
My buck is at the taxidermist getting ready to join other hunting memories on my wall. Did I achieve my pre hunt goal of a B&C buck nope but spending those days with my hunt team were some of the finest days afield I have enjoyed in North America.
If you would like to use me as a hunting resource, please reach out to me at Hutchonhunting@gmail.com
Guides: Colten Crittendon, Cody Dyce, and Ryan Van Lanen
Thanks to my host, Paul and Liza Pike for the accommodations and years of friendship.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife for working towards providing world class deer hunting in the Gunnison Basin. Gunnison CPW: 970-641-7060
Map: Gunnison National Forest
Molly Pike for making sure I was well feed each night at the Blackstock Bistro, Gunnison CO
Personal Gear Corner…
Remington Arms Model #700 .280 Mountain rifle - 140 gr Sierra Game King
Leopold VXIII 2x8 - Vortex Razor HD 20-60 85mm – Swarovski 10x42
Bog Shooting sticks
North Face – Scent Blocker – Lowa
Conquest Scents – VS1