Always Be Hunting:
A necessary lesson learned from a good friend
Mike Wallace, Colorado, 2017
“The pack out was long and gave me a lot of time to think about what a true friend I had in Justyn. He never stopped hunting, and his perseverance was the only reason I had the opportunity to harvest this buck.”
A Much-Needed Spark
Sometimes, as a human being, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. Refusing to change seems to get easier and easier as we age. Luckily, special people are put in our lives to shake us up; to get us out of our comfort zone. Justyn Hamilton is that person for me.
After moving close to a large, beautiful area of public land, that is also prime deer country, Justyn began to work on rousting me from my regular hunting perch. I was born and raised in Wyoming, and never hunted in any other spot than a small chunk of family ground, close to home.
After a few hikes into the rough, Colorado grounds that holds thousands of acres of deep timbered cuts, craggy chasms, and lots of open parks, it wasn’t too hard for Justyn to convince me – it was time to try something different. In 2016, I made the leap. I drew the tag, we hunted hard, and saw a lot of decent bucks that season. But, ultimately, I never found a buck mature enough to harvest.
As a child, Justyn had been passed down a very precious piece of hunting advice from his uncle – always be hunting. It’s a cheesy little saying that most would probably glaze right over in their hunting routine. However, Justyn personifies this little piece of wisdom.
After living near the area for two years, he had covered a lot of the rough public ground and found passable routes to areas he believed would hunt well when the third season rolled around. While we hunted hard the first year, we stayed pretty close to home. Venturing into some of the surrounding depths required a level of commitment I wasn’t ready to tackle yet.
This year, however, Justyn had been hunting…all year long. He was hunting for new places to explore. He put in some serious time scouring for honeyholes miles away from where we had hunted the previous year.
Because of Justyn’s rigorous drive to always be hunting, we had a good solid plan to make it to a piece of ground across the canyon. This secluded perch was almost six miles away from the area we had hunted the previous year. It was deep into the middle of the public ground, and we were convinced we would have great views for glassing and a small piece of ground all to ourselves. Now, all I had to do was draw the out-of-state tag again.
The Highs and Lows
As the 2017 Colorado draw results were released, I learned that I had drawn the tag for the second year in a row. The plan was set into motion. Justyn packed in a small camp and some supplies using his mules a few weeks before the season. On opening morning, we would hike in and hunt our way to camp. The season is ten days long, so the plan was to stay for the first weekend and get a feel for what was in the area. Knowing we were nearing the rut, we had decided that if there wasn’t a lot of action, or too much hunting pressure, we would hike out and come back in for the last four days of the hunt.
Opening morning arrived and we found ourselves perched atop a huge rock outcropping at sunrise, glassing the area to the north. We hunted intelligently and diligently all the way to camp without seeing any mule deer.
We arrived in camp in by mid-afternoon. We quickly assembled the camp and outfitted our accommodations for the next few weeks (Justyn had a fourth-season tag and planned to hunt from the same camp).
The spot Justyn had decided for the drop camp was perfect! We were tucked into the trees about 100 yards away from the top of a large rock outcropping, with a view that afforded us the opportunity to glass miles of country.
After setting up camp, we set out to glass our little piece of secluded heaven from the top of the rock outcropping. Unfortunately, we immediately spotted a couple hunters 800 feet below us in the bottom of the canyon. It was a bummer, but not a huge deal. However, when we spotted the second group of hunters, and then the third, and finally the fourth, we began to realize that we weren’t the only ones willing to work hard! We spotted one decent buck that evening and watched as he narrowly escaped an encounter with a hunter that was better at sneaking than he was shooting.
The next morning, we were surprised with a wet, heavy blanket of snow on the ground. There was about six inches of snow, and heavy fog lingering at our location. Fully okay with going back to bed, Justyn forced me to go out to the outcropping and stay active in our pursuits.
The fog was heavy enough that we had a very limited sight line, but we could see enough to identify more groups of hunters all around below us. So, we decided to hunt our way back home and come back later in the week when pressure had hopefully subsided.
I was pretty dejected, knowing that we had a slippery hike back home and that I would be going to work the next day. While I mindlessly fumbled along the trail behind Justyn, he was continually stopping, glassing, and staying alert. It was safe to say, I had checked out and was convinced there was no way we were going to see any deer among this virtual sea of hunters.
As we worked our way down the mountain, the snow and fog began to break a little, so we stopped and glassed a large bowl. After assuring ourselves there were no deer in the bowl, we moved along.
A few hundred yards down the trail, Justyn alertly spotted two does bedded in a small clearing at the edge of a small patch of timber. After watching them for a little bit, Justyn wanted to work back up the side of the bowl we were leaving and get a look into the timbered bowl the does were near. I just wanted to continue on the path we were walking and not waste our time on does, but I didn’t say that out loud. I agreed to go check out the small patch of timber at the top of the next deep draw to the west.
Upon cresting the top rim of the draw, there was sudden movement 150 yards below us. My eyes scanned the group of 15 deer and finally rested upon a large buck, trotting near the back of the pack! Simultaneously, Justyn and I both said, “Big buck!”
I took a knee, shouldered my rifle, and stared directly into a scope lens that was completely fogged over. By the time I half-heartedly cleaned my scope and got the buck back in my sights, he was over 300 yards away. I squeezed off a shot, and just like the hunter the evening before, I watched the buck run away unscathed. He disappeared behind a small hill, and knowing I would have a good chance at seeing him one more time, I repositioned, got more comfortable, and waited.
The buck appeared seconds later at 350 yards and stopped, quartering severely to me. I set the crosshairs just above his front shoulder and dropped him in his tracks. After confirming he was down, and exchanging celebratory high-fives, Justyn smiled, nodded his head proudly, and said, “Always be hunting!”
A True Friend
After retrieving the buck, we took pictures broke the animal down. We then split the load and packed the buck a few hundred yards back to the base of the bowl where we had been earlier.
A good friend named Garrett was kind enough to saddle up the mules and come help us. The pack out was long and gave me a lot of time to think about what a true friend I had in Justyn. He never stopped hunting, and his perseverance was the only reason I had the opportunity to harvest this buck.
After experiencing the results we did, I know that Justyn’s uncle’s advice will forever be engrained in the both of us. I’m always so grateful for time spent in the woods, but this day was special!