- Lynn Burkhead
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Let the record show that if there was ever any doubt, Colorado is back when it comes to producing world-class mule deer bucks.
That much seems readily apparent after bowhunter Jeff Draper arrowed a massive muley Aug. 28 while hunting with his brother-in-law, Brad Brickey, in the rugged terrain of western Colorado.
The 4x4 typical buck appears poised to become one of history's top velvet-antlered mule deer if not the best with green score numbers of 210 3/8 inches gross and 205 6/8 inches net, according to Draper.
Should those numbers hold up when the deer is officially scored following completion of the mandatory 60-day drying period required by the Pope & Young Club, the Draper buck could ascend to bowhunting's throne for fuzzy-antlered mule deer.
"This is the only animal that I've killed that literally brought a tear to my eye," Draper said. "I thought, 'Wow, why me? Why did I (get to) kill this deer.' It's pretty amazing."
Draper has been bowhunting for the past decade, having taken seven mule deer bucks by bow with scores ranging from 164 5/8 inches his first ever bow kill to deer sporting P&Y numbers in the mid-180s.
"A lot of western animals turn me on, but none like a mule deer," Draper said. "That's why I put a lot of time and effort into it."
True to his word, the Colorado bowhunter first spotted this deer during preseason scouting efforts.
"I had been watching him for approximately a month and a half," Draper said. "I didn't know that he was quite this big since I was watching (him) from a long ways off.
"When I scout, I use a spotting scope and stay 1,000 yards out, so I was watching him at a long distance."
On some of his scouting trips, Draper's wife, Lahoma, accompanied him. As excited as Draper was about the buck, his wife was even more excited after peering through the spotting scope.
"My wife had told me that this deer was bigger than I thought," Draper chuckled. "I thought he was a 190 to 195 inch buck, which is more than adequate. But my wife, who does quite a bit of scouting with me, she told me that I was wrong and that this buck was bigger."
On Aug. 28, Draper would find out his wife was correct.
After failing to see the deer earlier in the day running with a group of four other mule deer bucks, Draper and his brother-in-law Brickey kept looking in the rugged Colorado high country that they were hunting in.
Later in the day, the pair of bowhunters found the deer, leading to a great spot-and-stalk attempt by Brickey that closed the distance to 40-yards. Unfortunately for Brickey, no shot opportunity presented itself before the deer eased out of the area.
In most hunting stories, bumping a deer is a hunt-ending disaster.
But not in this hunting story. In fact, Draper and Brickey employ a unique "stalk-and-bump" strategy that often results in one of the two archers getting a shot at a mule deer.
The key to this strategy is the pair's intense preseason scouting efforts at long distances. In the process, Draper and Brickey become familiar with the various big bucks in the area, what their daily habits are and where they'll escape to when they feel threatened.
"We like to hunt from the ground," Draper said. "We'll spot bucks and take turns with one guy being the stalker and the other guy setting up in case the buck is bumped."
"I was set up for bump," he added. "I've actually killed more deer on the bump than the stalk and I actually killed this deer on the bump because I knew where he would go."
When Brickey's stalk ended unsuccessfully, Draper was waiting at the deer's most likely escape route some distance away.
As expected, the big muley steadily moved straight in his direction. At 21 yards, Draper decided to take his shot at the unsuspecting and oncoming mule deer.
"I had to make a fairly quick decision," Draper said. "I practice shooting a lot. I thought I can do this and I'm not going to hesitate."
After triggering the shot, Draper's arrow struck where he had settled his top sight pin. After running 150 yards, the bowhunter watched the deer go down and expire.
A few moments later, as he walked up on the fallen mountain monarch, Draper admits a lot of emotions were surging through him.
"I was thinking about how much bigger he was getting," Draper said. "He did grow, in fact; he's the first deer I've ever killed that grew on the ground."
"Actually, I think I was in shock. I've taken some nice animals before, but something like this holds a special place in your heart. You get a special feeling, a tingly feeling (all over)."
While Draper knew that he had downed his best buck ever, it still took awhile for the truth about how big a buck he had taken to fully sink in.
"Even on the ground, I still didn't know quite the size of this deer," Draper said. "I knew I had a 190-class buck down. But then it comes to my mind, 'Wait a minute, I'm looking at a 200-class buck.'"
Subsequent taping sessions have found that the Draper buck could be the best velvet-antlered mule deer of all-time.
The muley seems destined to duel for the top spot in the P&Y record book with the recently harvested Greg Krogh mule deer.
Draper indicates that reports he has received since arrowing his big Colorado buck indicate that shrinkage has currently put his muley ahead of the Krogh buck.
But he acknowledges that only time will tell which buck is bigger, both from the official 60-day entry scores that both mule deer bucks will receive, then in a subsequent panel measuring session by the Pope & Young Club.
Regardless of whether his Colorado mega-muley ascends to the throne or not, the bowhunter is taking it all humbly in stride.
"I've always known I hunted an area with the potential to produce some really big bucks," Draper said. "This has been a dream and the hard work has paid off."
What will the Centennial State bowhunter do for an encore the next time he has a mule-deer tag in his back pocket? Simple: hunt for his mega-muley's big brother.
"I'm a scouting fanatic and I will probably double my efforts," Draper said. "I don't look at this like it's the biggest deer that I'll ever kill. It probably will be, but I'm looking at this like there's a bigger one out there, and I'm going to find him."