By Lisa L. Price
Photos by Steed Lopez
Four years ago, a Colorado wildfire burned more than 150,000 acres of public hunting land in the Pike National Forest, turning it into a hunting hot spot. But the skeletal remains of charred trees, many of which tumbled into the area’s endless ravines, made the going tough.
Kyle Lopez, 14, and his dad, Steed, who runs Sandre De Cristo Outfitters, knew that the more rugged the terrain, the better the hunting. They were traversing the ridges, constantly checking the snarled timber, when a huge mule deer buck with a towering rack leapt to its feet and charged away from them.
Kyle had time to snap his .270 WSM to his shoulder for two quick shots, but they flew wide. As he and his dad turned for the long hike back to their truck, he was seriously bummed. The next day was a Monday, which meant school, followed by football practice.
One thing Kyle Lopez didn’t like about football season was the way it wrecked hunting season. There’d be no chance to get back into the mountains until the next weekend.
On Wednesday, however, Steed gave Kyle the okay to skip football practice and promised to take him hunting after school. Fortunately, Kyle, a tight end, had permission from his offensive line coach — his dad.
Before the day was over, they would find themselves in the middle of a much tougher workout.
Kyle joined his dad and the rest of his family in hunting when he was 4 years old. The Lopez clan lives on a 4,600-acre ranch teeming with mule deer, elk, bears and mountain lions. Even so, both Kyle and his dad (who guides hunters for Rocky Mountain sheep and elk) felt the Pike National Forest was the best bet for a big buck.
Kyle’s spirits lifted when his dad picked him up after school that Wednesday, and they took the 20-minute drive to Pike.
“We got there about 3:30 and had about three miles to go, so we hiked as fast as we could and covered it in about 20 minutes,” Kyle said. “It’s a pretty nasty area, with lots of dead trees, and it was all up the mountain to where we wanted to go.”
It was about 80 degrees, unusually hot for Nov. 7 in Colorado.
“When we got up there, my dad said, ‘Let’s just sit and glass first,’” Kyle said.
“We only had about an hour of daylight left.”
Steed soon spotted a group of muley does, but no bucks. The guys quietly slipped within 20 yards of the animals.
“All of a sudden, the whole group started toward us. I don’t know what they thought they saw or heard,” Kyle said. “They got within 10 feet before they figured out something wasn’t right, and then they turned and left.
“We were going to follow them, but no sooner had my dad turned to his right to start walking, he saw a buck,” Kyle added. “It was standing against a background of boulders and a shale side.”
At the teenager’s side was a small burnt tree, and he used it as a brace for his rifle and got his crosshairs on the buck’s body, paying no attention to the rack.
“We weren’t hunting for antlers, just looking for something with a big mature body, and this one qualified,” Kyle said. “When I shot, the buck jumped up and landed about 10 yards away, never moving again.”
Still, father and son waited another 30 minutes before going to it.
“My dad kept saying, ‘Oh my God … Oh my God’ over and over,” Kyle said.
“My first impression was that its rack was stuck in some brush. It wasn’t until I lifted the head that I realized just how big the antlers are.”
Kyle then got a workout much harder than anything he would have experienced during football practice. He shot the buck at 4:30. They field-dressed it at 5:00. Even with both of them dragging, because of the rugged terrain, they didn’t make it back to the truck until 8:30 p.m.
The non-typical rack scores 306 3/8, a new runner-up to the Colorado state record. Only half an inch separates them. The Lopez Buck also is No. 12 in the world, perhaps the biggest free-ranging specimen taken in the last two decades.
“I’d lost hope after I missed that first buck on Sunday. That’s why my dad let me skip practice and go on Wednesday,” Kyle said. “I got my workout anyway, though, and this buck is much bigger than the one I missed.”
-- Reprinted from the July 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.