New Idaho 2016
Waiting all year for the possibility of getting 5 to 10 seconds of slow motion clarity through a rifle scope seems preposterous. All the miles hiked, all the preparations made and all the planning comes together and ends in the blink of an eye. How can you possibly explain looking forward to a nano second of your life more than anything else? Well its stories like these that help lend insight to that question…..
The morning hours of October 26th 2016 brings us an opportunity. We are 5 days into our Idaho adventure and have finally located a buck to go after. As Kenny and I sit atop a Knoll with a large basin in front of us, I spot a large buck feeding alongside some does over a mile away. As we watch him finish out his morning snack, we anxiously await him finding his bed for the day. As he finds his bed, we realize that we had not discussed who would be going after this deer. (On a side note; our unwritten rules clearly state that if you spot the deer first you have first dibs). As I look back into my spotting scope and reassess the deer: 3 things immediately jump in my head. 1- I know he’s a good buck, (as good a buck as I have ever shot). 2- He is bedded in a great position for a solo stalk. 3- Kenny needs to kill this deer. So as Kenny packs his gear up, he is excited as ever and says seemingly to himself “This is my first solo mission”. I say nothing and give him a fist bump as he leaves. Kenny has only been hunting with us for the last 5 or 6 years but I know that he has been watching and learning and is ready to make this happen. I watch through my spotting scope as Kenny begins his trek towards the buck. He is to circle the basin, meet up with Scott, reposition Scott and confirm the approach down towards the buck’s bedroom. These tasks all happen, but it takes nearly 3 hours to accomplish. (Remember we are not hunting the flat lands of Nebraska here). So Kenny parts with Scott and starts his descent towards a predetermined shooting position about 250 yards above the deer. I watch him walk slowly when the wind is calm and watch him speed up when the wind is blowing, all the while staying concealed from the bucks position. After a perfect approach into our selected rock pile he sets up camp.
As discussed in our plan I told Kenny that once he gets down into position that there is no need to shoot him while he is bedded, wait for him to stand up. Well…………………… although that was good advice, we proceed to wait another 2.5 hours for the buck to stand up! Finally I see the deer rise from his bed to stretch. I’m counting the seconds in my head and wondering internally if Kenny is on him. I know that this deer won’t stand there for very long before laying down again. Man I hope he shoo………………… There it is. I see the deer go down in my spotting scope before I hear the report from the rifle resonate across the canyon. Solid hit; he stumbles, buck is still moving a little. “Come on Kenny shoot him aga………… “. 2nd shot connects and the buck is down for good. 2 shots from his .270 from 228 yards put down the heavy 4×5 for good. I see Kenny emerge from the rock pile as Scott and I begin to pack up from our separate locations and head down to get to work. Once down to Kenny, we take pictures and go over the day’s events. What an incredible buck and as it turns out Kenny has now shot all 3 of his Idaho deer out of the same canyon! Quite remarkable given the amount of terrain we cover and hunt while we are there. We bone out the meat, cape out the hide and horns and load up our packs. We start our accent up the canyon towards our Honda chariots. After we reach camp, the clock reveals that 11 hours have passed from spotting the deer to getting him back off the mountain.
Thursday October 27th begins much the same way as the previous 6 days. Kenny and I veer off to one side of the basin and Scott heads off to the other side. We can glass more ground this way and view areas that the other can’t see. Around mid morning I happened to be glassing underneath Scott’s side of the mountain and I catch a glimpse in my binos of a large bodied deer heading into some downfallen timber. I know it’s a buck but did not get a chance to look at him for very long to tell how big he was. I whistle Kenny over from where he was sitting as I set up my spotting scope on the last area I saw him. When he comes into view at well over a mile away I know immediately that this is a great buck. I get my dad on the radio and tell him what we are seeing. In typical Scott fashion he tells me to make my way over there and go after him. Kenny and I watch him for awhile until he beds down for the day and start making a plan on how to get close to him. This buck is bedded in a terrible position. He offers no option for a much preferred indirect approach. In my mind I think the only way to get close to him is to head down straight on top of his position which would mean we would be within 75-100 yards of him when we crested the pocket he was laying in. I leave Kenny and make my way over to where Scott is and explain to him where the deer is located. Now this being Public land there is of course (2) other hunters glassing from atop the ridge spine that we need to approach from. As luck would have it these 2 guys pack up and move down the ridge away from us within minutes of my dad and me hooking up. As I explain to him where the deer is located he calmly says “well how the heck are we supposed to shoot him there”? I tell him what I am thinking about the direct approach and without any better options he says let’s give it a try. Now as we start making our way down the spine we stop and discuss a spot where we can drop our packs to make our final approach. He keeps talking about the best way for me to get a shot at this buck, and well when we get there I’ll go this way and he’ll head towards you. You get the idea; he’s throwing out suggestions that he thinks put me in the best shooting position. I tell him at this point that we are both going down in there really close. I will stay to the left side and he can stay to the right side. Whoever sees him first can shoot him. I follow this up by telling him that if he does see this buck first, do not hesitate; pull the trigger. He seems to kind of listen, so we creep down closer and the landscape that I saw over 2 hours ago is starting to look familiar. I soon spot a doe bedded less than a hundred yards from me and I know the buck is directly below me at around 75 yards, but I still can’t see him. This is where Scott deviates from the plan that I thought we agreed on not 15 minutes earlier. Being this close to the buck I know in my mind that the deer knows something’s up. We are way to close for him not to see, smell or sense us. Scott knows this and hand signals to me that he’s going to circle around underneath the Buck and push him back my way. We don’t really have time for a discussion at this moment under the circumstances so he walks off to carry out his new plan.
Now Scott is out of sight and I’m half sliding half crawling; inching my way to try and get a view of this buck when I look up and see horns sticking up out of the brush at less than 75 yards. I shoulder my rifle and for a split second I think “this deer doesn’t know I’m here, when he takes 1 step out; I got him”. Wrong. He shoots straight out of his bed like a rocket. Bounding through the deadfall and brush heading away from me, I get him in the scope and squeeze the trigger. That was missed shot #1………..followed by miss #2…………..followed by miss #3. Now he is almost out of sight. I calm down finally and zero in on an opening in the hillside he is heading towards. My mind tells me to wait for him to clear the last tree and squeeze off shot #4, but what my finger and body did was shoot exactly when he was behind the tree and it was a direct hit………. on the tree. Buck is over the hill now. I see my Dad come racing up the ridge into view about 200 yards below me. He knows I am shooting obviously, but has no idea where at. No time for hand signals so I yell quite loudly and point “RUN DOWN TO THAT KNOLL”! Scott takes off running (which he later confesses that he does not remember doing). I reload my gun and now I am running in the same direction as Scott. I get halfway down the slope when I hear a gunshot…..
Now when you have hunted with someone as long as I have hunted with my Dad, there are times when you “just know” what happened. I stopped scanning the adjacent hillside where the buck seemed to be headed because I knew that buck was no longer running. Scott’s radio pipes up and all he says is “he’s down”. The feeling for me at that moment was incredible; I knew how big of a buck he just shot. I make my way back up the hillside to grab our packs and then head down to where my Dad was sitting. The buck is laying motionless about 250 yards below us. I ask him if he knows how big it is and he says, “Yeah, I think he’s a good one”, I laugh. We make our way down the remaining slope and reach the fallen buck together. The buck was lying against a fallen tree as Scott walks over to grab his head out of the brush. He pulls his horns out of the grass and sits down on the fallen tree. There are certain moments of your life that seem to quickly embed themselves into your permanent memory. The next couple minutes will forever be etched into mine. As he quietly reflects and stares at the buck, he says “41 years. That’s how long I have hunted waiting for a buck like this”. He then states that he sure wishes I would have gotten this deer. I say to him Dad, “I wasn’t trying to miss and I haven’t been chasing this buck for 41 years; you have”. Sometimes people miss deer because they are bad shots. Sometimes people miss deer because they let their emotions over run them. But, sometimes people miss deer because it simply wasn’t their deer to kill. Kenny makes his way down to us and we begin the process of breaking down the deer for the pack out. We complete the task in the light rain and relish every minute of the long hike out.
“2 runners on and 2 out in the bottom of the 5th as Utley strides to the plate”.
Taylor (coloring on the floor) -Dad?
Me (watching the MLB playoff game) – Yes.
Taylor – Is it my turn to pick a name for your deer this year.
Me- I believe so…….
Taylor – I just thought of it; your deer’s name is Chase.
Me- Thanks T.
As Friday the 28th rolls around we have hauled out 2 bucks in the last 2 days. It has been raining on and off for the last 5 and I decide to hunt all day and then call it a wrap. Scott takes his and Kenny’s buck back into town to drop off at the taxidermist so Kenny and I head out together a couple hours before daylight. As we settle into our chosen glassing positions it doesn’t take long before Kenny gets a hold of me and says, “That big 3 point is back in his hole again”. I scan across the huge basin in the binoculars and find him sky lined on the furthest ridge I can see. I recognize the rack immediately as we have seen him on 5 of the 6 days we hunted this area prior. He was the busiest buck on the mountain by far, as we could never seem to get him to lie down for the day. So we watch for awhile and of course that 3×3 feeds out of the canyon and out of our sight. I decide to circle the basin meet up with Kenny and head over to where we have seen him consistently and hope to get lucky that he’s in the area.
As Kenny and I take lunch on our way over to the bucks last know location we spot a 17-18” 3 point bedded about 300 yards away. I start to rationalize internally……….., we already have 2 nice bucks down, It’s around noon, it’s not raining right now, the buck is on top of the ridge which would make for an easy pack out…….., Kenny interrupts my thoughts. “You are not shooting that 3 point”. I sit in silence for a minute still pondering, when Kenny chimes in again. “We are hiking over this mountain and you are shooting that big 3×3”. It appears now that my internal conversation and decision making are over; Kenny has made the decision for me. We finish lunch and skirt around the bedded 3 point (which allows us to get within less than 200 yards of him by the way), and climb the next mountain.
As we are creeping into the small draw we hope the tall 3 point would be in, I pause and sit down immediately. Kenny drops down behind me as I put my rangefinder up onto a doe bedded in the canyon. We are at 440 yards and the 3 point is bedded within 10 yards of the doe. I assess the situation and quickly realize that I am not making this 440 yard shot. I need to get closer. I use my range finger on a large outcropping of rock which tells me that if I can get to that point undetected I should have around a 300 yard shot. I leave Kenny in our current position and side hill around the face of the mountain and then hike directly over the top. I drop down into the intended rock pile and range the buck again. 330 yards; doable. I drop my pack and look for a shooting position, nothing great. I look up into the rock formation and see a flat rock. I climb up into the rock pile approximately 25-30’ off the ground onto the flat top rock and prepare for the shot. I visualize the shot in my scope while he lies there and mentally note where my slight hold over should be when the time comes. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon now as I range him at 326 yards. I settle in for what I would anticipate being a long wait until he stands to stretch or feed. Less than 2 minutes later the deer around him get up to feed. 2 minutes after that he follows suit. Your mind does a funny thing sometimes; it stops you from rationalizing or thinking and operates solely on auto pilot. I robotically lay down on the rock, find him in my crosshairs and squeeze the trigger. I know instantaneously it’s a good shot. A distinct “Thwack” reports across the canyon as the bullet connects…………game over.
“That’s a wrap on Idaho”, echoes out of my radio from Kenny’s mouth as I zone back into the real world. “I will meet you in the saddle of the ridge above the deer”, 10-4 I reply as scoot out of my crow’s nest perch and gather up my pack. We make our way down to the old busy buck and process him for the hike out. At 5 pm we ascend the first canyon to retrieve our remaining pack items left on the ridge line of the saddle. With less than 2 hours of daylight left we notice a heavy fog bank settling in to the basin. I believe we looked at each other at around the same time with the same look on our faces. That look said a lot of things and none of them were good. Our situation did not look great. We had miles to go and our visibility was about 40’. We now have around 90lbs each on our backs and decide to retrace our steps into the draw and follow them back out to the main ridge we came in on. Well as luck would have it, within minutes of our retracing process; it started raining. We did not cut our tracks on the side hill back towards the main ridge. What we did find however was the fact that we were pretty screwed. Now visibility is at about 20’ and we have no idea exactly where we are. We have 45 minutes of light left and some decisions to make. We decide that the only play is to stop wandering around. With 20 minutes of daylight left we abandon our exit plan and prepare to make camp for the night. This was going to be a long miserable night. We start searching for suitable cover. (When I say suitable that means finding somewhere that sucks less than where we were currently standing). Nightfall is now upon us, it’s now pouring rain, visibility is literally 10’; and housing options are fairly limited. We find a stand of brush to crawl underneath to help shield the rainfall. We scrape out a 4’x6’ area in the dirt where we can lay side by side and prepare our Idaho hillside motel bed. We split trash bags across the seams to cover us from the rain and topped that with an emergency space blanket. We covered our torso and faces to keep as much body heat trapped in as possible. We had made the best out of the situation we were in with the supplies we had and tried to fall asleep.
I always rent a satellite phone for these remote back country hunts as the possibility of a real serious medical situation could always arise. There is no cell service or emergency services within 50 miles of us. This situation however was not an emergency. It was crappy for us, but not life threatening. With my Dad not being with us I use the sat phone to send him a text. (He was expecting us back at camp by 8:00pm for a spaghetti dinner and if you know my dad at all you know that there are 2 rules for dinner. 1 – Be on time and 2 – wash your hands before you eat). Any ways the text reads “We are both ok. Fogged in, staying on the mountain tonight”. I know he won’t get this text for awhile but at some point he will get over us being late and start worrying. It’s now 9:30pm and the radio comes alive. “You guys got a copy; I’m at the stream crossing.” It’s Scott. He has ridden 10 miles from camp on the motorcycle in the pouring rain and fog to the trail head, covered the 1 hour trek up the single track road (that we call a trail) and is now about 2 miles away from us. Our spirits immediately lift as we grab the radio and respond. “Yes, we are ok, no we don’t know where the f##* we are at and yes we need some assistance”. We have Scott drive up on a known ridge with the motorcycle and park near a huge Pine tree. Once he was there we could barely see his light through the fog and rain, but now we had an anchor point for reference. We could then tell which direction to head towards and get the heck off this mountain. The walk out from this point was another story all by itself, but I will spare myself from retelling the misery. The bottom line was that we made it off the mountain and were back at the trailer by 2:15am.
I know my story could have ended after the single shot from the crow’s nest found its target around 2:30pm. I shared this last bit of information with the hopes that some of you reading this may reconsider your pack contents on your next outdoor adventure. Being prepared and staying calm will in most cases keep you alive and well. Being in a bad situation does not warrant bad decisions. You never know when you may be put into a situation like ours. I have hunted for over 30 years and never been close to a situation like this. I, for one will be purchasing a handheld GPS immediately and using it on every hunt from now on.
To close this diatribe, I bring this story full circle and get back to my original question. Why do we look forward all year to those few seconds of slow motion through the rifle scope? Well that’s simple. Without that pursuit, there would be no chance of you eating a full spaghetti dinner at 2:45 in the morning.