A Chip and A Chair – My 2012 Deer Hunt Part 2
A week and a half had passed since opening day before I was able to escape back to the mountains in search of a mule deer buck. Eager was an understatement as opening day really had me excited about exploring this new area. With 3 full days of work and school off, I liked our chances. My hunting buddy Nick would be joining me since he tagged out the weekend before.
That was a hunt I was supposed to make and he took a monster, at least by my standards! Nick is the most accomplished hunter that I know, regardless of age. We are far from being considered trophy hunters and are in pursuit more so for the experience. Although, one simply cannot deny his hunting resume, so I will brag for him. At 21, he has taken 9 mule deer (1 doe, 1 three point and 7 four points), 3 elk, 2 caribou and 1 antelope. All of his deer have been with OTC public land tags here in Idaho and he has never hired an outfitter or guide. Sorry to get sidetracked, but I bring him up for 2 reasons. Number one, had I not been “busy” doing homework, I would have killed this buck as he had downplayed the quality of it while field judging him through the spotter. Nick blames it on the shade! He is a generous guy and promised me first shot that weekend before I bailed. He is one that I’m glad to call my hunting buddy. Now for most of us, we would consider that splitting hairs and would not hesitate to take that buck, especially in an over the counter unit. He was looking for a true monster or something with some character. His hard work and persistence rewarded him with both since that was the only deer he saw that trip. The second reason I bring him up is that I am always glad to have him help on my hunts because he simply does things the right way.
Saturday morning found us back on the highway at 4:30AM. I really wanted to be on time this trip. Mountain bikes provided us with the best chance of happily going home early since we could cover much more ground. I’ve read some of the articles over at Elk 101 about the archery guys using bikes to quickly get from draw to draw. It seemed like an effective way to move about so we gave it a shot, despite not having ridden a mountain bike since I was 14! When we pulled in there was one truck at the gate, but it didn’t concern me much. We loaded up all of our gear and headed off on the 2 mile cruise. The first hill provided my quads with some of that wonderful leg burn I had been missing since my last serious escapade on two wheels. I perform some cardio and lift weights pretty consistently but this is a completely different kind of burn. Nick being the super human that he is didn’t miss a breath and let me play catch up the entire weekend. Ahhh it burned so good!
The first morning provided some highs, some lows and a pretty serious lesson. We parted with the bikes at the same spot I left the trail to start climbing “the point” on opening day. This morning we were going to follow a different ridge to the southeast. It veered around and above the main draw and was opposite the hill side where I had jumped the buck last trip.
The sun hadn’t even begun to rise, so we were making great time. We hiked on a well used game trail without really knowing if it had any fresh sign. About a half mile later, I heard a familiar sound. It was the crash of a deer we had kicked up fleeing through the thick brush and timber away from us. It was too dark to distinguish a buck from a doe but its footsteps sounded light. We continued on. Again, we kicked up another deer, and then another and so on. I was able to make out a few sets of eyes with my head lamp but we decided to turn our lights off and stay put to wait for shooting light. In those seemingly forever 20 minutes that we sat on the trail, it started to rain on us. We hunkered down under a tree until sunrise and then began working down the trail again. Apparently we had scared off all of the deer on our ridge with our stealthy hiking skills we thought we had. Our game trail ended in a small clear cut in the timber. It was large enough to provide an excellent 300 degree view of some good looking country. Nick immediately picked out a line of 7-10 deer paralleling us across the draw and on the opposite hillside to our right. They were walking pretty quickly and appeared to have been spooked by something behind them. I knelt behind a downed tree and used one of its branches to steady for a shot. This is why it can really pay to have a competent buddy along. As I settled into my 25-06, Nick whispers, “3 point, five yards behind the last doe, 250 yards.” Bingo, I found him amidst the rain and slight fog and prepared for the shot. I was on him but he did not stop and quickened his pace, pressing forward with his does. Had I not been breathing heavily from the hike, it was a shot I know I could have made on a walking deer if I had a dead rest. I wasn’t willing to gut shoot or miss so I passed, and Nick had no problem with it. Good hunting buddies are worth their weight in gold. The good news was that we didn’t spook anything else in the area by taking a risky shot.
Nick stayed put to glass that draw and I moved over to the north to glass the main draw that had the most sign. For 15 minutes, using my knees to steady my binoculars, I scanned for more deer. Spot and stalk is my favorite style of hunting, but standing up and stretching is a must for me. Upon doing so, I heard some leaves crunching up the trail from the direction we had hiked in. I lifted my binoculars looking for antlers but instead
I found myself peering down the rifle of another hunter 150 yards away! Immediately I hollered, “Don’t shoot!” and I jumped to my left behind the nearest tree.
He lowered his rifle as I peaked around the other side of the tree. He did not have binoculars, a backpack or any gear except what looked like his coveralls, rifle and possibly a knife. Being “scoped” really frustrated me for obvious reasons but he also did not appear to be young or a novice. That’s never an excuse but most of us use binoculars and are taught to be 100% sure of our target before EVER raising our rifles. The second part that frustrated me was his lack of preparation. No rain gear, no pack, no water and you sure as heck are NOT going to drag a deer back to the truck in that country by yourself. I was sporting a red beanie but I should have been wearing some blaze orange. I can only blame myself for that. I definitely learned my lesson and I now take the blaze orange thing seriously.