My Idaho Superhunt
(Luck has everything to do with it.) By Ross Rackliff
Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.
While this old adage applies to every kind of hunting, it’s perhaps even truer when it comes to big mule deer.
It seemed that the more research I did on where – and how – to hunt big mule deer, the tougher it appeared to be. The complicated draw systems and preference points put in place by most western states made it difficult, if not impossible, to hunt a quality mule deer area.
So when I read about the opportunity to apply for an Idaho Superhunt tag, I figured it was worth a shot. I have to confess that I had no idea what an Idaho Superhunt tag was until three days before the deadline. But I was looking for an opportunity to hunt big mule deer, and I figured a chance at this tag was worth rolling dice for. So I sent in six tickets (yes, just six tickets!) and forgot about it.
I was in for a surprise several weeks later when I got home to a message on my answering machine from Idaho Fish and Game. “Congratulations…” it began. I had to listen to the message three times before it finally started to sink in. I’d pulled a tag for an Idaho Superhunt for mule deer!
Doing my homework
As excited as I was to win this once in a lifetime opportunity, I knew I’d have to get busy trying to figure out how to put together a hunt in Idaho from my home in Massachusetts.
First, I combed through every magazine article I could get my hands on about mule deer hunting in Idaho. I sifted through all the information available on the Idaho Fish and Game website. And I started making calls, beginning with a few Idaho game biologists. They were very helpful, and I learned a lot about different units, and what to expect.
I’d heard a lot about the quality of bucks in Unit 45, and in speaking to one biologist about it, he recommended that I call Steve Alderman. “Steve pulled a Superhunt tag, too,” he said. “He might talk to you about Unit 45. Then again, he might not.”
I thought, what the heck, I don’t have anything to lose. So I picked up the phone.
Turns out that Steve would talk to me about hunting mule deer. His passion and enthusiasm was contagious, and I think he took pity on me being from Massachusetts. When he invited me to come out and scout with him in late July, I jumped at the chance. So far, my luck was holding.
I flew out to Idaho for three days of scouting with Steve, and we were joined by Les Gargan and Joe Pennington. For three days we glassed for deer both morning and late afternoon. And I learned pretty quickly the importance of good optics when it comes to glassing out west. My small spotting scope, or as Steve put it, my “pocket scope” wasn’t quite up to the task of spotting game at longer distances. And Steve never passed up an opportunity to give me a hard time about it. However, “pocket scope” or not, we saw more bucks than I could keep track of, a few over 200 inches, and several more over 180.
I was excited about the opportunity to come back out during hunting season and look for one of these tremendous bucks. Steve must have taken pity on me and my tiny spotting scope, because he told me that whenever I was ready to come back out and hunt, I was welcome to join him.
I decided to hunt the rifle season in unit 45, and planned to spend as much time hunting with Steve in Idaho as it took to connect on a big mule deer. I flew in on the Tuesday before the rifle opener, and met Steve, Les, and Joe for dinner.
We talked about the next day’s hunt, and planned to spend just a few hours the first morning of the hunt glassing for deer. Then we’d take the time to sight in our rifles, have some lunch and get back out in the afternoon. I didn’t know it then, but that plan wasn’t going to hold.
We rode the four-wheeler to the top of a canyon, and started glassing. Right away, we spotted several does, as well as a 4 x 3 buck. The deer were well over 800 yards away, and we kept scouring the canyon for other deer.
We were about ready to pick up and move on when Les exclaimed, “There he is! There he is! There he is!” Apparently, Les had a spotted a buck, and he was a pretty good one.
It took Steve and I just a few moments to find the buck in our spotting scopes, (I bought a new 20-60 x 80 just so I wouldn’t look like a dork from the East). Even from 600-plus yards, and bedded in the shade, he looked like a very good buck. No wonder Les sounded so excited. The question was, just how good was he?
Steve and I talked about it, and we decided that in order to find out how good this buck really was, we’d have to get around him and come in for a closer look.
We circled wide to get around the buck and find a better vantage point, but couldn’t see where he was bedded under the rim of the canyon. Steve crept back along the rim, and peered over and around several outcroppings, trying to find the buck. As we watched through binos, Steve suddenly squatted down and backed off. The hand signals he was sending weren’t hard to figure out. “He wants you to kill this buck.” Les said.
Shoot. And keep shooting.
As Steve backed off from the buck (he was almost on top of it when he saw it) the buck got up from his bed and started bouncing down into the bottom of the canyon. All I saw was a high, wide rack at first. And then the buck; big-bodied, high-racked, and… moving. I didn’t want to risk a shot at him then, and knew (prayed?) that he would stop at the bottom of the canyon. It would be a long shot, but doable. I don’t know what Les was telling me to do (we were all pretty excited at this point) but I lay on the ground and tried to get as steady as I could.
The buck did stop at the bottom of the canyon, and I found him in my scope. I asked Les how far he was. “Three fifty.” Was his reply. A little farther than I’d wanted to shoot, but I felt confident in my rest, and in my rifle. I held the 300-yard crosshairs high on his chest and slowly squeezed the trigger.
The gun went off, and I saw the deer react as though he’d been hit hard. Les and Steve also thought the hit was good, and the deer looked like he was going to go down. We were waiting for him to topple over, but he didn’t. I found him in my scope again, and tried to put another bullet in his vitals. And kept trying as he slowly worked his way out of that canyon. It was obvious the buck was hit very hard, but I was extremely disappointed that the shot wasn’t as good as we’d first thought.
Steve wouldn’t be discouraged, though. “We’ll find this buck.” he told me.
(Confession time: Steve had to drive me back to my motel room for more ammo. How many times did I shoot at the buck? More than once, but less than a dozen. I’ll leave it at that.)
We drove around to the other side of the canyon, and found his blood trail pretty quickly. It was encouraging, but I still wasn’t confident we’d find him. We’d find blood, follow it, and lose it again.
We kept going to the head of the canyon, and it kept narrowing down until it was nothing but a steep ravine less than a hundred yards across. Steve started going back down the along the edge of the ravine, peeking over the edge. I followed, hoping against hope that we’d find this buck.
Finally, two does bounced up out of the ravine. Could the buck be close by? I thought so, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Then Steve ducked down and motioned to me. He was pointing over the edge of the ravine, and I knew he’d found the buck. Now all I had to do was close the deal.
I laid down and steadied the crosshairs behind the buck’s shoulder. At the shot, the buck lunged out of his bed and toppled over. An incredible feeling of relief washed over me as I stood up to look down at the buck. We all made it down to the buck and marveled at the height and mass of this great buck. He was a true toad, with backs over 21 inches long, really good mass, and several abnormal points on both sides. In my mind, this buck had it all. (He grossed scored 197.)
Regardless of what the buck scored, I felt lucky — no, blessed — to have been able to take this buck. And lucky to have found Steve, Les, and Joe who were gracious enough to share this beautiful mule deer country with me. Their passion for mule deer, and sheer enjoyment in seeing me take this “super” buck, made this experience one I’ll never forget.
I plan on being back, with a Superhunt tag in my pocket and my big spotting scope in my pack . I mean, how tough can it be to pull a Superhunt tag?
Ross Rackliff and his 2008 SuperTag Buck
Thanks to the sweetest little fly on the wall down at the Fish and Game Headquarters I was able to get the last names of the lucky winners of the Deer and Elk Super tag drawing that was held today at 10 a.m. The winners of the deer super tags are as follows:
Dave Posey, Jones, Anderson, Reoloffs, Demar, Santucci, Hedrick, Bell
They only gave me the last names so far, but tomorrow I will get full names and cities of the winners. I know One winner is Dave Posey because he called me as soon as he got the call from the Fish and Game. I have known Dave for the past 12 years as he has been one of my neighbors. Congrats Dave on the Tag, you are in for a great season so start getting in shape! Santucci, if it is the Ron Santucci that had the tag a few years ago, I know where he will be hunting! Congrats Ron, if indeed it is you. We will find out tomorrow and will have to reminisce about that landowner that chased off the deer you were going to shoot last time and shot it for himself.
As for elk the winners were:
Roth, Sean Burch, Nell, Griffiths, Moser, Cloud, Caywood, Wassell.
Sean Burch, now that is a surprise. He has drawn three Super tags in as many years. Sean definitely has his priorities straight and those priorities are drawing super tags. Good luck to Sean, I hope he anchors a monster.
If your last name was not mentioned you always have the regular draw which will be out on the first of next month.
Good luck to all those that have drawn the tag of a lifetime.
Here is the updated info on the Super Hunt- drawing held June 15th, 2009
Brett Harris Pocatello Idaho Super combination winner
David Posey Meridian Idaho Deer
Jack Jones Burley Idaho Deer
Joshua Anderson Folsom Cali. Deer
Arie Roeloffs Wendell Id. Deer
Chaun Demars Becker Minn. Deer
Ron Santucci Eagle Id. Deer
Bryan Hedrick Santa Paula Cali. Deer
Matt Bell Snoquaimie Wash. Deer
Jon Roth Middleton Id. Elk
Sean Burch Nampa Id. Elk
Philip Nell Hanover Penn. Elk
Collin Griffiths Missuula Mt. Elk
Steven Moser New Plymouth Id. Elk
Levi Cloud Napa Cali. Elk
Mark Caywood Hailey Id. Elk
Jeremy Wassell Lewiston Id. Elk
Kyle Poppleton Twin Falls Id. Antilope
Ryan Turpin Meridian Id. Antilope
Lonnie Austin Princeton Id. Antilope
Larry Hoff Middleton Id. Antilope
Michael King Rexburg Id. Antilope
John Robinson Kuna Id. Antilope
Gerald Young West Point Cali. Antilope
Cameron Oler Twin Falls Id. Antilope
Mark Cornelius Kingstown Tasmania Moose