December 16, 2010 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

Keeping Hope Alive

Joebob Lewis-Idaho-DIY-General hunt-Public land

A couple of friends of mine called me up one day in October of 2008. Dennis Owsley had taken a monster non-typical mule deer during the rifle hunt. His buck taped out at a gross score of 217 non-typical. What amazed me the most was the fact that he had taken this buck on public land, and in a general hunt unit. Most bucks of this stature come from Idaho’s premiere draw hunts. Still in disbelief, I had to take a look at his magnificent buck, so they were kind enough to bring it over.  I held the antlers in my hands, drooled a little, and thought to myself…why can’t I ever get a buck like that? I have been a resident of Idaho for about 13 years. It did not take me long to figure out which units were well known for producing 200 inch trophy bucks.  Year after year I have applied for the draw hunt of my dreams. I have been lucky enough to draw the tag once during the 13 year period.  The point I am trying to make is that it is very tough to draw those hunts.

I typically hunt deer during the archery seasons with hopes of increasing my chances of bagging a trophy animal. I usually dread hunting general rifle seasons due to the increased number of hunters, and the decrease in sightings of mature bucks.  Due to work and school, I did not get much hunting in last year. This year was different, thanks to Dennis’s buck. His luck inspired me to do a little more scouting in a unit that is a general rifle hunt for deer. I decided that I would hunt deer during the general rifle season. After about two weeks of hard hunting, I had found a nice 4×4 muley that I considered a shooter buck. Unfortunately, the buck was out of range, and I didn’t have enough daylight left to put a stalk on him. I simply watched him bed down in some timber high up on the ridgeline across from me. I came back in the next morning, and was not able to locate the buck again.

My time was up for that trip. I had to go back to living the dream of work and school. While I was in town, the weather that I had hoped for rolled into the hills. It snowed off and on for about 3 days straight. Anxiety was getting the best of me, and I was having a hard time focusing at work. The weekend finally rolled back around and I hit the road. Since the high country received so much snow, I decided to hunt a little lower in elevation. I knew that the deer would probably be on the move. I arrived at my camp spot just in time to get everything set up before dark. I went through my pack and restocked it with water, an MRE, and everything else that I needed for the next day’s hunt.

The morning of October 28 arrived. Alarm clock buzzing, I bounced up and ate a quick breakfast before hitting the trail. I had plans of hunting until dark. I hiked about 4 miles in the dark before deciding to take a break. I wanted to start my hunt just below the snow line. I found a nice tree to snuggle up against, and shut my eyes for a quick snooze, waiting for daylight. The wind was moderate, but very cold. The snow was frozen, which made it nearly impossible to put the sneak on anything. Once I could see where I was going, I found a nice place to set up my spotting scope and start glassing. Within half an hour, I spotted a nice 4×4. He was about 3 ridgelines over so it was difficult to determine his size, but with 4 days of the season left I decided he was big enough. I started the stalk. It took me about 2 hours to reach the spot where I had seen the buck feeding.  When I got there, all that I was able to find were a group of about 7 doe. They just happened to be right in line with where I needed to go so I had to reroute a little. During that time the wind had changed directions on me. My sweaty stench was blowing right towards the group of doe. As expected, they started filing out of the brush single file in the opposite direction.

My attention was still focused on where I had spotted the 4×4. I could care less about the doe moving on. I glanced back at the group one last time and noticed one deer that was considerably larger. I pulled up my binoculars and saw a nice heavy horned buck walk over the hill. I didn’t get to look him over long, but I could tell he was nice. I felt pretty ignorant for not paying more attention. I too was like a buck in heat, focused more on what I wanted rather than paying attention to my surroundings. I tried relocating them, but they dropped down the other side into heavy timber. I decided not to push them even further. The 4×4 was nowhere to be found, and I just missed out on an even bigger buck. It was time to take a break and re-group. I found a spot under a large pine where the ground was thawed and facing into the sun. It was the perfect spot to have lunch. I set the spotting scope back up and started eating my rations. I was happy to have my scope with me that day. Although it was a lot of extra weight, the scope was extremely useful in the area that I was hunting. There were a lot of wide open spaces. It saved me a lot of energy in the long run.  Deer were everywhere that morning. I was completely surrounded. I saw countless 2 points and 3 points. There was too much action going on that day to settle for anything less than a 4×4.

Disrupting my quiet little lunch, shots rang out through the canyon. Three shots were fired. That’s all that I needed to get my motivation back. I packed up and slowly started hiking deeper into the canyon. I passed on many 3 points and smaller 4 points throughout the day. At this point, I was well into the snow line. I started seeing larger bucks once I got deeper into the snow level. Around 3pm I spotted 3 bucks across the canyon from me.  There was a nice 4×4, 3×4, and 2×2 running with about 5 doe. The 4x was a decent buck that I was interested in shooting. I closed the distance quickly and quietly. The sun had softened up the snow enough to take some of the crunch out of it. I closed the distance as far as I could. It was wide open hill side beyond my final resting point, so I held up next to a burnt pine. The 4×4 and 4×3 were bedded down in a thick pocket of burnt timber.

The entire area at this point was an old burn area. The bucks were strategically positioned in a way that made it impossible to get any closer. One was facing east, the other facing west, both on lookout, and they were right in the middle of the hill surrounded by snow. I ranged them at 480 yards. The shot was much further than I prefer, but it was doable. I leaned my pack up against the tree and rest my rifle across the top. I still had about 3 hours of daylight, so the waiting game had begun. I started munching on a bag of Doritos while I watched the bucks.  An hour passed and both bucks finally stood up. Game on! I sat down in the wet snow and positioned myself for the shot. The larger buck started pushing the smaller one around in the trees. I was getting frustrated because they wouldn’t stand still and present me with a good shot.

Suddenly they both stopped in their tracks and focused their attention downhill. I lowered my rifle to see what they were looking at. About 60 yards below them, a deer stood up that dwarfed them both in body size. As I looked through the optics, I knew that this was an enormous buck. I didn’t have time to count up all the points. There was no need. He was twice as big as the 4x that I was trying to shoot, and that’s all I needed to know.

I brought up my cross-hairs, and readied myself to fire. I shot at this buck 3 times, and missed every single one. (Although I fired my rifle before season, it was not enough to prepare me for this buck. I’m not one of those lucky guys that gets to chase 200 inch bucks around every year, so when I am lucky enough to stumble across one, I tend to get a bad case of buck fever.) In a state of panic, I chambered one more shell. At that distance, the buck did not know where the shots were coming from. He trotted further out into the open and presented the perfect shot! My fourth shot made good contact. The buck buckled and took off. I knew that he was hit. I lost him in the timber and was worried that he had run over the top. I had a little over 2 hours of daylight left and wanted to take advantage of that, so I quickly worked my way to the deer’s last known location. I went down one mountain, and up the side of the other. When I reached the spot where I had last seen the buck, he was nowhere in sight. I did not bother looking for blood right away. I was more interested in finding him before he went over the top. I scanned the burnt timber, and slowly continued my way up.

The wind started drifting my way and a very distinct smell stopped me in my tracks! My heart was pounding as I slowly turned my head in the direction of the musty smell. There on the hillside laid a huge buck! This thing was way bigger than I expected. Usually it’s the other way around. His right antler was sticking up and I noticed the kicker right away. His left antler was buried in the snow. My heart almost dropped. My first thought was that I had shot off his antler. When I lifted his head, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I could not believe what was lying in front of me. It was one of those moments that seemed too good to be true. He had 5 antlers on one side, and 7 on the other with 5 inch brow tines.  He later taped out at a gross score of 213-3/4. He has 13 inches in extra points. His greatest width was 30 inches. It was the happiest moment of my hunting career! This was the buck of my dreams! I did it all on my own, on public grounds, during a general rifle hunt. This was the kind of buck you look for in those trophy draw hunts. The fact that this buck was taken in a general hunt and non-guided makes it that much more special to me.  There is hope out there!

I was by myself, so that made picture taking a little more challenging. I set my point-and-shoot camera on my tripod with a 10 second timer. Trying to get scramble through the snow and pose both myself and the deer in 10 seconds was pretty entertaining. After the photo shoot, I skinned out the giant and loaded the antlers onto my pack. I was all geared up for the long journey back to camp. I went to pick up my pack, and lost my footing in the snow. I fell onto one of the antlers and ripped my hand open. Stitches were needed, but luckily I had a first aid kit in my pack. That would just have to do for the night. I thought of the line from Jesse “The body” Ventura in the movie Predator…”I ain’t got time to bleed!” I guess the old buck got the last bite! When I got back to camp around 10pm, my hunting buddy Dan had arrived. He arrived a day earlier than expected. I was pretty exhausted from a hard day’s work, but he was all pumped up to hunt the next morning.

We went in bright and early on the morning of the 29th. The weekend warriors were starting to arrive, so that put a little pressure on our hunt that morning. I took Dan to the spot where I had spotted the initial 4×4 the day before. We spotted him around 8:30am. Surprisingly, he was almost in the same location. Dan made a successful shot, and that wrapped up an awesome season! We de-boned both of our deer, and spent the rest of the day packing them out. Although your odds of bagging a 200 inch buck are higher in a well-controlled draw hunt, it is possible to find big bucks with an over-the-counter tag. Hopefully this story will inspire other hunters to work hard and keep hope alive! You don’t necessarily have to draw a tag in order to bag a big buck; it just takes a lot of hard work and twice as much luck!