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!

“Culling out the Herd”

March 14, 2009 by  
Filed under the PURSUIT

Culling out the herd!

I moved here from Texas in 1997, and have been hunting in the mountains of Idaho for the past 11years. The transition of hunting in box stands, on flat lands, to the rugged country in this awesome state was very BRUTAL in the beginning years. It didn’t take me long to hear of the bucks in the famed Unit 45. After applying for the controlled hunt for 10 consecutive years, my lotto number was finally drawn in 2008. I may not have won millions of dollars, but this hunt was the next best thing!

It was a 14 day muzzleloader hunt that took place during the beginning of October. This was my first muzzleloader hunt ever, and my good friend Les Gargan was kind enough to let me use his .45 cal. Markesbury. After begging for time off from work, I had the entire 2 weeks off to play. The first few days of the hunt were incredible. I saw many great bucks during the beginning of my hunt, but after hearing what lurks about in those hills, and seeing the great footage in the Lowland Mulies videos, I knew that I needed to set my standards higher than normal. Not to mention, it took so dang long to get a tag!

After 9 days of trekking through the high dessert rocky canyons, I must have passed up on 50+ bucks. Some cold spells came through that brought in a little snow, and a lot more selection. Exaggeration? Not even! Some Texans may be known to tell big ole campfire stories, but that’s no bull! That was probably the hardest part of my hunt. It wasn’t that it was hard to find nice bucks, the stressor was deciding on when to pull the trigger. My days were getting numbered. I only had 5 more days to seal the deal, and I had already passed on some great bucks. Some met my standards, but things just didn’t work out for me and I missed the opportunity. It was tough sleeping at night with the thoughts of the one that got away, and should I have pulled the trigger nightmares. joe-bob-21

It was time to use my “Life Line”. My good bud Les Gargan arrived at camp on the night of day 9. He is more familiar with the area and joined up with me to help me scout out a different location. We started off bright and early on the 10th day. The quad ride from camp to the start of our journey was cold and dusty. We hiked through several miles of hard, frozen, rock beds before daylight started creeping up on the horizon. Not wanting to spook off too many animals before light, we headed for higher ground. We chose a spot high up on a bluff over-looking a lot of wide open spaces. Spotting scopes and bino’s out, the search began. We glassed our surroundings for about 2 hours. During that time we spotted a couple of potential prospects. Although Les didn’t want to settle for the first thing we saw, I had my heart set on a mature buck that appeared to be a huge 4×3. He had a whitetail-like frame on his left antler, great height, good width, and very nice mass. There was something protruding out the side of the right antler. I tried to grow a kicker on that side, but I just wasn’t sure. After looking him over for about an hour, I decided that we should take a closer look. There was a smaller buck tagging along side of him, and a couple of doe. We patiently waited for them to bed down in some rocks, and then planned our route to take a peek.

Crawling on our bellies, we got close enough into range to view the old buck through the bino’s, but at a safe distance. It didn’t take me long to decide that I was satisfied with what was handed to me. It’s show time!
We got into shooting range of where the buck was bedded in some rocks. Although he was not into view yet, we sat behind some sage brush to go over the playbook. That’s when we came up with…THE PLAN! I moved into a good shooting position, slightly elevated from where the buck was bedded. I was close enough that I could see the top of his antlers but his head and body were out of sight. I was ready. Breathing…CHECK. Hammer cocked…CHECK. Calm…HECK NO, but good as it gets! Les ready with a big rock…CHECK! What…a rock? That’s where the PLAN comes in. Les throws the rock to jump the buck off of his bed. I envisioned the buck to jump up, trot out into the open to take a peek around to see what just woke him up, then he’s mine. The rock flew, noise sounded, the buck jumped up, and went into open just like I had dreamed he would. Only one problem with the plan. It was the wrong buck! During our stalk, the smaller buck had swapped positions with the larger buck. The larger buck busted shortly after, but at a distance that was out of range. I got to watch him trot over the hill and vanish. Camera still rolling, and me sprinting over to the hills edge, he was gone just as quickly as he appeared!

Head hanging low, and time still ticking, we spent the rest of the day searching for a bigger buck. We came across many bucks that I would have taken in a heartbeat in a general hunt, but after what I saw that morning I wasn’t going to settle for anything less. It was getting late, about 5pm, and it would be getting dark soon. We started our journey back to the quads. When we got back to the area where I had lost the buck, we decided to sit down and take one last look around. My mind kept drifting back to how I had blew it, and what I could have done better. Still determined, we continued to glass the area. Far off in the distance below the cliffs, I spotted a buck bedded down up against a big rock cluster. Nothing was visible but his head. He was tucked in nicely behind some sage. I busted out the spotting scope and took a closer look. IT WAS HIM! The buck that got away. That was the sign that I needed to confirm that he was the buck that was meant to be. Except this time, no mistakes!
We had to move fast. Only an hour and a half of daylight left. We closed in, Les set up the video cam, and I started crawling. No rock throwing this time. I crawled into position. After laying there for several minutes, the buck got nervous and busted out of his bed. He ran about 30 yards uphill, turned broad side, and gave me the look that I had been waiting for all day. Ka-boom! It wasn’t the prettiest shot I’ve ever made, but it got the job done! It was a dream come true!joebob-3

Les and I hiked back to the quads in the dark and got a good nights sleep. We made a quick call to Steve Alderman, and he was eager to join in on the pack the next morning. Steve helped with photos and performed a gross score on the buck in the field. The width measured in at 27 1/4in. Typical 4×3 with a whitetail-like frame that measured 25in on the main beams, and the bases measured at 7 inches. Gross score on this buck was ~188in. I remember Steve’s words after we finished the photo shoot. He looked up at me and said, “Beautiful buck, Thanks for Culling out the herd!” Ha. Well, call it what you will, I was ecstatic with my new trophy and I can only dream that I’ll draw the tag again someday. It was the greatest hunt that I have even been on. Thanks to Steve and Les for helping me with the pack on that cold, rainy day! I hope to return the favor of pack mule someday.