My 2020 Archery Idaho Mule Deer Solo/DIY story

JEEF

Junior Member
Joined
Jun 26, 2018
Messages
32
Location
Eastern Idaho
Long time Rokslide reader here and finally ready to share some stories to those who want to read them. My first western hunting experience was this OTC mule deer tag I picked up for southeastern ID while I was working in northeastern UT with the Forest Service.

TL;DR at bottom.

For a good chunk of my adult life, I always viewed western hunting as the cream of the crop and something that I simply couldn't help from dreaming about while sitting in my deer stand on Florida public in 90 degree and humid weather, chasing small bucks and little hogs. I loved the idea of mobility, the freedom that comes with massive tracts of public land, and the unique and beautiful ecosystems and game that they hold. Fast forward, I finish my college education with a bachelor's and a master's in Environmental Science and a burning passion for the outdoors, ready to start my career. After ~4 months unemployment and many job applications, I got my first job as a seasonal fisheries biologist with the Forest Service based out of Logan, UT starting in the spring of 2020 (right when the Wuhan wheeze hit). So I packed what I could fit into my truck and moved across the country; St. Petersburg, FL -> Logan, UT.

Right after starting my new job, I began researching what animals I could pursue with the gear I had without breaking the bank. I settled on Idaho as a nonresident and sent in applications for an elk tag. I was unsuccessful, but invested at this point because I had to pay for a hunting license for the state to even apply, so I looked at OTC tags and picked up a mule deer tag that was good for a set of units in southeastern ID which allowed me a very long hunting season between the archery and rifle seasons. This was key to me because I knew next to nothing about mule deer (their summer vs winter range, food preference, general activity in September/October, etc.) but knew I was going to need to put in time.

Sometime in July, after being financially invested in this hunt, speaking to IDFG for tips, and reading through this website and watching lots of YouTube videos, I finally put ideas into action and got my boots on the ground in a unit that allowed both archery and rifle with my tag. On my first outing, I packed in for 3 days into a canyon that IDFG mentioned to me as a starting point and hiked/glassed all over the basin and ridge tops. On my first evening I spotted 4 mule deer does crossing over a ridge and couldn't have been more excited! I kept with it, marking everything from tracks, trails, water sources, beds, animals seen, etc. I continued scouting this unit as well as a neighboring one that only had an archery season over the next month leading up to opener.

Just before season opened, I went and pulled my cameras and reviewed the photos which ultimately made my decision of where I'd be spending my first outing on the hunt....

Biggest deer I caught on camera:
Screenshot_20200910-165058_Gallery.jpg

I could barely contain myself as I packed up for the next 6 days after I got back from an Oregon work trip, archery season was here!!

With little expectations, I made the 2 hour drive north, got to my trailhead and slept as much as I could before packing into some beautiful Idaho backcountry for the next few days. Daybreak of opening day hit as I was hiking my way 4 miles back to set up my base camp on a ridge between two promising basins that I intended to glass for the coming days.

Ridgeline camp:
20200827_203321.jpg

That evening I got on my glassing perch, set up the tripod and binos and got to work. I scanned those hillsides for the latter half of the day until I could barely see. I looked into every hole of the brushy hillsides, ridge lines, along the creeks at the bottom, and even distant mountains. I struck out on opening day with no deer seen, better luck tomorrow. I woke up feeling slightly unmotivated from not seeing anything the day prior and tired from the hike in. I made some coffee in the dark and made my way back to the perch to glass the morning away. I spent the first few hours of daylight, until ~9AM, glassing to no avail. It was only day 2 and already I was at a low point mentally, my game plan wasn't working like I thought it would. I decided this basin wasn't holding the deer that I imagined it did so I needed to make an adjustment, over my lunch I decided I'd adjust to be more mobile rather than sitting on this spot looking down into these two valleys that clearly weren't producing. After reviewing my maps and dropping some pins for new vantage points to glass from, I packed up and started heading in that direction.

Looking over a pond with lots of cattle and deer sign:
20200830_193330.jpg

I spent the night of Day 2 left pondering, what am I doing wrong? I looked over a ton of country these last couple days and spent so much time behind the glass like every internet resource says to do. Either one of two things is going on, I suck at glassing or this area is devoid of deer. Well I was pretty much 100% confident there were plenty of deer around, so I guess I'm bad at glassing. The morning of day 3 I tried slowing down and "picking apart" the landscape rather than scanning as I recall hearing about before. I saw more wildlife doing this than I had at any other point in the hunt. I spotted a cow moose moseying her way through the timber. I saw ravens perched in the trees. I saw my first set of mule deer!!! Two does working down the hill across from me (pictured above) to go get a drink of water. I was overrun with excitement because for the first time I actually felt like I was hunting and not just viewing nature and lugging a bow around. I sat and watched with hope that there'd be bucks hanging around the area and might head down for a drink too. Lunch time of day 3 came around, I had a tuna taco and some peanut mnm's and decided to get after it in the best way I knew how to hunt from the ground; still-hunting. In the south, when we weren't successful and late season came around, my brother and I would resort to still-hunting styled deer drives that ended up being quite successful.

I reviewed OnX and noticed that on the opposite side of that ridge was some steep and heavily vegetated terrain so I figured that was probably their bedding area. I made my way over, checked my wind (still coming uphill) and began working my way downhill in a transect style pattern. I would take 4 steps, stop and glass my immediate area, 4 steps, stop and glass, 4 steps, and so on.

Tracks in some snow that was within a few days old (early September snow from 5/6 days prior, most had melted off):
20200911_101818.jpg

I just knew it was only a matter of time until either I jumped a deer out of it's bed or I successfully spot one before it gets spooked. I went ahead and nocked an arrow into my Hoyt for when that moment came. As I kept going downhill and working my way back and forth, the deer sign became overwhelming. I came to a clearing where the sun shined brightly into, like an idiot, I still-hunted my way right into the sunlight and what would you know, a beautiful 4x4 muley stood out of his bed at 20 yards downhill and we stared at each other for about 5 seconds before he bounded off down the mountain. I couldn't believe what just happened. I was shaking with adrenaline and not sure if I should be happy or upset. I gathered myself and decided the failure was because of stepping into the sunlight and shining like a star for the whole mountain to see. I got right back to it and continued working my way down further and not 5 minutes later, I saw movement. They were working away from me, I only got to see some legs through the brush so I wasn't sure if they were bucks, does, or both but I knew I had to close the distance. I "quietly" ran uphill to get above them and nestled myself into a hole and started glassing through the trees. Like a perfectly drawn playbook, 4 young mule deer bucks walked out into a clearing at 50 yards, right at my ethical shot limit. They never really stopped moving but also didn't seem too nervous so I decided to just hold off and try to reposition after they got out of sight. Right as they crested over a knob, a 5th buck came into view following the young ones. It was that same 4x4 from earlier! I went full draw, settled my pin and started applying pressure to the release right as he took a step behind a tree only offering his butt and head in view. He took a few quick steps and was never to be seen again. I let my bow down, shaking violently from adrenaline, and quickly went to follow the deer but couldn't relocate. This time I felt like the failure wasn't entirely my fault and chalked it up as a close call.
- Recalling on this encounter, I feel that the buck that I spooked, the 4x4, bounded down the hill and grabbed other deer to make their escape which is what I got to witness at the end.
 

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JEEF

JEEF

Junior Member
Joined
Jun 26, 2018
Messages
32
Location
Eastern Idaho
After this wild ride of emotions, I wanted to go back to the truck to recharge electronics and eat a decent meal before continuing the hunt. So I packed out, got to the truck and was enjoying a snickers when a trail runner showed up after his run. We chit chatted about what I was doing and he was very respectful and seemed genuinely interested in bowhunting so I told him about some good resources on the internet to learn more if he dared exposing himself to this addicting way of life. As a sort of trade, he told me about a trail he ran just a few days prior and in his words, the "big ass bucks" that he saw just off the footpath. After thanking him and passing him a few beers, I thought, why not? Let's let the spot that I just blew up cool down for a day and check out this new intel. I drove down the forest service road to the new trailhead and took the evening off to relax at the truck and enjoy my time outside. I kicked back on the camp chair at the new trailhead, opened up "On Desperate Ground" by Hampton Sides, and began reading. As the sun was setting, I watched and listened to cattle drink from a pond nearby, threw up my binos to look at this hill across from me and saw a cow moose coming down to have a drink herself. She didn't seem to mind my presence, and before you knew it, two muley does appeared out of thin air and came for a drink too! I immediately made the link, with the hillside covered in miscellaneous forbs and sage brush, the mule deer blended in excellently now that they began growing their gray winter coats. I was dumbfounded at how I didn't make the link earlier, I spotted so many deer over summer because their reddish, summer coats gave them away instantly! I can't even imagine how many deer I glanced over during this hunt...



Truck camp:
20200911_185110.jpg



The morning of day 4 was bitter cold, I slept in the back of the truck and everything was icy. I was at another mental low point, I wanted nothing more than a hot shower and my bed. I talked myself out of quitting and layered up, there was basically no wind, and I sat over the watering hole at the trailhead for the first hour of light. After no action, I hiked up the mountainside and across to an area that looked extremely similar on the maps to the bedding area that I hunted the day prior. After the kind of success I had in that, I had no intentions of glassing again and relabeled myself as a still-hunter.



I started with the same strategy, with the morning, uphill wind, I began my 4 step method working across and down. It was significantly more open with waist high shrubs but I kept walking over fresh bedding sign so I kept with it. I "bounced" from the shadows of tree to tree, trying to not make the same mistake again with the sunlight. About 45 minutes into the still-hunt I bumped a moo-cow out of her bed and instantly made the connection. These beds are all from the cattle grazing this hillside... Once again the desire to go back to the truck, drive home, and have fast food for lunch was overwhelming. I fought these urges and continued to still hunt the area for a little while longer when through my binos I saw what I had been looking for this whole time. 40 yards downhill I saw antler tips and without hesitation I drew my bow, settled the pin on where he would stand, kicked a rock, and let her fly. THWACK. The buck hit the ground, I sent another arrow and missed. I nocked a final arrow, got to 15 yards and put it through the heart/lungs to help it die quicker. Laying there in front of me was a sight that I felt that I had worked so hard for I could barely believe it actually happened.
 
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JEEF

JEEF

Junior Member
Joined
Jun 26, 2018
Messages
32
Location
Eastern Idaho
Many attempts of working the cell phone camera timer later:
20201010_162044.jpg



After spending a moment to myself with the deer I ran up to the top of the mountain to get cell signal and gave my buddy/coworker a call to tell him about my success. Without hesitation he said he would see me at the trailhead in 2 hours to bring ice and help with whatever I needed and to take pictures (HUGE thanks to a great friend). I went back to the buck, marked his location on OnX (after having some minor difficulties relocating him...), and began skinning/quartering. The temps were rising fast so I want the meat down and in the cooler ASAP. After about an hour of somewhat sloppy work, I had everything in bags, in the shade, and on a log, protected from the swarms of bees and flies trying to get at the meat.



Post quartering:
20200912_122314.jpg




I did a single heavy load of just meat down to the truck leaving the head and my bow for "pack out photos." As I was coming down the final stretch of hill, my buddy pulls in, we greet each other and cheer. We hiked back up to the kill location and grab some photos. We had deer heart and tenderloins for dinner and I couldn't have been happier.



Pack-out photo:
received_738257363683619.jpeg




Thanks for reading, I've never done a long form story before and would appreciate any criticism you have for the future. This hunt meant a lot to me and it brings me joy to share it here with fellow, like-minded people.



TL;DR: I hunted southeast Idaho for mule deer on my first ever western hunt. After much scouting, things didn't quite go to plan so I adjusted from predominately glassing to still-hunting through bedding areas. I had some seriously close calls with 5 different bucks on day 3 of the hunt after the adjustment. I went back to the truck, got tipped off by a (very nice) trail runner on a new spot, and hunted that the next day where I ended up being successful with a 40 yard, downhill shot.



Supplemental photo of the view of my tailgate at the trailhead, where I showed off and told the story to a handful of other hunters:
20200912_141951.jpg
 
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16jbarrett

Newbie
Joined
Mar 2, 2022
Messages
1
This is my first read as an actual member. Posts like this is exactly what got me to finally join. Excellent write up. Congrats!
 

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