Idaho DIY Backcountry Mule Deer Hunt
I slammed my tailgate, got a couple more clicks out of the ratchet straps on our gear & checked the trailer lights. Good to go… My phone navigation tells me I have a day’s worth of seat time ahead to dream about the upcoming hunt. As I am sure most of you know, that’s the point where the rest of the world takes a backseat to hunting season! Having grown up hunting & fishing, this was a routine I knew well and always looked forward to. Many seasons, my Step Dad Doug & I have made trip after trip. Some were successful, some were not. When we decided that we wanted to hunt Idaho again, I was instantly excited. The last time we hunted there was 2008 and the results were less than we’d hoped for. This trip felt different though; I was armed with more experience and was more motivated than ever to bring home a backcountry mule deer.
We arrived at what would be base camp mid-day on Saturday and set up the Kodiak Canvas tent and a few other amenities. We checked our packs to make sure they were ready for the next 3 or 4 days of bivy hunting. We then found a nice little ridge near camp to glass from until the sun was gone. It’s these first-night glassing sessions that seem to make me forget about all of life’s stresses that accumulate between hunts. It’s something that I have yet to find a replacement for. I vividly remember being a young kid and how the excitement of Christmas Eve would make it almost impossible to fall asleep. At 23 years old I lay on my cot with the exact same anxious feelings. I am convinced I won’t ever grow up, my hobbies just get better!
As the sun crested the hills the next morning, we arrived at the top of the saddle where we broke from the trail and started following the ridge. Our intent was to glass a series of small bowls along the way. By the time we reached the 4th bowl it was mid-day. We boiled water for a cup of soup and drank a Starbucks Via to take the chill off. At this time the weather was still pretty cold, but decent. After lunch we were doing some more glassing when the hillside in front of my spotter started moving. A herd of elk was feeding in the sun about a mile away with a nice bull in it. Although we didn’t have elk tags it was still incredible to watch a backcountry monarch tend to his cows. That epic scene through the Minox spotter sparked a new fire inside me to pursue a bull elk, but it would have to wait for another day.
With no deer found and only a few hours of light remaining, we decided to head back toward the 3rd bowl and a small patch of burned timber. We had eyed the spot on the way up so we knew we could set our tents where they would be concealed from any muleys that might have been bedded in the shallow basin below. We found a quasi-level spot about 20 feet inside the treeline, cleared the ground and pitched the tents. After camp was made, we headed to the edge of the bowl to work the glass until dark. After only thirty seconds behind our binoculars, Doug hissed those infamous words that will snap every hunter to attention, “There’s a deer… IT’S A BUCK!”
Neither of us are exactly what you would consider big trophy hunters and since this was a heavily hunted, OTC unit, it was quickly decided that the buck was indeed a shooter. The deer was bedded about 400 yards away in a tree well and offered no shot. We had to get closer. We were exposed on the the treeline so we slowly slipped back into the timber to conceal our approach. We followed the ridge to the head of the bowl and started sneaking our way down behind the buck. When we got within 150 yards of where we marked his bed I stopped and sat down. We could not see him and the evening thermals were starting to send our scent in his direction. I was beginning to think that he gave us the slip because we could see 2 or 3 viable escape routes. I decided to stay put as my step dad moved down toward the deer.
I caught a glimpse of movement in the gully that lead out of the basin and realize it was him! I snapped my rifle up, quickly got him in my scope and whistled, hoping he would stop and allow Doug to get a shot. The deer stopped for a few seconds, but there was no shot from Doug… The buck started trotting off again so I again whistled. This time he froze broadside and I couldn’t wait any longer. I touched off a round and the rest is history. As it turned out, Doug was just low enough that he never saw the buck until the instant I shot. When we got down to him, he was bigger than we thought. We celebrated a bit and recounted the experience while we took pictures, caped and quartered him. We packed him to the top of the saddle in one trip by the light of our headlamps, hung the game bags in a tree and then headed for the tents.
We woke the next morning with a light dusting of snow, but 30 minutes later it was a full on snow storm! I have to say that a steep pack out in the snow can humble a guy real quick. After we finally made it back to the truck and wall tent, we took a much needed day of recovery. The snow didn’t let up for 3 days and we ended up having to break down camp and move it down the mountain for fear of being snowed-in!
After a short hunt down low, Doug filled his tag and we headed for home – Mission accomplished! It was a great hunt filled with physical and emotional challenges that were both educational and humbling at times. A lot of experience was gained and the lessons will not be soon forgotten. I would like to say, “Thanks!” to Doug for being a great hunting partner & Step Dad!