Sunday, October 15, 2017

Full Count: Three Guys Four Animals, Three Days

"Whether you think you can or can't, you're right"
- Henry Ford

I believe that we are the sum of the five people we find ourselves in company with the most. Like attracts like, it's the same in the mountains. A good team knows what the other team members are thinking and they move as one, win and lose as one.
Like most backcountry hunters, we enjoy the beauty, solitude, and most of all the test. When I sold knives we used the Rockwell hardness test to know the hardness of a certain metal being used as a blade and how that metal would perform. Miles and miles of steep, rocky and unforgiving terrain, married with the rawness of the climate that can change within the blink of an eye, are good tests to find a person's metal.
2016 was a great year in the backcountry. The weatherman called for precip and we knew at the elevation we were going to hunt would summon snow, a good problem to have. I find a lot of people get turned away by inclement weather and do a lot of road hunting or RV sitting when it looks gloomy. Personally I get excited and make sure we're in the thick of it, I can't tell you how many times we have been in the thick of it and had a break and were right there when the animals come alive. This is what happened to us twice on this 3 day hunt.
It was pissing a rain/snow mix the night we made it to camp, all night we could hear it pounding the tent. We awoke to a winter wonderland of a heavy wet snow, first problem is it is very hard to keep your gear dry when it is that kind of snow and conditions. This was the year that my elk tracker boots had given up the ghost and so I found myself walking in wet boots for three days straight.
The plan was simple, we know the area, and had killed several bulls before with the elk in their post rut, and the bulls were chasing late cows.
Jared was the first to glass up the herd bull, there were several raghorns and satellites in this group.  So we side hilled around to a ridge point hidden in the spruce and set up with a great vantage point above them. At 420 yds Jared and Dennis were kind enough to let me dial in on the big boy while Dennis elected to take a nice raggy next to the big boy. Jared decided to hold out and see if we couldn't find another mature bull, it was the first day and so we had some time.
Both bulls absorbed our first shots into their front shoulders and with a follow up were anchored on the hill. I can't tell you how nice it is to do the "hard work" of hunting when it comes to preparing, field dressing and packing off the mountain your animal when you work as a team that jumps in and works together, the work is actually fun and goes by fast. So Romeo and Jasper hauled my bull and Rider the big morgan equine  packed Dennis's without any rodeo problems and in one trip. This conserves a lot of energy and has allowed us to hunt harder and longer. We saw several other raggys that night and another the next morning as we were packing our elk back to the truck, but were looking for a good six for Jared. We were going to go back to our base camp, dry off because everything we owned was soaked. Hit it hard in the morning and hopefully kill a deer or two in the half a day we had left before going home.
That night it snowed and the weather was bad, opening the tent door we were welcomed with very cold temps and fog. The trail out of camp and the trailhead was a ghost town as every hunter in the drainage was hunkering down in their tents. Once we got a ways down the trail we set up and on cue the fog lifted and the sun started to shine through the overcast. Right away we saw the small six pt bull we saw the day before with his cows on the other side of the drainage, and decided to pass. I let out a long wolf howl to see if any four legged elk killers were in the area, and nothing responded. A nice buck up the drainage didn't want anything to do with the howl and took off up the drainage. Then Dennis spotted two bucks going up the hillside to our right, both were small bucks, but we had but a few hours left before we were going to go home. I had drawn a tag down south and was waiting to go and hunt that unit and this would be the last time to hunt for Jared and Dennis, so we went for it, that and it was fun. Jared made a 500 yd shot with the 6.5-06 on the 3x4 and he went down hard with a high shoulder shot. Dennis ran over to the edge of the ridge and while the group of does with the other small buck was running to the top he saw movement below. This isn't the first time we have seen a big buck stay back and creep like a tom cat up the bottom of a draw thinking he was safe. I had the same experience in Salmon Idaho several years before with another smart buck. The buck started trotting once he saw Dennis and he made a quick moving shot that hit him a little far back. By this time I had caught up to Dennis and got the camera on him and he made a follow up shot. We were expecting a decent four pt when we walked up on the buck and were blown away when those antlers came out of the snow and there were two extra in lines on his right side, making him an6x4 and just a great general tag buck. Both bucks we put on Jasper and walked them out to one of the most beautiful days with the sun illuminating the clouds and antlers on the skyline!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cathedral of the Highcountry

Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick tells a story:

  "On the slopes of Long's Peak in Colorado lies the ruin of a gigantic tree. Naturalists tell us that it stood for some four hundred years. It was a seedling when Columbus landed at San Salvador, and half grown when the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth. During the course of its long life it was struck by lightning fourteen times, and the innumerable avalanches and storms of four centuries thundered past it. It survived them all. In the end, however, an army of beetles attacked the tree and leveled it to the ground. The insects ate their way through the bark and gradually destroyed the inner strength of the tree by their tiny but incessant attacks. A forest giant which age had not withered, nor lightning blasted, nor storms subdued, fell at last before beetles so small that a man could crush them between his forefinger and his thumb."

Maybe you find yourself as I do in the high-country, being distracted when game is scarce by marveling at the giant rampikes that dot ridges both far and near. These giant bleached trunks that each would have an incredible story to tell if they could talk. Stories of the giant bucks that had passed them through the centuries, maybe of struggles between hide, tooth, and claws as the circle of life between prey and predator unfolded beneath them. These ghostly skeletons with arms outreached calling out to you to visit the high-country.

Like the monarch tree that fell in Colorado, the small things can tear you down in the mountains, especially in the high-country.  2016 found me the proud owner of a coveted buck tag, two times in a row putting in for this unit. 2014 drawing of this tag has been a great memory filled with lots of sweat, good companionship, and three nice bucks including Trashy the nice 6x8 non-typical we were able to harvest. So I was excited to hit the cliffs and steep slopes again. This year was different though, due to commitments throughout the season none of my hunting buddies were able to go, so I built some cheap racks to put into the back of my truck and told Romeo the llama he and I are going exploring. He got really good at walking up and jumping into the back of my truck like a dog does, I swear if he had a long tail he'd be wagging it.

Beginning of the season found us finding very few bucks, but several mt. lions, resulting in a very late night skinning out a 6' tom, not a bad problem to have. Romeo and I had traversed the unit to all different parts that we had not been before in hopes of finding a good buck. Unfortunately the deer had different habits this year, where bucks were plentiful in the higher elevations two years prior were now devoid of neither hide nor antler. Needless to say I was getting down and discouraged and was playing with the idea of just shooting the next small four point that presented itself, and moving on with life that I had put on hold for the last month in search of the one.

People ask me often what kind of buck I am looking for when I go deer hunting, I tell them I'll know when I see him, and that is the honest truth, it is almost magical when you see them in the optics of whatever you are using. Maybe a heavenly glow if you will, envelopes their rack and body, and then you know, you definitely know. Cathedral made his debut six days before the season was to close. That is exactly what I thought when I first saw him in the spotting scope going straight up the mountain following a doe. His G3's stood straight, tall, and narrow like the spires of a great cathedral church, and I said to myself there has to be two feet of bone from skull to the tips. It was getting dark and very little time that resulted in a failed attempt at a stalk and no cathedral with a nasty straight uphill climb for Romeo and I out of a rockslide and waist high manzanita bushes.
Day 2 in the evening we were right back there but on the other side where Cathedral had been 1500 yards from the evening before, but we were disappointed as we didn't see any deer, but were entertained by three giant bull moose.
Day 3 was a day that I will never forget, cue in the little beetles that topple trees. It was 45 minutes before dark and we were in the next drainage over where Cathedral was heading to the night I saw him. Things became a blur in my mind because it was a very accelerated 45 minutes. Spotting scope reveals a nice buck with lots of does, only problem is they are about a mile away and downhill. Logic usually tells you to hunt uphill so the hike out is downhill, thus making it easier on yourself being tired from hiking all night. Such was not the case, but the opposite now as the roads in this country were all up high, enter beetle #1. Romeo and I dogtrot down through the draw and over to the other side and I tie him to a sage brush find a flat spot and setup, it is getting very dark now and the rangefinder reads exactly 500 yds. I dial the turret for said yardage and try to find the buck, abut he is nowhere to be found among the does. Enter beetle #2 as now I'm acting franctic and full out running down the ridge 400 yds, the slivers of shooting light are almost gone as I come to the edge of what looks like stair stepped plateaus, and there he is at 70 yds broadside with only 4 inches of his back exposed. I aim confidently and fire, boom, nothing, he runs down the hill at 200 yds and stops broadside, chip shot, boom, nothing, he hesitates and runs down the ridge another 400 yds and disappears into the darkness as it is now to dark to shoot, yet alone make him out amongst the does.
I probably swore about this time, I don't remember, all season I had worked so hard to get to that point, I had worked hard all night to get to that point, and I blew it on two very easy shots. Then I realized after the adrenaline had dissipated that in the hurry I had not dialed my turret back down to zero after having dialed up to 500 yds moments before. Both shots had gone high, which offered little relief, due to the fact I had just walked down to check for blood the 400 yds downhill where I last thought I saw him. Adrenaline gone, I'm now exhausted, I have to go find Romeo, it's pitch black, raining, and I have a 2000' vertical walk out of here with a cheap headlamp on that barely illuminates 10 yds in front of me. Oh it gets better, I hike up to where I think Romeo is, or at least where I see eyes shining, and find out they are moose eyes, that bolt along with my bowels when I get close, just kidding about the bowels, but a moose is a big animal especially in the pitch dark. This happens about two more times with the eyes thinking they are Romeo, but find out they are deer.
Hard to put into words what despair feels like when you are tired, wet, can't find your friend and have to leave him on the mountain for the night, and you have a LONG ways still uphill to the truck through waist high manzanita brush, unless you have been there before. Long story short, after an eternity and several breaks, I made it back to the truck and drove home defeated.
Day #4 chasing Cathedral was the next morning, enter beetle # who knows how many by this point as I walk out the door, it is raining and very foggy and I have to try and find Romeo in this. I get to the top of the mountain, I'm very sore from three days of climbing this mountain, irritable because of the weather and lack of success finding Cathedral, worried for Romeo and hope that a mt. lion didn't make a meal of him during the night. Luckily on my descent the fog burns off and is only at a certain level, but everything I own is soaked and wet. I glass the open hillside where last night's proceedings took place and cannot find Romeo where he should be. I do see what looks like a nice buck in proximity of where Romeo should be, so I take off. I get within 100 yds of the buck who is with three does, but he has his head in the bushes and I can tell he is a four point. He sees me, lifts his head and skylines his antlers and my mouth drops as it is Cathedral, usher in background inspirational music as all despair, sore muscles and whatever else I was feeling sorry for myself feelings were instantly dissolved. The turret was right this time and with a quick shot Cathedral made his peace right their in that high country basin. The story gets better as I look up the hill where the does had gone and I see a familiar face starring down at me not 70 yards from Cathedral. Romeo had been laying there the whole time watching what went down with a big smile on his face humming as llamas do.
 Cathedral is 23" from the skull to the tips of his G3's, his two inch cheater makes him 24", and he grosses 181"  My goal starting out the season was to shoot a 190" buck, true several bigger deer were taken off the mountain in terms of inches, but I can honestly say few had the experience I had in the journey of Cathedral in the high-country.
Back at the truck with Cathedral

I learn about life in the mountains, nature in it's raw form through the elements of weather, beauty, and physically, mentally demanding experiences are best echoed through the words of the magician David Blaine about how he prepared to break the record for holding your breath under water.
"As a magician I try to show things to people that seem impossible, I think magic whether I'm holding my breath or shuffling a deck of cards is pretty simple, it's practice, it's training, and it's experimenting while pushing through the pain, to be the best that I can be. That is what magic is to me."
He went onto break the record by holding his breath for 17:04 minutes, at 8 mins he was 100% certain he wasn't going to make it, but he pushed through to the end, I encourage you to go and do likewise.

Romeo after his long night alone on the mountain, getting ready to pack Cathedral off the Mountain, I love this llama!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

I Tawt I Saw a Puddy Tat

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better, the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and short coming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." Teddy Roosevelt  April 23,1910

 Chasing ghosts, wildcats are synonymous with phantoms and eerie feelings. Feelings of "do you ever have that feeling you are being watched," the type that puts hair on end, and glances over your shoulder. For as many hours and miles logged in the wild, I have only had 7 sightings of these deer killers without the use of dogs. Usually in shadows of a treeline or crags of rocks, running long ridges, or in the company of wintering ungulates.
 When in good cat country, with intense populations that are evident in fresh snow, mud, and buried kill sites, $11.50 isn't going to break the bank in stuffing a tag in your wallet. I buy one every year, as we live in great cat country and have ran into several.
 This year 2016 was a special year as I had three cat encounters in a month.
First was on our way home down a canyon road and my wife Kim says there goes a coyote across that opening. With it's tail like a streamer behind it on a gallop to the creek bed willows, I yell no that is a mt. lion.
Second experience was a few weeks later on opening night of deer season. It had just dropped 3" of pow pow, and was perfect snowy conditions at 2 pm. It was an unfruitful deer hunt so on the way back out tracing the trail back to the truck with Romeo the llama in tow down a ridgeline we cut tracks. Not just one, but three,  a female with two kittens, and a big bloody drag mark. Romeo and I followed the drag mark with that eerie feeling, and hair on end through the dark timber. My vortex viper rifle scope was turned down to 4x, safety off, and finger on the trigger as we inched forward. A big doe had met her demise, and was now chewing her cud in greener pastures. The three had eaten half of her in the few hours that I had came and returned. Three sprinting tracks were going in the opposite direction as Romeo and I had spooked them off without so much as a sound. Cue in eerie feeling again as we quickly turned and returned to the trail glancing over our shoulder as I whispered to Romeo, " I hope you can run faster than I if this goes south." ;-)
Third experience, and the best to date. Four days after Romeo and I had the encounter with the cougar threesome, we found ourselves in a nasty hole hunting big bucks where few like to venture into. Perched on a rocky outcropping a top a ridge glassing the finger draws and ridges below me with light fading fast, I see something. What appears to be a doe at 800 yds, suddenly leaps up onto a boulder, and my mouth drops, another mt. lion. Now it's almost dark and I have to close 500 yds to make a shot. Good thing Romeo the llama is part thoroughbred as we are running to a flat rock outcropping. Things happened fast, pack thrown on the ground, I'm prone, the leica reads 372 yds, but I have a 30 degree slope below me. Doping for elevation calls for 5 moa, but experience tells me to correct to 4 moa with that kind of slope. Kitty cat's chest is in the crosshairs as the trigger sear breaks and cat is now 5 ft in the air biting at it's chest. Runs 15 yds down the hill and biting at his shoulder broadside, my 6.5 140 gr VLD hits high shoulder dropping him.
 Walking up on a mt. lion is exhilarating, especially one with some life in him. Romeo kept his cool, me on the other hand might have profited from an adult diaper once that cat got up, looked at me , spit growled, half charged with ears back. Luckily his back legs didn't work, and a follow up shot sent him to fields of catnip, and large saucers of milk.

Never apologize for what you love, or hang your head low because predator hunting is controversial. My short 34 years of mortal existence has taught me a simple truth about people and there beliefs,  we will not believe in something we don't live, whether it's religion, politics, or even animal conservation. So if you believe in it, join me by bending down and picking up the gauntlet of challenge that predator hunting offers. I bid you adieu.

Happy Hunting in 2017!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Let it Snow, The Great Equalizer

Apathy- absence or suppression of passion, emotion or excitement

 Jack Frost please come nipping at our ears and nose. I hope inclement weather doesn't usher apathy  into our lives as we watch the snowflakes fall. My adrenaline goes from zero to sixty faster than the newly announced Tesla sports car when the white stuff falls. I can only make one guarantee in hunting, yes 100% guarantee that one thing will assure you defeat and that is not being out there, it is sitting on the warm recliner in your fifth wheel, or the lazy boy in the man cave wishing you could have a chance at that big buck you are watching on the tube.
Snow taught me a great lesson several years back that has me still scratching my head. This is an experience like many other lessons where the buck was the teacher and we were definitely the students. My brother in law Dennis had drawn a tag in a great unit here in south Idaho. This unit was very accessible in all parts to motorized travel, there are roads everywhere, making it a hunt that we weren't going to back pack into. It had just snowed that night so our hopes were very high of seeing some good deer.  Right off we started seeing deer everywhere, lots and lots of does and very small bucks intermittent throughout. We noticed that all the deer were hanging out right at the snowline, and that everything was on the small side. Knowing that it takes a lot of snow higher to push the bruisers down, we decided to go higher since the snow wasn't very deep. We were heading to a ridge that I had seen nice bucks on before. On the way up it was very discouraging riding up the road on the quads to not see any sign of deer both past and present. Determined that this is the reason big bucks get big for a reason we pushed through the snow to the high ridge, and into the quakies. In the quakies we crossed a single deer track, the only one we had seen since the snowline, and it was a big one. I told Dennis we were going into ninja mode because this was our guy and was surely a buck that we would track down. We unsaddled from our iron ponies and headed up the track, about 50 yds from the road the buck had made a fresh scrape that morning, smiling at Dennis we both realized that we had chosen wisely and that fresh venison was close at hand. So we thought.
I will direct you now to my pic off google earth showing you why I still scratch my head about this big buck experience.
Just to get our bearings, white line is the road, push pin on the road is our quads and where we crossed his track. the line up to the next push pin is where he made his rub on the tree.
Our story continues...  After finding the rubbed tree we followed the tracks up into an area where we came to a fresh bed in the snow with tracks galloping out of it, which represents the red line. We followed his tracks through the trees thinking we had blown him out of the country, but his pace slowed down to a walk and we were ready at any moment to pull up and fire. We followed him for several hundred yards and to my unbelief he was turning and heading straight back to the way we came. His tracks lead us right back, he must of passed us within 50 yds and we didn't even know it. Right when we got back to where his bed was we seen a quick shadow sprinting through the trees down the same path we had just started our circle when we first arrived at his bed. This will represent the blue line. That buck ran down the same line to the south and we almost second guessed ourselves about staying at his bed to see if he would come back, but thought there is no way he would come back a second time. So we thought. We were reassured he was leaving as he peeled off to the east and was heading out. This buck was crafty, following his tracks he was tiptoeing through the thick stuff and every opening he came to he was on a dead sprint till he reached cover. We followed him for at least a mile and he started to wind his way to the north, then started a gentle turn back to the west! He was leading us back, we found his bed from that night down below the road and his tracks went right onto the tracks he had laid that morning and were leading us straight to the road, 30 yds from the road he took a huge leap to the north and took off on a dead sprint out of there he had finally had enough cat and mouse. We stood there wondering why he had left the trail so quickly and we took a few more steps up and there were our quads, we were right on the same tracks he had laid that morning.  Never in my life would I have guessed a big buck would double back so many times to the exact same spot! It was unorthodox to everything I knew about big bucks, from personal experience, to what I have read, researched, watched on TV. That white canvas allowed for us to see the picture that buck painted as he ran all over what he called home. Had it not been for the fresh snow we would have never had a clue that bucks would do that. Kirt Darner shared a method that I thought never would  work in his book, "How to Find Giant Bucks." He called it the fish hook method, when hunting thick cover that you know there are deer in, to go every few hundred yards and fish hook to the right or left 40 to 50 yards to catch any deer that might be doubling back. When I first read that, I never thought it possible for a big buck to double back. So I thought. The buck this day proved me wrong and I learned another important lesson about big buck habits, another arrow that I have added to my buck hunting quiver arsenal.

Last year to show the importance of being out there after a good snow, was an elk I killed.
We found ourselves tired, it was pissing rain, foggy and we were taking a siesta under a group of trees. Earlier efforts from the day had yielded no animals and tired muscles, we had hunted a lower new area, and had seen very little sign. I had wanted to hunt an area where I had killed a bull before, the only thing is it was a good pull to get there and we were in inclement weather. Miraculously the fog lifted and rain turned to snow, a few hours before prime time. If this doesn't get you excited, then you might consider knitting or basket weaving as a hobby.
Dennis, Brandon, and I headed up the hill, immediately we see two four point bucks and with a deer tag burning a hole in Brandon's pocket, he takes off after them. Dennis and I made our way to the top and upon reaching the summit we were greeted with one of the neatest experiences I have witnessed hunting elk. The ridge across the canyon where we were heading was crawling, litereally it was an elk orgy up there is the best way I can describe it. Bulls were chasing cows, bugling every breath, chasing each other all over and just going crazy. This wasn't one herd, but several all over the mountain, we counted twenty very mature bulls, with one pig of a six point who you could tell was the coch of the walk. Full rutting in the middle of October, I know people say that only young bulls do this, but I would gladly disagree, because this is the second time I have seen huge bulls in full rut in the end of October. Upon seeing this we had a dilemma, three days left and 4 tags to fill can seem like a big job to complete. We agreed that we would try and take whatever bull presented a chance so that we could try and get everyone a bull. By this time of the day it was getting dark and we couldn't make a stalk on elk ridge so we decided to be there in the morning. As we were talking about our plans for the next day, Dennis saw a herd to our right at 800 yds. Upon examining them through the binos we found them all to be just cows. These elk were 400 yds from where I had killed a bull two years prior, same scenario, so I pulled out the spotting scope, because one elk was lying down and we couldn't see him very well. The scope confirmed that he was a raghorn, covering his head by the trees, if you don't have a spotting scope, get one, period. When things happen they can happen fast. The elk were a ways away and we had little time to get it done. Dennis and I set up and that bull wasn't going to get up till it was dark so I had a trick up my sleeve. Get ready Dennis, as I pulled out my wolf howler and let out a long howl, sure enough the cows got nervous and start heading out, the bull stood up and started trotting off and Dennis took a shot, it was difficult shot and I could see he had just barely missed, so when the bull stopped I squeezed one off and blew crap into my face from the muzzle brake I have, so I couldn't see if I had hit him. Then the familiar WHACK echoed back, I saw him start to head uphill and at 688 yds I touched another one off and he crumpled in the scope.  Greatest quote of the night was when Brandon came running up to us and said, "All I heard was a wolf howl and then all hell break loose, I thought you guys had slain a whole pack."
Brandon and Dennis both ended up killing a nice six point by journey's end, they made great stalks and great shots, I was on the other side of the ridge when it happened so I cannot tell their story. My dad ended up passing on a bull the last night, we were exhausted and had little time.
Apathy is a disease in the mountains, it is extremely contagious and can poison not only moral, but cause a dislike for what you are passionate about. Some of the greatest memories and life lessons has been on the mountain with my awesome friends and family.
Let it snow! Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Finding Joy in the Journey: The Tale of Trashy and Mr. Big

My wife Kim came running into the room last July wondering what, or from where the high shrilled scream was coming from. There I was grinning and giggling like a kid on christmas morning as I was reading the word "successful" on the controlled hunt draw result page, sadly and embarrassingly the shrilled scream was coming from me. My friends Jared, Blair and I had successfully drawn buck tags for an awesome unit.
Fast forward a month and Kim and I were talking about the hunt, poor thing was exhausted from hearing me none stop talking about it. She had mentioned that I probably would shoot a really nice buck off the side of the road. Lovingly I told her that I wanted to hunt, to find joy in the journey and do it right. All past general season hunts had been rushed and the pressure to shoot the first nice buck you see was there, not this time, we were going to experience it all, the ups and downs, the highs and lows. Call me weird, but there are few emotions that compare to leaving it all on the mountain, to experience the raw power of mother nature through the weather, terrain, blood, sweat and tears. This was going to be a very special season.
July 4th, I found a buck with Kim on a couples hike we were doing that haunted my dreams, really, I would dream of this deer and constantly think about the caliber of deer that he was. I knew I was after him or one of equal value or tag soup for the season. Mr. Big was his name and he was inspiring, huge typical frame with monster forks. Not super wide, but huge typicals seldom are, great mass throughout and just had an awesome look.
First thing that was important for this hunt and the season, I upgraded my spotting scope to better glass and pack ability. Second, it was new territory so I had to learn the land. Third, get or be in great physical shape cause I knew what it was going to take. Mr. Big lived in some gnarly country.
I will say this in all my stories of nice mule deer, be willing to do what others won't and you will be successful. Yea it burns climbing sheer mountains, yea it is easier on the recliner back home watching hunting on TV, but this is part of the journey.
Blair and I found ourselves opening morning in the area that we had been scouting, due to the fact it was difficult to get there judging by our sweat soaked clothes, we were freezing and had arrived at first light. Temperatures drop really fast after a good hike and you are glassing for some time in sweat soaked clothes. I recommend carrying a dry shirt to change into so you have a dry layer between you and the elements when sitting to glass, it makes a big difference. As the sun started to peek over the hill, little white deer butts started reflecting the morning rays. At our 12 o' clock we had a nice group 250 yards away and there was a really nice four pt that we had seen earlier in the year scouting. It was awesome to see this buck at over 900 yds then with just his velvet antlers above the sage, it made him look a lot wider than he was. Blair was leaving the next day to hunt elk in New Mexico so we decided to take him. He made a great high shoulder shot that you will see in the video I posted and the rest is history. He taped at 26" and was just a great mature buck. We put the whole buck on Romeo and he carried him out for us. Thankfully he was there because packing or dragging a big bodied buck through waist deep sage is discouraging, luckily Romeo has long legs and is very tall and makes it look easy.

This was a very fast hunt, but it was so because of the time that was put into scouting. Blair and I had gone up there on an overcast day and in an hour and a half counted 64 bucks. When Blair shot his buck that was the 10th time I had been there and had started naming several bucks. It is a lot of fun when you start to learn different bucks by name.

Mr. Big had disappeared.  I was starting to get discouraged when I hadn't seen him in several trips and was wondering where he was holed up at. Trashy made his debut the day after Blair left and I was solo on the mountain, had spent the night on the mountain and was very exhausted as I had climbed a boulder field that afternoon. This is important, so please remember, exhaustion will convince your mind that you shouldn't go on anymore, to admit it was a good run and to just end it by shooting the next buck you see. I was there, feeling this with my back against a boulder in the shade. Then one little forky came walking out of the treeline, few minutes later it was a single file of around twenty bucks and some does. About half of the bucks I had a name for, and exhaustion was telling me that tripod, or crabclaw were looking mighty fine tonight. The wife probably would appreciate the completion of the hunt as well as I had used lots of family time to be on the mountain. All these thoughts were brewing when 600 yds away a buck I had never seen before came out of the trees following a couple does and a smaller buck. He had points sticking out the side and was very dark horned. Game ON! It was a race now, light fading about twenty minutes remained, I couldn't get a good rest, I was dialed in but no shot. I took off down the hill to close the gap and the group of bucks that came out earlier busted me and started blowing and running everywhere. By this time Trashy was gone, and I felt stupid, frustrated, and even more exhausted both mentally and physically. There is a key point to this, that served me two trips later. The terrain looked nothing like it did from where I had scouted before, the ground had swells, and different features that looked flat from 900 yds away all those other times scouting, but now I knew how to maneuver it, and it payed off later.
Three days later I was back, fueled with the knowledge that Mr. Big didn't roam alone, Trashy was also now on the menu. I went to a new area where I had initially seen Mr. Big, right at dark I snuck into a clearing about 600 yds long by 300. I hadn't seen many deer here so I had not wanted to hunt it. From the edge I glassed to the middle and saw a doe with two fawns. After a minute I decided to just watch the three of them, mind you I just passed over them the first time because of the size difference and it was getting dark. Upon further review the doe was actually Mr. Big and the fawns were two four pts with him. Yea, I know, grab big stick and hit thyself in the forehead for being an idiot, it happens. Range was 420 yds and he disappeared on flat ground, really, on flat ground, I was going crazy trying to pick him up as it was almost to dark to shoot. At the last moment that sneaky devil popped out right on the edge of the timber looked at me and stepped into it at 500+ yds. Two big ol' pigs had eluded me within three days right at dark, I just decided to be grateful I had seen him and that patience would pay off. I walked over to where he was and there was a wrinkle in the landscape that he followed that allowed him to sneak away or what I thought disappear. Now tell me big bucks aren't smart.
Jared came up that saturday, he is in school so we had one day to get it done. With two big bucks on the same mountain, the adrenaline was pumping, as we were hoping he could connect with one of them. After glassing all morning, we glassed up a bedded buck in the rocks. He was the big three pt that I had been seeing all season. Not wanting to pass on the opportunity and with limited time Jared made a nice 425 yd shot on him.

When things happen, they happen fast. That evening we were at the clearing where I had seen Mr. Big, the plan was to watch there until half an hour before dark and if he didn't show up then high tail it to where I had seen trashy. He never showed so we went over to our outcropping where we glassed from and waited. Several bucks showed up, but no Trashy. Right about the time to head out some deer came out of where he had come out last time, and there he was, cheaters and everything. One final confirmation through the spotting scope and the thumbs up from Jared and we were off. Now this is important, had I not known the terrain, Trashy would probably still be alive. When we got over there, there was a small plateau, and I told Jared he would be at the bottom. We peeked over and there was a single deer feeding. I was very anxious because the sun was shining right into my scope and I could barely see, let alone know if it was him. Jared kept asking is it him, is it him, and I am answering I don't know because I can't see his head. Just then he tilted his head just a fraction back and I saw an antler tip with a cheater on it. I almost yelled it was him as the hammer fell.
Ode to Trashy. He lived like all big bucks do, he had his big buck habits and was very careful, both nights he wouldn't be farther than two leaps from the timber. Both nights he was the last buck out of the timber, making it very hard to scout him and move in on him. He lived in a place where few people want to hunt. Thank you Trashy for the journey, 13 times on the mountain and  I will never forget it.

Author notes:
1. Buy good glass, if you don't have a spotting scope, don't expect to find big bucks. 13 times yielded 410 bucks.
2.KNOW the terrain, not just where you are sitting but where the buck is living so that you know how to stalk in on him.
3. The body can go farther than the mind. Push yourself to the limits, even when your mind tells you to give up.
4. Hunt with like minded people who are as crazy as you are. Thank you Jared and Blair
5. Have a way to pack them off the mountain, makes the end so much sweeter.
6. Big bucks live in their little holes and are smart creatures of habit, they are there even when you think they have moved on.
7. Most important, enjoy all of the journey from purchasing the tag to the dinner plate.
Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sweat Equity

Extraordinary things require an extraordinary effort. Period.
Extraordinary effort will lead you down the road of creativity, finding weird ways to find success. Pulling the trigger is the culmination of all this extraordinary effort, I would like to share some things I do that have helped me be successful on the trigger end, ultimately putting that animal from the slope to the dinner plate.
Sweat equity is the vehicle I use to build doors, not luck, doors that are built so that when opportunity knocks I will be ready. Many have told me I am lucky because I have been successful,  I believe luck is earned, here's how:

Paper vs. Flesh
For me the one trip out to sight in a rifle on paper targets a year isn't going to cut it. Surgical approach to shooting, the details make all that time planning and preparing and spending count. When at the range there is hardly any variables, you are on a bench, comfortable, taking your time, shooting at a perfect target. Perfect in the sense that it is stationary, flat and unobstructed. May I suggest shooting at more flesh. People might get the misconception that I hate coyotes and want to kill them all because of my obsession in hunting them. Nothing is farther from the truth, a person really gets an appreciation for an animals abilities than by actively pursuing them. Coyotes are a target that requires extreme focus, they are constantly moving, small(only about eight inches under all that pelt), prolific with no season or bag limits, so they offer lots of opportunity.  Unlike the comforts of a bench rest, hunting coyotes in the field offers you the perfect practice scenarios that you will encounter with your big game pursuits. Engaging four coyotes at a time you learn to be quick, shot placement needs to be precise as you will have running targets. Long range shooting becomes more confident as you engage coyotes at an excess of 300+ yds, shooting a coyote at 400 yds makes a deer or an elk look like a barn at those distances.
Rock chucks in the spring, can offer an extreme challenge for both the novice and seasoned hunter. Rock chucks aren't as fast paced as coyotes and offer more of a laid back approach to shooting. I suggest you practice all shooting positions when shooting at them, from prone, seated with shooting sticks, to one knee, to standing. I guarantee you won't be as mad when you miss a rock chuck at 200 yds as you would a big buck because of lack of practice, so practice, practice, practice. Other flesh that is good to practice on is through dry firing on animals. Silly I know it sounds, but being creative again, I would lay in my back room with the door open and follow my llamas several hundred yards away in the pasture in my scope and dry fire on them. Dry fire means no round in the chamber of your gun, just cycling the bolt and pulling the trigger for all of those who might be thinking I am being irresponsible. This offers great muscle memory as you learn your trigger's sear and when it breaks, and also focusing on aim small miss small. The crease behind the front shoulder, that color transition point, that white speck, or the hair swirl dead center briskett. One last thing I do that all can is I go hunting in my mind constantly and replay the shot scenarios, I focus on the scenario, what I did right and what I did wrong. I will imagine the animal in my scope and slowly feel the trigger in my mind as I apply pressure, not yanking it but slowly applying pressure till it fires. I guarantee you replay those scenarios over and over in your mind you will be more confident on the business end of that weapon. A holocaust survivor shared that he was able to make it through the hard times by playing in every detail a full round of golf. EVERY DETAIL, from the wind on his face to the angle of the shot to the amount of force on the club. When he finally was liberated he played his first round and played just over par!  Why can't we do the same with taking that shot? You don't have to feel silly or save face with your mind it is a place only you can go and participate in, so use it's power to prepare.
To date I have been fortunate to have never lost a big game animal due to wounding or maiming, and I credit a lot of this to my shooting habits that I have created through countless hours of practice. That and I like to lay the hammer down when shooting, I shoot to kill whether that is with one shot or four or five. Don't stop pulling the trigger till they are down and not moving, you owe it to the animal and yourself.

Creative Scouting
You can't hit what you can't see. For most of us there is more season then there is money or time. For five years this was especially the case while getting my degree at the university. I was a poor college kid inundated with projects, papers, and studying, didn't leave much time for scouting the way I wanted. Hunting usually relied on being a weekend warrior for three days and going full force, every minute from two hours before light to two hours after light we were hunting. Hunting through hours of glassing, walking marathons till game was located, using every inch of opportunity or our friend called daylight. I truly believe the mind can be trained to recognize certain features. The hunting video library I have has some two dozen DVDs that I have accumulated over the years, from coyote calling, big bucks, to big elk. Every season I watch each DVD pertaining to that species at least once, I try for twice, why you might ask? I know all the scenes and how they turn out, I've seen them over and over. Everything in the flora world grows vertically, grass, trees, bushes, you get the point. The features I was talking about before that I train my mind to recognize are horizontal lines, deer backs, top of heads, spread ears, and antler points. These are the features I look for in the videos, I don't focus on the kill but what the animal looks like in it's environment, and the deer that surround it. I figure the more I look at deer,  elk, coyotes in all different scenarios and terrain the more I will be able to recognize those features through my binos and spotting scope. Last deer season I counted 410 bucks in 13 trips through my binos and spotting scope, half of those were through my spotting scope, that does not include does. So I truly credit that through the hundreds of hours of looking at videos and live deer in the wild looking for those special features.

Salmon deer hunt
I will share a quick story that illustrates how smart mature deer are.
It was the third day of our deer hunt in Salmon ID, I was in school so time was short and this would be the last day I could be on the mountain. My good friend Jared and I were desperate, we had done two marathon hikes from the last two days and were pretty tired of hunting the breaks on the river so we decided to lay all the cards on the table and do the "he-man hike". The terrain was nasty, boulder fields, extremely steep and very thick in parts, great recipe for a good mature buck. We had hiked to the top, seen some bighorn sheep, a spike elk but no deer. Around noon we perched on a rock cliff and started glassing a long steep ridge.  Immediately Jared spotted a buck feeding in a small opening, good thing because the buck laid down just a few moments later and all we had was a view of his neck and head from the shoulder up. Normally we would try to get closer for a shot but it was thick and we were racing the clock, we both had to leave in about four hours. The range was 610 yds, with a 30 degree angle. I shoot a lot of long range so Jared gave me the go ahead. I aimed on his neck and touched one off, immediately that buck jumped to his feet and was looking around. Thinking I might of blown rocks into his face the way he jumped up shaking his head, I aimed higher and torched another one off and he disappeared. Not knowing if I hit him we made our way down to check. We jumped him out of his bed and heard him crash down the ridge to the draw below and it was quiet. Jared and I scoured the whole ridge he was on and where he bedded looking for blood. We were making all kinds of noise, talking, walking on loose rocks, cracking brush trying to find some evidence of a hit. Figuring I must of missed and that we had a schedule to keep we decided to head out. Jared was in front of me leaving about 40 yards, I was standing there trying to figure out what happened. Mind you the hill was extremely steep and lots of loose rocks, so Jared was making some noise walking away. This was my mind process as I looked across the draw the buck ran down into. That other ridge is a rockslide with several small pines in it. With as much noise as we are making, that buck would have made some noise running across there, but we didn't hear anything. Since big deer like to put ridges between you and him, and they hardly ever run down hill, I bet he is still here. Then I thought, if that buck hears Jared leaving over this ridge I wonder if he will move. I stood there, as soon as Jared went over the ridge, I didn't move and stood there still, I started to hear little rocks rolling down the draw. The next sight I saw I will never forget, a sight that taught me a great lesson about mature mule deer in the high country. That buck had been hiding in a little patch of trees right below where we had been talking, walking around and making all sorts of ruckus. Now that he thought danger was going over the ridge with Jared, I kid you not when I say he came out of that group of trees tip toeing like a cat does trying not to make noise. My jaw dropped as I watched him sneak up through the bottom almost crouched down slinking up through there. I hit my butt had my sticks up and the buck saw me, took off running to the top of the rockslide, but it was to late, at 250 yds the first shot was behind the shoulder, and the follow up shot put him down for good. Jared came running back and I explained what happened. We went over there and he was a nice buck, super thick neck, but ugly antlers, a 3x4 that was just an old monarch living in this little area that few people were dumb enough to hike into. We boned him out and packed him out and made it just in time to head home that night. Reflecting on the first two shots at 610, first one went high right by his ears causing him to jump and shake his head, second went higher as I aimed higher thinking I had hit low. I entered the distance into my ballistics program and I hadn't accounted for the 30 degree angle. Instead of 610 I should have aimed for 560, and he would have made peace right there in his bed. So angle does come into play especially in those long shots.
Big bucks do hold up and do not move unless they absolutely have to, think about how many deer each of us walk by each year and take that into account when hunting really bucky country, if you think they are there, they probably are. Happy Hunting!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Beginning: Why Llamas?

I must lay the foundation for the best decision in my hunting "career," but first an introduction to understand where I come from and how I started.
I love Idaho, born and raised in this great state, I remember the day my dad brought home two plott hounds to start his hand at the world of hound hunting, I was six years old. Since then we have pursued everything we could in the mountains that we could make an excuse to get out and pursue. Deer have always been my passion, hence the title, Blood, Sweat and Deer. A friend of mine once quoted that I would like to echo as my own, "Elk give me the fever, but deer make me crazy." I come down with big mule deer fever every year, maybe you have experienced it yourself. It starts around January 1 and ends December 31, the worst symptoms show up around April-May when applying for controlled hunts, symptoms really heighten when you see the words in July "Successful" on the draw results page of the Fish and Game.
It was a nice mature buck that encouraged me in a special way to get into llamas.
The sun was about to set back on Oct. 10th 2008. I was on a general deer hunt solo in the mountains above Carey, ID. As the last rays were almost gone I peered over the ledge of a cliff in the third canyon I had hiked into that afternoon chasing a group of deer. A four point buck was right below me broadside oblivious to anything going on. First shot went high, after a couple explicits I actioned another round and fired. Buck still stood there looking around, dumbfounded I fumbled in the third round as the buck took off down the bottom and up the other side. Third shot found its mark as he was running up the hill, right before the tree line he stopped one last time to look back before entering the dark timber. My 168gr berger hit him high shoulder, and he was down. I was excited, frustrated, and very anxious. First excited, because I had just walked a marathon, saw the group of deer and told myself they would lead me to other deer, and they had, just shot a nice mature buck. Second frustrated, why did I miss? The buck was downhill past 45 degrees and I had aimed mid shoulder, my point of impact changed as I hadn't accounted for the downhill shot. Had I aimed where his chest line met the ground I would be three bullets richer. Third I was anxious because now it was dark, I was dehydrated, hungry, exhausted, and I had to be at work at 5 in the morning. Most hunters hunt to an invisible line of three miles from the truck, past that your mind starts to convince you that packing out an animal would be ludacris. I was past that invisible line about a mile and a half and found myself in satan's hell hole of jungle and thick, rocky, steep nastiness. You've been there, you know what I'm talking about. Due to time commitments, that buck had to be off the mountain that night. I love hunting a lot, but dragging a deer through a mile of jungle and rocks is a guarantee program of discouragement. When I was at the bottom, I was on vapors, nothing left in the tank. I cut the buck in half, threw the back half on my shoulders and walked back to the truck. Round two was unforgettable, imagine the hilarious sight of a guy with half a deer, hide, antlers, bones. and all on a framed back pack. Bent over with his hands on his knees because of the weight walking slowly step by step 3 miles back to his truck. Yea, that was me, stupid you say, I would agree, there is a better way to pack an animal out you say, I would agree again, trust me every step back to the truck I would agree with you. Something had to change, and I was willing to try anything to never have to do that again.
In my quest I came across pack llamas, trust me I started laughing the second I heard it just as you are now. People still laugh, and give that look and smile, they are polite and courteous but I know they are thinking I'm crazy or weird.
Now I won't give you a lesson on the perfect structure when getting a llama, that could take days, and there are several google searches that could inform you of such. What I will tell you is after 28 llamas I am down to three. Free llamas, rodeo llamas, spit in your face llamas, kick you, drag you, run through down town llamas, been there done that, have the t-shirt. All those experiences reminded me of that buck I packed out and that I was determined to make it work.
Jasper, Romeo, and Buckshot have been a blessing in my hunting life like no other. They are truly the ultimate pack animal. Time to brag a little, so please bare with me, they are tipping the scales at 400 lbs each, and are 48 in. at the withers. Pound for pound I would put them up against any animal, I can say that because of what they have done. Their resume; each one can pack out a full mature buck as far as you want, and in whatever terrain you want. Jasper can pack the back end of an elk, he has done it five times, he doesn't need rest and will go straight up hill as fast as you can walk, and I walk fast. He packed the back end of an elk last year 13.8 miles straight, that is almost 160 lbs. He truly is a freak of nature. Another freak of nature is his brother Romeo who is just turning four. He has been with me since he was born and is the best all around llama I own. I haven't pushed Romeo to the extreme yet, because he is still young, but he will pack a whole buck out easily and by next year will be able to carry and perform like his brother Jasper. Buckshot is also their brother, all had the same sire, different dams, he is a close second to the other two if you want to call packing 120 lbs all day a close second.
You might say to yourself, I can't afford llamas, or I have no room for llamas, or even sillier, I don't want people to laugh at me and make fun of me.
True, a good pack llama can be spendy, do your research and find good genetics, save up and get one that has been worked with. Free is free, only two llamas that were free have I kept, one has since died and the other went to a friend getting into pack llamas. Word of advice, avoid free unless you know what you're looking for, if not spend the money.
I can keep three llamas on 1/4 of an acre, it might be a little tight but it is doable, exercise them once in awhile, or a few months out of the year pasture them in a friend or family members field if the opportunity is there. I can feed four llamas what I can feed one horse, I pack no feed when hunting only some grain and they can go three days without water.
Let people laugh, that is ok, I packed four elk out last year in four days, and three bucks in one and a half, never once with any weight on my back except my day pack. I ate like a king, slept on a 4 inch foam pad, and had all the gear I could want, and did each trip only once, all in the backcountry. Like I said, let them laugh.
Dare to do things different, if it seems impossible, it is worth doing. If llamas interest you, if a better hunting life interests you, make it happen, I promise it is worth it!