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.
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!