Friday, September 5, 2014

Day 9 - No Regrets in Idaho

We got a late start at base camp, had two game plans we kept tossing around. One revolved around "chuckles" and the other was to head up high and see if we could get eyes on a buck Curtis saw earlier in the week. 

He spotted the buck when he and his father stopped midway up the big mountain, while my father and I went all the way up. The plan was to go light, so he didn't bring his spotting scope, just his bino's. He watched the buck for about a day and half, knew where it fed and knew where it bedded down. I believe this was days 3 and 4. When we finally met back up at base camp after our departure, Curtis began to describe the buck that he had been watching. He said it was a decent buck, nothing spectacular but a shooter for sure. Remember, he was looking at this buck through his bino's, from a great distance... Given that we had a bull elk below base camp and not much else to pursue, we put that buck in our back pockets and pursued chuckles over the course of the next several days. 

So when we woke up on Day 9, it really was a coin toss, but we decided to spend the last day up high, if nothing, we would have a great view, so about mid morning we started the climb. 

Once we finally arrived to the bench on that knife ridge where Curtis was glassing that buck he saw earlier in the week, we both pulled out our spotting scopes and started looking.

It wasn't more than maybe 5-10 minutes when Curtis said, "I got him! I can see his ear flickering and a branch of his antler"... How he found him so quick, I don't know, I'll tell you what though, Curtis knows how to work some glass. He got me lined up and this is what I saw... 

I said, "Dude, that's a monster!!!" We initially thought he would go 170-180", deep forks, real deep and well past his ears. Got to looking a little more and he was 4 on the right 3 on the left so we dropped our estimation down 150-160".
We watched that buck for about 30-40 minutes while it fed, and then he went out of sight behind some pines in the shade and bedded down. 

We made a plan, got our fathers lined up on the buck, they would keep their eyes on him while we worked our way over there. We came up with some hand signals, so they could let us know whether he busted out, or if he was up feeding or which direction he was headed. The challenge for Curtis and I, was to get up to this knoll above him, without getting seen, heard or scented. Once there, we would be in plane sight for hand signals from the eyes across the way and completely hidden from the buck below. It was a little over a mile away too, we knew it would take some time, a lot of time, we had to hop several ridges. Curtis's dad Randy filmed, while my dad stayed behind the spotting scope keeping an eye on the last place we saw the buck... Curtis and I began our stalk. 

The Stalk - 

When you canvas an area from a distance, you can think to yourself, hey that's a long ways, or hey that's some tough country. Until you step foot, until you head that direction, you really do not know what you're up against. We just knew that we had to get above him. We had landmarks picked out, still pictures in our minds to help guide us through the stalk and to let us know if we were getting close to our target area. 

We set out... To cross the first ridge we had to drop down across sage brush country all the way to the bottom, just to climb the next ridge to get into the tree line to remain undiscovered. Our plan from there was to get up high enough to side hill all the way across to the knoll above the buck that was a few fingers over on another ridge. So climb we did, up and up and up and all the way across until we hit a rock wall ledge that divided the ridge we were on, from the ridge the buck was on. This was due to a spring coming out of the side of the mountain. We would have needed some serious equipment to repel down that rock wall... We had to drop all the way down to the bottom, and that's what we did. We crossed the creek below and took a look up, straight up. Too risky to do any side hilling from here, we had to climb this ridge straight up, we started the climb. Definitely had a few moments of don't look down, one misstep and you'd be on your way to the grave. I don't think we took our time, we just went... We didn't have anything else, we had no idea if the buck was still there, we had to get up high enough to look back at our spotters for some signals. We moved quickly, but in unison and with precision. Each step mattered and we treated the situation very delicately at times. Pause, check the wind, look for landmarks... We worked up to a finger full of pine, we guessed we were straight across from the buck at this time, but still about 300 yards away. The wind was swirling and at times gusting straight towards the buck. We thought the stalk was blown, but still had no clue so we pressed on. Up a little farther a grouse ran out in front of us... I think Curtis and I simultaneously got a little evil grin on our faces, I looked back at him and said, "Should I shoot him?" Hoping so dearly that he would say, "Do it!"... And that's exactly what he said. I had one arrow with a judo point, so I knocked it... Looked back at him said, "that's about 20, right?" I drew, and the arrow flew true. Smacked that grouse with a wallop so loud I thought for sure the buck would have heard it. The grouse hobbled out of sight. I climbed up to where it stood when I shot and I could see him down the ridge just a ways with my arrow sticking straight through him. I got on him quick and finished him off with my bare hands as quickly and silently as I could. 

Looking back, we're definitely some kind of crazy. Put the grouse in my pack and we pressed on straight up for about another 200 yards till we hit a clearing... We were directly across from the knoll, the wind was still swirling.

To cross the knoll we had to walk straight across an open area, I was walking behind Curtis, keeping tabs on his steps when I noticed something very different from the usual terrain I was so used to looking at. 

On the knoll, we got in contact with our spotter. We got the signal that the buck was up feeding, just 100 yards below us.   

It was here where we dropped our packs, took off our boots and covered our scent with spray. The wind was perfect and our worries about the swirl and cross winds before, were completely put at ease. What was happening was, the wind would push through the draw to where we were when we were straight across from the buck... It would then bounce off the adjacent ridge and then bounce back over us, seemingly pushing straight towards the buck. However, since the thermals were rising, the buck was on the face of the ridge, say the nose and us at the ear, where the buck was the wind was pushing straight up, which concealed our scent. Perfect.

Anyway, so all the way through the stalk, Curtis and I were talking about sticking together till the end, "ride or die together!", but once we got ready for the final decent, he started off in one direction and I the other. Looking back, we should have stuck together, we had no form of communication and we were both out of eyesight. This is, the one mistake we made. 

So I began the final stalk, wool socks gently pressing into the earth, gliding silently through brush and sharp rocks, I worked south around the knoll. Once I made it around, I found myself in a tree line, which was clearly the bucks bedding ground. He couldn't have picked a better bed. I kept my eyes below, looking at the brush we knew he was feeding on. He was out of sight, but I saw some brush moving quite differently from the brush I could obviously tell that was affected by the wind. I devoted my eyes to this spot, and soon before long, I caught a glimpse of an antler. My heart started to pound... 

My senses were on high alert. I had a bush in front of me and him, but he was feeding up. Through the tree line, if he were to continue the direction he was going, I would have a small window to sneak an arrow in him. He was taking his time, definitely testing my patience... I was trying to find another angle on him, but to get anywhere I would have to expose myself, I stayed put. Heart still pounding. The buck was gorging himself, eating and gently scratching his antlers on the brush. I couldn't help but think, wow, what an amazing animal and he looked much bigger standing in front of me. I ranged the brush he was feeding on, but in my window of opportunity, 43 yards. 

I'm sure it was only minutes, which seemed like an eternity, but he was slowly moving up to where I wanted him to go. It was about this time that I started to wonder where Curtis was and if he was looking at the buck himself. Studying the buck, he kept looking back at the direction where I thought Curtis was. The buck, still feeding seemed a little more nervous than before, and I convinced myself that he was on to us. I kept waiting to hear a shot from Curtis, and then the buck moved just ever so slightly into my view. I felt a sense of urgency, so I drew back... I had to hug a tree to get around a branch that was extending out and I still had parts of a bush covering up the bucks backside... He was quartering away, I put my 40 pin behind his shoulder and released an arrow... Just as I had done, a thousand times over. As the arrow released from my string, and headed it's way to the bucks lung cavity... it clipped the brush in between me and the buck. 

It could have been my string, or it could have been the sound of my arrow hitting that brush... But the reflexes of a mule deer, simply, go unrivaled. His body dropped to load up the strength of his legs, at the same time my arrow passed just inches above his hide. In an instance... He was gone.

I'll never forget the emotions felt immediately afterwards. It was an all time low. Completely somber. Here I was, beat down and tired... After executing a perfect stalk, an unimaginable experience ... 43 yards away, from one of the most incredible animals that I have ever had the chance to pursue... And he was gone. Our opportunity, was gone, just like that.

I met up with Curtis and told him what happened... In one aspect, I felt guilty and ashamed. Curtis devoted so much time into watching this buck. We wanted so badly, to stand over him. I think I apologized a hundred times, to which he replied, "Hey, that very well could have been me missing." I still felt terrible. 

We got back to the knoll and gave the signal to our dad's that the hunt was over, without bloodshed. We took our time putting ourselves together... I plucked and gutted the grouse from that spot. We dropped down to the creek below, making our way back up to our spotters.

It was here at this spring, where we found some peace. Took our packs off, stood at the edge of the creek and rolled that cool water over our faces, heads and the back of our necks. I'll remember this as our baptismal. 

Walking up to my pops, I'll never forget the look on his face, I'm sure he won't forget mine. He wasn't disappointed, nor upset, he was actually quite joyous, both of our dad's were. He gave me a hug with the warmth only a father could and told me how proud he was of me and Curtis, Randy said the same... They were so proud of their boys, executing the perfect stalk on a trophy class animal and the excitement they felt watching was something they'll never forget. I'd be lying if I said I didn't tear up a bit, not sure why either... It was a long tough week... And I left a little bit of me on that mountain side.

We took our time heading down... Standing there looking over the country, the sun setting, illuminating mountain peaks and the valley below in a special hue. What a sunset it was... 

I think I said before, that Idaho was getting the best of us... In truth, that just isn't so... We got the best of Idaho. We got the memories of a lifetime with our friends and family, we got the thrill of the chase... We got the ups and downs, we got to revel in it all. Idaho can't take that experience from us, cause that's all ours. That's our story to tell... 

I thank you all for your support, and coming along this journey with us. 

Till next time... And there will be a next time.

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