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A Little Background
Six years ago, I purchased my first Idaho deer tag and planned on hunting mule deer with my bow. I really had no idea what to expect, but I wanted to try something different. Idaho sounded like a good idea being right next door to my home state of Washington. I normally hunt mule deer in the flat sagebrush-covered lands of Eastern Washington. However, upon arriving in Idaho I realized the vastness of the country and how it was much steeper than I expected. The hunt was going to be way different than what I was accustomed too. Well, after a grueling few days of chasing deer up and down the canyon walls I did end up shooting a nice four point. It would be an understatement to say I was not prepared to pack that buck out of the nasty hole I shot him in. After packing him out I was too sore to walk the next day. This hunt was an eye opener for me. I realized I was going to have to step up my game if I wanted to kill a giant buck with my bow. During the hunt I had seen some really nice bucks, but either couldn’t get close enough or couldn’t keep up with them in that steep country.
So the work begins.
I knew I had to be one heck of an athlete if I wanted to run those muleys down in that steep country. The following spring I started to drop weight and work out. I completely changed my diet and began to eat healthy, as well as exercise. My exercise consisted of jogging, some weight lifting, and most of all hill climbing! This is a special technique that me and my dad came up with to prepare for hunting season. We take a 50lb bag of salt that we get at the local feed store, and put it in our backpacks. Then, with the weighted pack, we climb up and down this steep sandy hill that is a short distance from our house. Up and down the hill 4 times equals a mile and we push ourselves to climb it as many times as we can, at least two to three times a week. My dad and I believe there is no better way to prepare yourself to pack a heavy pack, then to actually just do exactly that! So after a long summer of training, I was even more excited for the upcoming September.
Opening day finally came for the 2011-season! After some preseason scouting I knew right where I needed to be. I had scouted out some bucks and one really nice 4×4 with eye guards that I figured would score close to 170. My biggest mule deer at the time only scored 152 and this one dwarfed it! I left the truck at dark and as the sun slowly crept into the sky I had put myself into position about 200 yards off the top of a ridge. At this spot I thought the bucks would walk by at 40-50 yards while heading to their bedding area. Well you know what they say about bow hunting, what can go wrong will go wrong. This opening morning was no exception to that rule. The bucks took a different trail than they did when I had scouted them and instead took a lower trail and slipped on by me at about 150 yards. So I tried to get back on top the ridge so that I could move down the ridge and get in front of them. Even though I was trying to be quiet, they heard me and started to side hill around the ridge at a steady trot. The fear of them getting away gave me a boost of adrenaline and I sprinted straight up hill to the top of the ridge and then down the ridge about 600 yards to head them off. As I neared the end of the ridge I slowed to a quiet walk and crept to the edge to see if I could see them. I had magically chosen the right draw and there they were. They had slowed to a walk and didn’t seem so spooked. This was my chance; I continued down the ridge to the next little draw and headed down it. The wind was good and I figured I could drop down 200 yards or so and come over right on top of them. Well this “little draw” I wanted to go down was more like a rock chute. As I neared where I needed to be I came to an 8ft drop off. As I tried to shimmy down it I slipped and did everything I could to protect my bow. The fall brought some bruises to my legs but my bow seemed to be okay. I continued on. My plan was working perfectly and as side-hilled over to the draw the bucks were in I began to see horn tips. I crouched down and grabbed my range finder. I then stood up to get a range on the bucks and clicked the button…..nothing happened!! I had landed on my range finder when I fell and now it wasn’t working. Panic set in and I decided it was now or never or they were going to get away. I came to full draw and settled my 60 yard pin right behind the front shoulder of the 170 buck and released. The shot looked true and as the arrow flew over the bucks back my heart stopped… I quickly nocked another arrow as the buck took about 4 bounds and stopped to look back at what just happened. “Well I shot over him thinking it was 60 yards, he moved away a little, now maybe he was 60 yards” these were the thoughts that quickly raced through my head as I drew again and released. WHACK!! The arrow flew right under his chest and exploded on a rock. The bucks ran off and the 170 buck split off from the group and disappeared down the canyon. I never saw him again that season and didn’t end up getting a deer at all.
An unbelievable second chance
I worked harder in the summer of 2012 than in 2011. I was in the best climbing shape of my life. As August rolled around I couldn’t wait to start scouting that big country of Idaho. I went back to the same place I saw that 170 buck the year before, just to see if the deer were using that spot again. I could not believe my eyes, that morning when I spotted a group of bucks not 200 yards from where I spotted them the year before. To my disbelief, I recognized two of the bucks. One was a wide spindly 4 point and the other was the 170 buck! Both I had seen last year only the 170 buck was now closer to scoring 180!
Thoughts raced through my head through the next two weeks until hunting season as I couldn’t believe the size of that deer. One of the biggest 4 point typical bucks I had ever seen and either my dad or I was going to have a chance at this deer. Well pretty much the same story as before. We got into position, the deer got by us, only this time we didn’t chase them like I did the year before. This Time we sat back and watched. Those bucks ended up walking to a small spring, drank a little water, and walked around the corner of the ridge to bed. When they went to that spring my dad and I both knew that’s where we needed to be that next morning, we were certain we would get a shot there. The next morning came and we made it to the spring an hour before daylight. There was not a lot of cover but we pulled some weeds and piled them up to form a makeshift wall to hide behind. The sky began to turn shades of orange, yellows, and blues. Just like clockwork here came the deer. We watched the bucks walk over a half a mile heading right for the spring. About halfway to us, a good 500 yards out, the deer decide to take a different trail and end up going out of sight up above us. My dad and I look at each other with worry because now we don’t know whether or not the deer are going to come to the spring at all. All at once my dad looks over my shoulder and whispers to me not to move. The 180 buck was the first to pop up over the hill and was coming into the water from up above us. Not expecting this we were not prepared and neither of us had an arrow knocked. My dad used me as a shield to nock an arrow and prepare to draw. As the buck closes the distance to 25 yards, he stops and squats to go to the bathroom. My dad took this opportunity to draw. However, because the deer was so close when my dad nocked the arrow he tried to be quiet. Evidently, he didn’t get the arrow all the way on the string, because as he drew his bow back, the arrow fell of the string!!! My dad then whispers to me in a very worried voice “Zach, would you put my arrow back on please”. I am focused on the kill zone of the buck and didn’t see what just took place. So while my dad was at full draw I quickly reach over and put the arrow back on. As it turns out I didn’t get it all the way on either, because with the deer at 25 yards my dad shoots and the arrow skips under the deer’s feet!
Third times a charm
Now the chase was on! The deer spooked and took off running up and over the ridge. My dad and I both take off at a sprint to try to work around the bottom of the ridge to hopefully cut him off before he makes it to the other side. As we approached the other side, there was no sign of deer. That was a good thing because it meant they were still above us. Just about the time we got around the ridge the sun rays started to creep over the horizon and warm my face. Along with the sun came a switch in wind direction and of course it headed right at the deer. I didn’t even see the deer I just heard their feet pounding the ground as they ran off the top of the ridge and into the canyon. My dad stayed on top of the ridge and I baled off in hot pursuit. Chasing a deer with a bow in hand might sound crazy to most. However, if I lose sight of the deer in these canyons I normally never see them again. I did lose sight of them anyway but I knew where they were headed. I continued on the trail dropping about 1500 feet in elevation still on their tracks. At one point I stopped to drink some water and look back up trying to see my dad. I found him with my binoculars standing on top of a cliff waving his arms and then holding them above his head like a bucks antlers. I wave back and then he points his hand to the right telling me to side hill to the next drainage, which was about 100 yards in front of me. I snuck up to the edge and peeked over into the drainage and there he was. All I could see was the velvet tips, and he was no farther than 60 yards away. I got on my hands and knees and began to close the gap. The weeds were dry and noisy but there was a slight breeze that muffled the cracking and popping of the dried sticks. I worked slow and steady, every minute I would look down at my bow making sure everything was perfect. 70, 65, 50, 40 the readings on my range finder kept getting smaller and smaller. Yet still at 40 yards all I could see was his horn tips. He was standing in the bottom of the drainage. When I finally got to 35 yards I snapped a huge stick with my knee and he turned his head and knew something was up. Not being able to wind me he had to come check out whatever just made that noise. The buck started walking with his ears forward at full alert. He then stepped up and out of the drainage slightly below me. I calmed my nerves, or at least tried to, and drew back my bow and settled in. The buck was broadside at about 30 yards now and at a steep downhill angle below me. I know from missed shots from the past that I needed to aim low on a shot like this. So instead of my thirty-yard pin I used my 20. As I released I watched as my carbon express arrow disappeared behind the front shoulder. THUD! The arrow hit its mark. A perfect shot. My knees began to shake and I sat down as I watched the buck run a short way to the bottom of the canyon where he expired. The relief I felt was indescribable. This buck had taken me on one heck of a roller coaster ride of emotion. I had shot my dream buck. My dream buck has always been a 175 or bigger, four point typical mule deer, in velvet. As my dad made it down to me he was also full of emotion for he had missed the buck earlier that morning and was super excited to wrap his hands around that rack. After putting a tape to him, I was ecstatic to see that the buck grossed 183 and netted 176. This buck looks amazing mounted in my living room and it will be story that will be told in my family over and over for years to come.