The Hell Hole

I made this two day trip starting on June 21 of 2013. This is the first follow up trip to the previous post “300 inch Bull” and the sole purpose of this expedition was to find a better passage into that Hell Hole of a basin. I didn’t do a whole lot of glassing or see a wide variety of animals on this trip, but I did get into the basin and it was in deed full of Elk.

I left the trail head mid morning at about 10:30 AM. It is now late spring with only a slight chance of rain in the forecast. The cool cloud covered hikes are mostly over now and the stagnant lower elevation heat has taken hold. The trail is in full use at this point, with the deer and elk tracks being replaced by hikers and bike riders. Had I not scouted this area early in the year before all the human activity started, I probably would have had very little confidence in it.

I brought a hand held pair of pruning shears with me on this trip, and started cleaning up the trail after getting in a couple of miles. With the animals up higher now, the ticks this time were not nearly as bad. I crossed the creek at the same spot and noticed the water level was kind of low for this time of year.


Upon arriving at the feeder creek I planned to hike up, I ate and replenished my water. I usually start my hike with a full water bladder even when I’m hiking along a creek like this. This is partly out of convenience and partly out of preparedness, but mostly out of habit. Since the water level was lower I decided to try and see if I could break trail along the feeder creek that comes out of the basin. After an hour of custom landscaping along the creek, I had only gotten a little further than last time and gave up. I was just going to have to suck it up and hike up the steep hillside then side hill it into the basin. So I hoofed it up the steep slope a couple hundred feet and traversed up the canyon above the feeder creek. It was a difficult and frustrating section that lasted a couple hours.

I finally arrived to where two creeks came together to form the feeder creek I had been following. The ridge in between these two creeks is where I had seen the Elk last time and seemed like a good place to set up camp. I found an old beer can from the late 70s in one of the flatter spots. Could it have been a celebration after harvesting a big Bull? Or maybe the hunting sucks in that basin and the only thing fun to do is get drunk. Either way, I doubt these guys are able to make this hike any more so I will probably have the place to myself if I come back during the hunting season.


After searching around for about an hour I had to settle for a less than ideal (and flat) camp location. After setting and resetting my Supertarp a few times I was able to get a decent set up; the Supertarp is flexible in that way. It was a tight area and I had to get the orientation just right in order to be able to lay in the flattest spot. This is pretty much the norm in some of these back country areas that hold animals around here, it’s just not flat.


After setting up camp and eating I headed up the ridge to explore and do some glassing. Calling this area a “basin” is really not that accurate, it’s more like 2 parallel canyons and I’m camped at the foot of the middle ridge. On a larger scale it will pass for a basin though. I had brought a trail camera with me and decided that I would set it out way up on that ridge and hopefully get an idea of whats really in that area.

I spotted Elk bedded down across the canyon from my first glassing spot, so I moved up the ridge a little farther to where I was directly across from them and watched for a while. There were about 20 spread out across that hillside bedded down. Within that herd there was about 5 calves and 4 spikes, a fairly decent ratio of ages and genders but could be better. It would take a big Bull to run all those cows though and I will do my best to get back in there during the rut to watch.

A small Spike
A small Spike


As I crept up the ridge farther doing my best to stay out of sight from the bedded Elk, I noticed fresh Elk tracks and scat in the trail. The further along I got the more there was and I knew something was going to happen soon. When I got to a bench in the ridge I heard the bark and looked below me. There were 4 cows, 1 spike, and 7 spotted fawns coming out of a mellow coulee and trotting away. Great recruitment in that little herd and really reassuring to see. I watched them quarter away and follow the contour of the mountain to the other side of the canyon, which was a lot wider this far up. They settled down on the hillside across the canyon about a mile farther up the ridge than the other herd. I was really glad they didn’t head over towards the other herd and blow them out of there.

I kept going up the ridge until I found a good pinch point in the trail and set out the trail camera. This camera is way in there at this point and realistically I may not get back to it this year. I then glassed my way back down the ridge and didn’t see any deer, just the Elk. This is not uncommon, the Elk seem to push the Deer out of the better areas in some places, especially in the summer range where there are lots of places to go. Bucks especially just don’t seem to like the herd activity of the Elk. I think it may be due to the fact that a herd of Elk attract both Wolf and Man, are noisy, and smell.

The next morning I headed up the ridge again to do some more glassing, this time focusing on the other side of the canyon. I heard the nervous grunt from an Elk and saw a lone Cow that was below me and about 500 yards away from my camp. I answered her with a chirp and she shortly went back to feeding. I spent the rest of the morning glassing and didn’t spot anything new so I packed up and headed out. I potentially had a long hike out ahead of me and wanted to get an earlier start.

I exited the basin a little higher on the hillside and found the main game trail, this was an iconic moment and exactly what I made the trip for. I knew these animals were getting in and out of this basin somehow, and this was it. It was a well used trail for the most part and fairly flat following a steady contour along the mountain but way above the feeder creek. I trimmed the overhanging brush and trees in some spots and really opened it up for both me and the animals that use it. Clearing and knowing the trail really helps for the pack out, it could save you days. It led right out of there, around the mountain, and to a northerly slope feeding area. I took mental note of that and then started the descent down to the main trail. I was a bit farther up the mountain then I would have liked to have been, but the ease of which that trail traversed about a mile of steep slope made it worth it. Besides, if it was easy to get in there then the spot wouldn’t be so good. I made it down and then started to clean up the main trail again on the hike out.

It was a long hot hike out and I was again reminded of how far in I had been. This round trip would best be made in 3 days instead of 2. All the pruning I did along the way made it take a lot longer as well.  While I didn’t find any big bucks or bulls on this trip it was super successful in knowing the area and learning the best access. This is a prime example of the benefit that scouting gives. I can now go back at any time and know right where to go and how best to get my meat out.



A Sow With Cubs

The last few days in May of 2013 had me back out scouting one of my core hunting areas. This is the same general area that I had made my first scouting trip to in mid April and we will go ahead and call it “The Bench” for future reference. This is a summer range area that goes from about 7-9 thousand feet depending on where I go. The hills are tall and I park at about 6000 feet. I have seen deer, elk, bear, and goats all from this one parking spot. The steepness of the terrain keeps the pressure very low, it takes about a 1000 foot gain per mile hiking ability. The first 1000 feet get you started, the next 2000 feet are where the hunting is. You also have to carry enough water for the first day and night. These are some of the ingredients that lead to a great hunting area where Bucks can grow to old age. Elk on the other hand, have a tougher time here because there is an Archery Rut hunt. This opens the door to calling, which in my opinion, combined with rut crazed bulls makes harvesting big Bulls comparatively easier than harvesting big Bucks in this area. The best I’ve seen in 2 consecutive years is a 5 point Bull running the herds. This may change however, as I’m bringing a trail camera to set up in one of the high elevation large parks on this trip. Maybe I will learn something new about the Elk quality in this area.

I arrived at the parking area, threw on my pack and headed down the trail. The trail is unofficial, but from what I can gather it used to be maintained and went somewhere. Now it just goes about 2 miles and is mainly used by day hunters and migrating game. It ends abruptly at a half mile long glacial boulder slide. I got frisky and hiked it one time, it goes into a basin that holds a 1 acre lake with cutthroat trout so tame you can hand feed them. I have since found the best access is via the opposite ridge, it’s another “Hell Hole” and not worth a 5 point Elk to me. I still glass it from the ridge every year though, because you never know, and I’d most definitely pack a 180 buck up and out of there! Towards the end of the trail I started my cross country trek up a mountain to get on a finger ridge that’s reminiscent of a long bench, hence “The Bench”. Its a steep accent if you go straight up, so I usually switchback along various game trails to make it a little easier. During the hunting season when there is a chance that other hunters might be on the main trail I bonsai straight up to get out of sight as fast as possible so no one sees where I’m going. This is a common OTC Public Land tactic, that and not using a light when hiking at night is good practice in some areas.

I got to the bench around 1 PM and started glassing over to where I saw the 170ish Buck last year. I called this Buck the “Rolling Stone Buck” because it was so steep and loose on that hillside that he couldn’t walk without sending rocks rolling down the slope. This is mainly what led to a failed stalk on him last season and I still don’t know how I’m going to get to him if I have another chance this year. I spotted a Doe and her fawn below the rolling stone buck’s haunt near the bottom of the slope. Both the Deer and Elk spend a lot of time feeding this time of year and are out in the open a lot more. Its not uncommon to see them feeding in the middle of the day like this, especially when there is cloud cover.


Farther up the ridge and towards the top I spotted a Sow with 2 Cubs feeding on the hillside. Bears are mostly vegetarian this time of year and are constantly eating to restore body fat and keep up with their energy requirements. The brown cub is easy to see, the black one is just above in the bushes.


I then moved along the ridge a little ways and got a different angle on the bears.


After watching the bears for a while I continued on along the ridge to my predetermined camp spot. There is a nice flat spot in about the middle of the ridge that makes a great centrally located camp. From this ridge I can glass 3 different directions and correspondingly 3 different slopes, it’s an efficient area and one of my favorite ridges.


After setting up camp I hung out in the Supertarp and ate pouched tuna with some other random goodies. Some dense dark clouds rolled in and it started to heavily rain, hail, then snow. After about an hour and a half the sky cracked open and the evening sunlight dried things out a little. It was time to start glassing again!


I ended the evening by watching the same deer and bears until dark with no new animals spotted.

The next morning I packed up camp and headed further along the ridge glassing along the way. It wasn’t long before I hit the snow line.


I didn’t see anything this far up the ridge and so I headed up higher into the park to set out my trail camera. I found a spot, set it up, and took a look around the park. There where some big Elk tracks in the snow from a few traveling Elk, a possible Wolf track, and a definite Bobcat or Lynx track. I hung out for a while, replenished my water, ate, and then started heading back. There wasn’t a whole lot to see up here yet being that the animals were down lower where the spring growth was. I was ahead of them again.

The hike back took most of the day and I got to the bottom of the main canyon around 3 PM. I stopped at a creek crossing and made some cup noodles. While eating I saw a Doe at about 200 yards away come out and start feeding in a small timbered meadow. I have noticed that both the Deer and Elk in this area like to feed at about 3 PM. I finished eating and headed down the trail only to find a group of Does and Fawns, then 2 bucks. The Buck in the back was big bodied and possibly the Rolling Stone Buck. He just seemed to be lacking a little on antler growth.


Another half mile down the trail, I jumped another 2 Bucks close to the trail. It quickly became apparent that the deer were just now showing up to the area and still in the bottom of the main canyon. I was probably the first one in there to see them. Both of these Bucks looked pretty decent with the one behind the log being a little more spooky and having more antler growth. It’s almost like he recognized me, he trotted off purposefully and without hesitation, maybe HE was the Rolling Stone Buck!


Either way this area looks like it is going to hold some Bucks again this year and I will be back later in the summer when they get more growth to try and find them. It also looks like there was good recruitment this year. I saw more deer altogether and more fawns than last year.

300 Inch Bull

On this scouting trip I opted to once again scout a new area that I have never been in before. We are now in mid May of 2013 and spring is in full force, especially at the 6000 to 7000 foot level. There is however still a snow base about 8500+ and the animals are still migrating somewhat. I normally don’t go in on established trails but this time I did and where I was planning on going was in pretty deep. So why not, lets give it a shot.  I didn’t see any sign indicating that someone had been down the trail yet this year and the Elk I saw along the trail on two occasions confirmed that.



It quickly became apparent how far most hikers get by the condition of the trail. When I got a couple miles in the trail was mostly overgrown and hard to follow in some spots. The Ticks where thick and I was flicking them off my pants constantly. I busted brush and waded through ticks for another mile and a half until I came too a decent tree that had fallen across the creek. I could see evidence of fox using this for a crossing and decided to follow suit. This put me onto a nice section of trail for about a quarter mile until I came to the feeder creek I wanted to hike up.

After refiling my water and eating, I started heading up the feeder creek. I got about 100 yards before it got so steep it was impassable. I got a glimpse of a nice black bear that was feeding about 100 yards away along the hillside. The wind and terrain was in my favor so it never detected me. It was getting late in the day so I hiked uphill a little onto a bench and made camp. My plan was to hike up on the ridge adjacent to the feeder creek and survey the area for the best access the next morning.

That evening I glassed up two deer and a cow elk. The cow was coming out of the basin I wanted to go in and I saw her going along the feeder creek, then lost sight of her. Ten minutes later she was heading back the same way she came with sort of confused body gesture, I guess it was to steep for her too! This basin is just getting more and more appealing to me. As for the deer I only got a glimpse of it through my binoculars.

The next morning I skipped hiking up the hillside to glass and just packed up camp. My plan was to glass as I hiked up the ridge to get a look at the basin that the feeder creek came out of. It was a steep climb and I went ahead and took it slow. When I got to one of the main game trails about half way up, I followed it a ways glassing ahead as I went. It wasn’t long before I saw a buck, so I stopped and quietly got my spotter and camera out. I was pretty close but the wind was in my favor and my movements where minimal.




After watching this buck for a while I got greedy and decided to get closer. He caught my movement and stared. Then a big buck I hadn’t seen that was bedded down to his right got up and purposely trotted off in big buck fashion. The big buck had about twice the antler growth and was forking nicely already. I was able to get a photo of him as he crested the ridge behind the brush.


I decided to pull out of there and head back up the ridge, towards the top. Near the top I saw a fawn and doe in all her glory.


When I got to the top of the slope the ridge flattened out slightly and I knew I was now on the main ridge and at the lower end, the steep accent was over! I didn’t want to keep going along the ridge and spook more game so I found a nice little point that I could set up camp on, and that offered great glassing. I would spot and stalk my way up the ridge to a higher glassing point that evening maybe.


I set up camp, ate, and enjoyed the view.


After a quick nap I went out to the end of the point to glass. I saw the cow from yesterday and another cow down below me at the head of the basin. The basin wasn’t a true textbook high country basin, it was more like two canyons next to each other with the spine ridge being lower than the surrounding ridges that encapsulated the basin. Their was a creek on each side of the spine that came together to form the feeder creek. It’s hard for me to explain, but the point is it’s a rugged “hell hole” and that much more appealing at this point. It’s most defiantly worth coming back and figuring out how to get in there as this is the kind of place bucks and bulls can grow to old age.

After watching the Elk for a while I decided to go up higher on the ridge and see if I could find a good vantage point. There was fresh Deer and Elk sign everywhere, it looked like a corral in some places. The bear I had seen yesterday had just been up there too.


I crossed paths with a Dusky grouse and got the usual booming, show of feathers, and little dance. Great ridge so far!


I finally came to a peak and set up to glass. For the first time since I have been scouting and hunting Idaho, I got one bar of cell phone signal on that peak. I checked in with my wife and then glassed. This could be a nice flat area to set up a future camp but it is fairly exposed and a long hike in.


I had a good view of the adjacent ridge along the original creek I had hiked in on and saw a few Elk. I spotted a cow bedded in a real rocky area while I was looking for goats, this is not the first time I have come across this behavior. Elk go to great lengths to evade wolves and man, including inhabiting less productive areas. You can see her just below the dead tree in the upper middle right.


I glassed til dark and didn’t see any new animals, so I headed back to camp.

The next morning I hiked back to the same vantage point and saw a few deer, the same elk, and the bear. I headed back to camp about mid morning, packed up, and headed out. I was pretty satisfied and ready for a plate of tacos from El Gallo Giro. On my way down the ridge, I detoured a little to grab a shed that I had seen next to the bucks. On my way over I jumped a small herd of elk and a group of deer with one average buck in it. When I got to the shed, I was surprised how big it was. I was expecting a raghorn and it was from a 300+ 6×6. I really didn’t think they got that big in that area, and I spent a lot of time looking for the bottom of it and/or the other one.The brow tine was busted off, but it’s still big. I’m confident he lives in that “hell hole” and now I’m really excited about this area.


What a great trip! A Big Buck and Big Bull in yet another new area to add to the library. I saw about 20 Elk total, about 5 of which were spikes. I saw about a dozen deer, 4 of which were Bucks. The hike out took longer than expected and reminded me of just how far in I had gone. It was well worth it :)



Medium Effort Maximum Gain

The second scouting trip of 2013 happened on the last 2 days of April and was very productive. The training and exercise I had been doing up to this point was really starting to be noticeable. It seemed to take almost half the effort to hike up the mountain as compared to the last trip 10 days earlier. I decided to scout out a new area on this trip, a little bit lower in elevation than my last trip. On my last trip I was in the 7-8K range, this trip I was in the 6-7K range. I hit it just right, there were a lot of Deer in the area and I suspect the area is part of the transitional range. This is important to know for later in the hunting season when the higher areas are snowed in. I will have to go back in the summer to confirm if its transitional, but either way this spot holds Deer!

I saw a lot of Elk sign on the way in and a couple of bone piles that were from cows. This could be from winter kill, wolves, or hunters, I can’t really say for sure. I didn’t see any Wolf sign the entire time I was there, nor did I see any Elk.


I followed the creek bottom until I got to the ridge I wanted to hike up, then stopped to eat and top off my water supply. As is the case when scouting new terrain you don’t know if there will be water available up higher on the ridge top; So you want to pack enough water to get you through to the next morning or sometimes even longer.


Camping by the creek and day hiking or hunting up the ridge isn’t nearly as effective and efficient as hiking up on the ridge and camping where you are going to glass from. You will tire yourself out real fast making that hike every day and you simply can’t get as far in. In OTC public land areas the older age class animals have learned what the dayhunt range of a human is and stay beyond that as much as possible. I tend to find that 4-6 hour hikes will get you to where you start consistently seeing quality animals most of the time.

On the way up the ridge I came to a sort of bench and found this little Elk shed. It was fairly fresh and most likely from this year. I was at about 6200 feet which seems kind of high for an Elk to be when they are dropping their antlers. I assume the earlier than usual snow melt this year allowed the elk to get up higher earlier.


I got to the top and spent considerable time looking for a flat enough area to set up camp. It is important that I am laying flat, otherwise its really hard to sleep. I found a great area on the edge of the ridge that also offered a great vantage point for glassing. It was a little tight but I was able to make it work.


I then ate and kicked back for a while before the evening glassing session. I like to eat mid to late afternoon after I set up my shelter and before I glass. If I eat after my evening glassing session then I inevitably have to get up at midnight and pee. I also try not to drink to much the last hour of daylight for the same reason. Macaroni and cheese was on the menu that night.

IMG_0494   IMG_0492

Evening glassing turned up a few deer on the adjacent hillsides. I was able to get one pic through the spotting scope. I am not set up real well for digiscoping yet so picture quality will be lacking for the next few post If you look hard you can make out a deer feeding to the right of the tree. He had antler nubs starting and was in fact a buck.


The next morning was quite a bit more productive. I always see more deer in the mornings when I’m scouting and hunting. There was a big bodied deer on top of a nasty slope that I got a glimpse of but no picture. This is usually the case with big bucks, they feed aggressively and then get of sight, not posing for pictures very well. The smaller bucks and does are not near as camera shy.


There was 3 bucks in this group. The antler growth has just barley begun, but you can tell by the face that the one Buck is going to be decent. You can see fuzzy nubs if you look hard enough on the second photo.



The same group of deer further down the ridge on the way out.


It turned out to be a great trip. I found another spot to add to my library and it’s not a real tough hike to get in. I saw about a half dozen bucks and a dozen does and fawns all together on this trip. Best of all, I might have a transition area to hunt late this season!

The first scouting trip of the season!

It’s was mid April of 2013 and was time to get out of the house, strap on my pack and start scouting! The warm weather was quickly melting the snow pack and I planned on trying to hike into the lower end of the Deer and Elk summer range. This was a quick 2 day trip and I saw a lot of animals along the road on the way up. It was clear they were in the midst of migrating up higher. Along the way in the bare dirt turned to snow and I stopped seeing animals. I knew there would probably be nothing up high, but out of thoroughness I wanted to check anyways to get a better idea of just how the migration goes.

There was a little bit of burn off on the southerly slopes where I was at about 7000 feet, but the spring growth really had not began yet. The spring growth is really what they are following up, not necessarily the snowline. The snow had just melted in the last couple of days and the areas of bare soil had lots of seedlings sprouting. The feed will be prime in a couple of weeks.


Up on the ridge I like to glass from there is still a pretty good base of snow. I was hoping for some bare dry dirt to set up on but that wasn’t going to happen that high up. So I go ahead and set up my Supertarp, Annex,  and Parastove for the night. Stakes don’t work in this situation so i use branches.


My sleep set up for the night consists of a Kifaru Super Tarp, Annex, Parastove, a Neoair sleeping pad, Montbell pillow, and a 0 degree Kifaru Slick bag. The temperature was expected to get down into the low 30’s with a chance of snow.


After setting up camp, it was time for some evening glassing! These are the kind of conditions where you want to wear your rain gear to keep you dry while sitting in the snow. The slope I was checking out was mostly free of snow, but the game animals had not migrated up this far yet. I didn’t see anything! Last season there were a few Bucks living on it, but nothing big.


Snow came in that night and the next morning I packed up camp and headed out.


On the way home I stopped and glassed down lower near the road and saw a few Deer and Elk.



I think I will scout a little lower in elevation on the next trip!