Maximum Effort Minimal Gain

On August 20th 2013 I got up at 3AM and headed out for an overnight scouting trip to the lower elevation canyon I had scouted in the Medium Effort Maximum Gain trip. I probably should have known better than to name a trip like that and in perfect irony this trip was the exact opposite. It was in the 90s this time and the 2000 foot elevation gain was a hot sweaty one, even in the early morning. Between the heat and the full moon there was not much activity during daylight and I didn’t see much in the 2 days I was there.

On the way in I found a trail up on the slope about 150 yards above the creek with lots of Deer tracks on it. This was a good find and eliminated a lot of the brush busting that occurs by traveling along the bottom of the canyon next to the creek. When I arrived at the base of the ridge I planned to hike up, as usual I stocked up on water. This was another one of those dry ridges where I have to pack in all my water for the duration of my trip.

Kifaru 4800 Highcamp on a Bikini frame packed with extra water and ready for the hike up.
Kifaru 4800 Highcamp on a Bikini frame packed with extra water and ready for the hike up.

A little ways up I found a nice 5 point Elk shed that was old and in bad shape. I left it there and planned to grab it on the way out. This is the second shed I have found here and plays more into the transition range theory, at least for Elk. The Deer seem to really like this canyon, there was lot’s of fresh tracks on all the game trails and some really heavily used beds.


About half way up I jumped a lone Doe that was bedded on a northwesterly slope.


I set up camp for the night in the same place as before, on a nice little flat spot that sits on a finger ridge. The finger ridge drops off fast and offers a great view down the canyon. This campsite is in a neat location, but the ridge itself is timbered and is hard to glass from. I have to hike another 40 minutes up the main ridgeline to get to a decent vantage point. In most of my other spots I can basically glass from my shelter, which I think is more efficient. I get more sleep and have less stumbling around in the dark with a headlamp. A head lamp floating around on a ridge or hillside is a beacon that advertises your presence like no other.

I am in between quality shelters on this trip and brought my 2 man bivy. This is actually a great little shelter for fair weather and only cost about $25.

My Texsport 2 man bivy that I got off fleabay for $25. One of the original poles broke on the first trip about 6-8 years ago, I replaced it with a quality aftermarket aluminum pole and it has since been a great backup fair weather shelter.

A Deer femur makes a great hammer for pounding stakes into the ground! After camp was setup it was time to hike up the main ridge for the evening glassing session.


The only thing I saw that evening was 2 Dusky Grouse and an interesting cloud formation.


The next morning I hiked up the main ridge again, glassing along the way where I could see between the trees. I saw some glimpses of a Black Bear down in the bottom before he got into some deep dark timber to bed down for the day and that was it. I wanted to keep going along the main ridge and see some new country, but I was about out of water. It would be about a 1500 foot drop in elevation to get water, which would use up a good part of the day and then I would be down in the bottom where everything in the canyon could spot my movement. I go through about 4.5 liters of water in a 24 hour period during the hot summer scouting trips. This includes enough water to cook 2 meals, so if I bring food that doesn’t need to be cooked and/or more water then I can last longer. Water weighs a lot and packing an extra 4 liters up this mountain would be getting into the point of diminishing returns for me. There is no trail, it is a straight up constant climb and I’m in good shape, but not beastmode shape, so the extra 8 pounds or so of water starts to take it’s toll on my overall pack weight for the initial elevation gain. On this trip I could have continued hiking the ridge for the morning if I had not used water to cook food. These are the kind of logistical problems that you are able to figure out while scouting and then when the hunting season rolls around you can make the most of your time.

Before I trekked back down the ridge, I had a light meal of juicy Sask berries.


I’m not quite ready to give up on this spot yet. It’s logistically difficult; water is an issue, there is no real good glassing points, and I didn’t see any Bucks. But I know the area for sure holds a lot of Deer. This was evidenced by the amount of fresh tracks and beds everywhere. They looked to be mostly from Does, but in my experience the Bucks are not far. Usually within a mile or so and higher on the mountain or main ridge. Also when I came in here in early spring I saw a few Bucks, one of which was older in the face. so It’s time to go back to the maps and modify my approach. Adaptability will usually get you more results than perseverance.


The Rolling Stone Buck

I got up and left my house around 3AM with high hopes of getting up on the bench and into glassing position at first light. It always takes a little longer in the morning to get going and get into position than you’d like to think and I didn’t get started glassing until around 8:30 AM that morning. In my head I can visualize me making that steep accent a lot quicker than It actually takes on the mountain. It is now August 5, 2013 and a cold front had come in and cooled things down a little the last couple days. The smell and morning chill of early fall was temporarily in the air, with the Golden Currant and Sask Berries already ripe. I had 4 days worth of food and big plans to glass all the way around that mountain if need be in order to find those Bucks I had seen in early summer and last year.

Plump Currant Berries
Plump Currant Berries

I started glassing at about 8:30 AM and caught a glimpse of a BuckĀ  as he fed behind a tree towards the top of the mountain about 1000 yards away from where I had spotted the Rolling Stone Buck last September. I knew he was headed up hill to bed down soon so I hustled up the rest of the slope to a high point where I could see better. It was now about 9:00 AM but the morning air was still cool and I spotted 2 Bucks up higher feeding out in the open about to crest the ridge to get out of the sun. They were both large 4×4 Bucks and I was able to recognize the bigger bodied one as the “Rolling Stone Buck” from last year by his weak backs. He had grown some mass, a few inches of tines, and lost the little sticker on his left side, but had the same definitive antler configuration. Wide fronts with deep forks and weaker but taller backs. The smaller bodied one had a smaller overall rack but deeper stronger forks and was taller all around. He was going to be a great Buck in a few years with that kind of frame already. I wasn’t able to get real good footage of either one of them before they crested the mountain and disappeared out of sight for the day.

I set up camp in the usual spot, ate, and kicked back for a bit before I headed up to the high park to check my trail cam that I had set out on the “Sow and Cubs” trip.

The SuperTarp is flexible in how you can set it up. By propping one end up with a stick and a little cordage, I'm able to get great ventilation and take an afternoon nap without getting to hot. I am only using a total of 7 stakes in that set up. One on each of the four corners of the tarp, 1 on each side guy out, and 1 on the front guy out.
The SuperTarp is flexible in how you can set it up. By propping one end up with a stick and a little cordage, I’m able to get great ventilation and take an afternoon nap without getting to hot. I am only using a total of 7 stakes in that set up. One on each of the four corners of the tarp, 1 on each side guy out, and 1 on the front guy out.

I noticed that there were a few Deer tracks along the ridge on the way to the park, whereas last year there were more Elk tracks. The park showed the same thing, the Elk were not using the area as heavily as last year. My trail cam was about to run out of batteries, as I had expected, so I changed the batteries and the SD card. I was able to view the SD card using my camera and it had a few nice pics on it. A bachelor group of Bulls had moved through the area with the biggest looking like he was going to be a 5 point or small 6 point when he finished growing. Aside from the Bulls, I got pictures of a Bear, Does, Cows, and a Female Moose. The Moose was a surprise, that was the first I knew of Moose being in the area. After I refilled my water and ate, I headed back to camp to take a nap before the much anticipated evening glassing session.

I intently glassed the slope that I had seen the Bucks on that morning from top to bottom from about 6 PM til dark. I never saw the big Bucks from that morning, but I spotted a small 3 point at last light at the top of the mountain in the same area the Bucks had been in.

3 point

It had been a satisfying day and I slept great that night. The birds woke me up at daybreak and I got into position and glassed the same slope again to find those Bucks. I figured they would have fed out into the open again at night and I should be able to locate them again. After an hour I still hadn’t seen anything and I was starting to lose confidence. I relocated down the ridge a little where I could see the bottom third of the mountain and part of the adjoining slope. After 10 minutes or so I decided to look down towards the bottom where the Does usually hang out. I immediately saw the smaller 4 point feeding his way up hill where he bedded out in the open. I then saw the small 3 point bedded above him, and eventually the Rolling Stone Buck in the trees to his left.

3 of a kind2
Easy to spot when bedding out in the open!

I watched them all morning, taking notes on wind directions again, and I got some video and a bunch of pics as well. The small 4 point has a really nice frame and strong forks, he will most likely be a 180 buck in a couple of years if he survives.

tall facing

tall side view

I will call him Sleepy for future reference. After bedding down he put his head in the dirt and went to sleep in the morning sun.


The Rolling Stone Buck has strong fronts, decent mass, good brow tines, but weak backs, especially on his right side.

RS side best

RS Rear view

RS Side

He didn’t seem to grow a whole lot more this year, due to either regression or a marginal growth year due to a dry spring. After a conversation with the area Biologist I found out it was probably the latter. Just not a great year for antler growth this year.

The Rolling Stone Buck in September of 2012. You can really see his width and weak rears in this pic.
The Rolling Stone Buck in September of 2012. You can really see his width and weak rears in this pic.

Regardless of score, the Rolling Stone Buck is my first candidate for the upcoming season thus far. They bedded in that spot til about 10:00 AM and then got up, and headed over to the left about 100 yards to some thicker cover that provided more shade. I lost sight of them, and didn’t see exactly were they bedded at that point. Based on my notes from the previous morning, a strong breeze was going to pick up and carry my scent over their way anyways and so I got out of there when they changed beds. I was probably only about 500 yards away across the canyon, but it seemed like about 800 or so. Well within range of their noses either way.

I packed up camp and headed back to the park to get water and then hike over into the next drainage into some new area where I had never been before. Halfway up the mountain there was a trail that came from another direction and went through a low saddle providing great access into the next drainage. I intersected it and noticed a lot of horse tracks on the trail but continued on up anyways. At the top of the saddle I was able to get cell service and check in with my wife.


The trail dropped down into the drainage and went through a series of lakes so I left the trail and side hilled to a small basin with a little lake in it to refill water. I wanted to keep my elevation and get some distance from the trail as much as possible. After stocking up on water I continued on along the same contour increasing my distance from the trail. I spotted a narrow finger ridge that projected out from the main mountain ,this would allow me to glass into two basins and I set up camp in the trees below it.


That evening I spotted 2 Does in one basin and a small 3×3 in the other. The small 3×3 headed from his bedding area down lower into the timber without stopping and I wasn’t able to get a pic. He was young and small anyway and I wouldn’t be coming back this season to go after him. If he is still there next season then I will probably start paying attention. It was becoming apparent that the trail offers good access to the area and the older Buck or Bucks that he was most likely following last year had probably got harvested.

The next morning was the same with nothing new spotted by sunup, so I packed up early and headed for the top of the main mountain. I wanted to get to the top of the mountain and see if I could glass some new country before everything bedded down for the day. I made it to the very top only to find it was timbered all the way to the top and on the connecting ridges as well. I simply didn’t have any vantage points through the trees where I could see any new country. I could only see the areas I had already glassed. I hung out on top for a while and surveyed the surrounding area. I could see that this drainage had some trails and a lot of access, too much for my liking, and so I decided to head out of there.

I was already satisfied with finding the Rolling Stone Buck and Sleepy and I got to see what the other drainage looked like as well. I have found that if your looking for older age class Bucks it isn’t usually worth your time in the long run to spend too much of your scouting time in an area that gets a fair amount of pressure. Sure you might get lucky every decade and harvest a big one that has been avoiding hunters, but for the most part they just don’t live long enough to get old in pressured areas. If they do they become almost unhuntable in their habits. Most of us backcountry hunters are going to take the biggest buck we see on our hunt. So when I see Bucky areas that only hold smaller 3 or 4 point bucks I assume some one hunted the area recently. This doesn’t always hold true but it’s a safe and efficient assumption. Most of the 160+ class Bucks I have seen or harvested were with younger bucks. These younger Bucks also tend to stand out in the open more and give away the location making the group easier to spot.

I made it back to the truck in the late afternoon, it is always quite a bit faster going downhill. I had considered staying another night on the bench and trying to glass up the Bucks again, but opted to steer clear of the area until the season opens. I didn’t want to chance the Bucks detecting me as they would probably disappear until the following year again. Between the summer Wildfires, the Wolves and the unlimited OTC tags, it’s good to have more than one option going into the season. My next trip will be to a different area to hopefully find another candidate.

Goats and Bears

On July 17, 2013 I left for a 2 day scouting trip to the area I previously called “The Bench”. This was a follow up trip to ” A Sow with Cubs” and I was hoping to see some of those Bucks that I had seen on that trip while on my way out. By July the high country is at its hottest and the bugs are at their worst. It’s actually my least favorite time of the year to go, its usually buggy even up on the ridges and the Bucks don’t spend as much time out in the open during daylight. But cabin fever takes over and I’m out in the heat and bugs, at least for the first part of the hike. On a drier year like this one, once you get out of the canyon bottoms and up on tops of the ridges you can mostly escape the bugs and enjoy the breezes. This is exactly what the Deer and Elk do too and mostly for the same reasons.

I arrived to my parking spot around 8:30 AM and hiked up onto the ridge that overlooks the slope where I had seen the bucks in prior trips. I have been up on this ridge a lot and it offers great glassing but there is no water easily accessible so I have to carry enough for the rest of the day and the night. The next morning I then either have to drop back down to fill up at a seep, or hike another mile and a half with about a 2000 foot elevation gain farther up the ridge to a snow drift. The peak just above the snowdrift is one of the best vantage points in the area and I had initially planned on making the hike up there on day 2.

As I approached the flat area on the ridge I wanted to camp, I saw movement ahead of me, and then identified it as a black bear. I froze and observed, looking to my right there was a brown phase black bear standing up out of it’s bed at about 100 yards. It was looking at the black one in front of me and didn’t see me. I quickly realized that these were probably the sow and two cubs that I had seen on the last trip into this area. I cautiously proceeded forward a few steps and the black one popped out from behind a bush, looked me over probably thinking I was the brown one, and then ran when it realized I wasn’t. I was glad this happened because if this was a young cub and it headed up a tree, I would then be in a completely different situation. I would be in between the sow and her cub, and she would eventually figure out that I wasn’t her cub. I immediately looked over to my right to keep track of the brown one, and could see it behind the trees heading along a trail towards me and where the black one had been. The bear didn’t look very concerned and was lazily going down the trail right towards me. Bears don’t have the best eyesight, but make up for it with their excellent sense of smell and although there was no breeze, the wind must have really been in my favor because I was undetected or ignored at this point. I could smell my own swamp ass where I stood, why couldn’t the bear? I decided to let the bear get about 50 yards, get a picture, and then say Hi. Any closer and the bear might feel threatened and feel like it can’t escape. Then it would think it had to fight and as usual during scouting I was unarmed. I snapped a pick at under 50 yards, said Hi, and the bear did a 180 and bolted back down the trail and up to the base of the incline that was to my left like I expected.

Picture NOT taken through a spotting scope!
Picture NOT taken through a spotting scope!

The bear went up the incline about 50 yards and slowed way down to a labored walk. It was mid day now, sunny and hot. I could see the bear panting from just that short run and there was no way it was going to keep going up that steep incline. The bear started to loop back around and head back towards my direction again but staying on the hillside ahead of me and to my left. I slowly moved towards the hillside and the bear to try and get another pic. We ended up parallel with each other about 100 yards apart and slowly moving along for a while checking each other out and I got one decent pic. Then the bear got ahead of me and slowly disappeared in the direction the other bear(s) had gone. I’m still not sure how many bears I had originally seen, but most likely it was the Sow and 2 Cubs I had seen the last time I was in the area. Same colors on the sow and cub and about a mile away from where I had seen them feeding on a hillside in the “Sow and Cubs” entry.


I went ahead and set up camp and ate in the nice flat area near where the bears had been bedded, it was a good spot and where I had originally planned on camping that night anyways.


The evening glassing session was rather disappointing, I saw a Doe and a Doe with young fawns and that was it. Both of which started feeding at last light, the Bucks must have been out of that area already and up higher on the mountain or just completely nocturnal due to the heat. I ran out of water by dark, but I had been well hydrated up to that point so I wasn’t to worried and I slept great. The next morning I opened my water bladder, drank the last ounce of water, and glassed for about 2 hours. I saw the same Deer and nothing new, so I packed up and headed down to get water. I knew there was water down a little lower but I wasn’t sure exactly where and I was reluctant to drop that far down and look the night before. I really wanted to go higher up the ridge to the snowdrift site that morning, but that wasn’t going to happen. It was to far to go without water in that kind of heat and I wasn’t 100% sure there is a snow drift there on a dry year like this anyways.

I figured since I’m going back down the mountain I might as well hike across the canyon and try a new spot. I got a drink at the seep on my way down and then filled up at the bottom of the canyon in the main creek, ate, and forged on.


I made it to the feeder creek I wanted to get to by mid day and kicked back, ate again, and drank more water in the shade. My plan was to follow an Elk trail up out of the canyon onto a bench. I had never been up there before, but I had seen a small herd of Elk go up there last year and the topo map showed a great looking bench that offered great vantage points on 3 sides. I assumed there would be no water so I filled everything I had to get me through the night and next morning and started up the trail.


It was a well used trail and very steep, clearly being used to get back and forth from the bench down to the creek. It was the heat of the day now so I took my time to minimize sweating and luckily there was a decent breeze to help cool me down. This mountain was steep and when I made it to the bench and had flat ground to compare the slope to it really hit home what I had just crawled up. This is where being in shape comes into play. Had I not been in decent shape, I would have probably not been able to make the accent and camped in the bottom with all the bugs.


The game trail entered the bench in a great place to set up camp, but I wanted to do a little recon first and possibly find a better camp spot and/or water, so I walked along the edge of the bench to where it ended and then glassed a little bit. It was still a little early for any activity, but I spotted a couple Does bedded on the hillside getting harassed by flies. One of them was flicking her ears like crazy and then jumped up and bolted about 50 feet to get away from the bugs. It must suck not to have bug spray available for the summer.

I got camp setup and did my normal eat/rest routine to pass the heat of the day. It was still hot, and not even the birds or chipmunks where not active.


Latter as it cooled off the birds started becoming active and I knew everything else would start their evening movements as well. Birds have a fast metabolism and will be the first ones in the Forrest to become active as the afternoon turns into the evening because they really need to eat. I wanted to start glassing but the conditions where terrible. The smoke from wildfires moved in and eliminated visibility. The previous night I had to wait til the sun went down to see across the canyon and the Deer didn’t start feeding til almost dark anyways. So I kicked back as long as I could stand it and then got up and glassed anyways. I glassed til dark moving along the ridge and didn’t see anything to note. About 10:30 that night when I was almost asleep I heard what sounded like an Elk, based on trot cadence, go right through my camp.

The next morning I headed out to the other end of the bench to glass a tight canyon for the morning. I had been into the canyon a few times 2 seasons ago and had seen Does and Goats. I had always come in from above and would be glassing down the canyon. Now I was somewhat below and glassing up the canyon. The reason I never came in from below was due to the ruggedness of the mouth of the canyon, it is mostly cliffed out and that’s where the goats liked to hang out.

Around 8:30 AM I saw goats making their way out of the bottom of the canyon, heading up the cliffs feeding along the way. I ended up spending the whole morning watching the goats as they made their way up the cliffs about 3-400 yards across from me. I had seen 2 adults on that slope and 1 adult in the next basin over 2 seasons ago. This time there were 4 adults, 1 adolescent, and twin kids on that slope. They really took hold in this area and it was neat to see the population growth.

A young Billy
A young Billy




The Nanny on lookout
The Nanny on lookout

On the way out I followed the same game trail down the slope that I had come in on. It didn’t take long going down hill and before I knew it I was at the creek getting water. I found an early crop of Golden Currant in the main canyon on the way out. Fresh fruit like that is a delicious bonus, but don’t eat too many of them, you will not be able to get your pants down fast enough.


I didn’t find any Bucks or Bulls on this outing, but that’s not uncommon for me in July. I seem to start seeing Bucks and Bulls after the first frost sometime in August when the Huckleberries are ripe or in early August when it cools down a little at night. In July the Bucks and Bulls are usually as high on the mountain as they can get taking advantage of that last flush of growth before it dries out and the coolest weather available. On the next trip I will probably go all the way up and maybe confirm that, or at least have better luck.