Basin of Bulls

About half way through the 2013 general deer season I made a trip out to hunt the Hell Hole for The Bucks I had seen while scouting. This was going to be a tricky hunt because I also planned on Elk hunting this area about two weeks later for the rifle Bull season and I didn’t want to spook Elk while Deer hunting. It had been a dry fall so far and the last significant snowfall had been at the end of September. The high country was mostly snow free and so I decided to try a different route and go into the upper end of the Hell Hole basin. I was thinking the Bucks would be all the way up this time of year with these weather conditions. I began hiking at about 9AM and the route I had chosen was not too difficult, after about 2 hours I was where I wanted to drop camp. I chose to take my bivy on this trip because I had planned on moving every day and covering a lot of ground along the main ridge if possible.

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With camp set up, I scrambled up the scree slope to a knife edge ridge where I could see the upper end of the Hell Hole Basin. As always this was a lot more difficult than it looked on Google Earth. I found a tree and some shade that would allow me to peer over the top without sky lining myself and set up to glass for the afternoon.

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It wasn’t long before I spotted a nice six point Bull Bedded at the far side of the basin. He was not a huge 300+ bull, but bigger than anything I had seen on the hoof in this unit yet. I did have a tag for this unit but the hunt didn’t start for another twelve days. This immediately ruined the Deer hunt, as now I was focused on Elk. This is about how it goes each season for me in Idaho. I spend the majority of my time scouting and hunting for mature deer and end up finding nice Elk. This Bull was bedded in a good stockable location and had the season been open it would have been a slam dunk. A short scramble around the ridge I was on would have put me about two hundred yards above him and to his left. I played that scenario out in my head for a week after that trip!

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It was later in October and this Bull was bedded off by himself indicating he might have been the herd Bull. I still question this though because he was not as big as the shed I found during my spring scouting trip in that area. There just may be a huge Bull that swoops in and breeds that herd and then disappears for the season.

After getting some pics and video, I continued to scan the basin and found the rest of the herd scattered around and closer to my glassing position. There were 3 other decent Bulls, some spikes, and some cows and calves. There was a dirty five point next to a spike amongst the cows and calves.

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As I was watching the dirty five point, I heard antlers clanking and saw two nice five point Bulls sparing.

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While I was intently focused on the Elk, I heard footsteps on the ridge to my left. When I finally turned my head to look, I caught a glimpse of a goat heading my way. I slowly turned and got my camera ready when he wasn’t looking. He walked right up to me and I snapped a pic, the sound spooked him and he busted along the ridge in the direction he was headed. This happens to me about once a year, I tend to end up glassing from way up high on a steep ridge, sometimes looking down on Goats.

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I was really hoping the Elk were used to seeing this goat and didn’t get spooked as I watched him effortlessly move across the roughest terrain in the lower 48.

Fortunately they didn’t get spooked and I was able to continue watching them. The two five points stopped sparing and the dirty five point headed over towards them. It wasn’t long before the the dirty five point and the next smallest five point began sparing. This time it was out in the open and I was able to get a good sparring video of it.

All this sparring action seemed to have got the attention of the six point that was off bedded by himself. He got up and fed his way over to the herd.

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I was able to get some video and a better look at him as he walked over to the herd. He didn’t look like he would hit 300, but for an OTC public land Idaho Bull he was a trophy. If the weather would hold up for the next 12 days, the Elk would likely be in this same spot and I would have a good chance at this Bull. I watched the Elk for a little while longer and then pulled back off the ridge a little so I could continue to traverse it without being detected. It was getting later in the afternoon now and I wanted to glass over some new country.

After a short hike along the ridge I made it to the top of a peak where 3 main ridges came to together. There were some tracks in the snow that looked like human, however the route they had taken to get to the peak was such that they would have never seen the Basin the Elk were in. The snow was deep up on the very¬† top and the sunny warm weather made it slushy and difficult. I moved off the peak and along the main ridge for about a half mile glassing over the country and watching for tracks. My head wasn’t really in the Deer hunt game at this point. I didn’t want to risk spooking the Elk so I headed back to camp after a short evening glassing session. My plan was to hike out the next morning and come in from below to glass the slope where I had seen Deer while scouting in the spring.

The next morning I packed up camp and climbed up on the ridge to see if the Elk were still there. The sun was at my back so I opted to not setup and glass. I peered over a rock pile and saw a couple Elk through my binoculars, heard a bugle, and was satisfied. I dropped back down a little and still hunted my way back to the truck. This made the hike out a little longer and by the time I drove around to the access point that gets me in from the bottom it was almost dark. I slept in the back of the truck instead of hiking in that night. I carry a spare sleep system that I leave in the truck just for this purpose. This way I can eliminate packing and unpacking my backpack.

I figured it would take 2 hours to get into a good glassing position the next morning and got an early start on the hike in. I got into position at first lite and spotted a little fork horn and a cow Elk. This basin was both full of Elk and surrounded by Elk. The cow was at the top of the mountain and fed her way over the top pretty fast as it got light. The forky bedded about the same time on a southeast exposure. I didn’t see the bigger Bucks, it seemed that the Elk had taken over the area they were in. This is not uncommon, I see this scenario pretty consistently. Mature Bucks don’t like the noise and activity that a herd of Elk brings.

I decided that my Deer season was over for the year and it was time to fully concentrate on next weeks Elk hunt. I decided to use the rest of the day to get familiar with the trail that goes in and out of the basin for the anticipated Elk harvest. I hiked up the lower end of the ridge adjacent to the basin to the rendezvous point. This is about half way up the mountain where 3 main trails converge including the one that was coming up from the bottom I was on. From there I decided not to go into the basin and risk spooking the Elk. All it would take is one little group of Elk running scared through the basin to ruin the hunting for next weeks season opener. I instead hiked the other way on the trail where I had originally seen the Bucks from for a short distance. They were not there but I did see a nice fresh scrape from one of the Bulls.

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It was time to sneak out of there before I got busted by an Elk. I did a mock up meat pack out as I hiked out. I identified the trees where I would hang the meat and prepared them for it. This was going to be an epic pack out over rough steep terrain for 1.5 miles and then 4.5 miles of trail. I figured it would take probably 2 days and this would need to be factored into the hunt.

The weather for the next 10 days would dictate whether I go in high again or go in from below. If it snows enough the Elk will probably get pushed down and going in from below would be the thing to do. Going in high would give me the height advantage and the distance is less, however I would have to pack meat uphill and through a little bit of Goat country. I pondered this the whole hike out and all the way home!

 

 

 

The Rolling Stone Buck Hunt

The long awaited for Idaho General Deer season was finally here. On the afternoon of October 9, 2013 prior to opening day, I headed up the highway to my primary hunting spot to hunt The Rolling Stone Buck. This is now the second season I will have been trying to harvest this Buck and I had a good feeling about it this time. I had scouted the area a lot over the past 2 years and had a good grasp on where I would see the Bucks and how to not be detected in the process. The terrain and wind is complicated in this area. The mountains are big and the slope I see the Bucks on is nothing but steep avalanche chutes. The wind this time of year is still variable throughout most of the day with not much consistency. Despite the difficulty’s I had a few strategy’s worked out and another seasons worth of lessons learned to apply to the situation.

I opted to set up camp at the trail head and hike the mile and a half in each morning, so as to minimize the risk of spooking the Deer with my presence in their home range. Even busting a Doe from the bottom of the canyon put’s the Deer on high alert, which pushes the Bucks into the timber where you will never see them. There is a network of trails in this area that the Deer and Elk use exclusively for traveling and escaping. They all keep their eyes and noses on these trails, both to detect incoming danger and to detect fleeing siblings. I still don’t know where the Bucks go when they get spooked off that slope, so this hunt is a one hit wonder for now. I suppose I could push the envelope and foot hunt the timber, but the odds of success are very low when your on the move. All that usually happens is you educate the deer and makes things more difficult for future hunts to that area.

I had a little time in the afternoon after getting camp set up, so I headed up the side of the canyon to glass the hillside I planned to hike up the next morning. This is good practice because if you spook something hiking to your glassing spot, your hunt could be done before it legally starts. When the sun went down I heard a bugle and saw a Raghorn with a small herd of cows and calves feeding on the mountain I wanted to glass from the next morning.  Luckily they were not where I planned on sitting and I could sneak around them such that if I spook them they would go the opposite direction and the Bucks would probably not know. I took pictures and video of the Elk, but never saw any Deer that evening.

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I gave myself about 2 hours the next morning to get up, hike in, and get into the first glassing position. This worked out just about right this time. I heard the Raghorn bugle a couple hundred yards behind me at first light as I began to glass for the day and was relieved to know I must have snuck in without being detected. I was on a northerly slope glassing to a southeasterly slope and it was very cold, I had all my layers on to combat the hard freeze but was still getting chilled. I glassed until 11 AM and didn’t see anything that morning. I knew from scouting that those particular Bucks bed by then so I ate a butthole sandwich and headed back to camp for a couple hours to take a nap.

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For the 3 PM feeding I glassed a shade pocket on a different part of the slope where I had seen a Buck feeding in the afternoon the prior season. I always seem to see Deer and Elk up and feeding at around 3 PM for 30 or 40 minutes, even on hot days. That time frame has become my most productive evening glassing time in this area as well as others. However nothing was there this evening, not even an Elk.

Opening day came and went. It was pretty slow to say the least, but I know from experience that patience always pays off, especially when your hunting a low density area in October. Or maybe we just tell ourselves that to justify being stubborn. I tentatively decided that evening to give it at least 3 mornings before packing up and giving the area a rest. That’s usually about what it takes in lower density areas. There is only about 3 Bucks in this drainage and I can only effectively glass the one area of their home range so it takes time for them to move through.

The next morning started out the same, then around 8:00 I got to watch a couple Cows and Calves trot up the bottom of the canyon below me. They acted as if they may have been spooked out of the main canyon, but I never saw anyone. I found a little bit better place to glass from that morning, but it was just as cold on that shady north slope as the day before. When the sun gets high enough in the sky to finally hit you, it sure feels good to soak up the heat and thaw out for a while.

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Around 11:00 AM I ate and headed back to camp again. This time to change things up instead of napping, I spent the middle of the day prospecting in the creek near camp. I came up empty on that too, but it was a nice change of pace.

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I had a great feeling about the third morning. I had not seen any Deer thus far and it was about time for the Bucks to have moved to the part of their home range I was watching. I was a little earlier getting to my spot that morning and it seemed to be even colder. Within the first 5 minutes of glassing I spotted 2 Bucks. Closer inspection showed me it was Sleepy and the small 3 point. Shortly after I spotted them Sleepy bedded out in the open about 8:00 AM, just as he did when I first found him in July. This time they where about a half mile further up the canyon and I could not find The Rolling Stone Buck, he didn’t seem to be with them.

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I knew from scouting in July that these Bucks where going to get up and move in 30 or 40 minutes to more cover for the rest of the day. As I watched him chew his cud, the reality that the Rolling Stone Buck was off by himself in the timber started to set in. He was an older age class Deer now and I gave him a lesson last season on that slope. Initially I didn’t want to go after Sleepy, but I caved in. I’m there to hunt and this was an opportunity at a nice 150 class Idaho public land Buck. At the very least I could educate him too and have two big Bucks to chase next season. At about 9:30 ish they got up and headed for some thicker shade. I marked Sleepy using a dead tree I called toothpicks, due to the trunk splitting into 4 smaller trunks about half way up. This was a very recognizable feature. The 3 point bedded a little bit below Sleepy. I made one last scan across the whole slope, and saw something almost straight across from me and up high on the mountain. It turned out to be 2 Elk feeding. I was going to have to sneak by these Elk in order to get to the Buck. I remembered from before how steep the slope was and figured it would take me 4 or 5 hours to go around, sneak by the Elk or at least flush them uphill, and get on the Buck . The hunt was finally on.

I scrambled up the mountain under the mid day sun and as I got close to the top the wind became steady and from a different direction. Out of all 360 directions the wind can come from it will usually change half way through the stalk and end up coming from behind you. I have yet to find a way around this. I was still about a half mile from the Buck and maybe even a little uphill so I stayed optimistic and forged on.

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It was close to 3 PM when I finally got to where I could start to see “toothpicks”. I was going extremely slow and the slope was just as steep as last year making it very difficult to keep solid footing. The biggest issue in this type of terrain is the random rocks rolling down the mountain as you step. There is no way to get in range without causing a little bit of an avalanche, but I managed to do pretty good with careful footing this time. I was able to verify “toothpicks” with a picture I had taken through my spotting scope and positioned myself the best I could before cresting the next high spot. I knew I was close and I scanned with my binoculars constantly. The mountain looked way different now that I was on it and I didn’t know exactly where the Buck was bedded. I wanted to search around for his tracks but this would just cause a lot of racket and movement. When I got to where I could see pretty good over the high spot I was able to see the tree clump that I thought the Buck bedded in. I didn’t see the Buck though. I slowly proceeded scanning the rest of the slope with my binoculars until I got within 50 yards of the tree clump and still nothing. When I finally got to the tree clump there was in fact a deer bed in it, but I really could not tell if the Buck had bedded there that morning. It was for sure not being heavily used. There was a large deep canyon just beyond the tree clump and it is entirely possible that the Buck continued into the canyon to bed somewhere else. I could not see into this canyon from where I was glassing that morning and in hindsight it would have been smarter to move up the ridge when I first spotted the Bucks so as to get more straight across from them and watch them bed more precisely. I was not terribly disappointed, It was still a challenging and fun stalk. In fact in a way I am kind of glad I was unsuccessful, because now next year there will be two even bigger Bucks to hunt!