Ever heard the term “audible” with respect to a football play? A change in the offensive play called by the quarterback at the line of scrimmage. This year my brother pulled a hunting audible. He decided at the last minute to apply for a tag in an area that has about three roads, is 75% wilderness, and neither of us have hunted before. With plenty of tags to go around he drew this tag with relative ease. We both have other hunts to go on with our family and other obligations coming up soon so this trip was bound to just one weekend. It was a long ways to travel to a huge, untamed unit and the learning curve was going to be steep.
We met up Friday afternoon, loaded gear, combined to just one truck, and hit the road. I had already driven a tanks worth of gas to get to our rendezvous and we still had an hour and a half to go. Our destination was literally the end of a dirt road that I picked out on my Flatline Maps . We checked our theory with my OnXmaps and a few friends who had ventured in these woods before and they all said we had the right idea but we were in for some real hiking.
We arrived at the end of our road with just enough light to realize that the “real hiking” part was not a joke. Confined to a creek bed with pretty severe cut banks on each side and choked with Cottonwood trees, we would need to gain about 700 vertical feet in order to be in glass-able country. We hadn’t been parked five minutes when a ranger pulled up to us while we were plotting on the map on the truck hood. I assumed he was hunting in the area to and just wanted to say “hey”. He opened with the usual pleasantries as he walked up then, he stopped, “SAM! What the heck are you doing here?”
Turns out, when going to the middle of nowhere to get serious about a backcountry Couse hunt, you have a high likelihood of running into other guys who are just as serious! In this case, it was a friend from college who I hadn’t talked to in years. Brandon said they were camped just up the road and invited us to share camp with the night before we attacked the mountain in the morning. The country we were in was enormous, huge, in other words: VERY LARGE. On this evening though, the world was pretty damn small.
Early the next morning we parted their camp and headed to our parking spot. Slinging on our heavy packs and clicking on headlamps we pointed up hill. We made good time up the first long pull out of the canyon and hit a great glassing knoll just five minutes after we could see the other side of the canyon. It didn’t take long before we found our first group of does… a mere 1100 yards away… no big deal! WRONG. 10 more minutes of sun poking over the horizon shed some proverbial light on the subject. A massive, cliff’d up canyon that we were NOT crossing without a helicopter. This made the next hour of hiking easier because we were not tempted to stop and glass that direction ever again! Once we hit the top of the ridge though, we could look to our hearts content. The country went on for miles, heck, it went on for tens of miles.
Crazy to think, there was no roads between us and that horizon.
Our day was filled with being overwhelmed with the expanse of it all and every ridge just hid more country than the last. We had a pretty good safari of it that first day. We glassed up a few different bull elk, quite a few does and even a young, lone, bighorn ram! Just before dark we split up to cover either side of the ridge where we thought we would make camp for the night. We called each other almost at the exact same time saying we had found bucks! My buck was just a goofy looking spike. His deer were in some really thick brush but he thought that there might have been a good buck with the group. I bushwhacked over to his side of the ridge and confirmed his deer indeed were a bachelor group of young bucks. After further inspection with the spotter it looked like that the biggest of the group was a respectable three point and he was going to try to get a shot. The grass was so tall on their side of the hill that they were very hard to keep track of. With about 20 minutes of shooting light left we just couldn’t get it done. One advantage to backpack hunting is we just camped right there that night so we could relocate them first thing in the morning. Though, I think both of us had an unspoken feeling that we weren’t going to see them again.
We rolled out our bivy for the night, cooked some gourmet freeze dried soup and hit the sack, anxious for daylight. As the chill of dawn woke us up we crawled out of our bags and over to the edge. Tripods up and binos locked on, we made one quick pan across the ridge and BOOM, there they were! One small problem, they had traveled an entire ridge further away than they were the night before. At this point they were beyond attainable with the time we had.
We definitely set out on this trip with a gun, some bullets, a deer tag, and full intentions of killing a buck if given the opportunity. Sometimes though, you have to just look around and say “this is place is worth being in” and shift the conversation away from failing to fill the tag. We didn’t just give up at that point but I think we both came to the conclusion that we came into this wonderful new place and fully conquered it in every sense of a great adventure and we just need to chalk it up to experience for the future. You always hear people who didn’t make the podium or win the championship say things like that and sometimes, I’m here to tell you, win, lose or draw, this hunt is one for our personal record books and we will be back with a vengeance soon! Oh, and by the way, my buddy Brandon, yeah he smoked a giant just one ridge over from us! Sometimes winning is so close you can taste it, but you’re just one hill away.