A weekend in the backcountry for the High Hunt
by Jason Brooks
Washington’s High Hunt is in full swing after last Friday’s opener. This past weekend myself and my son Ryan were accompanied by Chris Schaller and Troy Saharic with Rob Endsley joining us Saturday afternoon, as we attempted to find a nice buck in the alpine. We pulled into the trailhead on Friday evening, barely finding a place to park. It seems that due to the recent fire’s in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness that the few trailheads open to the High Hunt became crowded with overflow. Donning headlamps and starting up the trail we caught up to Troy just before camp. Robbo was set to come in after the radio show on Saturday.
We pitched our tents near a peak that overlooked a meadow where I knew there would be water. At first light I spotted four bucks feeding out from the timber below. Just before we could get into position to take the largest of the bucks, a mature four-point, another hunter stepped out from a small grove of fir trees and attempted an off-hand shot that resulted in the deer heading for cover.
We ran into several people while out hunting. Most of them were frustrated with the lack of deer they were seeing and the amount of hunters. Water was scarce and it was very warm out. When hunters kept telling us they weren’t seeing any deer I noted that they were mostly set up on a point overlooking an open face slope. I concentrated on looking into the shadows of trees and in basins with water. The few successful hunters told us they did the same thing to find their buck.
Spending the rest of the day ridge running and looking into basins that normally held deer, Ryan instead found a few grouse for dinner. No other deer were located on Saturday but a nice bear was spotted about a half-mile away. The stalk was back on for another hunt and just as we cleared the ridge to view the small patch of mountain ash where the bruin was feeding, the bear decided lunchtime was over and he meandered into the far timber. We climbed back up the thousand feet of elevation to the ridge and headed for camp.
Once back at camp Ryan cooked up the grouse he took earlier in the day. I always carry a small tube of coconut oil and some seasoning salt for the Camp Chef cook set that is made for the Stryker stove. Endsley made it back from his evening hunt just in time to help Ryan finish off the grouse.
On Sunday morning we snuck back out to the overlook into the basin and once again found the bucks from the day before. This time they stayed closer to cover and fed in a patch of blueberries and mountain ash that was surrounded by fir trees. We noticed a ridge that would put us into shooting position but just as we started our stalk another group of hunters decided to try a cross-canyon shot that busted the deer again.
Frustrated is hardly what I would use to describe my High Hunt this year but it is a very popular hunt. Here are a few quick tips on how to finish out the early season for those getting ready to head back out later this week.
#1. Expect crowds.
With the fires and area closures our normal high hunt area was over-run with people. Almost everyone we talked to were very discouraged and had not seen a lot of deer, if any at all. We did see a few successful hunters and those that found success were ones that have hunted the area before and knew the canyons, basins, and ridgelines better than those who were trying a new area.
#2. Be patient.
If you spot a deer, watch it for a few minutes and see if you can make a stalk. We witnessed some “volley-shooting” because the hunters didn’t know how to stalk closer to the bucks. They easily could have closed the distance to half of what they were shooting as the deer couldn’t feed at night with no moon and a very dark, smoke filled night sky. They were out feeding longer and making themselves vulnerable.
#3. Look for cover.
This past weekend it was very dry and all of the deer were in basins that held water. I found that out of the six basin’s and draws that are in my high hunt area only two of them held water this year. One of the basins was where I located the four bucks and even after being chased and shot at they stayed nearby. Now that it has been raining water isn’t as important as last weekend but with all of the people using the backcountry the big, mature bucks will head for cover. Instead of glassing open slopes you might instead try a still hunt through the timber.
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