Follow the X Bolt – Idaho Mule Deer 2
There’s really nothing quite like a traditional deer camp. Drinking camp coffee around the wood stove in the morning, scheming up the days hunting plans, eating far too much for dinner (is that possible), and sitting around the wall tent at night telling stories. It all adds up to memories that simply can’t be replaced.
The photo below is your traditional deer camp photo. A bunch of hooligans that hunted their asses off, plotted and schemed against the furtive mule deer of Idaho, drank too much whiskey, and somehow managed to put their tags on a few dandy Idaho bucks. Joe, Travis, and Brock were the superstars on this trip, bringing down exceptional bucks. Doug and I did everything right and ended up with a couple “good-eaters”. That’s how it rolls at deer camp.
By the end of this trip I’m fairly certain that this crew covered as much or more ground than just about any other hunters in the area. From the high ground to the sage brush we covered it all. In typical fashion Joe and I did what we’re accustomed to doing. We went high the first two days of the trip where we could lose hunters and hopefully find some mature bucks that were waiting for that last blast of snow to leave the high country.
That backfired! We saw one small buck in two full days of hunting and all the tracks led downhill. Like lets-get-the-hell-out-of-here downhill! These Idaho deer don’t mess around. With snow in late September and two more shots of snow in October they ran from the high country long before we got there. (we took notes)
So we re-grouped and headed for lower ground, targeting terrain between 5,000 and 6,500 feet in elevation. We had been far too high in elevation and the deer were well on their way to the winter range already.
Joe Pyburn brought along some Vortex 15-power binoculars that he could pick apart these big Idaho basin’s with. With this setup Joe could peer in the deepest, darkest crevices on any mountain and pick out mule deer (and elk) from miles away. My play has always been to use my Vortex 10×42’s to pick up critters from a long ways away and then jump on the spotter to see whether they are worth going after. That means packing around a spotter that weighs an additional three to four pounds though. Joe didn’t carry a spotter. His 15’s were powerful enough to give him an idea of size without going to the spotter. Supposedly Vortex is coming out with some 18 power bino’s that might work even better for this.
Evenings at deer camp are for sipping whiskey and telling stories. We brought along a couple bottles of excellent whiskey and savored a drink or two each night around the wood stove before turning in. This is Elk Rider bourbon made by Heritage Distilling in my hometown of Gig Harbor, Washington and it’s a staple in any camp I’m lucky enough to visit. This bourbon is as smooth as it gets.
I waited and waited and passed up quite a few small bucks before the last day finally rolled around. Travis and Brock spotted a darned nice four point the morning of the last day that we made a move on. It took an hour and a half to get within range of him, however, and by the time we got into the neighborhood he had fed out of the canyon with his does and was gone.
So, Brock encouraged me to take a dandy two-point that was bedded 300 yards below us in lieu of eating tag soup and I’m glad I did. The buck was bedded facing away from us and with a rest I was able to easily place the 165 grain Hornady GMX right thru his vitals with the Browning Pro Tungsten .300 WSM. Starvation avoided!
The big two-point had plenty of fat packed on him and he carried plenty of weight for what we thought was a fairly young deer. I would later find out the actual age of this mule deer from IDF&G.
To both of our surprise this deer had tags in both ears with an ID number on them. As soon as we left the mountains I called Idaho Fish and Game and gave them the code off the tag. They told me this buck had been tagged as a fawn in 2015 on the winter range which made him four and a half years old. He was a little older than any of us would have guessed.
Here’s Brock with one of the backstraps out of this buck. Our family had some of this last night as well as the heart from this buck and it was all amazing. No surprise there! And a huge thanks to Brock for helping me pack this critter out of that canyon in our Exo Mountain Gear packs. Brock runs the Exo 4800 and I run the Exo 5500. At 30 years old he’s a danged billy-goat and had no trouble beating me back to the top of the ridge and eventually the truck. The pack out took around three hours.
Finally to the top of the ridge with another hour and a half of hiking downhill to the trucks down in the valley. Having passed up on quite a few bucks this winter it was sweet to finally pull the trigger on this Browning X Bolt. It packs easily in the field, shoots straight, and is as rugged a gun as you’ll ever find.
I take off for Montana in just a few days with an entirely different group of hooligans, all of whom I’ve hunted with before. There’s no doubt we’ll have the same level of fun on this next hunt, but it still won’t quite compare to a week of wall tent shenanigan-ry with a bunch of great guys in the wilds of Idaho.
Thanks for stopping by!
The Outdoor Line