One Sick Mule Deer
Feb/Mar 2011 EHJ (Issue 123)
Idaho, 2010, DIY, Public Land
- Unbeknownst to me, this great journey started in January of 2010 while chasing coyotes in a remote portion of southern Idaho. That cold bitter morning sitting among the sage and lava stone didn’t produce any sight nor sound of a coyote, but it did produce the start of one of the best memories of my life.
On that cold day, with my eyes watering from a bitter wind that had picked up on an otherwise calm morning, I noticed a large tree on the rimrock moving side to side in the wind. Knowing the area like it was my own childhood stomping ground, I knew there wasn’t a piece of sagebrush in this area that stood higher than mid-thigh – so where did that tree come from? Wiping the tears from my eyes and focusing my binoculars on this “tree”, I soon focused in on what was the biggest mule deer I had ever seen. For the next hour or so, I sat and admired this impressive animal from a mere 500 yards. What a rare chance to view such a remarkable animal like this undisturbed and in his environment. Several hundred yards to the side of this mammoth buck I found four more bucks - some wide, some tall, some thick, some thin. Wow, what a place to deer hunt!
There was only one small problem; the unit these bucks were in is a controlled hunt area that is very difficult to draw. Trophy buck tags are not handed out like candy here, and if you get one, you better cherish it. After all, who knows if you might ever draw it again.
So what are the chances of a Wisconsin transplant who has been chasing mule deer for three whole years to this point drawing the tag? Evidently, in this case, it was 100%! I was stunned when I saw the draw results, especially knowing what might be waiting for me out there.
My good buddy, Jeff McDonald, decided to make the trip out from Wisconsin to help on this hunt. After a later than expected departure from home, we made it to base camp with just enough time to setup but no time to hunt on our first evening.
I was worried about missing first light, so as the hours of good sleep passed, I was awake and checking the clock every 15 minutes. Several hours before sunrise, I become slightly nauseous. The alarm finally went off and we were lacing up boots, running a final gear check and making tracks like a well-oiled machine.
The first half-mile out of camp was flat ground but I was already breaking a sweat and my legs were starting to burn. This was odd for me, as Jeff says I am part goat. We started up a gentle grade and I began to really notice something wasn’t right. I gave a shallow whistle to halt Jeff, and a short time later I found myself offering back up last night’s dinner. After that little ordeal, I felt surprisingly well. We took a couple of minutes to regroup before making it to our first vantage point, which sat above the area where those nice bucks had been. After several hours of glassing and not seeing one deer, we decided to move on.
Around noon, we made the call to go into the nastiest draw in the area, thinking they might be hiding down in the canyons. Having no easy way to get in there, we started down a steep grade and back up another to flank the canyon and cut it in half.
About three quarters of the way up, Jeff spotted a bruiser. I never got glass on him but Jeff said it was a nice buck and put his hands on his head in typical “buck” sign language.
We did the only thing we could - go right at him. By this time, I was getting chills, sweats, dehydrated, my stomach was cramping up and I all but needed a Medevac to get out. We stopped for a quick lunch and some Gatorade, but it wasn’t helping - I was junk. It had been raining for some time now and it was taking its toll on me. We decided to head back to camp and hit it again the next day.
All the luck I had in getting this tag had run out and now I lay in a sleeping bag with a monster buck lurking somewhere on the hillside. Jeff kept the stove hot, forced water and Advil into my hand whenever I looked awake, and by 3:30 I felt pretty good. With two hours of daylight left, I thought we should get out and stretch our legs.
En route to our lookout, Jeff excitedly called out, “Elk!”
For a full account of Mike's adventure, go to page 20 in the February/March 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.