Down to the Wire

By Rich Tillotson
Idaho, 2010, Public Land

Rich Tillotson - Down to the WireOctober/November 2011 EHJ (Issue 127) - From the time I was a young boy, I’ve been fascinated with big mule deer. Although I’ve been fortunate to harvest a few 170 to 180-class bucks, I’ve had a goal to connect on a 200-incher for some time. During the ritual of checking the internet for Idaho’s controlled hunt draw results, I was elated to learn that I had drawn a late-season buck permit for an area that has produced some monster mulies over the years! I immediately scheduled time off work and started making plans. I was stoked!

Fall was unusually warm, and as pleasant as it was, I became nervous as I anticipated how a very warm and dry November could impact my late buck hunt. I needed a change in the weather to help concentrate and move deer to lower country. By the first week of November, a miracle, or at least what seemed to me as a gift from heaven, came – snow, and lots of it! Soon, more snow had fallen and reports were that there was up to three feet on the high ridges and basins. Deer would definitely be on the move!

I began the hunt by hiking over seven hours in deep snow, spotting several bucks. The best was a 170 4x4.

The next day a midday storm added six more inches of snow and by early afternoon, the storm had blown over and the hunting conditions were good again. That day I found more bucks, including a 30-inch, 180-class 4x4 in the moonlight on my way back to camp. The new snow had revealed many deer trails cascading from high ridges into the lower canyons. The deer were definitely moving toward wintering grounds, so I planned the remaining two weeks around migration routes.

The following 13 days proved to be fascinating, rewarding, exhausting, and stressful. My horses became invaluable; one day I hunted over 22 miles. Most days, I would hike and ride between 8-12 miles. As much work as it was, I was thrilled to hunt such beautiful country with the sparkling new snow, plenty of deer, and not a soul in sight. The anticipation of what monster buck might be with the next group of does kept my adrenaline level high.

During these two weeks, I saw many bucks, including a few that prompted a quick dismount and the chambering of a round. One was a 31 to 33-inch 5x5 that probably grossed 190. For the next several days, I wondered if I had made a bad mistake to pass up this buck. I had to ask myself, "Am I crazy? I can’t believe that I just passed on a 32 inch mulie.”

Time seemed to fly the last few days of the hunt, as the reality of the end became apparent. I sat in camp the evening before the final day of what had been an incredible hunt, and I pondered what I had experienced. I had seen some very nice bucks, including a few that would have been trophies in most any hunter’s book.

Rich Tillotson - Down to the Wire

For a full account of Rich's adventure, go to page 34 in the October/November 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.