By Garrett Bowen
October 15th, 2016
Justin and I wanted to try something new this deer season. We usually do a late archery hunt in a local unit that is nonstop deer action, this year we just couldn’t seem to wait. I wanted to try to kill a backcountry buck with my rifle and Justin was all in for the idea. My main reason being I have never taken a mature buck, especially in the backcountry. The last time I harvested a mule deer I was 13 years old and being 24 now, it has been a goal of mine to harvest a backcountry mule deer. I wasn’t setting out on this hunt to kill the biggest buck on the mountain but to take in the experience and mental toughness of finding one of these backcountry ghosts.
Leading up to the hunt Justin and I were doing our normal preparations to get ready for the back country. Only this time we weren’t shooting our bows, checking our sights, strings and arrows. Instead we went out and made sure our rifles were sighted in, after a few shots and some quick adjustments we had everything set. That week of work seemed like a month, the days drug by and the only thing on my mind were the thoughts of what the weekend was going to bring. We had high hopes because the season had only been open for four days and the fifth day we were going to be on the mountain. In the middle of the week we were hit with some news that was making us second guess our hunt. The forecast for the area we were going to be hunting was going to be under extreme weather advisory and flash flood warnings. The forecast was calling for four inches of rain and five to seven inches of snow above six thousand feet. Justin called me at work in a frantic panic asking if we should go and if the deer would be starting their migration out of the high country. I told him we already had are gear packed and ready to go so we can’t back out. Not to mention we had all the necessary clothing and gear to stay dry for two days. After keeping a close eye on the weather the rest of the week we both knew Mother Nature wasn’t backing down on this one.
Friday October 14th we both went to work trying to stay focused on work instead of hunting. In most cases, it is something that is impossible for the top priority team. We live for these moments and the thoughts of laying eyes on a animal that people haven’t seen before. I remember the last few minutes of work just dragging on and knowing Justin was waiting for me to meet him so we could leave. It was just before 7pm when I met up with Justin. We had a three hour drive and about a three to four hour hike in the dark ahead of us. We arrived at the bottom of the trailhead around 10 pm and quickly put the remaining equipment in our packs. The weather was holding off on us and you could see the stars slowly emerging as the clouds moved overhead. The forecast was predicting the storm would hit around midnight, bringing heavy rains below 6000ft and a snow rain mix above 7000ft. Justin and I put our packs on, did a last minute check that we had everything and we were on our accent up to 8000ft. We had roughly 2500 vertical feet to climb with no trail to follow in the pitch black. After twenty minutes of hiking straight up with all of our gear on our backs, we looked at each other and wondered why we do this for fun. Although we were making pretty good time on our hike we slowly saw the light night sky growing darker. This really started to motivate us to keep pushing to the top where we were going to camp. If we could stay just two steps ahead of this storm, we could get the tent set up without getting everything soaked. After just two hours into the hike we were nearing the top, freezing rain was starting to slowly fall from the dark sky above. Soon, Justin found a flat spot under a big pine and we set the tent up.
After getting our stuff arranged, boots off and our packs tucked under the rain fly of the tent; it was like a switch had been flipped. We were hit with strong winds and freezing rain and snow. This lasted all night. Luckily my tent held up against what was being thrown at us and we managed to stay dry through the night. After a few hours of restless sleep from the weather being so loud all night the alarm sounded. As we both woke and starting gathering our stuff we started making a game plan for the morning hunt. We had yet to decide who the shooter was for our morning hunt. Justin decided to let time be the one who determined this. I would pick an odd number leaving Justin with an even number. Time was on my side, as Justin lit up his phone the time showed 6:13 am. I would be the shooter for our morning hunt and Justin would have from noon till dark. The excitement running through my mind was overwhelming; I had never been in this spot nor seen the country. We had a quick breakfast and packed up camp in the dark to finish our hike to a glassing spot.
The weather that morning was cold and damp with a skiff of fresh snow on the ground. After climbing a few hundred feet the snow was getting deeper and the temperature was dropping. The terrain was difficult to navigate, the rocks were hidden under a blanket of snow and the downed tree limbs were slippery; making the hike even more difficult for us to get to the glassing point. Finally, Justin and I reached the top; creeping to the edge only to find out the basin was submerged in fog. We were instantly disappointed, having come all that way with all the weight bearing on our backs as well as fighting the elements. The hunt was not looking in our favor; there was a slight wind out of the east slowly pushing the fog up and over the peak that we were on; allowing us to glass for brief periods of time only seeing bits and pieces of the high country basin.
Awaiting the fog to clear out of the basin Justin and I moved to a large rock cropping that overlooked both sides of the basin as well as straight below us. Not long after setting the spotting scope up and taking my rifle off my pack the fog was starting to clear. When the fog lifted we were sitting on what looked like mule deer heaven.
This basin had steep slopes with good feed scattered through thin timber pockets, along with perfect bedding spots for these high country ghosts. After glassing and scanning everything in this basin we only had one problem. There were no deer, Justin and I decided to be patient and just keep glassing hoping something would emerge from the mountain. Two hours into sitting on the glassing rock I stood up and went to my pack to gather my stuff. Frustration was slowly setting in; we should have been seeing deer in this basin. I was starting to wonder if this storm front got the bucks moving to lower country and we had missed them.
Just as I was about to give up on this spot and hike to the next basin Justin caught a glimpse of something on the move below us. “Two bucks!” Justin said. He ran over to grab the camera and I quickly grabbed my rifle and got into position on the snow covered rocks. I had yet to get a good look at either of the bucks, as they weaved in and out of the pines. Finally, the buck in the back had stopped in between the pines and he was a shooter. I turned back and told Justin that one of the bucks was a defiant shooter. Justin set up directly behind me with camera patiently waiting to get a better look at the buck. For a brief time neither of us could see the bucks they were roughly three hundred and fifty yards below us the last time I saw them. Glassing through the pines I caught movement, this time closer to where we were set up. These two bucks were working right up towards us. I ranged an opening at 130 yards that I thought they would likely go through. I leaned back to make sure Justin and I were on the same page to capture the shot. The look of excitement on his face was just as intense as mine.
As I turned back around I leaned into my rifle and set it up on the spot that I had ranged. Out stepped the first buck, a nice three point with good height but this wasn’t the one. The three point kept moving up the hill not waiting for the other buck. I kept my scope on the same spot waiting for the other buck to emerge from the trees. Finally, I caught movement out of the corner of my scope and out stepped the four point. He was trying to keep up with the smaller buck that was a couple yards ahead of him. As soon as he came into the clear opening, I grunted to stop him, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. I watched the buck drop immediately and turned to Justin in pure excitement.
We had done what we set out to do, despite Mother Nature’s odds to hold us back. Shortly after I killed my buck the fog set back in following with heavy snow, making us hunker down in the pines to work on my buck. I was overwhelmed by the struggles we went through to get this buck on the ground. From the late night pack in to the extreme weather we fought, it was more than I could have imagined for my first back country mule deer. I am thankful for having the opportunity to hunt such amazing country with my best friends and experience what god has to offer in this rugged country that he’s created.A