My intentions were not to start the blog with another honorable mention, but circumstances had it otherwise. I started to head west towards Idaho over the Teton pass with my bull elk and mule deer buck tag in hand. The road near the top of the pass was blocked by Wyoming Highway Patrol. Most people’s curiosity, mine included , gets them out of their vehicles in these situations. We did not wait for long and rescue helicopter landed couple hundreds yards from us at the scenic overlook’sparking lot. Few rescue personnel got out, few got in and Teton County Sheriff’s department along with the Highway Patrol were keeping the area secure and safe for all the emergency responders and also for people just traveling through. The calm confidence, composure of everybody involved during the rescue was comforting and gave me a sense of pride. We not only have the best military in the world, but we also have the best law enforcement and first responders. If things go bad for someone, there is little comfort you will be helped and taken care of by the best. Upon my return from the hunting trip I learned they were rescuing someone at the top of the mountain above the pass.
Getting to the trailhead was the most challenging drive I have ever experienced. I had to navigate trail not a road for few miles just to give us better proximity to our planned camp. Once we stopped, we grabbed all the gear and our rifles. Four mile hike was ahead of us. I decided to carry in all my stuff, no support. I really enjoy backpacking and now I had a chance to do it with a rifle. As I was climbing the aspens groves were replaced by clusters of tall pines. Moving higher in elevation the land started to open up.Not much vegetation thrives in higher altitude. Two hours in I reached the camp site. We set up the tent, found good spot for campfire and anxiously set out to scout the area we’ll be hunting in the morning. We only had little bit of daylight left but we made the most of it.
The following morning we were up early. The plan was to be in the positions before first light. Hiking in the steep mountains with headlamps is not easy. We lost the trail early on and had to backtrack little bit. The extra distance was just a beginning of a long hard day.We reached our spot in time. The end of the ridge split into three trails with vintage points overlooking the entire valley. The moment we do not need our headlamps, we are on the move off the ridge to where we might spot the elk moving through. The West has had one of the driest years ever. Few hunters I’ve spoken before I left said it was like walking on potato chips. Loud and difficult to get close to the game. I had the opposite experience. As I was slowly moving down on rocks with the rifle ready I started to hear very loud crackling and popping down bellow me. Those are not my friends, they are parallel to me. I’m not guessing, I know. I raise the rifle,start looking through scope and see whole herd of elk. Unfortunately I’m too far to the west. Trees and bushes gave them enough cover. I was not able to I differentiate the cows and bulls. I made a decision to pass up a shot. I hear shot fired moments later where my friend was. I knew immediately he got his first bull. I started to make my way there when I almost ran into several cows and calfs running away from the shot. All the noise, excitement and commotion gave up on any more elk being around. My friend started to quarter his elk. Very tough spot. Extremely steep. There was a lot of work to be done before we would be ready to help him to pack the meat back to the camp. We decided to hike around and continue to scout the area.
The meat has been stored in game bags, we took little rest and had a good meal and we set out again in late afternoon. We hiked back to our spot and after an hour of hiking we realized the only way the elk can travel in this area is right in front of us. Steep cliffs bellow and rocky edges above funnel the herds through here. As evening came we sat and glassed the wide open country. A herd with nice bull was too far yet close enough to see a wolf following them. Enjoying our time in these mountains we decided to repeat our plan the next day.We were limited how much ground we can cover in this very difficult terrain without horses.
The camp fire, nice dinner and good night’s sleep was necessary. The next morning we could feel light drizzle hitting our tent. Forecast predicted cloudy day with occasional showers. No problem. They forgot to tell mother nature. Sitting in our spot high above, we were looking at the clouds rolling in bellow with the first light. Within minutes we could not see more than 20-30 yards. Staying in our spot was not going to be productive. Three hours of hiking in heavy rain we decided to head back to camp. The wind picked up too and the light drizzle from few hours ago turned into a storm. We built huge camp fire to stay warm and dry. With weather getting worse, the roads could become impassable so we packed up and hiked back to the truck. The biggest challenge was not hiking several miles in ankle deep mud, but trying to drive out. The first hill proved to be tough enough for my truck. I had to stop, jump out and found the nearest rock pile. That was the easy part. I spent good hour hauling as many large and heavy rocks into my pick up bed. Few hundred pounds later I had the traction I needed. Nature altered our plans and made it hard on us. Perfect, it is part of the experience.
The plan for the next day was to head to known mule deer habitat. Lower elevation, beautiful cliffs, lots of sage brush, juniper trees and weather improvement improved our chances for success. This was less physically challenging. This was more about glassing, patience and ability to move quietly through the land. The bigger the bucks, smarter they are to avoid being spotted. We covered several canyons, usually glassing from the rim. No luck. We decided to check out watering spot, probably dry after the summer we have had. As we were nearing the bottom I spotted a deer. Initially not sure buck or doe. The color of their hide provides them with great camouflage. I double and triple checked, wasting precious time. It was a small buck. I have shouldered my rifle and fired. My friend said “hit, definite hit”. I was not sure. The deer was still standing yet not moving. I have reloaded and shot again. This time aiming at his neck. The only part I could see clearly in six foot tall sagebrush. As I pulled the trigger for the second shot I saw the buck dropped down. All at the same time. We walked up and there he was, my first mule deer. The most important part of the hunt for me was to get a good shot. I did. Dropped him with the first one and I have a proof. Closely examining the buck I realized the second shot went right through his ears. Each earlobe has a perfect round hole in it. Very funny. It was meant to be a neck shot but he dropped as I pulled the trigger second time. Big relief. No chase, no tracking, no suffering. My friend talked me through the gutting process. I am trying to learn all the aspects of the hunting etiquette and gutting is part of it. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Good gutting job is like making a good shot to me. To preserve the good meat is a skill. We agreed on donating the meat to the needy if any of us will be successful.
It was not what many call trophy buck. I was very happy with just spending three long days outdoors in the mountains and enjoying the sport of hunting. There is a lot for me to learn. This was a great start with friends. I believe the mule deer will be my favorite game to hunt. Very difficult to find for their evasive abilities. I am looking forward to my next hunt.
The rifle CZ 550 American .308 Win
I really enjoy using this rifle in the field. Great size, handles comfortably and with lot of use becomes extension of your hands. I have gone wild hog, elk and mule deer hunting with it spanning the country. It never felt out of place. Traveling throughout the West I make sure it is in the truck with few rounds always ready. There are many more models and calibers to choose from but for now I’ll stick with my .308.