The buck stood perfectly still, only 30 yards away, staring directly at me. He watched my every move as the snow slowly fell between the two of us. I had seen this buck before — not huge, but a respectable buck. The doe that accompanied him slowly meandered through the small trees toward the creek. The crosshairs bounced along the 4×4′s vitals. Four days of hunting season left.
My finger gently squeezed the trigger, but I stopped. Dad’s words echoed through my head, “Only shoot a really big one.” So this young 4×4 lived another year. Looking back, it was the best deer hunting decision I had ever made.
I grew up hunting whitetails in the woods of northern Idaho. The Palouse, where we live, offers some of the greatest diversity of big and small game anywhere around. Hunting elusive whitetails, however, is my favorite.
In 2007, a trail camera photo tipped us off that a 160-class 5×5 lived in the area that we hunt. We hunted all year, shooting several other nice bucks but not getting the big buck from the camera. The next year yielded the same results.
In the spring of 2009 Del Achenbaugh, a good friend of ours who recently moved to Idaho from Pennsylvania, found the 2007 sheds of the trail camera buck. With a 19-inch spread, the buck grossed 161 typical. Two things were somewhat unique to the sheds. First, they were found at the edge of a CRP field near some open timber, not the usual hiding place for a buck of this caliber. And secondly, the buck didn’t seem to shed its pedicles. The inside of the antler, for nearly an inch at the base, was concave. In 2009, the hunt continued, but my dad and I still could not get a look at this buck.
As the 2010 hunting season inched closer, it was obvious that it would be a much different hunting year for me, compared to years past. It would be my first year in college. I decided to stay close to home and enrolled at the University of Idaho, only 20 miles away, allowing more time for hunting.
A caribou hunting trip to Alaska was also in the running. We left for Alaska on August 31, cutting out the best part of the deer archery season and setting me two weeks back in school work, but it was definitely worth it. The Alaska trip amazed me. The caribou herds hadn’t begun to move yet, so the amount of caribou that we saw was not what we had hoped. But the herds of musk ox, along with grizzly bears, foxes and ptarmigan, compensated for the absence of caribou.
After returning from Alaska, I spent most of my time catching up on schoolwork and reassuring my mom that I would get the grades to maintain my scholarships. I did get a chance to do some archery elk hunting near the house, and I shot the first elk that walked in range, a tasty 200-pound calf.
The rest of the archery season I spent scouting for my dad’s rifle elk hunt and still catching up on schoolwork. I decided to go on a last-minute scouting trip on October 9, the day before opening day of rifle deer and elk season. The scouting trip yielded no elk. I did, however, happen upon a 10-point deer antler, and it lay only 20 yards from where I had had an archery treestand last year!
This shed antler also sported the unique hollow base as the sheds our friend Del had found nearly a year and a half ago. The buck still existed, and he had grown considerably. The buck now sported nearly seven brow tines and had bases pushing eight inches.
After elk season, dad and I started deer hunting seriously, hanging trail cameras all over, but we were still unable to get a picture of the buck. On November 9, I saw a tempting 4×4 and decided to pass. I would see the buck again at least two more times.
The action started heating up in the middle of the month. On the 13th, dad was unable to get a shot at a whopper buck that passed by one of our trail cameras, right at legal shooting light, just as dad was trying to find it in his crosshairs. About an hour later, dad bagged a nice 6×5 that made the mistake of walking in front of the same stand.
Dad decided to get another tag to chase the buck that he didn’t get a shot at. As soon as he did, more luck came our way with several dustings of snow between the 15th and 19th, really heating up the rutting action. On November 20, dad and his friend Harry, a high school buddy from Pennsylvania, decided to go on a hunt on the other end of the unit where they had previously hunted. I elected to stay behind and chase the bucks near home.