An Idaho Icon: The Levi Dawes Buck
May 18, 2012
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 4x4'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 4x4 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 5x5 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 4x4 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 6x5 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.
That morning I headed to one of my favorite stands along a small clear-cut. For the first hour or so, the action was slow and I hardly heard a deer let alone saw one, but the second hour was completely different. Six bucks paraded by, starting with a spike, and each buck gradually got bigger. When a small 3x4 walked within 25 yards of the stand, I looked back into the deeper timber and caught a glimpse of bigger antlers. As soon as the small buck had meandered away, I hit the grunt tube. Less than two minutes later, a nice 5x4 came up from the creek bottom and I decided to take him. My shot hit home and the deer made it less than 30 yards. After that shot, I figured my hunting season had ended. Little did I know that dad's kindness would lead me to the buck of a lifetime.
The next evening, dad's friend Harry was sitting in the stand that dad had seen the monster from. Near the end of the day a cougar walked nearly 10 yards away from him and bedded down behind some brush. With the minutes closing in on his Idaho hunt, Harry, knowing he could tag a cougar with his non-resident deer tag, decided to shoot the 125-pound tom. He dumped the big feline with one shot. Never having seen a cougar in all my years spent in the woods, it was surprising when Harry called me from the stand and told me he had just shot one.
The next day we took Harry to Spokane to catch his flight. After a long goodbye and discussions of next year's hunt, we made a quick trip to Cabela's for some hunting supplies. At Cabela's, dad decided that he would buy me another tag because with the forecast of snow and a promising outlook for the last days of the season, he was sure I could get a big one.
The morning of the 24th, dad and I went to an "old faithful" kind of spot, and saw eight different bucks, most of them a ways off. The 25th had the look of an even more promising day. The morning was cold and produced only a few does, and I returned to the spot where I shot my first buck to check a trail camera. As the snow began falling in mid-morning, I still-hunted through the timber, seeing a few more deer but still no bucks. After some lunch at home, I headed out once more around 2 p.m., planning to stay out until dark. This time I headed along the bottom of the field near where dad and I had seen so many bucks the morning before. Just inside the timber at the edge of the field I spotted the young 4x4 I had seen earlier, along with a spike and a doe, milling around. I decided to pass up the buck again, saving him for later years.
I continued along an old logging road through some open Ponderosa pine and brush. This road makes a mile loop or so, eventually bringing me back to the top of the field. I saw several more deer, including a few bucks along the way. As the time reached closer to 4 p.m., I started to pick up the pace, trying to make the corner of the field with enough light left to see. I came around one of the many corners in the road and spotted a doe about 100 yards in front of me, with a small buck behind her. She spotted me as I inched closer and she scampered up the hill with the young buck close behind. As that doe started moving away, about 300 yards past her, I noticed two more deer doing the chase on the same road I was on. Again I quickened my step, trying to close the distance on the deer.
As I rounded another corner, I heard the sound of branches breaking in the brush-choked draw below me. I looked down to see a huge buck moving from the brush out into the open only 50 yards away. To this day, I still don't know if for some reason I just had the shed that I had found on my mind, or whether I just made a quick decision to shoot, knowing it was a big buck. The buck moved out into the open and miraculously stopped. My gun touched off, seemingly on its own, and the big buck jumped and took off on a dead run towards the open field. As I ejected the first shell I took a quick look over my scope at the buck running away. I realized I had shot the buck that we'd been after for so many years. My second shot hit home and slowed him down. He tipped over as I ejected the second cartridge.
I stood in shock on that old logging road, not wanting to move towards the monstrous deer. I frantically found my cell phone and called the house. I mumbled out my words and my mom eventually deciphered that I had shot a huge buck and called our neighbors for help getting the big buck out. The buck's body was so large that when I tried to drag him up the hill to the road, he pulled me back downhill!
With 27 scoreable points, including one point over 18 inches, the buck officially nets 250 7/8 non-typical Boone and Crockett points, making it the third-largest ever taken in Idaho, and in the top 100 in North America. It was an amazing stroke of luck that I ever even got close to this buck. Even though this was the first time I had seen him, I'm sure he had watched me many times. If it weren't for my family and friends, who introduced me to hunting, I would never have gotten a chance at this beautiful animal. This buck belongs to them too.