The three of us converged on the small town of Riggins, Idaho from all directions. I drove north from Boise, my dad drove east from Oregon, and my brother drove west from Rexburg, Idaho. Incredibly, the three of us had all drawn a late season rifle hunt for mule deer in some of the most rugged, but most amazing, country in the West.
We quickly learned how the area got its name. The elevation changes were intense, and the hillsides were rocky. Traipsing off trail was difficult work going over deadfall, through thick brush, and accross rock slides. This first day was spent getting to know the terrain, as we saw few deer and definitely no shooter bucks.
On the second day we drove up to the spot we planned to begin our hunt only to find that someone else had a rig parked at the trail head. So we called an audible and headed closer to the river where some finger draws connected some lower meadows to the higher, rockier, mountainous terrain. This shift in gears turned out to be a fortuitous one.
After seeing a herd of does and small bucks head over a saddle and into the finger draws, my brother and I decided to hang around them in case there was a bigger buck waiting to scent check the does. Our dad took the truck around to the base of a connecting trailhead a few miles away.
After setting up to glass on top of the saddle over which this herd of deer disappeared, we really got a great lay of the land. There was a lot more country up there than we initially thought! We glassed for close to an hour, seeing multiple herds with small bucks and many does. We also saw a few draws that looked to have good cover, feed, and water, but that were far enough away we couldn’t see down them. We had also been watching the magpies, as they’ll often signal the location of a bedded deer (due to their symbiotic relationship). There was one draw in particular that had a lot of magpie traffic, so we decided to walk down that way before setting up for a new spot to glass.
On the way over, we walked through a scrubby section of trees that had great feed and water. We had a feeling this little nook tucked back in these finger draws might be the home of a decent buck. Not long after passing this spot, we jumped two bucks and a doe! One buck was a small two-point, but the other had what appeared to be a pretty wide rack. We decided to try to set up for a shot.
Boom! My hasty, standing shot missed the mark. Fortunately, the rutting buck was more interested in the doe. He gave me enough time to sit down and rest my elbows on my knees and get a better read on his range–280 yards. As the second shot sounded, the buck jumped straight in the air, and we knew I had hit him pretty well. But he kept moving further up the hill. He’d bed, and then get up. Bed, and then get up. Finally, he bedded down long enough for me to make a final shot to the neck. He expired there.
As I approached, I was really pleased! He was a solid three-point with a fairly wide spread. We quartered him up, and began the packout, down the finger draws and out to the trail head where our dad had left the truck. Our packs were heavy, but our hearts were light–lifted by the gratitude towards God and nature for a successful hunt and an opportunity to provide for our families.
As I reflect on this hunt about a month after it happened, I’m reminded of the excitement and the bonds of family and friendship formed in the field. I’m also thankful for the meat that my family has been able to eat as a result. Thank you for taking the time to share in my memorable experience hunting Hell’s Canyon.