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.
2017 was a really exciting year. I was blessed to be able to do what I love spending time outdoors, hunting, fishing, and hiking. When spending time in the outdoors you have an opportunity to create many awesome memories and experiences. I would like to share one with you that I had this year while hunting Mule Deer in Salmon, Idaho.
A few days before, my father-in-law and I were preparing for this amazing hunt. We discussed some options of where we could go, what we would need to bring, and how long we wanted to spend. After talking with him the excitement grew immensely, and I could barely stand the wait. The day after we talked about the hunt, I was at work and I hurt my back. The pain was so much that it was hard to move. I couldn’t believe that I hurt my back just days before the big deer hunt. I called my father-in-law with the bad news that night. I expressed my disappointment and we pondered what we could do so that I could still go. We decided that we would go but that he would carry the pack with the gun, food, water, and all our essential hunting supplies. It was a pretty sad plan on my part but it still would give me the opportunity to get a deer.
Finally, it was the day of the hunt. We woke up 3 hours before light. We did this so we could make it to a specific point before shooting light. After the 1-hour drive, we made it to the trail head and we quickly headed up the mountain in the dark. It was a tough walk with my back, and I imagine it was just as tough for my father-in-law carrying all the weight. As the sun began to come up our heads were on a swivel looking for deer. We walked about 15 minutes longer and we saw what we made out to be a decent buck.
It was on the other side of the canyon and it was looking our way. We quickly sat down, looked at it through the binoculars and we ranged it at 473 yards. We knew he would spook if we tried getting closer so I decided to take the shot. (I’d shot this gun previously at 1,000 years, so I was comfortable with taking it at less than half the distance.) After getting set up and looking through the scope I was ready to pull the trigger.
As I shot the deer moved quickly and started busting down the hill. Neither myself nor my father-in-law could tell if I hit him or not.It took us about 30 minutes to walk to the other side of the canyon to see if there was a blood trail, and we found one. I was a little concerned because the blood wasn’t as thick as I would have liked.
We followed the deer for over an hour and could see that it was getting weaker because it bedded down three times as we were following the trail. I was beginning to get nervous that I shot a deer that we weren’t going to find. But, we didn’t give up, continuing on the trail. It wasn’t but 5 minutes after we saw the third bed and we came across the buck, bedded down. I quickly set up for another shot and dropped him.
Excitement overcame me after we shot this deer, because I was feeling lucky about even being on the mountain with my back. The luck didn’t stop there either, without even noticing it the deer ran back towards the truck and we found ourselves only 1 mile away from the truck. This made the pack out a lot easier on both my father-in-law and myself. This was definitely an experience I won’t forget!
About the author: Ryan Smith is an avid outdoorsman and co-owner of Got Game Technologies, LLC. He and his family reside in Salmon, Idaho, where he enjoys hunting elk, mule deer, and wolves.
There is a rising tide of new archery elk hunters. Once someone gets a taste of bugling bulls at close range, that pull to return year after year is so hard to resist. With this trend in mind, here are a few tips for the beginning archery elk hunter.
Get in Shape
If you are out of shape, your hunt ended before it even began. Chasing elk is is a physically challenging sport. Quite frankly, it can be exhausting; the ultimate test of endurance. Being out of shape can cause you to become unmotivated and unprepared for the hunt. In order to persevere, you need to prepare for what the battle is going to bring. Prepare well before hunting season begins and set realistic goals for what steps you need to take to get in hunting shape. Good activities include spending time on the mountain, hiking and scouting, going to the gym to exercise your legs and core, and doing some cardio, whether HIIT or endurance.
Have Confidence in Your Gear
First, your bow. Shoot it often. This will help you become comfortable and confident with the weapon you will use to harvest your elk. When pulling the trigger, you should have full confidence in the equipment you are using. Next most important in my mind is good boots. Remember that elk hunting is done on your feet in rugged terrain, day after day, so good boots will become your best friend when walking the backcountry. Blisters can make a fun hunt miserable instantly. Make sure to break your boots in before the hunting season begins or those expensive boots you bought will seem cheap. I have seen a lot of talented hunters that don’t have the nicest packs or camo, but they purchase good boots because they understand the importance.
Don’t Do Your Scouting During the Season
I’m sure this one seems simple but this happens more often than you think. Walking in the woods isn’t always what it takes to shoot an elk. A lot of hunters waste a lot of valuable hunting time scouting when they should have done that months earlier. Scouting is something that should be taken seriously. There are many steps to making sure you are successful and you are hunting where the elk are. First, it is important to understand what type of country elk like to spend their time in. This will require you to take time to study and find the best areas suitable for elk. After this it’s time to hit the hills and see if you can find the bull you are going to shoot. Trail cameras can help, but there is nothing that can compensate for a lack of time spent in the area you’re hunting in advance of the season.
Learn the Elk Calling Basics
When I started archery hunting a couple of years ago I wasn’t having much success. I had grown up hunting elk with a gun and I approached archery hunting the same way as I did rifle hunting. The thing I learned quickly: archery hunting and rifle hunting are not the same. Archery hunting requires you to get very close to the animal so you can make an effective and ethical shot. Learning how to use a mouth reed to call in elk will help you to get the close up shot you need. Using a reed isn’t always easy and it can take some time to get to know all the calls you can use while hunting. That’s why we partnered with Paul Medel, the ElkNut, to bring you the cutting edge in elk calling instruction, all on your mobile phone or smart device. Using the ElkNut app will teach you to “Talk the Talk” this hunting season, so you’re able to “Walk the Walk,” meaning end the season with a pack full of elk meat on your hike out.
There is a lot to take in as a new archery elk hunter, but there’s no reason not to get started now, as it’s one of the most rewarding endeavors you’ll ever pursue.
*This article was written by Ryan Smith, an avid archery elk hunter and co-founder of Got Game Technologies, LLC.*
Every experienced elk hunter has been confronted by a “hung up” bull. It often starts with a quick response to your bugle. The adrenaline starts pumping. You check the wind, make an educated guess about the bull’s location, then begin to cut the distance. You cow call occasionally, and he regularly responds, sounding interested. But as you begin to get close, and you can’t close the distance much more without blowing your cover, the bull “hangs up.” In other words, he just won’t close that final stretch and get within shooting range. Below are a few tips from the ElkNut App, featuring the elk calling expert, Paul Medel, that should help you get that “hung up” bull to come in to range.
Paint the Picture of a Hot Cow
Nothing gets a bull excited quite like a “hot” cow, meaning a cow in estrus. And you can bet a bull’s blood will start to boil if he not only perceives a hot cow, but also the presence of another bull elk with her!
Under this scenario once the bull has “hung up,” you should start raking a tree (or stomping the ground if no trees are close) and give two or three pants from the spot you cow called. Mix in a few whiny cow calls as you continue to rake (or stomp). If the bull bugles, cut him off with a challenge or lip bawl bugle. There’s a good chance the bull will become aggressive and start closing in. If the bull does not respond, wait for five minutes or so, arrow nocked and ready in case the bull decides to close the distance. If nothing still, repeat the above scenario and give it a full thirty minutes. Keep your ears and eyes open for the bull’s stealthy approach!
Do as a Bee Does: Buzz!
Another great call to implement when going after a hung up bull is the Contact Buzz. It’s a cow sound asking for another elk to come to her or to re-gather other elk. This sound can be a great tool to convince a hung up bull that what he’s hearing is another elk who is asking him to respond to her calls. In the event the bull tries to bugle you in from there, you can paint the above picture of a challenging bull moving in to intercept his cow. Be ready to see the real bull come in on a line!
The Team Approach
When you are hunting with a companion, you can also consider taking advantage of a “hung up” bull’s curiosity. If he fails to come in notwithstanding your calling, leave the shooter in the spot from which you were calling (with favorable wind and good cover), and have the other hunter retreat, cow calling away from the bull so he is under the impression the cow is moving away. The bull’s curiosity and senses will often lead him to venture over to the spot from which the calling initiated to check things out–right where the other hunter has been waiting!
These are just a few tactics that might help you reach that “hung up” bull. The calls and tactics referenced in this article (and many, many others) are all featured on the ElkNut App, which is available for download on the App Store and Google Play. The ElkNut App is designed to take your elk calling and hunting ability to the next level. It’s content has been proven in the field through years of experience. We encourage you to give it a go, join our e-mail list, and follow us on social media.