Walking up on my archery bull was a huge relief; years of mounting pressure finally released.
It was such an honor to share this moment with my dad: the beginning of an epic season.
You can find solitude in any OTC unit if you are willing to go where others are not.
Our unit was covered in closed logging roads, providing excellent access and amazing views.
The 2016 archery season consisted of missed opportunities and left me wanting more of my fall season. On a whim, I joined a close friend on an Idaho whitetail hunt. I’d always wanted to hunt out-of-state, but wasn't sure where to start. This trip inspired me to look at opportunities in the West differently. I wanted to extend my season and capitalize on the diversity and proximity of my neighbor states.
That winter I began planning an adventure to share with my dad for his 60th birthday. He’d been my hunting partner and best friend since the day I was born. When I was 13, he all but quit elk hunting with his buddies to take me archery hunting. You see, there was a rule in his hunting party that limited party members to being 18 or older because they didn't want kids slowing them down. He knew I wanted to hunt elk so we picked up bows and started learning.
My dad posing next to a cool sheep herder’s cairn during our 2017 archery season.
Over the past five years, my drive has grown stronger, resulting in more arduous hunts. I have asked more physically of my dad and, year in and year out, he sticks with me regardless of the canyon I want to hunt or the hill I want to climb. This year, with his birthday mid-season, I wanted to go on a true adventure and make another memory that we would have forever.
With the help of a good buddy and GOHUNT, I was able to narrow down what unit to concentrate on and what tags to acquire. We would buy over-the-counter elk tags and apply for a coveted limited entry mule deer tag. If we didn’t draw mule deer tags, then we would buy whitetail tags and hunt anyway! Great plan! Luckily, one of my good buddies trusted my research and threw in as well!
After we had decided on our hunts, I entered into a stage of personal development, which I won’t go into detail on (you’ve heard all the diet stuff before). Ultimately, I found myself engaged with the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, working to protect and advocate for public lands, which led me to help organize “Hike to Hunt” in Central Oregon.
Simultaneously, I was soaking up as much knowledge and information as possible. I was reading books, watching films and listening to podcasts at an alarming rate. I’d always felt I was a knowledgeable hunter with years of experience, but the more I read, watched and listened, I realized that I still had a lot to learn. By engaging my mind and body to keep my fire lit, it was easy to maintain momentum and keep my eye on the prize. Through this lifestyle change, I was able to lose 40 pounds and get back into the best shape of my life! The hunting season started off with an amazing archery hunt in our home state as I was able to harvest a bull with my bow.
We finally found ourselves off for the adventure we’d been planning for! Months of preparation, exercise, shooting, and reloading would all be tested on this trip. My dad, my friend, Aaron(who proved to be an incredible hunting partner and camp mate!), and I headed east toward an area that we had only e-scouted using GOHUNT and Google Earth.
On day five of our six-day hunt, this spike was a welcome opportunity to fill the freezer. We hunted hard. While he wasn't the branch bull we had set our sights on, he was an important reminder of this adventure.
The truck was a welcome sight after one tripping Dad’s bull. Heavy packs, big smiles. Does it get better?
While we didn’t find the number of bulls we were looking for we were in elk most days and my dad was able to fill his tag. This trip was planned for him so it was fitting that he got the opportunity! We experienced a lot of weather, super high winds that kept us up most the night, billowing our tent; we heard trees break and fall in the large burn surrounding camp all night. In six days, we covered 65 very rugged miles by foot.Yet, with each day, our legs grew stronger, our lungs clearer and our smiles wider. What a special week! After our elk hunt, we had a couple of weeks off before returning for my late season mule deer hunt and my dad’s whitetail tag. We camped lower near the river (which was good for weather, but awful for solitude) and still hunted similar country. The first few days were disappointing.
The bitter cold late season challenged our equipment and ability to glass comfortably.
In hindsight, I had built unrealistic expectations for this hunt. We were finding lots of does, but few mature bucks. When talking with game officers and other hunters, it was apparent that our experience was the norm for this year. I was getting discouraged but knew if we covered enough ground and laid eyes on enough deer, we would find one worth taking. After all, a good experience had more value to me than a big buck.
The day before the last day of the season found us scratching our heads. A truck was already parked at plan A and plan B led us straight up out of a creek bottom into the south faces of the mountain that held the most deer. Early on, we spotted some does in the distance. We hurried to a vantage point to set the spotter up and once on them, we instantly spotted a shooter buck. They were 800 yards up and across a steep ravine.
We made a plan and I started my stalk. My dad stayed back on the spotter while I hustled to get closer before they fed out of sight. After a fair bit of climbing and side hilling, I popped out 388 yards below them. The angle of the hillside I was on made it exceptionally tough to get a solid rest. Laying prone, I couldn’t get enough grip with my boots to keep me from sliding downhill and off my pack. Each time I’d pull my gun in tight, I’d slide down then army crawl back up. I felt panic begin to creep in. It was only a matter of time before they saw my movement or fed off over the hill.
This urgency led to a series of dumb mistakes (funny thing about hindsight). I settled in and found my buck, a doe that was behind him stepped out of the way and I put the crosshairs on his shoulder and fired...bang...nothing. At all. The deer tensed and raised their heads but didn’t bust. OK...reload. Boom! Nada! What? Seriously? I had three shots in my gun and three in my bino harness. After shooting five times (five times!) I was on my last bullet.
I heard my dad say, “You're shooting high!”
Then it clicked! I’d been using the wrong holdover on my reticle! Engage fully in freak out mode. This buck was going to walk out of sight if I didn’t make this last shot count! Steady. Squeeze. Boom! Gah! Nada, zilch, nothing!
At this point, I raised up to my knees in complete disbelief. I’ve never in my life missed an animal more than once. Let alone six times! The realization that I was completely out of bullets, my dad and his gun was 400 yards below me, the buck was going to walk off. As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I flashed on a memory from the night before. While hiking out of a dark canyon, I pulled my headlamp out of my waist belt pouch and, in doing so, I saw a bullet, which was weird because I don’t carry bullets there. I didn’t know if it was a .300 WSM or .270 (which I typically carry). Regardless, I ripped open my left side pouch to find...batteries.
So I flipped my bag, tore open the right side, and the first thing I pulled out was an AA battery. I reached in a second time to feel the familiar shape of a single .300 WSM round. I don’t know what changed—whether I’d hit rock bottom and had nothing to lose or what—but I felt completely calm and clear. All of my panic and urgency had left me. This was meant to be.
I ranged him again. Just shy of 400 yards. (It’s amazing he and his does were still within a mile of me!) I exhaled, held, squeezed, and boom! He immediately started a sprint downhill. After 40 yards, he started cartwheeling down the steep face. Yeah! Lucky number seven. Once my dad caught up to me, we approached my deer. I wanted to kill a 4 point in the worse way but was so proud to have gotten a buck at all that I was happy with a 3 point, given the experience. To my surprise and elation, he turned out to be a 4x3! I am so immensely proud of this deer, the work we put in and the memory we made. What a roller coaster! This is truly a season I will never forget. We couldn't have done it without the help of GOHUNT.
This buck is as much my dad’s as it is mine. The culmination of an amazing fall of memories made.
Dad, helping work up my buck. We found a small terrace to break down this buck on the steep hillside.
Our last pack out of the 2017 season didn’t disappoint. Beautiful scenery in the rugged country.
The future: my wife (Elizabeth) and I are the proud parents of two children Louise (3) and Phillip (10 months, pictured here..sorta). I can’t wait for the day they can join me on these adventures!