Leaving New Mexico was harder than I expected it would be. I learned a ton about hunting out west and was able to hone my skills as a backcountry hunter. I killed my first elk, first elk with a bow, a great bull, first mule deer, and a barbary sheep. I also was able to spend some time hunting deer, pigs and turkeys in Oklahoma while I lived in NM. I wished I had more time to spend in the woods, but I can’t complain. My job was amazing and I was able to do things and go places very few people have the opportunity to. My wife and I moved there in 2013 with a cat, and would be leaving with 2 kids, a dog, a cat, and all of the things we acquired since. Life has been good to me. I've been blessed.
We packed our entire lives in a moving truck and began the journey to Idaho. I know, such a rough trade in location I was excited to move to a great hunting state, but even more excited for a completely different pace at work. My new job should allow me more time with the wife and kids, and I very much look forward to exploring all that Idaho has to offer.
My new house doesn't have as high of ceilings as the last one, but all of my current mounts found their place on the wall. I plan on swapping the deadhead with my elk from this year, and the clock with my mule deer. I can't wait to see the finished mounts!
The first thing I noticed when I walked into my new office was this…
I think Idaho is going to be alright
My old office decor fit right in on the my new desk
Being new to Idaho I was required to wait 30 days before I could buy a hunting license. I only intended on shooting some coyotes before I went home to WI for Christmas. However, after digging through the hunting pamphlet, I noticed there was an any weapon antlerless only elk season still open.... that was Dec 14th. I bought my tag the next day and scoured the interweb for any and all information I could find on the unit. There weren’t many positive things about the unit, but Idaho Fish and Game reported a decent success rate. I felt my chances would be pretty good. Its a wide open desert unit, and I just spent 3 years hunting the wide open spaces of Eastern NM so it didn't deter me. With the cold snap I also figured many elk would have migrated off the mountains and into the crop fields the unit had. As it turned out, I was not alone in my thinking.
After leaving my house around 3am Saturday morning, I arrived in the unit just before sunrise. To my surprise there were a dozen other road hunters waiting for the elk to leave the private land, cross onto BLM, and then try to cross the road out of the unit and into the mountains.
Once the elk started making their way toward the line of hunters standing between them and the freedom of the other unit, all hell broke loose. I was on the far western side of the group of hunters, and closest to the road. (I didn’t get there early enough to claim a better spot.) 3 of the elk were dropped in the first volley of fire, and a few more wounded in the second batch of rounds. The herd maintained its integrity, with the exception of one lone calf. She split off in my direction, but at a full sprint. She serpentined passed me, coming to within 150 yards, but never provided an ethical shot. It reminded me of hunting opening day in WI; guns blazing, and animals running to near exhaustion. it was quite a rush.
It didn't take long for all of the shooting to stop and the elk to get across the road. I normally don't prefer to road hunt, but with temps at -20, I chose preservation of comfort over walking around outside all day. I relocated to the northern side of a large chunk of BLM land. My hope was to cut a few tracks or spot some elk up on their feet. I would drive a little, get out, walk a hundred yards and glass. I did this several times
I spotted a lone cow around 930. She spotted me too and was having none of it. It took off sprinting across the desert. I drove my truck on a trail parallel to her direction of travel, and got out once I felt I was in front of her. I walked 100 yards away from the truck to a decent vantage point. I waited and glassed for 30 minutes, before concluding she must have gotten past me already. Assuming she had passed me I chose to walk further away from the road; hoping to find her track. I walked 3/4 of a mile without finding her track in the fresh snow.
I was momentarily confused… there’s no way she made it past me without seeing her or her track. Did I somehow completely miss her track when I was driving in the truck? Did she change direction? Bed down? I knew all I had to do was find her track, so I made a big circle back toward the place I had last seen her. When I found her track I was only 300 yards away from the road. “There’s no way I missed her.” I thought to myself. I followed the track to a bed only 200 yards from where my truck was parked, and 100 yards from where waited earlier. I continued tracking her and found where she stepped over my tracks. She was either really smart or really lucky.
I felt like it was the battle between Joe Mack and Alekhin from Louis L’Amour's Last of the Breed. I was determined to find her and kill her.
I followed her for 4.8 miles, before I could confirm she was bedded. I cut her tracks with the truck several times before I got to a road she didn't cross. The elk must have been too tired to cross the fence. It walked back and forth several times over a 1/4 mile section of fence. It was quite the challenge deciphering where she had left from. She did an excellent job backtracking; she walked away and back to the fence 4 or 5 different times. The snow conditions in -20 degrees are not ideal for tracking, but I figured it out after about an hour of carefully dissecting the scene. I figured it out by walking 50-100 yards away from the fence, where there were less tracks and eventually found 4 sets of tracks coming and going to the fence. I simply walked each of them away from the fence until I was sure which one pointed to the elk.
Once I figured it out, I got my rifle out of the truck and picked up the track. After 500-600 yards I spotted a set of elk ears in the sage brush. I quickly ranged the animal and got settled in for the shot. The elk in this unit are hunted extremely hard so I didn't make an attempt to get any closer. It was now or never. As I settled the crosshair on the animal, it was looking away and appeared like it was ready to bust out of there. I squeezed the trigger and the elk stood and stumbled about 50 yards so I put another round into it. Both of my shots hit a little lower than expected (which I should have figured, since it was -20 degrees and my load data was made at 70 degrees.) I ran closer and finished it off with a headshot at about 100 yards
Much to my surprise, it was not a cow, but a young bull with a broken skull and a single short spike that laid flat on its face. I never saw it had a horn at all. Upon further investigation, I noticed he was completely missing an eye, and had a broken and deformed skull (not from the 7mm Berger that finished him off.)
I hastily took some not-so-great photos and processed the animal into quarters. I didn’t really notice how cold I was until after I put my pack on and began the walk back to the truck. My hands were warm from the elk, but my feet, face, and the rest of my body was feeling less than ideal. This was also when I regretted losing my water bottle earlier in the day. I was cold, dehydrated, hungry, and tired… All the ingredients for a “no-$h!t, there I was” story. But then I found a this two track just 50 yards away from my elk.
I dropped my pack and headed for the truck. I warmed up, ate some food and found my missing water bottle on the hood of my truck. This was by far the least physically demanding elk hunt I'd done so far.
I left my water bottle on the truck and it followed me around all day. (It wasn't my only water, but it was the bottle I would carry in my pocket and drink from, instead of having to take my pack off every time I needed a drink. I fell behind on my hydration)
All in all, I had an amazing day, and made it home by 9pm after a solid 18hr day. It was a fun challenge, and a great introduction to Idaho. I hope I can continue to be blessed with great opportunities in the years to come.
As I said at the beginning of all this, 2016 will be one of the most memorable years of my hunting career. (And that was before I killed an elk in Idaho!) I am by no means a trophy hunter, nor do I aspire to be one. I hunt mainly for meat and the fulfillment I get from being in the outdoors. I was truly blessed in 2016 to harvest the animals I did. Infinitely more important was the time spent with friends and family in the field. With the birth of my son last February, and the increasing interest my daughter is beginning to show towards hunting and being outdoors, 2017 is sure to be just as special.
I thank each and every one of you who stuck with me and gritted through my rambling stories. I enjoyed sharing my season with everyone on this site and I look forward to sharing more experiences in the future. Good luck to everyone in 2017
"The man on top of the mountain didn't fall there." -Vince Lombardi