Sitting around the camp fire, most hunting stories are either filled with uncontrollable excitement from the awesome buck a hunter had harvested, or sentiments of frustration from the one that got away. The campfires during my 2015 deer season were neither... Compassion, a little sadness, and acts of true conservation were on the agenda as we re-lived our unique perspective of opening day.
In July I had made a couple scouting trips to the mountains of Idaho in search of fresh velvet. I found a lot of smaller bucks, but I did manage to see a couple nice mature bucks too! With a month and a half left before hunting season, all I could do was wait, although my excitement and anticipation helped further fuel my fire…
High temperature records were being set across the entire Pacific Northwest. The summer had brought a major drought, and the land was more dry than I had ever seen it. With fire warning levels set at extreme, a couple storm systems moved in and brought with them the lightning necessary to create huge wildfires. In fact, fires were ignited everywhere! Washington was the first to get hit, followed by Idaho and Oregon. These fires weren’t just remotely contained in the mountains; they were threatening towns, killing livestock and leveling people’s homes! Firefighters would seem to get a handle on one fire and a day or so later another would ignite. After doing a little research I found that more than 630K acres burned in Oregon, 750K acres burned in Idaho and over 1 million acres had burned in Washington by the time the fires had completed their wrath of fury.
Well that was really the only area I knew of that didn’t get hit by the fire. So after regrouping at the truck, dad and I decided to go check out the burn to see if any deer had looped back into it. As we walked through the ash and dust it felt like we were on the moon. All the grass and brush were burned away, leaving only charcoal covered pine trees standing amidst the destruction. At first glance, as I scanned across the landscape with my binoculars, it appeared there was nothing left. No deer were to be seen anywhere. As I glassed I kept thinking “Why would they be here? Its not like there is any food for them to eat anyway.” I discussed with my father about what he thought we should do. We decided to just keep moving while checking hidden pockets for deer.
Eventually we did find deer. We spotted two bucks, one on a ridge-top and one in the bottom of a canyon. Unfortunately, it appeared that they had barely escaped the fire with their lives. The buck in the bottom of the canyon could hardly walk on his hind legs and looked extremely skinny, as if he hadn’t eaten or had a drink in weeks. The other buck was bedded down and would repeatedly raise his right front leg only to wince in pain; it appeared his shoulder was broken. It didn’t take long for dad and I to decide that we needed to put our tags on these bucks. I hope people understand that even though I am a hunter, it truly saddens me to see these animals in such discomfort. I believe that as both a hunter and a true conservationist it was my responsibility to relieve the animals from their suffering.
Knowing one of the fires had hit the area I had scouted, I was anxious to see what it had actually destroyed. Upon arriving the day before opening day, my dad and I saw the fire had burned most of the area that we hunt, although it didn’t touch a little finger canyon where I spotted the biggest buck during my scouting trip. As the sun came up on opening day I happened to spot that big buck right away! After maneuvering through some other deer, dad and I were able to get in great position! Everything was coming together. Then out of nowhere, the wind swirled just enough that a little fawn we had snuck by winded us and exploded, running right into the bucks! The deer scattered in all different directions and we were left walking back to the truck with our tail between our legs.
The wind was blowing another storm system our way which created ideal stalking conditions and was so loud the buck would not hear us sneaking up on him. Dad decided he would take the buck on the ridge line and the stalk was on. We circled around and got downwind from the buck and began to creep closer. 120 yards, 90 yards, 60 yards… At 60 yards there was a low spot in the dirt and ash that allowed my dad to remain hidden while he crawled even closer. With the wind blowing about 30mph, he was going to have to get as close as possible before making the shot. The ditch, the wind, and the buck lowering his head to the ground wincing in pain are vividly recalled memories of the stalk. The buck never saw him as he snuck to within 20 yards and came to full draw. His shot was perfect! My dad made a great double lung shot, the buck ran about 35 yards and expired.
After doing a little research I found that more than 630K acres burned in Oregon, 750K acres burned in Idaho and over 1 million acres had burned in Washington by the time the fires had completed their wrath of fury.
After dressing out dad’s buck, we dropped into the canyon to search for the second buck. To no surprise he didn’t go very far from where we last saw him. He was now bedded up in a ditch in the very bottom of the canyon where he most likely would of died. I knocked my arrow and began to creep slowly towards the ditch, as I got close enough to see his vitals I drew my bow. Seeing the movement of my bow, the buck had a surge of adrenaline and jumped up and took off up the hill! I made a quick shot as he moved and hit him in the armpit. The shot missed vitals and I knew it! I quickly reloaded another arrow and made the next shot count… Whack! Hit him in the chest this time and it put him down quickly.
Whack! Hit him in the chest this time and it put him down quickly.
I get very upset when an anti hunter says that we don’t care about the environment and the existence of wildlife. I know I can personally say that conserving habitat and wildlife is all I care about!
When we walked up on both of these bucks we felt extremely bad for them and what they had been through. The fire had left them in horrible shape! The hair on their bodies was singed from head to toe and their ears were rock hard, like a pigs ear you would buy for your dog at the pet store. Dads buck had taken a huge blow to the face and definitely had a broken front leg. He probably acquired both injuries by jumping off of a cliff while trying to escape the fire. My deer had extremely swollen back legs and feet and was so thin you could count every rib. There was definitely a sense of sadness that dad and I felt for the bucks, but also a feeling of relief knowing the bucks were no longer in pain.
I am proud to be a hunter and a conservationist... As many of you know, the act of hunting is only part of being a hunter. I truly love the land we live in and the wildlife that we share it with. I've been a part of some great conservation programs over the years such as the Ducks Unlimited, the Mule Deer foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Wild Sheep Foundation. I've spent dollars at auctions, sponsored sheep to be put on the mountain as well as volunteered with hands on projects. All of these contributing to the betterment of wildlife and the habitat in which they live. The act of compassion my father and I showed that day I will forever remember as the most gut-wrenching act of conservation I had ever been a part of! All I can hope is that as hunters, we all would of done the same thing. I get very upset when an anti hunter says that we don’t care about the environment and the existence of wildlife. I know I can personally say that conserving habitat and wildlife is all I care about!