Nine months ago I sat at Warm Springs Lodge in Sun Valley talking with Bryant Dunn, owner of Sun Valley Outfitters about our upcoming Steelhead fishing trip and his outlook on the 2012 hunting season.
When Bryant mentioned that Sun Valley Outfitters got the first Velvet Mule deer tag for Unit 39, I immediately told him I wanted it and to book me for that hunt.
Bryant Dunn along with his guide Kyle Kimble are not only great guys, they are also world class hunters who possess the knowledge and skill to hunt some of the toughest game species in the lower 48 regardless of how steep, remote or rugged the terrain or location.
This season was unlike any I have experienced. Summer temperatures in Central Idaho have reached record temperatures resulting in the most destructive fire season locals have seen for many years. With over 12 fires burning in the state and road closures changing the route to our hunt, we made some last minute decisions that resulted in the most memorable hunt of my lifetime.
Capitalizing on a small window of opportunity, we drove out of Ketchum Idaho with part of Bulls and Beavers pro staff team including Bryant Dunn and Tory Taglio who was our videographer for the trip. The ride to the trail head was over two hours through some of the most beautiful rugged country Idaho has to offer. Upon arrival at the trail head, we met Kyle Kimble with his four horses and three mules to pack us in. Faced with poor visibility and falling ash we moved forward into a lush area that had been burnt badly in a big fire eight years ago. The lushness of the new growth left us feeling confident about our decision to push forward.
After saddling and packing the mules we set off for a five hour ride in. The smoke along with the dusty ride on horses was so bad that at times I wore a respirator mask and Smith Elite goggles for protection.
If you haven’t been around horses you learn quickly that accidents can and do happen. On the way in the last horse with Bryant on it slipped of the trail and went down the mountain to the river bottom. Fortunately, Bryant jumped off and the horse ended up being fine.
The first night we set up camp at the end of a beautiful trail. Unpacking I looked at my Tekka 300- winmag and soon discovered that I was missing my clip. After searching through my gear I realized that I made a big mistake by forgetting my clip. Being an experienced guide, Kyle said he brought his 3006 along and that I could use it.
I’m not sure if it’s ego, or pride or some form of sportsman creed – but my goal was to complete this journey with my rifle – even if that meant that the journey’s success rested on the one bullet I had in my chamber.
The morning of opening day promised to be epic. The smoke had shifted direction during the night and when the 4:30am alarm went off I was already awake and ready for what I thought would be a few hard days of hunting.
Because of a previous knee injury, both Kyle and Bryant decided to send me up the mountain on horseback. Tory and Bryant would travel up the ridge glassing the terrain where the plan was to meet up on top..
As Kyle and I left the camp at dark my first challenge came when my horse spooked at the first water crossing and jumped out of the creek bottom leaving me falling flat on my back. With the adrenaline pumping I hopped up and to check if my gun was ok and if the scope was damaged.
After adjusting my gear and thanking my lucky stars that neither I nor my gear was damaged. We continued further up the trail and within ten minutes we spotted out first deer. Kyle looked at me and said that it what we came for, a 190 class buck.
Unfortunately the deer was on the wrong side of the mountain and not in the unit for which we had a tag. After reaching our destination and with the sun rising we started glassing for deer.
Radio silence broke with Bryant informing us that they were looking at seven deer, two of which were shooters. Kyle also spotted seven deer, but a different group. In total, that morning between the four of us, we saw twenty-seven mule deer bucks. Having so many spotting made me confident that my goal to harvest a mature deer and to document my trip for my new blog would turn out successful.
As Kyle and I talked about the group of seven we had spotted, Bryant and Tory the camera man were 1000 yards away with no chance of getting to us.
Kyle succinctly pointed out that one of the seven we had spotted was the largest shooter buck that we had seen and that at any moment, the winds and fire smoke could shift resulting in the fire service mandating that we evacuate the area.
Because the deer feeding up and were likely to cross the saddle or bed down, Kyle said we had a maximum of fifteen minutes to make this one shot happen. I turned to Kyle and said I wanted my shot at the biggest deer and after ranging it at 360 yards we decided we could hike around the mountain and get closer.
I took my pack and sidearm off, emptied my pockets so that we could move down the mountain. As we inched down we stopped and set up over a down tree.
My shot was to be one that I have never taken which was lying prone over a tree, head-first down the mountain. Kyle ranged the buck at 160 yards. Kyle made sure I was set with a good rest and when the buck was broadside with his head up I shot and dropped one of the most majestic high alpine animals I have encountered. One more accomplishment on my bucket list!
When we reached the deer the true work began. Kyle went back for the horses and took them back to camp to get the mule so we could pack it out. At 9:00 am we had our buck down and our focus turned to ensuring we got the meat cooled and off the mountain as quick as we could to ensure that nothing spoiled. After quartering and deboning the meat we met up with Kyle at the bottom. By 4:30 that afternoon we were back at camp.
Because the horses needed more rest before our ride back to the trailhead, we decided to camp overnight and leave in the morning. The ride out was as challenging as on the way in. On the way out however, we decided to walk the horses though some of the roughest parts. We made it back to the trucks by early afternoon.
As we were leaving the trail head we came upon a “Closed Due to Fires” sign that was put up the night we arrived or on opening day. The fire we learned had now grown to 75,000 acres and our unit was closed and would most likely remain closed due to fires until the first snow fall.
While this adventure lasted a brief few days, it combined physical strength, skill, knowledge of the back country and use of the latest in technology. The end result was the most meaningful and memorable adventure.
Sun Valley Outfitters is without a doubt one of the premier outfitters in all of Idaho. Both Bryant and Kyle are two of the most skilled outfitters and guides. This was comparable to hunting with an elite team. Without them, I would have never been able to penetrate safely deep into the back country. Thanks guys for a most fantastic and memorable experience to share like this.