Tracks In The Snow
OTC Idaho Mule Deer
By: Paul Servey
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of AVID Hunting and Outdoors Magazine. Paul Servey, perhaps better known as @mountaingoatpauley on Instagram, is one of those guys you can look up to as a public land DIY hunter. We hope you enjoy his OTC Idaho mule deer hunt as much as we did!
Every year since I was a young child, my father would take all three of us boys deer hunting, this is where my passion for mule deer was planted and subsequently grow. The excitement that came with missing school to make memories in the mountains with my family. In retrospect, these were the greatest hunting memories I have ever made! Because of those memories, a deep passion for hunting mule deer was instilled into every fiber of my being. Over the years, the public land OTC Idaho mule deer hunt has become one of my favorite rifle hunts in the west.
I love the steep high country basins known to be unique to Idaho. The unit we choose to hunt doesn’t hold a lot of deer, but generally, when you see a buck it’s a shooter. When the Idaho opening day finally arrived I made the one hour trek to my first glassing point alone and settled in, waiting for the sun to rise.
After becoming light enough to glass the large basins, I quickly found hunters on what seemed like every single ridge, with no deer in sight. I was becoming discouraged despite my best attempts to keep a positive mind set, and ultimately decided to hike further in search of solitude on the mountain. I found it, but still didn’t turn up any bucks. My plan was to spend three days on the mountain alone, that all changed when my wife called to inform me of a waterline break in our barn and I returned home to fix the leak.
More Unforeseen Circumstances
Other hunts pending and I had a good feeling that I could still make it back to Idaho for one more try. I cleared my schedule for two days and called my buddy Hunter Bloxam. We teamed up based on his previous knowledge of the unit and set out on our adventure. After learning Idaho had been hit with snow the day prior, I was ecstatic! This would make finding bucks a lot easier, plus I just love hunting high country muleys in the snow!
Hunter and his brother in law would meet me about six o’clock at the trailhead, my alarm went off at 2:00am and I was quickly on my way. I had the feeling it was going to be an epic day, that all changed as my excitement came to a screaming halt.
I had come up on a truck that had just rolled over, and the scene wasn’t pretty. In a lonely canyon, the driver was near his vehicle which had apparently rolled over him. He had obvious injuries. I stayed there for over an hour and did my best to keep him calm. Waiting for the first responders to reach our location was my only concern. My hunt immediately became meaningless. After the EMT’s arrived, I knew he was in good hands, I continued on my way to Idaho. I couldn’t help but think about that man and hope he would be alright for the rest of the trip.
I was late to our meeting spot. At the canyon, we were concerned that we may not be able to reach the trailhead with the new snowfall. We made it thanks to four wheel drive, but there were some tense moments! It was a balmy 12 degrees with the sun coming up just as we reached the trailhead. I was so excited to get to our ridge and start glassing! About a foot and a half of fresh snow had fallen and we broke trail the whole way. With our lungs burning from the steep hike, we settled in and began glassing.
We had only found some does and a small buck when I glassed up a lone deer high in a basin under some cliffs. I got really excited as we pulled out the Vortex spotter for a better look. Hunter said “He looks like a shooter Paul.” I got on the spotter and completely agreed, he looked like a solid four point with awesome mass! At over 1800 yards away, we needed to hurry to close the distance for a potential shot. Our plan was that Garrett would hang back and keep eyes on the buck as Hunter and I would take off down the ridge in hopes of catching him before he fed out of sight.
Hunter asked how close I needed to be for a shot and I replied “Get me within 1,000 yards and I’ll kill that buck today.” We both chuckled and took off down the mountain. We made it to a spot about 800 yards from the buck and set up for a shot.
The old muley fed across a clearing and bedded in a small opening in a group of pines. My heart began to race as I got into position and laid my pack on the ground. I was just getting ready to send it, and was blindsided by buck fever! I stood up and took a deep breath. Hunter reassured me by saying “You got this man, just take your time, it’s all you Pauly.” I finally got behind the rifle again, and it felt just right. I took one last breath, and squeezed the trigger.
I got back on the buck just as the 230 grain Berger hit home. Watching him lay his head in the snow was almost surreal. We celebrated on the mountain and called Garrett who had watched the entire thing through the spotter. We hiked over to my deer and thanked the Lord for providing such a beautiful experience for us that day.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that it isn’t about the animal you harvest. More importantly it’s about the memories you make with others! This trip was filled with memories that will be talked about for many years! I enjoy sparking the passions of the next generation who will eventually fill my shoes down the road. Just as my father had for me.
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