In our junior year in high school, Jim Brik and I made a pact. We would not settle for a doe, but hold out for a buck. Jim lived at our home then, and we were brothers, it didn’t matter to us that our last names and parents were different, that was immaterial—we had always been friends since the first day we met as sophomores at the Idaho Falls High School, when we ate lunch together, sack lunches, we sat on the front steps of the school, ate and started our lifelong friendship.
So now it was autumn, and we were excited about deer hunting. It was tempting to get a doe, because that’s easier—but bucks it was according to our pact—bucks or nothing. We passed up several chances at deer, all does, and our time was running out. It was November and most of the units were closed now. Over in Swan Valley it was still open for either sex but there was just a few days left. We went to Dad and asked him if he would take us there on Saturday, it would be our last chance. He said he would, but he had to be back to Idaho Falls for a meeting about 4 P.M. as I recall so we would have less than a full day. That was OK with us, some chance was better than no chance.
Early Saturday morning found us on the road to wonderful Swan Valley. I always loved Swan Valley- it was such a beautiful place, big high mountains surrounded it, the South Fork of the Snake River wound its way through it, and other beautiful creeks and streams as well. It was hunting and fishing paradise, only about 35 miles away. Who could ask for more?
It was still dark when we turned off at the Swan Valley Bridge, and drove along the river towards Fall Creek. Dad said from the info he had heard-the best chances were several miles up the Fall Creek road. Several outfits passed us as we slowly traveled the snowy road. On the right side of the road, not long after we had started up it, I saw a big wide canyon. It was still dark but for some reason I liked the idea of hunting it. We stopped and talked it over. OK let’s do it, was the decision, besides it looked like we’d have it all to ourselves because everybody was driving on by. I liked the idea of being alone, just Jim and I.
As soon as it was getting shooting light, we took off, Dad would wait there. He wished us good luck and reminded us that we had to be back to the Jeep by 3 P.M., no later. The snow was about 10 inches deep. I carried my trusty 30-30 Winchester and Jim had Dad’s 257 Roberts. We hiked for a couple of hours, cutting quite a lot of sign, but it was all old, nothing that looked like it had been made that morning, that was a little discouraging to us.
By about 10 A.M. we had gotten close to the head of the canyon where it crests out and the canyon on the other side of that divide dropped to the north back toward the Swan Valley Bridge. The sun was shining brightly—it was a gorgeous sparkling morning, frosty cold, but so amazing, the panorama of timbered draws, open sagebrush hillsides and blue skies was invigorating. But no deer. We figured we should have seen something by now, but all there was, was old tracks. What to do? We sat down on some rocks to ponder our next move. It seemed we had chosen the wrong canyon after all, no deer here, guess we should have followed the other hunters farther up the road, but too late now-it kinda looked like we’d end the season without our bucks.
Jim was using the 257’s scope for binocs and looking at the draws and hillsides on the west side of this big canyon we were in. Suddenly he said, “I see a bunch of deer, up high near the top of that big ridge across from us!” We were all excited now. Through the scope we could see a herd, 15 to 20 head. They were out in the open, still feeding and catching a little sun. We watched them for a while, they seemed oblivious of us, they weren’t going anywhere. We couldn’t see horns, but thought there was bound to be some buck somewhere, it was the rut and a bunch of does, just wasn’t going to be by themselves in the middle of November. They were probably 1000 yards away, maybe more. We took the direct approach, and headed straight down to the bottom of the canyon, then up toward the herd, the snow was deep in the bottom, almost to our hips. We struggled and wallowed till we got up higher on the hillsides where it was only about a foot deep. Finally we got up on the ridge where we’d seen the deer. They were gone, of course. But…. About 200 yards across a draw, we spotted them again.
At this point, both of us decided to heck with the pact, we’d better take what we could get, our time was short. We opened up. Couldn’t hit a thing, re-loaded, fired again. Same result. The deer had headed for parts unknown. There we were having shot two gun loads a piece, that was 14 shells for me and not a hit. Pretty bad. I only had three bullets left, Jim about the same. We re-loaded.
Just then, we saw something moving through the Aspens below us. It was bounding toward the top of the ridge directly across from us. As it came out of the quakies, we could then see clearly a magnificent set of dark antlers, and a huge thick set buck underneath them. He took my breath away. He kept bounding for the top of the ridge. Only three bullets left, better be good buddy I talked to myself. We both shot. Missed. He was almost to the crest. Then he did what mulies often do. He stopped and looked back at us. We shot again. Nope. We were hopeless. I had buck fever so bad, I was shaking and couldn’t hold a steady bead. He still stood there. I levered in my last shell. Drew down the best I could. Just then, I realized I’d been holding on the top of his back. Maybe it’s not that far away. Hold dead on my brain said. I lowered the sights to mid chest, just behind the shoulder. WHAM! Down he went and never moved. We had ourselves a buck, and not just any buck-a real trophy buck-a big mature, thick necked herd buck. We could hardly believe it.
Then something else happened almost as great. Five head of deer came over the top of the ridge and bounded down the slope right toward the big downed buck. When they got there, they stopped and when they saw it, sniffed it then took off down the slope on a bounding run for the timber below. The last deer in the bunch was a nice three-point buck, the rest were does. Only a few more bounds and the buck would disappear into the timber where the does had gone. He took another big high long bound. Just then, while he was in midair, the 257 roared and when the buck came down into the snow-he didn’t move either. Jim had made one of the most amazing shots I’d ever seen. We both had a buck. It was almost un-believable. We were so elated that we grabbed each other by the hands and did a little dance of joy, round and round on the ridge top. We had successfully kept the pact. Amazing! This was a hunt to remember, and I have remembered, as I’m sure Jim has also, although the miles and years are many that have intervened.
We cleaned the bucks and started the long drag downhill through the snow, which was fairly easy because of the steep country we were in. We finally reached a place where it leveled out and the big buck, was so heavy, that we couldn’t make much progress. We left it there, and drug the three point on down to the Jeep, where Dad was snoozing. “Sounded like Cox’s army up there,” Dad said, I figured you musta got something. He was happy about the three point. We told him we had a much bigger buck up the draw a ways, could he come and help us,-it was a hard drag. When we got near to it Dad suddenly stopped. “What’s a matter,” I said. Dad was staring at the big horns in the snow. He quietly said, “Son, you shot an elk”. I thought he was joking and I laughed, he said, “It isn’t funny son, it’s illegal, we’re in trouble.” He meant it. I laughed again. “Dad, it’s a mule deer buck, I know my deer it’s a mulie buck, not an elk.” We walked closer to it, finally Dad could see it was indeed a whopping big buck. Relieved, he slapped me on the back and apologized and congratulated me, both of us. It was a good moment. He was amazed and proud of us. We all three started the drag. It took all three. What a day. When we got to the Jeep and got everything loaded, Dad checked his watch. 3 P.M. perfect. A hunt to remember! Jim and I had kept the pact and our brotherhood was even stronger and always will be.
P.S. That buck was 30 inches wide, five points on each side.