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Hunt Diary from Priest River, ID
by Dr. Mickey W. Hellickson

Priest River, ID Hunt – Travel Day 11/13/11
I left Corpus Christi at 7:00 this morning, flew to Dallas, then to Seattle, then to Spokane. My rifle and baggage made it!

I met videographer JJ Slater in Spokane. We then drove across the river to Idaho, arriving at Priest River an hour later around 5:00 pm.

We met host Mike Gabba, my long time hunting, trapping, & fishing buddy since grade school. Mike and Anna gave us a quick tour while we reflected back on nearly 40 years of chasing critters in the great outdoors!

I'm very excited about getting to hunt trophy Whitetails on northern Idaho with Mike for the next 5 days!

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Priest River, Idaho Hunt Day 1 – Morning 11/14/11
This morning was our first hunt of the Idaho trip. We left the house around 6:30 am and drove the Ford F150 5-6 miles SE to the base of the Hoo-Doo Mountains.

We left the truck and hiked an atv trail up the mountain to a clear-cut ridge with a nice saddle. Mike had pre-scouted this awesome vantage point where we elected to sit for the first 2 hours of daylight and rattle every 15-20 minutes.

About an hour into the first sit and set-up, Mike caught a glimpse of at least a middle-aged buck slipping into the timber 240 yards away. Unfortunately, he never gave us another opportunity to see him.

Thirty minutes later a young, 2-year-old came in between rattling sequences. I first saw him at about 30 yards. He walked in front of us and eventually walked out of sight to our right.

Rattling Set-Ups 2, 3 & 4 - no responses.

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Day 1 – Midday
After ending our morning hunt around 11:30 am, we checked one of Mike's nearby Reconyx trail cameras to switch out the SD card.

We then returned to Mike's home to eat a delicious lunch prepared by Mike's wife Anna. After lunch, we reviewed the most recent Reconyx photos, which showed two new young bucks, and then Mike showed us his best bucks by trail camera to date.

Next, Mike surprised us with a matched set of shed antlers he and a friend had found this past spring very close to where we hunted this morning. I'll measure the sheds this evening to confirm, but I would guess they will score over 160 inches with a conservative spread. Mike has a 3rd, single-side shed antler found about half a mile away that is off a 2nd buck that should break 160. Hopefully, we'll cross paths with one or both of these bucks over the next 5 days... both should be even bigger!

This afternoon's plan is to stand hunt on property Mike owns 8-9 miles from Priest River. Mike has additional bucks on Reconyx cameras from this 2nd location.

Day 1 – Afternoon
We hunted from open tree stands this afternoon on a ridge top on a property Mike used to own 9-10 miles outside of Priest River.

Mike has been photographing one good buck at this location with his Reconyx trail cameras. This buck is a regular at this camera site... except for this afternoon. No movement, no deer sightings.


Day 2 – Morning – 11/15/11
This morning we drove from Mike's house to a new mountain range 4-5 miles SW called Newport Hill. This area is a national forest and is public hunting.

We were unlucky for "prime time" because the first hour of daylight was cloudy (we were high enough to be in the clouds) and it snowed heavily for about 30 minutes.

After the snow slowed, we drove to the end of the logging road, seeing 5 moose and 4 elk on the way, and hiked to a clear cut area with lots of visibility. We then rattled 3 sequences with no responses.

We drove to a 2nd clear cut area and rattled a 2nd time with no responses.

We then drove to a 3rd clear cut area on the way out and rattled for our 3rd set-up of the morning with no responses.


Day 2 – Afternoon
This afternoon we drove north of Priest River about 15 miles to the Gisborne Mountain Range. We spent several hours driving secondary roads and glassing clear cut areas looking for bucks large enough for us to plan a stalk.

Our iPhones and the GPS Motion X app allowed us to view our location over a satellite image. This new technology allowed us to find clear cut areas within walking distance of the roads we were driving.

Our first foray, near Bald Mountain, resulted in a unique, close range sighting of a cow moose, 2 calves and a young bull. They ended up in our laps with JJ getting great video footage!

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving and glassing without seeing a deer. We did see our 15th moose of the day just before the end of shooting light.


Day 3 – Morning 11/16/11
This morning we left Mike's house early enough to drive to public land on a new mountain where Mike had previously killed a 150-inch 8-point buck and where he found a 70+-inch shed antler.

We parked the truck on a logging road and quietly walked several hundred yards into a clear-cut area. We took stands at a deer trail intersection against pine trees and waited on daylight.

Thirty minutes into our first set, I rattled. Forty-five minutes, and 3 more rattling sequences later, we left the first area without seeing a deer.

We spent the next 3 hours walking and rattling at likely locations with good vantage points down wind. All told, we rattled at 5 additional set-ups with no responses.

On our drive out we drove through a beautiful clear-cut area further up the mountain where we flushed 2 does out of a draw and saw a moose.


Day 3 – Afternoon – 11/16/11
This afternoon, after a quick lunch, we drove to yet another new mountain range outside Priest River.

We decided to cover as much ground by vehicle as possible in order to glass and look over as much clear-cut country as possible. With the rut in full swing, we felt it was just a matter of time before we glassed a big buck with a hot doe. And, with the apparent low deer densities, we felt this was our most likely strategy for success.

Unfortunately, 3 hours later we had only spotted 2 does. We did see 5 more moose, including 3 medium-sized bulls together on an incredibly steep hillside. I'm amazed at the type of rugged, mountainous habitat that we are finding the moose in!


Day 3 – Evening – 11/16/11
Well, after 3 days of driving, walking, glassing and rattling at clear cuts at higher elevations, we've come to the conclusion that either the deer have moved lower, or, the densities are too low to make hunting trophy bucks in these areas productive.

As a result, during days 4 and 5, we are returning to private ground Mike has access to at a much lower elevation. This area is where we saw the 2 bucks the first morning and is also where the matched set of sheds were found and where Mike photographed his largest buck by Reconyx camera.

I've also come to the conclusion that rattling has likely been ineffective primarily because of the low deer densities. It's hard to rattle in bucks that aren't there! Mature bucks, and bucks in general, are likely at such low densities that few bucks have even been within hearing range of our rattling. During days 4 and 5 we'll likely spend less time rattling.


Day 4 – Morning 11/17/11
This morning we awoke to 4 to 6 inches of fresh snow! Fresh snow is awesome because it makes the deer much more visible against a white background. Fresh snow also allows you to see fresh tracks to determine where the most recent deer activity is occurring. Of course, fresh snow also makes blood trailing a cinch.

Obviously, we were excited about the fresh blanket of snow in hopes this was what was needed to change our luck!

Last night we strategized and elected to return to private property in the foot hills where we hunted the very first morning in the hopes we would see more deer.

Unfortunately, we got off to a bit of a late start and spooked 2 does while hiking in to our first still hunting location. We spent around an hour at this first spot, glassing continuously and lightly rattling every 30 minutes or so without seeing any deer.

We then backtracked to the bottom and set up in a clearing near Mike's Reconyx camera location. We stayed at this site for around 30 minutes without seeing any deer.

We then used a logging road to move a 1/4-mile west. While in route to this next clear-cut area we jumped 2 more does.

After reaching the clear cut area, we stood and glassed for 30-40 minutes. Mike then came up with a great idea... make an Iowa-style deer drive from this location to a long, perpendicular ridge 800 to 1,000 yards to the south!

Videographer JJ Slater and I quickly walked around the drive area to a high vantage point to block as Mike slowly worked his way toward us through the drive area. On our walk to our blocking location, we crossed more fresh deer tracks than we had seen all week, so I was excited Mike might push out a trophy buck.

Unfortunately, no deer appeared at the end of the drive. However, all of the fresh deer sign tells us exactly where we need to be this afternoon!

We then checked Mike's Reconyx trail camera on the way out to the truck for lunch. With over 100 new images on the SD card, we're anxious to find out what stepped in front of his camera the past 2 days.

I'm almost as excited about this afternoon's hunt as I was when JJ and I first arrived Sunday evening! We are finally learning the terrain and the fresh snow is telling us volumes about current deer movements. This combined with the intel from Mike's Reconyx cameras should help us to finally cross paths this evening or tomorrow with a big Idaho buck!

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Day 4 – Afternoon – 11/17/11
This afternoon we returned to the private ground that we had hunted this morning. This outing was much anticipated because of all of the deer sign we discovered during the morning hunt.

Videographer JJ Slater and I returned to a great vantage point overlooking a large section of clear-cut area where we found the most deer sign during the am hunt.

We sat down on a fallen tree at 2:30 and began glassing for the final 2-hour hunt of day 4.

Around 3:45 JJ spotted what he thought was a shooter buck at about 600 yards through his 20-power video camera. I wasn't able to see the buck before he disappeared back into the bush, but JJ thought he was headed our direction.

While waiting for the buck to reappear, I spotted a doe crossing a logging road around 275 yards below us. A 2nd doe then appeared to the right of the first doe.

Fifteen minutes before the end of shooting light I heard a buck give the tending grunt call off to our right. A few minutes later, he grunted loudly 2 more times. Unfortunately, we ran out of light before ever seeing this 2nd buck and the doe he was obviously tending.

Finally, after hunting hard for 4 days, I feel like we are "dialing in" and that now it is only a matter of time. Unfortunately, we only have one day left in the hunt. Despite being down to the last day, I'm still confident we'll connect tomorrow.

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Day 5 – Morning – 11/18/11
Overnight, 6 to 8 additional inches of snow fell over the area. The new snow covered all of yesterday's tracks and will further increase deer visibility.

We returned to the private ground that we had hunted yesterday and the first day. This time Mike and I hunted separately in order to double our odds that someone would connect on a trophy Idaho buck.

Unfortunately, neither Mike nor I saw a deer this morning while still hunting. It also snowed an additional 1 to 2 inches while we were on stand.

Following the morning stand hunt, and in an effort to change our luck and make things happen, Mike offered to make a series of one man deer drives while I blocked.

Mike made a series of one man pushes around me while I moved as necessary to cover the most likely escape routes. Three drives later neither of us had spotted a deer, although Mike did walk to within 40 yards of a cow moose.

Now we are down to the wire and it is the bottom of the ninth. Hopefully, all of the snow that shut down deer movements this morning will have the opposite effect this afternoon.


Day 5 – Afternoon – 11/18/11
No kill, no deer sighted. 15 to 20 inches of snow - too much snow!

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Posted by Dr. Mickey W. Hellickson on 11/21 at 12:21 PM
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