The coolest thing I saw on this deer hunt was a ruffed grouse.

neffa3

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It all started on December 1, 2022. I logged into the IDFG website to see about getting an elk tag to our go-to spot, only to be confronted with a random number of 30k and some change. I tried logging in on my work comp and got a number in the 65k range. I kept a browser open and by 5 pm they still hadn’t even gotten to 10k, and there didn’t appear to be any tags of any interest still available. I checked after dinner and surprisingly I was already 8 minutes into my time! I dove in and quickly ruled out any elk tags that remained, but FOMO caught be bad and I started looking at deer tags and which ones I could get both my daughter and I where we could hunt at the same time and she could shoot a doe. I narrowed it down to ID unit 39, BUY!

Now I’ll pause here and give a spoiler, I’m willing to share the unit # because I don’t think by the end of this anyone in their right mind is going to want this tag, not for the NR price.

Fast forward to spring and I started actually looking at this hunt in more depth and didn’t like anything I saw. They issue a metric ton of tags, which is the exact opposite of what I like about out-of-state hunting, and what I despise about WA hunting. I did talk to several people, including several very helpful HT-ers, that there are some really good deer in the unit and that the hunting can be pretty good if you hit the migration right.

I’d never really ventured into the unit much before so I planned a family vacation to scout it out a bit, and really just get a lay of the land. In the 4 days we were camped in the unit we didn’t hardly find any deer and the country was much bigger and steeper than I anticipated. This was going to be a hunt with my 12 yr old daughter, who, while being a complete badass, is still a 12 yr old. I got up and glassed but found little and really, the unit is so darn big that I felt like I should conserve gas while in there and just glass from close to camp (usually up a nearby ridge). The majority of the trip was glassing at first light, back for breakfast, then some hiking, back in the afternoon, find a swimming hole for the kids and drink a couple of beers, then back to camp for dinner and possibly some glassing from camp. Not exactly hardcore anything.

Once back I refined my e-scouting and read a couple of research papers published on the area. I never felt like I had a great plan, but we packed up last week as the first winter storm was rolling in, which caused a bit of an audible to a lower and warmer camp.
 
Day 1. We took a long way into camp to again assess more areas for potential relocations. What we found was a plethora of other camps and people, and the closer we got to the spot I picked on the map, the more crowded it got. Every flat spot was occupied by one or more camps. I eventually found a flattish spot across from 4 other trucks and a teepee tent. By the time we got setup they’d walked over and told us where they typically hunted, which was almost everywhere, leaving us with very little terrain to hunt from camp. It was lightly raining but with an hour and a half of light, we donned our rain gear and sat on a draw to see if anything was moving.
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Nothing was, and as the rain picked up and smiles turned to grimaces we called it and went back to the tent to try to dry out. \
 
Day 2. We’re up plenty early and out in the dark. It’s cold but not brutal. We aren’t 100 yds from camp and there are more headlights following us. So I wait and chat with two younger dudes who show me an onx route and ask if this is going to be okay? I wasn’t going to be a jerk, so I said sure, even if the entire 2nd half was also going to be our route. We stay low until it gets light then start making our way up a ridge. Every ridge around has headlamps on it, even though it is easily light enough to walk without them. We saw some groups of does up high and heard some shots in the distance. Then a couple closer. We ended up posting up about ¾ up a decent little mountain with a good vantage point. At 9:30 I look over and there is a doe two ridges over, definitely a spot that previously had people, but appears vacant now. My Daughter gets excited and wants to chase, so we pack up and cross the first drainage, as we edge up to the ridge the doe is still there, just about 200 yds out. I try to get her setup on my pack but she’s messing with her coat then he binos, I try to tell her that they’re looking at us, you need to freeze, she doesn’t take this seriously and before she can load one in the chamber they bounce, not hard, but out of range quickly.

Without any other options for the morning, I told her lets just parallel them for a while on the backside and see if we can’t catch back up. We quickly climb out of sight, and up the ridge. As it flattens out I ease us back over, and while standing in the shade, thinking they’re gone, they pop out at like 60 yards, I look at my daughter who is as shocked as I am, and isn’t doing a damn thing. “What are you doing? Shoot one of them!” So she lays down on her pack but then can’t see over the grass, so I move her and then she loses them in behind a pine tree, then they skyline so we hold off. Then they somehow cross back in front of us at like 110 yard, and the doe doesn’t pause for very long, which wasn’t long enough and so they walk out of our lives… I tried to do the same thing again and give chase, but they took it more seriously and bounded up over a pass well out of range.

During this attempt I glassed up two very small bucks several ridges over, and while I thought about changing gears and chasing them, we stuck with this doe until the end when it didn’t work out. Shortly thereafter both small bucks died by other hunters. We glassed and glassed and hiked and climbed a mountain to build a small snowman, and look at some more country. I found a crap ton of dirt bikers in deeper, they were zipping around on every ridge top. Ignoring any need for a trail.
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And also bumped into the two younger dudes again, who didn’t do ½ of what they said they were going to do, which pissed me off, because we’d have pushed deeper had a know they were going to weaksauce it up. Oh well.
 
As evening approached we setup looking back at camp and damn if I didn’t turn up a lone doe. It was a ½ mile out, but it was in a good spot so we booked it down the ridge. She ended up bedding perfectly and idiotically, facing the hill - like staring at a dirt bank. Dumb. We snuck in behind her to 200 yard, got my daughter down and as the light waned the doe stood and gave her a perfect broadside shot. I heard the “WHACK” but the deer ran 25 yards and stopped. I told her to shoot again, which, looking back was a mistake, if we’d have just waited that deer was dead on it’s feet. But my daughter immediately thought she’s made a mistake and now a deer was suffering and h o l y s h i t did that mess with her. She shot two more times, I incorrectly thought they were both missing, now I’m panicking that we’re going to lose this deer (PTSD from losing too many elk in recent years) and I’m not being a very calm and cool dad. She’s freaking out can’t find her another shells, needs help loading the clip because she’s shaking so bad, and when I turn again to relocate I can’t find the deer. We have like 10 minutes of light left. I bail off, scramble through the thicket at the bottom and up the other side, not waiting for her. I start looking through the brush hoping she rolled down, but can’t turn anything up. I do smell her. Eventually I made it up to where I last saw her, and damn is she didn’t die on her feet, not another 20 yards down the trail. I yell down to my daughter that it’s all right we found her, and when she gets to me we hug, for a long time, and she cries while I reassure her than nothing was actually wrong, everything we thought was going wrong was all in our heads. She did everything right. It didn’t sink in until we got to skinning and she saw the bullet placement, then she started to finally feel better. But still no smiles.
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We processed quickly and packed out in the dark. She’s stellar at all that.
 
Day 3. More of the same. Fair bit of hiking, lots of dudes, quite a few deer, all the tiny bucks died shortly after I passed on them. Plenty of midday reading and naps were had.
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I was given some grief for passing on anything legal.
 
Day 4. Again, more dudes, always more dudes. Everywhere more dudes. This way, that way, every way. It was clear that we were faster than even the more tricked out insta-fluencers, so we stomped quickly to the lead and held our ground at the best glassing spot.

There was no deer movement in the morning until almost 10. It was cold and very windy until the sun came up then the wind abated and temps warmed above freezing. When we first sat we had all our clothes on and I wondered how long we could last at these temps without having to head back to camp or build a fire (which I wouldn’t want to do in that wind). But as the day warmed more deer started popping out including a little forky at about 400 yds. My daughter was immediately, “You need to shoot that buck.” While I countered with, “That tiny deer? You can hardly see his horns. He’s still just a baby… etc” She, to her credit, gave an hour long spiel about how important this halloween was for her since she’s doing a group themed costume and one of her really good friends who moved away was coming back, and how Mom said don’t come home without meat, and when did I turn into such a trophy hunter…

I eventually conceded and said we could move closer. My hope is that he’d see us and bounce so I wouldn’t have to shoot the little guy. No luck. He couldn’t have cared less that there was two people not 200 yds above him sitting on a bare hillside waiting for him to stand. Eventually the sun crept across his back, and the inevitable finally happened, he stood. Perfectly boardside, and I heard, from my right, “Ok, take him Dad.” Well at that point I wasn’t going to say no. So bang, flop, dead buck. I haven’t shot anything that small since I was dang near her age.

So, while @rtraverdavis thinks he killed a small buck with his daughter I one-upped the hell outta him and killed a borderline fawn with mine!
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The packout was incredibly easy and light. Though I got some nasty looks for a bad call on where to cross the creek.
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We decided to deborn that evening, as we can’t import bones to WA now with CWD. It was about an hour and during that time 58 cars/jeeps/trucks/SxS/4-wheelers went by us. At one point my Daughter asked, “Why are they all dressed in their hunting clothes?” “Because for them, that is hunting…” She was shocked.
 
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On the way home, we had to swing into a check station, which I knew was going to happen, but wished wouldn't've.
“Did you get one?”
“Yeah, I think between the two we probably got one” which drew a chuckle.
Then, as I dug through the cooler to find the two bags with the evidence of sex (which I’m an idiot for not putting on top) the young college age gal picks up and examines the tiny little skull plate and says, “it’s so small, it’s cute.”
TWSS. Story of my life.
 
Concluding thought.
Would I get that tag again?
No. Emphatically NO. It just wasn't fun. Spending time with my daughter was fun, but I'd rather go pickup a couple of Wt doe tags in MT than try this unit again. It was stressful finding a camp site. It was stressful finding a spot to hunt. It was stressful hearing the constant barrage of rifle fire from all sides. Heck, just driving in and out was terrifying, there were so many dudes pretending those dirt roads where the Indy 500, flying around blind corners without a care or a thought to oncoming traffic.
 
Concluding thought.
Would I get that tag again?
No. Emphatically NO. It just wasn't fun. Spending time with my daughter was fun, but I'd rather go pickup a couple of Wt doe tags in MT than try this unit again. It was stressful finding a camp site. It was stressful finding a spot to hunt. It was stressful hearing the constant barrage of rifle fire from all sides. Heck, just driving in and out was terrifying, there were so many dudes pretending those dirt roads where the Indy 500, flying around blind corners without a care or a thought to oncoming traffic.
Don’t blame you on that one. I don’t go anywhere in that unit, and I live here.
 
Concluding thought.
Would I get that tag again?
No. Emphatically NO. It just wasn't fun. Spending time with my daughter was fun, but I'd rather go pickup a couple of Wt doe tags in MT than try this unit again. It was stressful finding a camp site. It was stressful finding a spot to hunt. It was stressful hearing the constant barrage of rifle fire from all sides. Heck, just driving in and out was terrifying, there were so many dudes pretending those dirt roads where the Indy 500, flying around blind corners without a care or a thought to oncoming traffic.
I hunted there in 2020. I really think I got lucky because of COVID and weather, because we didn't have too many other hunters around. With the changed rules after that my buddies that have gone back have reported similar to you. I am grateful I hunted it when I did, but seems unlikely to be a place I will go back to, which is a shame, because the country we hunted was beautiful. There really are way too many tags.
 
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Despite the challenges, it sounds like a good father/daughter trip was had. Perhaps an eye-opening experience for her on a couple levels, but I hope she enjoyed it enough to go again. No doubt the next one will be better.
Interestingly the number of other hunters didn't bother her nearly as much as they did me. I don't know if that speaks more to her acceptance or my anxiety.
 
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