"Hunting those Timberline Trophies"Have you ever looked into the highest mountains and said to yourself, "I wonder if there are any big bucks up there"? If you have, you're not alone. I ask myself that question everytime I go for a drive in the mountains. About ten years ago my dad and I were on one of our summer scouting trips. We had located a new area that we were very interested in hunting. It was nearly a two-hour walk just to reach timberline, we was sure there had to be some monster bucks up there. After a full day of spotting and looking for deer sign, we were discouraged and gave up. It didn't look like there had been a deer in that country in a hundred years. We complained to each other all the way to the truck and wrote the area off for good, so I thought. It wasn't until three years later that I found myself hunting about five miles from that high treeless mountain. I had been lucky that year and harvested a dandy buck with my bow on opening day. Not wanting to go home early, I decided to hang around with my dad and brother. I figured this would give me a chance to find an area for the next year. I'm a huge fan of Kirt Darner and have read his book entitled "How to Find Giant Bucks" many times. He often talked about timberline trophies and why those big bucks love the high ridges and open basins. As I sat in camp one morning staring at those high peaks several miles off, I thought to myself "there has to be some big bucks up there", so I jumped out of my lawn chair and headed out. It was mid-afternoon and I didn't expect to see anything, I figured I'd just go for a walk. Along the way I was paying special attention to any deer tracks or droppings that I found. Anytime I'm out hunting or scouting I try to pay attention to deer tracks, as Dee Hildt says "Not all big tracks are left by big bucks, but all big bucks leave big tracks". I've always remembered that analogy, I guess because Dee Hildt has killed many giant bucks, and it does makes sense. As I worked my way closer to the top of the mountain I could feel myself becoming discouraged, I thought to myself "maybe there just isn't anything up here". Well you guessed it, as I was walking along the very top of the ridge I jumped five bucks. They had been laying in a small stand of brush no larger than my pickup truck. Because of the wind they didn't hear me 'til I was within' about 20 feet, they scared the crap out of me. Needless to say, the excitement had returned. Not because any of those bucks were very impressive, but because I knew that if these bucks were up here, there might be some bigger ones. I spent several hours walking along that high ridge spotting the basins below without seeing any more bucks. It wasn't until I was headed back to the truck that I found what I was looking for. As I began to drop off the top of the mountain I jumped two giant bucks out of another small stand of brush. Just as with the other bucks I walked right up to them before they came flying out. Of course these wise old bucks weren't going to stop and stare at me, instead all I saw was big racks going down the hill into the trees. The next day I got a much better look at them, they really were giant bucks.
I've hunted that area off and on for the past seven years. It wasn't until this past year that I finally harvested one of those timberline trophies. During those years I had some great opportunities, I missed a buck at 35 yards with my bow that I figured was about a 32" wide 5x4 that would have ranked very high in the P&Y record book, possibly a new state record. Seeing those giant bucks in that high alpine country is something wonderful. Often times during the summer or early in the archery hunt, I could watch bucks feeding or just lounging in the sun 'til 11 o'clock in the morning. Some of these high timberline areas are true buck pastures. In fact, it's very rare to see doe's in much of this high alpine country. It was not uncommon for me to see ten to fifteen bucks in one morning of hunting or scouting. The tough part is getting close enough to take a shot, and by rifle season they're often nowhere to be found.
Since finding this high alpine buck pasture I have enjoyed many years of great big buck hunting. I've also found several other areas that are very similar to my old reliable. The Grey's River country in western Wyoming offers some of the same type of terrain. Finding the buck pastures is little more difficult because of the vast roadless country, but they are there. Northern Utah also has some great high country buck pastures, recently I found a great spot in the archery only area along the Wasatch front. I didn't find any real giants, but in only four days of scouting we seen over 30 different bucks in one small area. Colorado's Uncompahgre plateau is very well know for trophy bucks and it too has many of these great buck pastures in the high timberline country. I'm sure there are hundreds of great buck pastures throughout the western high country. The best way to view the bucks above timberline is using a spotting scope, it'll save you a lot of walking time and will give you the chance to really get a good look at the bucks. It's always best to wear out the seat of your pants rather than the soles of your boots.
If you're lucky enough to find one of these high country buck pastures, you'll often have very little competition by other hunters. The fact is that most hunters probably won't get out of bed three hours before light to walk up a steep, nasty mountain. Once you get to the top you'll have the other key advantage, that is being able to see lots of country. In these high timberline area's you can often see several miles in any direction. This increases the chances of seeing one of those giant bucks. Of course, hunting these alpine bucks is often more difficult. Swirling winds, very little cover and steep, rocky terrain make stalking these bucks an even greater challenge. Generally when I hunt in this high country I try to spot the buck either lying down or feeding on an open slope. If he's lying down then I'm able to spend an hour or so trying to get close enough for a shot. For the bucks I spot feeding on the high slopes, I'll try to get below them, right along the tree line. It's usually not the best idea to position yourself below the bucks, but in this treeless country you often have no choice. Without any cover, sneaking in from above is near impossible. So being below them is usually your only choice. As the day begins to warm the bucks will often head for the timber to lay in the shade. If your lucky that buck might just come down the hill right at you, and being in the tree's you may be able to move a little without being detected. Always keep in mind that the wind is usually not your friend in this high country, so keep a close eye on the direction it is blowing.
If you think it's tough hunting above timberline during the archery season, you'll be in for a surprise. By rifle season these high timberline areas often contain a lot less deer. My experience has shown that as the weather begins to cool and the alpine vegetation dies, the bucks move a little lower. Typically these bucks will live right at timberline, spending more time just inside the trees. They'll occasionally still feed in the open, but not as often as in the summer. Your best bet might be to just spend more time looking through your binoculars and spotting scope, you might get lucky and spot the big one right at treeline.
Well, good luck in your high country adventures.
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