Written by Jake Fife
It all started in late June, that time of the year when unwavering excitement comes over so many hunters across the state, myself included, as we anxiously await the draw results.
I sat there with my info typed in, waiting to press the login button in hopes of finally seeing “selected” as I was starting to see some posts trickle in. I held my breath like I do every year, expecting to see “not selected,” but after 16 years of applying and never drawing a deer tag I finally saw it: Selected!
I knew I had my work cut out for me, as I had very little experience in the unit. But as a school teacher, I knew if I ever drew the tag, I would have a lot of time to scout over summer in hopes of making up for that.
I made it out on my first scouting trip on July 21st and spent the better part of the next five days scouring over different areas in search for a mature buck. But over the course of the next five days it began to sink in that this wasn’t going to be an easy hunt, and I really wasn’t seeing the amount of animals I had hoped to, though it was 100-plus degrees out every day by lunchtime.
About the author: Jake Fife was born and raised in Selah, Washington, by Angie and Gary Fife, and graduated from high school there in 2009. Jake has always been an outgoing guy who loved to play baseball, hunt, fish, spend time with family and friends and be outdoors. After high school he accepted a full ride to play baseball while continuing his education to earn his Bachelor’s Degree. Jake graduated from Central Washington University in 2014 and is currently a PE teacher at Naches Valley High School, where he is also the head varsity baseball coach for the Rangers.
So after a week or so of seeing a few scattered bucks here and there I decided it was time for a new game plan – not only to keep checking other areas but essentially I wanted to start gridding the whole unit. I figured eventually I’d have to run into some big deer somewhere … right?
It wasn’t until my ninth day of scouting that I finally found an area where I began seeing consistent numbers of deer, though not “the one.” About the time I was thinking “There’s got to be big bucks in this area; where are they?!” I encountered a beautiful tall four-point that was probably a 170-inch deer. That got me extremely excited, as it was the first “shooter” I had seen. I thought, “Well, that’s a buck I would be proud to take,” but it was getting later in the morning and now I was eager to keep following these big deep draws and glassing into them in hopes of seeing some more deer before it got too hot out.
Within the next 10 minutes I had gone maybe another 500 yards and run into a bachelor group of six bucks – “Whoa, that’s a nice buck, there’s another nice buck, and another, and a couple smaller ones.”
I WAS REALLY STARTING TO FEEL GOOD about finally seeing some nice bucks. Then out of nowhere, a different deer stood up and immediately caught my attention. I thought,” Whoa! That’s a real big buck.”
It wasn’t until I pulled up my binoculars for a good steady look that my jaw instantly dropped: Oh my god … There he was! The biggest, most majestic, beautiful deer I had ever laid eyes on, in perfect velvet at 150 yards looking at me. All I could see was a massive body, massive frame, and points sticking out everywhere! I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I instantly called my best friend and hunting partner Trevor Dallman and told him I had just found the buck I wanted to shoot. I tried to explain to him what the deer looked like but just couldn’t find the words. Giant? He was a giant.
With my hunt starting in exactly two weeks I can’t even count how many hours I spent driving out to this area in hopes of seeing the deer again and possibly start trying to figure out his pattern. Over 10 or so trips and countless dollars worth of gas money, I was able to narrow in on the buck’s home, but found he just wasn’t patternable. He was a wanderer; he rarely would get water from the same place or even be working the same trails, and often times he was with a couple other nice bucks constantly watching each other’s back. I finally concluded that my best option would probably be to spot and stalk him after he had bedded down in the morning after he was done feeding.
I glassed, and glassed, and glassed, so much so that I thought some days my eyes were going to bulge out of my head, but I just couldn’t stop looking at this buck! I tried to keep tabs on him every day leading up to the first day of the hunt. I’d rush home after work to grab my gear and head out to the hills, then come home in the dark. It made for some long, tiring days, but I knew it would all be worth it if I somehow was able to get it done on this deer.
I was infatuated, obsessed. I would lay in bed at night thinking about hundreds of difference scenarios that could happen, losing countless hours of sleep thinking about this buck, and waking up the next morning for work extremely tired – but looking forward to going back out in search of him again that evening.
FAST-FORWARD TO OPENING MORNING. I was exhausted when my alarm went off because I literally don’t think I was able to get even five minutes of sleep the entire night. Restless, the scenarios had played over and over in my head, as I couldn’t stop thinking about hopefully being able to harvest this buck.
As the sun started to rise on the first day of the hunt I began to see a few deer popping up, and about 15 minutes later there he was. I watched him feed for a couple hours before he bedded down in a draw – by himself!
“This is too perfect,” I thought. For once he was alone, but then again so was I, without a spotter. I’d left the truck on my first official stalk of this deer and he was in a prime location.
As I drew closer and closer to the top of the brushy draw he was bedded in it began to sink in. I just might pull this off on the first stalk on opening day! At that point I figured I had to be within 100 yards of the deer, but he was bedded in some thick stuff and I couldn’t see him. Still, I had pinpointed the bush he was laying under, or so I thought. I ranged the patch of sage at 70 yards.
“Alright, this is good,” I told myself. I had the wind at my face and needed to cover another 20 or so yards, then stand him up at 50 yards. I took that first step and out of nowhere he stood up behind a different sage – at 30 yards!
We locked eyes, then I tilted my head down as subtly as I could and got my release on the string. I pulled back to full draw, but as soon as I got to full draw he took off – gone, not stopping and not looking back.
I sat down as quickly as possible to watch and see where he might go only to watch him disappear two ridges over. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I had blown it; I had ranged the wrong bush and had no idea I was within 30 yards of him at that time.
“Wow,” I thought, “that might be the only chance I get.”
I looked and looked for him until nightfall to no avail. My stomach churned all day; I was sick: I couldn’t eat or even drink anything as I replayed my screw-up over and over. Driving home that night, I was having a little bit of a pity party for myself when it dawned on me: “Hey, it’s only day one. I’ve got a lot of time and now is not the time to feel sorry for myself or give up. I am determined, I will find this deer again.”
And I did.
FOR THE NEXT EIGHT DAYS I PLAYED cat and mouse with this buck, often times getting within 100 to 120 yards of him, but with no play from there. I often ended up sitting in a bush for hours, roasting in the sun only to see him get up and feed over a knob and out of sight. Some days I would glass for hours before he stood up and showed himself; some days I would find him in 10 minutes. Most days he was with three other bucks and I had no play. They would bed up out in the open or be strategically bedded to where there was no way I could get in close enough.
I decided I wanted to play this one the right way. It would have been easy to just go put a stalk on him every time I saw him, but I knew I needed to be smart, patient and wait for the perfect moment, especially after already bumping him pretty hard that first day. I prayed to God for one more chance to find him by himself again. “I won’t screw it up it this time,” I told myself, “I can’t screw it up this time.”
September 10th, day 10 of the hunt, I got to my usual glassing spot and spotted something sticking out of the brush that just didn’t look right. As I looked closer I could see a bright, blood-orange-colored rack, freshly rubbed velvet towering out from behind the sagebrush – that’s him! He had rubbed most of his velvet off throughout the night and it was as fresh as it gets. I watched him feed, then rake his horns on and off every five minutes for the next two and a half hours. It was amazing to see him darken his horns up in that short amount of time! And I was hoping this just might also be the perfect time to get him – he was by himself!
Just as I went to leave the truck for my stalk I spotted a doe and a fawn feeding right where I needed to walk in the bottom of the draw – not good – so I waited another 10 to 15 minutes to head out. Luckily, they fed up and to my side of the draw above the buck about 20 yards.
I knew I had to slip below the does first and thought that if I could make it past them, I would be getting close to the sagebrush I had marked to shoot from. I discussed the game plan with my hunting partner Trevor: I had perfect wind coming up the mountain and I needed to stay right in the bottom of that draw. It was time!
Bow: Bowtech Carbon Knight
Arrows: 300 Spine Black Eagle Spartan
Broadheads: Radical Archery Design Ti Con 125
Sight: Spot Hogg 7-pin, Cameron Hanes Edition
Rest: Ripcord Ace Pro
Release: Scotty Mongoose XT
Binoculars: 12×50 Vortex Viper HD Binoculars
Spotting scope: Vortex Viper HD 20-60×80
Clothing: First Lite Llano Merino Crew Top and Kanab 2.0 pants in Fusion Pattern
Boots: Cabela’s Instinct Pursuitz
Pack: Horn Hunter Full Curl System
Rangefinder: Nikon ProStaff 550
Knife: Outdoor Edge Razor Pro
GPS: Garmin 62S
I made my way down the mountain, staying out of sight, and noticed I had a steady 5 to 7 mph wind coming up the draw I was working down – perfect. Once I figured I was about 150 yards from the buck I took my shoes off and continued inching my way through the bottom of the brushy draw, ignoring the cheatgrass and stickers burying themselves in my feet, and kept going. I crawled on my hands and knees just low enough to slip by the other deer – I could literally see their ears as I belly crawled below them, moving about an inch a minute.
After 10 agonizing minutes I made it past them and came into a deeper pocket of the draw, where I was able to stand and take a breath to try and calm my nerves. About that same time I glanced over and noticed the bush I had marked to shoot from; I was only 15 yards from it! The adrenaline kicked right back in and I could feel my heart pounding and beating through my ears. As I took my first step towards the sage, all of the sudden a jackrabbit exploded out of a bush right next to my foot and took off down the draw and ran right by the buck!
I stood still praying that the deer wasn’t going to blow out; luckily, he was still there but he had his head up and was alert, so I waited another minute or two for him to relax. As I snuck up to the bush just uphill out of the draw I could see his antler tips but couldn’t get a range on him because 1) there was too much brush in the way, and 2) I’ll admit, I was shaking like a leaf. I decided that wasn’t going to work, so I spotted a little sagebrush on the opposite side of the draw that looked parallel and was able to range it at 43 yards. I figured the deer was right at 40.
“Okay, here we go; this is it,” I told myself, “don’t screw this up!” I pulled back my bow while crouched behind the bush and then stood up and took a half step out from behind it. Immediately the buck whipped his head right towards me. We locked eyes but I was still pretty hidden by the bush, so we had what had to be a 10-second stare down. All I could see was his head and rack, with my 40-yard pin right between the eyes. There was no way I was taking that shot, and I was also starting to get shaky and wasn’t in the best posture or balance for a shot.
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting for the buck to stand my bowstring tried to jump on me! In that moment I instantly realized that things weren’t going to work as is. I picked up my left foot from behind the bush to get a firmer stance, stood up tall and planted myself rock steady at full draw, knowing he might dart out of his bed and I’d have no shot.
I stayed locked in on my 40-yard pin and he stood up and stomped his foot down. As soon as he did that I let fly with a perfect broadside/slight quartering-away shot. I watched my arrow fly true, hitting perfectly right behind his shoulder and disappearing! I smoked him! Perfect shot!
I WAS PRETTY SURE IT WAS A PERFECT LETHAL SHOT, but soon realized it wasn’t all said and done as I had hoped. The deer took off like a rocket, showing no signs of being hurt whatsoever. I called Trevor and told him I’d smoked him and thought it was for sure a lethal hit, though if anything it might have been a bit low. “Better a bit low than high,” I thought.
For the next half an hour I searched all over the draw for my arrow and blood. Nothing. What … ?
I really started to get in my own head and second-guess what I knew I had seen. I couldn’t find the arrow, but then I spotted the tiniest little specks of blood towards the top of the draw. By that time I was getting worried. Trevor asked if I was sure I’d hit him because the buck had run like no other, but said he did seem to slow down and look hurt right before he lost sight of him going into sagebrush over a little knoll. In addition to second guessing because my spotter hadn’t seen the deer go down, I got a bit paranoid thinking of the worst possible things, like I had somehow missed vitals or something. I knew what I had seen, though: It looked good.
I told Trevor I was going to wait another 30 minutes, then at 12:30 I would have him lead me down to where he last saw the buck. After what was the longest hour of my hunting career had finally passed, it was time to go find this buck. I followed an almost nonexistent blood trail for about 250 yards. I was getting close now, tip-toeing in hopes the deer would be dead and I wouldn’t bump him into the next county. I got to 20 yards from the sagebrush pocket and knew that if he was alive he should have gotten up or I should have seen him by then. I took a few more steps and then couldn’t believe my eyes: There he was, laying under a sage, even bigger than I had ever dreamed of him being.
I looked back up the mountain to Trevor and raised my arms. I had done it! I had finally harvested the buck I had been dreaming of and spent so much time focusing on. After all the video, pictures and time behind the spotting scope glassing this deer he just kept growing on me. I was in shock; I was overjoyed; I felt so many emotions I didn’t even know what to say or think. He was a giant – an absolute Giant of a buck – and I was so thankful I had the opportunity to harvest this deer, let alone even see him and be able to hunt him.
Trevor made his way down to the deer and I, and I gave him a giant hug and we just stood there in astonishment looking at the deer. We couldn’t stop smiling and laughing and retelling our perspectives of the hunt. After taking what seemed like a hundred pictures it was time to get to work, as I am very particular about making sure to take care of the meat quickly and properly. We were able to get the buck packed to the truck within the next hour and a half and it was all done.
This hunt will be forever etched into my memory as I got to share it my hunting partner. We have been fortunate enough to share a lot of success over the years and I look forward to hopefully many more in the future, but I think this one will always stick out. A true Washington state public-land giant. I am so very humbled and thankful I was even given the opportunity to hunt and harvest this deer. The hunt of a lifetime, The Buck of a Lifetime.
Notes: The buck was scored by Todd Peyser of Peyser Taxidermy the day it was harvested, September 10, 2017. It green gross-scored at 234 7/8ths. Three inches of deductions put it at 231 7/8ths green score net. It had 45½ inches of mass. It will be taken back in after the 60-day drying period on November 10th to be scored again and get the official score.
Editor’s note: I’d like to personally thank Jake Fife for sharing his story and photos with us, as well as Mark Bove, Jake’s friend, for working on getting it to us. Thank you, fellas!