Idaho hunters share how their kills got them into record books

Mark Mathews, Mike Borzick and David Brogan talk about how they killed Boone and Crockett animals.

rphillips@idahostatesman.comSeptember 12, 2013 

It's easy to yearn for the good ol' days and lament the fact that you never got to hunt during grandpa's era, when game was plentiful, competition was scarce, and a monster buck or bull was on every mountain.

That wasn't reality back then, and when people say there are no trophy animals left, that's not reality either.

They're still out there, and according to the Boone and Crockett Club's database, 91 animals were killed in Idaho in the past five years that qualified for the club's record books, and Idaho has been a steady contributor to the record book for decades.

That includes elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorns, bighorns, mountain goats, black bears and cougars.

With a little luck and determination, it's possible to get a big-game trophy that would make even your grandpa a little jealous.

Mark Mathews, Mike Borzick and David Brogan shared the stories behind the animals that got their names in the Boone and Crockett Club record books.

Maybe this will be the year you add your name to the record books. Hunt hard, and who knows?

The opportunity to hear "the bugles of September" was one of the main reasons Mark Mathews moved from California to McCall in 1994. He estimates that he spends about 75 to 100 days a year in the Central Idaho backcountry hunting, fishing and exploring. But September is his favorite month, because that's when he hunts for elk in the McCall area with a bow.

Mathews has spent 18 seasons honing his craft, learning "the process and craft of calling elk" and the country they inhabit.

It's led to five bulls in the past five years, including three that qualified for the Pope and Young record book, which covers animals taken by archers.

A few days into the archery season last September, he heard the sound he'd been waiting for - a bugling bull.

"It sounded pretty good, and I was headed his way," Mathews said.

He stalked the bull, and on the way, he bumped a cow, which started calling to her herd. Mathews waited, but heard or saw no sign of the bull.

He called and the bull answered him, but it circled and caught Mathews' scent and split.

"The 300-plus inch bull got my blood pumping, just the adrenaline rush an elk hunter needs to start off the season," he said.

The next morning, he headed to another spot and bugled a challenge to any bull.

"He hit me back right away," Mathews said. "His was a throaty response."

The bull was up a mountain among a herd of cows and satellite bulls, so Mathews started hiking.

He climbed about 1,000 feet to get to their level.

"You could smell him," he said. "It didn't matter if the cows were ready or not, he was rutting."

After trailing the herd most of the morning and hearing repeated bugles, Mathews stayed quiet and continued his pursuit.

"Suddenly, I could see him. He was trotting down the edge of the timber, screaming and carrying on," he said.

Mathews hid behind a root wad, dropped his backpack and pulled out a cow elk decoy. He held it up and called.

"He looked in my direction, and with a very aggressive scream and chuckles, he started toward me," Mathews said.

The bull started "glunking," a gutteral noise they make during the rut.

"I hadn't heard that in 18 years of elk hunting," he said.

The bull continued toward him and let out a "thunderous bugle" every 50 yards or so.

"I was determined to keep my cool," Mathews said. "I didn't know how big he was, but I knew I would shoot him."

He used his range finder to mark a couple of spots the bull would likely walk through.

He held the decoy up to make sure the bull could see it, then dropped his decoy and grabbed his bow as the bull disappeared behind a knob.

The bull reappeared within 25 yards and a few steps from a shooting lane Mathews had covered.

The bull paused to search for the cow decoy.

"I was in a good spot, focused, and wouldn't move for him," he said. "The bull knew she was there, and screamed right toward me, then proceeded to make his final mistake."

Mathews drew his bow and released the arrow as the bull passed through the shooting lane.

"When I stopped shaking, I marked the waypoint (on his GPS), and realized I had called him from 250 yards to 20 yards with two calls," he said.

When he found the dead bull and saw its majestic antlers, Mathews knew he had killed something special.

"I had never picked up a shed antler this big," he said.

Mathews said he took a moment to "count my blessings and give thanks for being able to hunt these magnificent animals and know that I am privileged for harvesting such an outstanding bull from Idaho."

The bull scored 361 5/8, which surpassed the 360-point minimum to be listed in Boone and Crockett's three-year records.

NONTYPICAL HUNT

Mike Borzick, of Kuna, doesn't have a long history of mule deer hunting. He admits that when he first saw the desolate southern Idaho desert when he moved to Kuna six years ago, he nearly turned around and headed back to his native Wisconsin.

But the Owyhee Desert is now among his favorite places, and he spends his winters there hunting and trapping coyotes.

It also provided one of his most memorable hunts. In 2010, he drew a coveted Unit 40 late-season buck tag for the Owyhees on his first attempt in the controlled hunt lottery.

Borzick had spent a lot of time in the area and saw lots of bucks, including some monsters, in the rugged, roadless areas most hunters aren't willing to venture to. That's where he headed for his hunt.

While luck got him the tag, it didn't stick around long when he started his hunt on a cold November morning.

"The first half-mile out of camp was flat ground, but I was already breaking a sweat, and my legs were starting to burn," he said.

Soon after he was vomiting from a stomach ailment that "hit hard," he said.

His hunt was off to a rough start, and his friend, Jeff McDonald, had flown from Wisconsin to hunt with him for 10 days.

They rested until Borzick eventually started feeling better, and then hiked up a ridge where they could see lots of country. But they saw no bucks.

They headed into the "nastiest draw in the area" to look for deer.

Along the way, McDonald spotted a deer and held his hands to his head in the universal signal for a buck.

They spotted the buck near where they had rested, so they doubled back and hiked across the rugged country.

"By this time I was getting chills, sweats, dehydrated and my stomach was cramping up," Borzick said.

They called off the hunt and returned to camp. McDonald stoked the wood stove in the wall tent and nursed Borzick with water and aspirin.

Later that afternoon, Borzick felt better, and they decided to go for a short hike to look for coyotes, but they avoided the place they had earlier hunted to avoid spooking the deer there.

As they hiked, McDonald hissed "elk," but when Borzick spotted the animal, he realized it was a buck.

After being coached by experienced mule deer hunters, Borzick looked at the antlers and saw the outside spread extended no farther than the ears.

It was a mature animal, but not the widespread trophy antlers that mule deer hunters crave.

But then he notice something else.

"I took a second look and saw the drop tines," Borzick said.

As evening approached, they decided to go after the buck. It was moving with a doe up a canyon that split. Borzick and McDonald made their best guess on which fork of the canyon the deer would take and tried to cut them off.

"We probably ran a half-mile," Borzick said.

When they arrived, no deer. They sat and scanned the countryside and feared they had picked the wrong canyon.

McDonald again spotted the buck and doe and signaled Borzick, but all he could see was the buck's legs.

He readied his rifle and waited about 15 minutes. They figured when the doe moved, the buck would follow, and she was heading through a spot were he would have a clear shot.

Patience paid dividends, and the buck turned broadside at 240 yards. Borzick squeezed off a fatal shot.

"It didn't go 5 yards," he said.

The buck was more than they expected. It had massive main beams, and 11 points on one side and 13 on the other.

It scored 242 3/8, and because of the irregular antlers was recorded as a "nontypical" buck. It earned a spot in Boone and Crockett's all-time record book by surpassing the minimum score of 230.

"It was a good hunt," Borzick said. "I wish it would have gone longer, but in the end, I can't complain about the results."

The buck was only the third mule deer Borzick had ever shot, and he said that he's "by no means a trophy hunter."

"I got a doe tag this year," he said.

But he also knows Idaho has a lot more to offer than many hunters realize.

"If you put the miles in and you put the time in, you can find the animals here," he said.

BACKYARD PRONGHORN

David Brogan, of New Plymouth, has hunted Idaho for 41 years and can make a strong argument that the golden years are far from over.

He's harvested every big-game animal in Idaho with a bow except moose and sheep.

Brogan has also had good luck with pronghorns, taking five of them with a bow, including one that qualified for the Pope and Young record book.

So when Brogan drew a controlled hunt permit in 2010 for Unit 39, which encompasses most of the area in the Boise River drainage, he knew he had a shot at a trophy pronghorn.

Brogan had 17 vacation days set aside for the hunt and was ready to use every one of them to find the right buck.

His hunting partner, Kreal Christensen, of New Plymouth, wasn't so fortunate. He had less time to hunt, so Brogan offered his buddy the first shot at a buck.

It didn't take long to find one. Christensen killed a nice buck early in the hunt.

Then it was Brogan's turn, and it didn't take long to spot another good buck, but it wasn't good enough.

"I told him I'm not going to shoot a buck on the spur of the moment," Brogan said.

They kept hunting, and Brogan eventually spotted the biggest buck he'd ever seen. It was off in the distance, so they went after it.

They stalked the buck and got within gun range, but the animal was staring right at them.

The length of a pronghorn's horns are hard to judge when looking straight at them. The horns curve at the top in a reverse sweep, so you have to see them broadside to determine their length.

"It looked like him, but I wasn't going to shoot until I saw his horns," Brogan said.

When it finally turned, he saw it wasn't the same buck, but the shape of the horns was so similar that Brogan said it could have been the larger buck's offspring.

They returned the following weekend to continue their hunt and Brogan spotted another big buck, but he estimated that it was just shy of the Boone and Crockett minimum score to reach the record books.

He returned to the spot where he first spotted another big buck, and spotted it hanging out with a herd of does.

"He looked like he had stove pipes coming out of his head," Brogan said.

But the buck again slipped away, and they tried to cut him off by getting ahead of him and hoping to get another look.

They continued stalking the buck, which was in hot pursuit of a doe, and eventually got within gun range.

After passing on several easier shots at smaller bucks, Brogan killed the buck that had caused him to pass on the others.

"I was excited," he said.

The buck scored 83 4/8, which got him in Boone and Crockett's all-time record book by surpassing the minimum score of 82.

HOW ANIMALS ARE SCORED

The skull or antlers of a big-game animal are measured after a mandatory 60-day drying period by an official Boone and Crockett scorer, who takes various measurements of the horns or antlers to derive a final score based on inches and eighths of inches.

The Boone and Crockett scoring system places heavy emphasis on symmetry and penalizes portions of the antlers, horns, etc., by subtracting the inches of the asymmetrical points, so antlers usually have a gross score and net score after deductions.

However, large asymmetrical antlers have their own "nontypical" category.

A trophy animal can "make book," as it's known, by qualifying for Boone and Crockett's all-time records, which requires the highest minimum score for each species.

Those that score high but not high enough to reach all-time minimums can qualify for Boone and Crockett's three-year awards book.

To learn more about scoring and how to enter trophies, go to boone-crockett.org.

ABOUT BOONE AND CROCKETT

The club was founded in 1887 by Teddy Roosevelt in an effort to conserve wildlife, which continues to be the club's mission.

But the club is probably best known as the recorder of trophy animals in North America, and making the Boone and Crockett record books is the gold medal for many hunters.

All trophies recognized by the club must be taken in accordance with its rules of fair chase, which is "the ethical, sportsmanlike and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the game animals."

If you have a trophy you think might qualify, you can find out how to contact an official scorer through the club's website.

TAGGING A TROPHY ANIMAL

It usually takes more than luck, but that's what you might need at first. Many trophy-sized animals are taken during controlled hunts, so you have to get lucky enough to draw a tag.

There are rare occasions a lucky hunter happens to be in the right place at the right time and kills a trophy - but whether in a controlled or general hunt - it usually takes a lot of dedication and effort.

If you have your heart set on a record-book animal, you need to do your homework and be prepared to make sacrifices, including going home empty-handed if you don't find one.

The first step is selecting the right place to hunt. Certain areas produce more trophy animals than others.

Many things account for this, including light hunting pressure, habitat, genetics and other factors.

For example, nine of the all-time, top-20 mule deer in Idaho were taken in Franklin and Adams counties, which are on opposite ends of the state, with lots of mule deer country in between.

But dig deeper and you will see none were harvested in this century.

That's one reason you want do your homework before starting down the challenging road of harvesting a trophy animal.

TROPHY HUNTING TIPS AND TACTICS

• You can find historic data on Idaho's largest big-game trophies and what county they were taken in at fishandgame.idaho.gov. Look for "Idaho Big Game Records."

• You can also see harvest data going back to 2000 on Fish and Game's website, including success rates and percentage of mature animals taken in each hunting unit, such as bucks four points or larger and bulls six points or larger. Data is segregated by general and controlled hunts.

• Plan to get away from hunting pressure, which often means away from roads. The largest animals are found in places where they can live long enough to grow large, which is usually where there's limited access.

• Try to hunt late for deer and early for elk. Bulls rut in September and bucks in November. That's when they're most vulnerable to hunters.

• Be prepared to pass on smaller animals. It's obvious, but you can't kill a trophy animal if you take the first legal one you see. It takes discipline to pass on the smaller ones, and it's even harder to pass up a mature one that isn't trophy sized.

• Learn to judge antler size. It's tougher than you might think to distinguish between a mature animal and a trophy one, especially in the tense moment when one is standing in front of you.

• Hunt with your eyes, then your feet. Use binoculars and/or a spotting scope to locate animals at a distance when they're undisturbed. This gives you longer to evaluate whether it's worth stalking them, and also gives you time to formulate a game plan.

• Hunt year-round. Odds are against you if you're out only a week or so during hunting season in an area you're not familiar with. Successful hunters scout during the offseason, look for shed antlers that offer clues where big animals live, and thoroughly learn the country they're planning to hunt.

• Be mentally and physically prepared. Trophy animals are rare, and one way they got to be trophy sized is by eluding two-legged and four-legged predators. It might take long hours in the field under all weather conditions. It won't be easy, but if it was easy, it wouldn't be a trophy, would it?

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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