Ryan Hatfield received a slide of a photo taken in 1968 that showed a truckload of hunters and the deer they'd harvested in a motel parking lot. The hunters were strangers to the photographer.
As Hatfield examined the photo closely in Photoshop, he noticed the rack on one of the deer was of notable size.
He considered the quality of that deer, the year and location of the photo and the California license plates on the truck — and realized he probably knew one of the guys pictured. He called Dennis Barker, a subscriber to the Western Hunter magazine where Hatfield works, and told him what he had.
Barker was 21 when that photo was taken 50 years ago. He was responsible for that large buck — and became emotional on the phone.
"They had no photos of that hunt," Hatfield said. "The overwhelmingness of having 50 years flash in front of you ... he was just baffled."
Hatfield collects stories like those for his series of books about some of the greatest animals harvested by hunters in Idaho. His latest is the second edition of "Idaho's Greatest Mule Deer" — a 704-page beast that covers nearly 120 years of hunting history and sells for $39.99 at idahobiggame.com. The book features more than 1,200 images, with Barker's group pictured on the cover.
"The most rewarding thing about the book," Hatfield said, "is, one, being able to be the one who helped preserve the legacy, and the other was really just being able to hear those firsthand accounts from especially the old-timers and the guys in the Greatest Generation. ... They're just happy to tell their story."
Hatfield, who lives in Council, has published similar books about white-tailed deer and elk. He plans to add a trophy game book that will cover bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose and antelope.
He has been enamored with big bucks since he was a kid. His great uncle was a hero to him, Hatfield said, and he enjoyed his hunting stories.
"There's just something about (big bucks) that attracts the human eye," Hatfield said. "You see something that's that impressive and it kind of mesmerizes you."