Western Hunting Journal, Premiere Issue whj001_premiere - Page 62

Brother’s Kyle, Zach, and Chad Hurst have been enjoying the backcountry since childhood and on their first trip to the Middle Fork they teamed up to pack out Kyle’s buck. had stopped. The mountains and the river were the same as they have been since first formed millions of years ago. As a hunter, the pictograph let me know that I was in the right spot. Just then the drone of an air- plane making its way down the river drainage reminded me that I had a high-powered rifle on my shoulder topped with a piece of glass that allowed a 60 WESTERN HUNTING JOURNAL shot of unbelievable range com- pared to the sinew backed bare- bow that my companion paint- ed on the rock wall. Stepping out of the natural shelter and looking upriver to a mountain with a steep grass slope climb- ing over 4,000 feet from the riv- er’s edge, I knew this was where I needed to go to find a mature mule deer buck. This region is full of histo- ry with the gold rush and land grab as homesteaders made their way west. Ruins of cabins and flats cleared of sage with piled rocks mark where plows had once toiled the earth. The Frank Church River of No Re- turn Wilderness in Central Idaho is the second largest des- ignated wilderness area in the lower 48 states, only surpassed by Death Valley. Named after Frank Church, the U.S. Senator from Idaho who first sponsored the Wilderness Act of 1964, and in 1968 sponsored the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, it encompasses 2.3 million acres. Because it wasn’t designated as a wilderness area until 1980 the region has several grandfa- thered ranches and air strips that allow motorized use. This allows accessing the interior of the Salmon River Mountains by bush plane something unique outside of Alaska and Canada. Summer months see white- water rafters floating down the river. The early fall finds fly fish- ermen casting to one of the few remaining pure strains of west- slope cutthroat trout. As elk begin to bugle in mid-Septem- ber until well after the snow is deep, it is the big game hunter that frequents the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. General season tags for mule deer and elk begin in September with the general deer season closing at the end of October. Elk sea- son continues until mid-No- vember and a special draw for mule deer allows hunting for both when the bucks are in rut and the elk are coming out of the high country onto the open slopes to feed. The draw is un- limited, but Idaho laws dictate that the special permit tag is only good for the 18-day season and only for that unit. Flying into the Middle Fork isn’t as complicated as Alas- ka’s bush but it can be just as dangerous. Since my first hunt, flying into Idaho’s backcountry more than 26 years ago there have been at least three fatal crashes while transporting hunters and hikers. The most