Doug, hold still!”
While still a whisper, Paul’s command was emphatic and left no doubt he finally had seen what we were looking for: a mule deer buck. It was shortly after 8 a.m. on the third day of Nevada’s early deer season and in roughly the same place where we had seen a group of four small bucks on opening day.
As I mentioned in my Oct. 10 column, we like to hunt an area where a wide, sweeping slope falls away from the toe of a mountain and reaches out nearly two miles to the valley floor below. At first glance, the slope looks fairly smooth and even, but once you set foot on the ground, you quickly learn it is covered with shallow draws and small pockets. Combine those with low-growing sagebrush and other vegetation, and the country easily conceals small herds of deer-size animals and their movements.
At one point that morning, Paul and I watched from our vantage point as a lone pronghorn antelope buck walked directly toward the place where Don and LJ, the two other members of our hunting camp, had secreted themselves within a large stand of waist-high brush high on the slope. The antelope was at the bottom of a draw, just shallow enough that Don and LJ could not see him. We laughed at one point as the buck fed for several minutes within what appeared to be 30 to 40 yards of their position and seemed to do so without their knowledge.
Less than a half-hour later, the laugh was on Paul and me when a mule deer doe and two fawns, using one of those shallow draws for cover, walked up behind us. It wasn’t until I heard their steps and turned my head that the doe put on the brakes, stared us down and bolted in the other direction with her fawns in tow. Had I not moved to look in her direction, she might have walked within mere yards of our position.
Through the years, I have learned that three primary things give hunters away: our scent, the noise we make and movement. Having experienced the latter once already that morning, I was more than ready to comply when Paul said, “Doug, hold still.”
Paul had spotted a lone muley buck less than 200 yards in front of us and traveling our direction. We were caught in the open with nowhere to hide. Any sudden or drastic movement would alert the buck to our not-so-hidden presence.
When the buck finally disappeared into a shallow draw, Paul used the opportunity to place his rifle on his shooting sticks and repositioned for a better view. Then we waited for the deer to re-emerge. We didn’t know whether he would turn and go down or up the draw, or come straight on. Then again, maybe he simply would bed down.
After what seemed like forever, the buck re-emerged less than 100 yards away and slightly to our right. He looked much closer in my 10-power binocular, but I didn’t dare move. With each of the buck’s steps, I awaited the bark of Paul’s .308, but the deer maintained his head-on direction of travel and presented no shot opportunity. Three times along the way, the buck stopped and stared at us. And each time, just when I thought we were busted, the buck walked on.
Then the buck suddenly made a slight turn to his left and offered Paul a broadside shot. His .308 barked, and the shot was perfect. Seconds later, Paul and I admired the beautiful three-point muley. His antlers resemble those of a whitetail deer with the main beams sweeping out in an arc and back together at the tips. On each side, two long tines rise from the main beams, and a matching set of eye guards finish things off.
A few days later, LJ bagged a buck, a two-by-three with a big body. While the hunt provided Paul and LJ with meat for their freezer, it also provided Don and me with the chance to get out in the wild, participate in the hunting experience and have a great time. Maybe next year we’ll have the tags.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.