As I sit down to write this column, the smell of bacon hangs in the air, the breeze is blowing through the juniper trees, and the ragged cliffs of the Schell Creek Range rise up to the east. Around remains of what once was the morning’s cooking fire sit three of my friends, men I enjoy spending time with in the field. Not everyone fills the bill.
Of the four of us in camp, only Paul and LJ were successful in drawing deer tags. But for Don and me, staying home wasn’t an option, especially when we learned that Paul was bringing his motor home. If he was going to suffer through a hunt in such rough conditions, Paul would need his friends’ support. So Don and I invited ourselves.
Today is our lazy day. A day with no alarms to awaken us at 0-dark-30. A day for a relaxed breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns cooked in a Dutch oven. Yesterday, however, was quite a different story. After all, it was opening day of deer season.
We rolled out of bed long before daylight. Well, the others rolled out of bed. I hunkered down in the warmth of my sleeping bag seeking at least a few more minutes of comfort. “Perhaps I should stay and guard the camp,” I suggested. But the lure of the hunt was too strong, and I soon joined my friends in the truck.
Don has been hunting this part of central Nevada all of his life. “That’s where Christina shot her first buck,” Don said, pointing to an area where a crew has been thinning a thick stand of juniper. “That is where I shot my big deer,” he said, referencing a seven-point buck that now hangs on his wall. And, “My mom and dad used to hunt over there when I was a kid. Now it is wilderness, and you can’t drive in there.” His stories and memories of hunts past come in the form of outdoor news briefs told whenever something triggers a memory.
Within minutes of leaving camp, we arrived at “the spot,” a low ridge that overlooks miles of open country that falls away from the toe of a steep ridge and rolls toward the valley floor. We split up and walked out across the slope, making our way through shallow washes and rock-covered hills in the dark. Don and LJ went high, their route taking them to a point where a canyon opens at the bottom of the ridge. Paul and I headed almost due north to a point about 400 yards farther west and much lower on the slope.
There we waited and shivered in the cold, longing for a cup of hot chocolate, the rising sun and the warmth it would bring, and hoping a deer or two also would come with it.
Shortly after we felt the sun’s rays, a doe and two fawns walked over the ridge in front of us. We watched them as they passed us by, intent on moving farther south. A short time later, the sun highlighted a herd of pronghorn antelope grazing leisurely on a far slope. It is amazing how they seem to light up in the morning sun.
Then Paul caught a movement to our right. It was a group of four bucks — three forked-horns and a doe. He let them pass in the hope of finding something bigger. Hours passed without seeing anything else, so we made our way back to the truck. There we met up with Don and LJ. They had seen more deer than Paul and I, including a decent four-by-five, but a good shot opportunity never materialized.
Later that afternoon, while Paul and LJ went out for a hunt that turned into a long hike, Don and I did a little exploring. During our travels, we came across a couple of small elk herds, so I pulled out my cow call and elk bugle and tried my hand at elk talk. The cows had nothing to say, but a couple of bulls answered my bugles. Altogether we saw four bulls, two of which carried six-point racks that reached high and stretched wide. That alone made the trip north worth the effort.
While we didn’t have to clean any deer on Saturday, one thing is certain: Whether or not you have a deer tag, when you spend time with friends or family, something always is special about opening day of the deer hunt.
To be continued …
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.