I was already way behind schedule when I arrived at the trailhead in the middle of nowhere in central Nevada for my first archery mule deer hunt. A blown radiator had left me waiting several hours for a truck to tow me 60 miles to the nearest town for repairs. By the time I hiked the four miles to camp, it was 2:30 in the morning.
Needless to say, first light came quickly. After a bite to eat, I hiked up to a steep vantage point overlooking the canyon where I would be hunting.
I had seen a group of bucks in this canyon a few weeks earlier with my good friend and mentor Larry Johnson with Nevada Bighorns Unlimited. After three days of hunting, neither Larry nor I had gotten close enough to make a kill, and we both left empty handed. I had come back alone with the hopes of filling my tag.
After glassing a bit, I spotted some bucks feeding on a hillside several hundred yards up the canyon. I watched for a while and figured they would bed down in one of several stands of mahogany trees scattered throughout the canyon. I sat tight, hoping to intercept the bucks as they came to bed down.
As the sun rose higher, the group went downhill to some trees about 200 yards below where I sat. There was no way to sneak in on them without being seen, and at this point my lack of sleep was catching up to me. I took a rest, hoping the bucks might move later in the day.
When I awoke, I crept back up to check on the bucks. They were gone. Trying to stay calm, I scanned the canyon and eventually spotted the deer disappearing into trees on a ridge a thousand feet above me on the opposite side of the canyon. I wasn’t exactly sure where they were headed but figured they were going to bed down again somewhere where the afternoon breezes would be cooler.
Grabbing my pack and bow, I began the long hike across the canyon. A light rain was falling by the time I reached the other ridge. The sound of the rain masked my footsteps, and a steady southwesterly wind allowed me to move into the trees and search for the deer undetected. I moved slowly through the mahogany, stopping every few steps to glass. I was looking for movement – an ear twitch, antlers or the silhouette of a bedded buck.
I made several passes through the area with no luck and began to think that the deer had outsmarted me again. Finally, I glanced uphill and saw the unmistakable shape of a deer. I pulled out my rangefinder to check the distance: 32 yards.
Nocking an arrow, I moved to get a better look and see if antlers were attached to the deer. Just then, deer began standing up one by one in surrounding trees. They had seen me.
I froze as a buck stepped out into the open. He was a shooter. I instinctively drew my bow and released the arrow. I heard the thwack of the arrow hitting as the buck jumped and ran across the rocky hillside. After 20 yards he slowed, then stopped, began to stumble and fell to the ground. I later discovered that the broadhead had gone through his heart. It was over very quickly.
My first Nevada archery mule deer hunt makes me extraordinarily thankful for the abundant and unique hunting opportunities that abound in the West. Mine was the type of hunting about which every sportsman dreams – a spectacular setting, far from any roads or signs of civilization, lots of deer and few hunters. I was able to hunt in some of the greatest remaining mule deer habitat in the nation. Nevada has a lot of undeveloped backcountry, but even here, mule deer habitat is threatened.
Mule deer need large areas of undeveloped backcountry in order to thrive. As we lose habitat throughout the West, mule deer numbers decline as do our hunting opportunities.
Sportsmen recognize the importance of conserving these areas, but in order to ensure healthy wildlife populations, hunters and anglers must spread the word. Sportsmen must let federal land management agencies know what is at stake and that we are paying attention. High-quality hunting opportunities on public land comprise the backbone of America’s sporting heritage. It is staggering to think about how much great habitat has been lost in the last 30 years – and the ramifications if this trend is allowed to continue.
This is why the TRCP is working hard to conserve high-quality, intact habitat throughout the West. Get involved today and sign up as a TRCP Western Sportsman Advocate.