By Sierra Lomprey
Shivering, I blinked to focus in the dark dawn sky. My dad, brother and I hiked in the northern Nevada desert wilderness before sunrise to scout out the area. We trucked along, gear in tow, through an eerie orchard when suddenly, my dad stopped. Halted in his tracks, he raised a hand behind him to signal for us to stop and our breathing muted until all we could hear was the light morning breeze and small rodents in the underbrush. My dad slowly pointed ahead of us and in the distance was the towering outline of a massive four by four buck. It was my first deer hunt and this whitetail deer was a beast. I was excited, but also anxious because it was time to put all of my practice shooting on the range to test. My dad scoped the deer out with his binoculars to find the range and my older brother helped me set up the shooting sticks. I loaded my gun and peered down the scope until I found the buck. I got so nervous, staring at him, lining the crosshairs over his shoulder and I could tell my dad was anxious as well when he told me the buck was not going to stand there all day. I closed my eyes and squeezed the trigger when the first stripe of sunlight poured into the valley. The buck sprinted away, as the bullet echoed off a nearby Joshua. Before I knew if my shot was accurate, we scooped up the gear and sprinted to the location to check for blood or fur to see if I hit him. His tracks were there, but nothing indicating a hit could be found. I was really disappointed but ended up getting a two pointer before my hunt ended.
That was my first hunt, eight years ago and I still remember that deer who has now become somewhat of a legend in my memory. It inspired future hunts, but also helped me realize that the animal is not necessarily the most important aspect of the hunt. More so, it’s all the things that go into the hunt that matter because that’s what makes the memories. I tried to keep this in mind last October when I was on another hunt with my dad in the northern Nevada wilderness.
Nearing the completion of my junior year in college, my schedule was always busy, therefore, it was essentially all or nothing in terms of filling my buck tag that weekend. Nearing the end of the trip, things were looking bleak. The deer were scarce and those we spotted were all on the smaller side or mostly does. On this particular day, my dad and I got up before dawn, as usual and set out in the Jeep. We drove across plains and valleys on narrow, rocky trails that were most likely for quads, until we reached a steep hill where we decided to leave the Jeep and hike. We trekked along the overgrown path, deep into the dry wilderness, only seeing jackrabbits. After a while, around midday, we reached a plateau-like area filled with pine trees overlooking a hillside and valley. It was a great lookout spot because we had a bird’s eye view in almost all directions.
We began scoping the surrounding area and sure enough, we spotted a small herd of about six or seven deer on a plain south of us. Watching them, we suddenly heard the metallic bang of a rifle as someone missed their shot and sent the herd into a scattered frenzy in the brush. Predicting their travel direction, my dad and I began swiftly hiking towards the hillside, when we ran into a solo hunter staked out under a tree, rifle ready, binoculars poised. He had been watching the herd from his vantage point, but saw nothing of interest. He and my dad discussed the deer and on we went to a spot closer to the hillside.
Tucked in a small crevice behind a large pine tree, my dad and I were only a couple hundred yards away from the herd as they moved up in the valley. We crouched behind the brush and carefully got our gear set up. We sat in silence as we watched the deer move unknowingly in front of us. Because we were so close, it was easy for us to identify the largest buck and count his points. It seemed like we were watching them for hours, unsuspected. A few times, however, a doe would randomly look up, making perfect eye contact with me and I would freeze, afraid to breath and ruin the possible shot. We waited and waited until the deer relaxed more and more and came closer. Finally, it seemed like they were in close enough range and spread out well enough that I could position myself for the shot.
Half squatting, I held my rifle and sought out the buck I had selected. There was suddenly some noise that startled the herd or perhaps the wind direction shifted and they caught our smell, but their pace hastened and they began to trot past us, over the hill to another valley. I had to move around the tree we were behind to get a clear shot at them. They slowed down and were tasting the brush on the hill when the buck I wanted turned slightly, revealing the ideal kill shot. I pulled the trigger and when the bullet blasted, the deer sprinted away at full speed down the hill into the valley. My dad and I hastily grabbed our equipment and raced over the hill after the deer. Breathlessly following the deer tracks, we zigzagged through the valley’s brush until we suddenly spotted and approached the motionless deer, collapsed atop a small sagebrush. The bullet struck him in the lungs and remained there until he was gutted. He did not bleed much until he fell, but it was definitely a kill shot. All of the patience, experience and exhaustion paid off when I finally harvested my first 4X4 mule deer.
It was a challenging hunt, but I was so excited that I filled my tag and on top of that, only used one bullet to do it. The hike back to the Jeep we left on a hilltop was long, but despite the deer in tow, it was easier yet knowing we were done for the day and the season and had ample meat to show for our hard work.