The doe flared her nostrils, snorting into the wind. She knew I was close. Maybe she had heard the sharp noise of the twig snapping as I brushed by the desert shrubs. Maybe the swirling wind earlier in the stalk had brought her a whiff of my scent. As she again flared her nostrils, it was clear she was desperately trying to catch my scent to know whether and in which direction she should flee. But now the wind was blowing strongly in my favor. Sitting at seventy yards, hidden behind a shrub, for me things were going swimmingly. For the doe, not so much.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers protects wild lands like these for our enjoyment.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers — one of the leading hunting and fishing conservation organizations — just posted a story of Nick’s on their blog. In the story We Could Be Deer Hunters After All, he recounts the final weekend of last year’s season where he and I find a big buck but leave empty-handed. We took away only the lessons we learned from the experience (some of which I detailed in my last post). In his story Nick talks in detail about the mule deer spot and stalk and — due to some adrenaline-addled choices — the harrowing situation in which he found himself. From that day we came away with one of our most important lessons: we could be deer hunters after all.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we hunt for mule deer out in the desert. It’s very open country. Being still-novice hunters, we probably couldn’t have picked a much more difficult first big game quarry. Mule deer are often called ‘grey ghosts’ for their elusive qualities, and attempting to hunt them in terrain that often has no more than knee-high brush — most often with a bow — makes getting one all the more challenging. You might even think, at first blush, that we’re trying to make it as hard as possible to get deer. That’s certainly not our intention, as we would really like to have the meat to eat. But given that we live in the desert Southwest, and given the seasons available to us, we’re left with a rather trying introduction to deer hunting. Fortunately, however, we aren’t starting from scratch. Last season I happened across a timeless and excellent introduction to hunting mule deer in the open expanses of the American West. Dwight Schuh’sHunting Open-Country Mule Deer, written almost twenty years ago, contains nearly all the pointers a budding mule deer hunter could want.
Most of our hunting occurs in the desert. Our hunting areas are characterized primarily by sagebrush, creosote brush, and cholla cacti. It’s pretty rough terrain subject to very harsh weather extremes. From foot scorching, mouth parching heat in the summer to bone chilling nights in the winter, the desert has a range of temperatures. It also has monsoons, flash floods, wicked lightning, and sand storms. Oh yeah, and it’s a desert. So all the water I have to drink to stay hydrated is packed in on my back. The desert is a challenging place to hunt and an even more challenging place to backpack hunt.