Late last week we concluded our final out-of-state hunt for the year, a successful trip pursuing high country Mule Deer in Nevada. This hunt was in an area that we have some history with: my dad started hunting it in the 1980s, then took me there for my first backpack hunt in 2003 at age 13. My dad and I have now hunted this area four times together, and Ben Britton has been on the hunt the past two trips (2012 and 2015). Over the years we have taken some very nice bucks and made a lot of memories in Nevada, and this year was no different- aside from our bucks being on the small side compared to seasons past.
On the hunt this year was Ben Britton, my dad Mike, our good friend Ken, and myself. Ben and I had just five days to hunt while my dad and Ken allowed themselves nine days in the field.
As has been the case on most of our hunts this year, we were once again dealing with warm temperatures and a big moon to start out the hunt. For the first three days, Ben and I packed into an area where I took a 31″ wide buck in 2012. The conditions had the animals moving only in the first and last 10 minutes of daylight, and the bucks we did see were not shooters this early in the trip.
On the third night (second night with the season open) a heavy storm rolled in bringing rain, thick fog, and a dusting of snow to the highest elevations. We got out of the tents momentarily at daylight, but a constant rain and visibility that stretched no more than 50 yards forced us back into our Ultra Stars. We ended up spending 17 hours out of an 18-hour stretch inside our little tents.
On the bright side, the moisture allowed us to stay on the ridge that night and the following morning, rather than having to hike way down and back up for an over-due water refill. Sucking standing water from the rocks gave us just under 2 liters to filter.
The ceiling finally lifted that evening, exposing some beautiful sunset lighting on the mountains. Unfortunately, even after a long day of bad weather, we still couldn’t get eyes on a good buck.
By this time we were ready to see some new country and make a move. We packed out mid-morning, drove a short distance to another trailhead, and hiked in to meet back up with my dad and Ken. We reached their camp about an hour before dark and did some glassing from there. We were pleased to glass over 40 deer that evening- a night and day difference from what we’d seen in the first area.
Before leaving our first camp we made this quick video showing our pack contents:
Just after dark, Ken and my dad showed up in camp and we swapped reports on our hunts thus far. They had passed on many small bucks in the first three days, but like us, had yet to see anything big. Ben and I set our tents with theirs and we enjoyed a Mountain House dinner together.
Ken (far right in the photo below) has plenty of experience in hunting by horseback, but this was his first real backpack hunt. We had some hard laughs when he asked us to go through his pack and point out the things that he didn’t need… a process that had to have put at least 5 years life back onto his back and knees. Ken’s attitude was perfect for this kind of hunt and he learned a lot in short time. No doubt he has what it takes.
The next morning we were once again socked in with fog, which would lift or open for a few minutes of glassing about every 30 minutes. Late in the morning we caught a glimpse of a few nice bucks up high about a mile and a half away and feeling the time crunch, Ben and I took off after them. A couple hours later we were in position for a shot if any of them were to feed out of the last aspen patch they were seen going into. We could see the does they were with feeding in the brush, so we had a good feeling that the bucks were close by.
I continued glassing our surroundings while Ben laid in wait for the bucks to come out. After four hours of nothing, I located a small group of bucks on a slope back over toward camp where we came from. These new bucks were in a very stalkable location and we had time to make a move on them. It was either keep waiting for bucks that we “think” are there, or make another big move on bucks that we know are there. We chose the latter.
Close to an hour of hiking as fast as we could later, we found ourselves within 350 yards of the now bedded bucks. A dense stand of pines below and across the bowl from the bucks hid our movement as we set up for a shot. The best two bucks in the group were a 4×4 and a 4×3, while the others were small forks. Ben adjusted the turret for a 340 yard shot, settled on the 4×4, and squeezed. He never left his bed.
Amidst the excitement I decided that I would be happy taking the 4×3 if presented a good shot. The remaining bucks banded together for their escape, but actually started running toward us. To make a short story even shorter, I settled when they stopped and squeezed the trigger. The fork buck fell in a case of confused identity, and the nice 4×3 and his only remaining running mate continued on with their evening.
My buck was smaller than the coastal Blacktail I took two weeks prior, but to my surprise I really wasn’t disappointed. As a matter of fact this deer helped me refresh my perspective on what I personally value in a harvest: memories, stories, hard work, and getting to care for quality meat. Field dressing with great care and packing heavy loads of clean meat are events that I enjoy immensely- and they have nothing to do with the size of the antlers. This isn’t to say that I won’t continue trying to take above-average animals on each outing, but for one hunt filling my tag on a small buck was surprisingly gratifying.
We got our bucks back to camp around midnight, hung the quarters and loose meat in the cool night breeze, and hit the sacks for some much needed sleep.
The following morning after glassing with my dad and Ken, we enjoyed our coffee while boning out the quarters and packing up camp for our last-day hike out to the truck.
Meat care is something that we take a lot of pride in, and we have no problem sharing the condition of our meat and cleanliness of bones after de-boning. The hind quarters and shoulders were taken off the bone in single pieces to minimize meat loss. We prefer to take slabs of neck meat even when not required by law as it grinds up great for burger and sausage.
SCARPA Charmoz Pro GTX x2
Dad and Ken needed to re-stock food at the trailhead for the rest of their hunt, so they were generous enough to help us pack meat off the mountain.
My camp and pack (Ultra 6000)
Ben’s pack (Icon Pro 7200)
The evening after Ben and I headed home, my dad took this nice 4×4. He spent the off-season putting together and new rifle, scope, and loads to extend his effective range. It paid off big time when he made a perfect 616 yard broadside shot on his buck. “I couldn’t have hit him better from 100″ he told me over the phone the following morning.
Upon arriving home we like to jump straight into processing any meat that we plan to grind. By not letting the meat age further and build a hard outer crust, we’re able to get a higher yield on the product with minimal trimming.
For long drives (8 hours in this case) we mix 30 pounds of wet ice with 10 pounds of dry ice in the bottom of a large ice chest. The dry ice keeps all moisture frozen. Half way home we rotate the meat, so by the time we arrive most is beginning to harden. This makes it really easy to cut into chunks for grinding.
This meat came out exceptionally clean for being skinned and processed on the ground, hung on trees, carried in packs twice, and driven a long distance.
On the to-make list was burger, bratwurst, spicy Italian sausage, sweet Italian sausage, regular breakfast sausage, and maple breakfast sausage. We did both links and bulk/patty in all sausages. Ground bacon ends were added to reach a 20% fat content.
Natural hog casings.
Finally, we made 3 lbs of Jerky with the leftover lean grind that was left once we ran out of fat for burger/sausage.
As always, thanks for reading and don’t hesitate to post questions or comments below if you have them. Or, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ben Britton can be reached at email@example.com.