The “Buck Haven” during the summer scouting trip
What doesn’t kill you will make you want to do it again right? Going into the application period for Nevada in 2005, I envisioned a semi-comfortable horseback hunt deep in the pristine wilderness with one of my good buddies. That vision was snuffed out as the drawing results arrived and he didn’t draw and I did. So much for the ponies I had planned on carrying me and all my stuff.
Although the unit wasn’t known for producing giant deer, I figured I could find a respectable buck if I did some homework and hunted hard. The only problem was that 2005 was an extremely busy year. My dad had finally drawn his Utah coveted elk tag after applying for 15 years. I knew his elk hunt needed to be the main focus.
I spoke to the biologist of the area several times about regions I had deemed as “bucky” on the map. He confirmed my thoughts that in in order to find a buck of the caliber I would consider shooting; I would need to get as far from the beaten path as possible. In between elk scouting trips, I did squeeze in a two day trip to the unit. We tried to hike in the first night in the dark but ended up getting lost and spending the night on a 45 degree angled slope. Only when we woke up did we realize we were trying to scale the tallest peak in the unit. We had missed the correct trailhead by about three miles!
After a nap, we hiked into my second choice area to spend that night and following morning. Just as soon as we arrived to our destination and begin glassing we started seeing bucks everywhere! It was a glorified buck haven! Only problem was that they were all the same age class, two or three years old. The best buck was a 3×4 frame with three stair steep cheaters off his three point side. Even though I didn’t think the buck would get to my predetermined goal of 175”, I liked his character and made him the target of the upcoming hunt.
After chasing bugling bulls in Utah the entire months of September, it was finally time to load the backpack and head for Nevada. My brothers Keldon and Kirk had volunteered to tag along as my substitute pack mules. We packed in a day early to try and locate the cheater buck or another potential shooter. The weather was nice and warm and the forecast was for more of the same for the next five days. In that day before the hunt we probably glassed up eighty different bucks, none of which would break 165”. From our primitive camp we had a great vantage point of the entire head of the basin. The view from our tent doors was a high country hunters dream!
Opening morning came and all of the same bucks could be seen feeding in the basin below our perch. Several other groups of hunters popped into my secluded honey hole. One of the hunters put a stalk on the biggest buck in the bunch and bumped him right past us. As the 26” wide, 160” buck passed by at a mere 40 yards, we had to take cover as hunters we hadn’t seen above us started flinging lead. Several of them raced down the ridge after the bucks that had nearly caused my death stopping long enough to apologize for shooting over us and send us scrambling.
That night we headed far down the basin, descending several thousand feet for some rim rock brushy country. After the morning’s fireworks, I figured if there was an older buck around, this is where he would be. After jumping some more does and smaller bucks, we entered some steep rocky chutes. It was about an hour before dark when I got my chance on a wide heavy buck at extreme distance. I wasn’t able to connect on the long range shooting and if it wasn’t for some other mature bucks appearing right at dark, I would have thought I had blown my chance at meeting my goal.
The long hike back to camp in the dark was a tough one as I continually replayed the shots in my head. We awoke the next morning and glassed the head of the basin. Where there had been dozens of bucks the day before, only a few does and small bucks were visible. There was a definite change in the temperature that morning and clouds could be seen forming way off on the western horizon. Not exactly what you like to see when you are backpacked five miles in and sitting at close to 11,000 feet.
Despite the changing weather I knew we needed to return to the rough country from the night before. The clouds on the horizon continued to darken, so much for the weathermen ever getting things right. It was obvious this was not a summer rainstorm brewing. Fall was definitely upon us. As we sat and waited for the group of bucks to appear, a drizzling, make you miserable, kind of rain began. Turning our glance back up towards camp, snow could be seen below the socked-in clouds. We waited until dark, but the bucks never showed themselves in the miserable conditions.
The two mile, 2500 foot climb back to camp was not a pleasant one. The temperature had dropped and in wasn’t long until we reached the snow line. The snow was accumulating rapidly and the wind was blowing just enough to ruin any visibility offered from our flashlights. Luckily my GPS finally acquired our now half tent half snow cave home. It was close to midnight when we exhaustingly tried to resurrect the tent my brothers were hoping to sleep in.
There was already 10” of snow as we hunkered in to wait out the storm. I pulled socks over my hands and huddled into my bag trying to fight the chill.
Three hours later I awoke with a sick feeling. My bomb proof Walrus tent was struggling under the weight of the snow and was only inches from my face. My brother’s tent was not capable of handling this much Mother Nature and I worried they were in trouble. I pulled on my hydro-fleece and stumbled into what was now 18” of snow. The other tent wasn’t even recognizable. I started frantically scooping snow off as muffled voices inside finally confirmed they were alright. Knocking as much snow as I could from my own tent I climbed back inside my soggy home.
It was still snowing two hours later when I heard the other two hunters in the basin and their llamas climb past our camp and make their way out of the basin. I began to wonder if we should be considering the same idea as somehow I drifted back to sleep. About 7:30 that morning I heard my brothers stirring and realized the sounds of the falling snow had stopped. I unzipped my tent just in time to see Keldon take a face plant into two or more feet of snow. Luckily I had brought my cold weather gear with the exception of my boots. My brothers weren’t so fortunate. After multiple attempts we finally got a fire going by using my stove as a torch. Everything we had was soaked. We huddles around the fire and planned our exit strategy. We started defrosting packs, coats and other paraphernalia around our best imitation of the infamous “white-man” fire.
About 9:30 the hunter in me took over as the clouds began to lift. Other than foggy binos, the glassing conditions were beyond ideal. I actually spotted the buck with my own eyes moving through an opening at over a mile while trying to get the Leicas to dry. I knew we had a decision to make as I could immediately tell the buck had potential. I walked back over to the fire and told my brothers I had found a shooter buck. I could tell by the look on their faces they thought I was crazy for even letting it cross my mind. The spotting scope confirmed the buck would surpass my goal. The only problem was that we were not in any condition to go after him let alone get him out if the stalk was successful.
The more I looked at the buck the more I wanted him, probably not fully comprehending what it would take. Finally, after about an hour of going back and forth, my brother Kirk stepped forward and said that we were here to kill a big buck so let’s go get him. The mile long decent to the basin floor was planned and off Kirk and I went. The downhill travel through the immense amount of snow was relatively easy going and we covered the distance quickly. Kirk stayed back in the trees to be less noticeable for the last leg of the stalk. I saw movement ahead at about 600 yards as the buck fed through a clearing and out of sight. Angling around another group of deer I popped out of the trees in perfect position and caught the buck’s antlers move a little over 200 yards away bedded in a small patch of willows.
The buck was a little below me and facing straight away nibbling on some willow leaves. He was totally oblivious as I made a nest in the snow and prepared for the shot. The Nosler Accubond struck the buck between the shoulder blades breaking his back and penetrating his lungs. A quick insurance shot guaranteed he was mine. The sky was a color blue I don’t think I have ever seen before as I stood and admiring the beautiful four point. Kirk arrived and we went to work taking pictures and processing the buck for the long uphill climb.
We reached Keldon at camp and relived the stalk from his point of view through the spotting scope. After a quick freeze dried meal we started the journey through the deep snow toward the trailhead. The hike out in the dark over rock slides was spent falling, slipping, and battling to remain in one piece. It really was a miracle we didn’t break a leg or worse. With 100 plus pounds of deer and gear on my 160 pound body and similar loads on my brothers, the parking lot was a very welcomed sight. The memories of this adventure have made me forget the pain and anguish. To this date he is one of my favorite bucks on the wall. Was it worth struggling through one of the most difficult pack outs I’ve ever experienced? It sure was and hopefully always will be!!
Lessons learned from this adventure:
Be prepared! Always have some degree of cold weather gear. Make sure those with you do as well.
Don’t be afraid to spend another night when necessary. We made the pack out much more difficult by trying to do it in the dark. Waiting till morning would have saved us from a few falls.
If you can out last the storms you may have some of the very best hunting conditions of your life!