Seas of Sage

By Karl Curnow

Karl CurnowKarl Curnow
Oregon, 2009, DIY, Public Land

Our 2009 Oregon high desert mule deer hunt started as most hunts usually do. After many years accumulating bonus points, we were finally drawn. Now it was time to get as much information as we could. Maps were ordered, biologists called, and other information gathered. We were forewarned that deer numbers were down statewide, but then what state isn’t seeing a decline in numbers?

We weighed the pros and cons of hauling four mules 12 hours, or taking ATVs for the many roads that are accessible in the area. Mules won out, as usual.

We had hunted this unit seven years ago on an elk hunt but met with limited success. On this trip, we decided to pack into a remote backcountry area.

My hunting partner of over 25 years, Darwin “Pete” Schaber, who is a breeder of magnum size mules, and I were excited but yet cautiously optimistic that we could find a keeper buck with enough research and perseverance. Our 2009 hunt almost didn’t happen, with Pete being diagnosed with arterial blockage just three and a half months before our trip. Triple bypass was performed, and our hunt was Pete’s motivation to heal as quickly as possible.

We left the trailhead on Thursday and rode in seven miles. The biologist had said it would be a nice ride, and he was right. This area had it all - aspen, mahogany, and juniper thickets in a vast sea of sage. For us, this is the recipe for big bucks.

We glassed all day Friday, but no bucks were seen. We did see three California bighorn rams high on the mountain, which was a great sight all its own.

Opening morning arrived and with it came snow and low clouds. Around 10:30, I decided I’d had enough and started heading back to camp. Visibility was around 75 yards, so the landmarks that I had mentally noted yesterday were now gone. I was over two miles from camp, so this made for a bit of a situation. I knew if I stayed close to the creek heading down I would get close; it was just going to be at the point where I had to cut up to camp that it might get “interesting”. It took awhile, but I did finally make it back to our very well concealed camp.

Karl Curnow

For a full account of Carl's adventure, go to page 14 in the February/March 2010 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.