Nevada, 2009, DIY, Public Land
It was 2:45 a.m. as my dad, our family friend, Andrew, and I navigated the desert trail in the pitch black, our headlamps reflecting off of sagebrush and juniper and my heavy backpack weighing on me. It was the last weekend of the hunt and I began to think about the events of the season. It began with such excitement. For the first time, my family had drawn four Nevada big game tags, with my dad getting a muzzleloader deer tag, my sister getting her first youth deer tag, and me getting a cow elk tag and my last youth deer tag.
In 2008 I was able to get a nice 21-inch 3x4, and this year I wanted something bigger. My dad was excited about filling his muzzleloader deer tag with a quality animal because he had waited four years to get it. We planned to go into a wilderness area with our horse during muzzleloader season and if I couldn’t fill my tag, I would hunt later during the rifle season.
As the summer progressed, things turned south. My dad had a freak accident, falling and hitting his leg on a trailer hitch ball. The deep bruise developed into an infection and on August 1, my dad’s birthday, he was hospitalized and had the first of three leg surgeries. The infection had become an early form of gangrene. If the doctors hadn’t acted fast, my dad could have easily lost his leg. A week later he had his third surgery and his leg was doing much better. He had a continuous IV line for antibiotics and was in a wheelchair and crutches for the next few weeks.
Miraculously, his leg was strong enough on September 16 for the doctor to give him permission to go hunting in the wilderness. That’s when more discouragement hit. On the following evening - the night we were supposed to leave - our horse spooked and fell on the pavement, cutting him badly. We spent that evening and the next day tending to him. His injuries weren’t serious, but he was out of commission for the season!
There was no one to help us on short notice, so we decided to go for it anyway. The following morning we backpacked toward our camp carrying 60-lb. backpacks each. After half a day on the trail, it became apparent that Dad didn’t have the stamina to pack out an animal from deep in wilderness. We decided to turn around and not go in so far.
We hunted for a day in the lowlands and didn’t see any bucks, so we hiked out and hunted closer to the roads. By now, Dad and I had decided to go for pretty much any buck. We made a stalk on a few small bucks but were unable to get within shooting distance before time ran out.
We spent some time over the next few weeks hunting for cow elk and I missed a few school days, leaving me less time for deer. Because of that, we were planning to go for a fast trip to shoot a small buck or a doe. That’s when Andrew made himself available to go with us. Dad knew that with Andrew’s help we would have the ability to pack into the wilderness. With renewed vigor, Dad engineered plans for one last attempt. These were the things I was contemplating while we hiked by night making our way toward our base camp.
We had been delayed in leaving that night and didn’t make it to the trailhead until 12:30 a.m. We then began our hike and finally made it to base camp at 3:30 a.m. After setting up camp and resting for 20 minutes, we loaded up our frame backpacks and day packs and started our ascent up the mountain - without any sleep - hoping to arrive near the top before dawn.
We steadily ascended until we reached our destination and then sat down to glass. After 45 minutes, we continued to the top and dropped our packs before going over, because my dad felt like there might be something on the other side. As we went over the ridge, we spotted deer immediately. There was a good buck in the group, but they were moving, so I rapidly got set for a sitting shot with my bipod. He looked to be a heavy four-point about 24 inches wide. Dad blew on his deer stopper call and the big buck stopped broadside. We hadn’t had time to range them and I thought they were farther away than they actually were, so I aimed high and fired. I ended up shooting over the buck.
Dad thought that I might have hit the buck, so he climbed up to check for blood while Andrew and I stayed back to watch for movement through the trees. As Andrew and I glassed, I replayed scene over and over again in my head. I was so upset with myself! After searching for over an hour, my dad couldn’t find any blood, so we knew it was time to move on.
For a full account of Luke's adventure, go to page 48 in the August/September 2010 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.