Chasing mule deer at 4000 feet alone in the stillness of the woods is humbling. With my bow in hand I traversed the steep terrain of the Cascade mountain range hiking between seven and 10 miles a day. While also spending countless hours sitting around in mid-30º temperatures glassing ridges in search of these ghosts, and each glimpse of this elusive animal filled me with awe. I have found myself here in this exact moment after years of deep contemplation about food and the search for an honest way to eat. My preparations over the last two years have culminated in this hunt. I’ve put in lots of hard work to make myself leaner, stronger and more physically fit by loosing almost 20lbs through Crossfit, weight training and diet. I’ve practiced archery with my compound bow and at this point, out to 40 yards, I’m comfortably lethal. I’ve read, researched and asked numerous questions to those who have bow hunted before me. I come from a family that doesn’t hunt therefore hunting is an adult decision I’ve made on my own. I seek to not only challenge myself further but to uncover what else lies within the recesses of self.
Nestled in the timberline was deer camp — a wall tent with a wood stove and a cook shack. Two ’90-something Toyota 4WD trucks schlepped all our gear up the rutted forest service roads and it took the four of us just over two hours to establish camp. While camp had many creature comforts, like heat from a wood stove and cots to sleep on we still were cooking over a Coleman 2-burner camp stove and swilling cowboy coffee each morning on our way out. No showers and a 5-gallon Lug-a-loo bucket acted like an outhouse of sorts without walls of course. After all it’s called camp for a reason. As each day would come to a close we would find ourselves tucking into the warmth of the wall tent, sharing tales of the day and strategizing for the next while each day one guy took a turn as the camp chef. We would inhale a hot meal and wash it down with a cup of coffee with just enough time to razz each other about missed opportunities before we all settled into our bunks and drifted off to sleep by 8pm.
4:30 am comes early even when you are anticipating it. At this time of day the temperature outside is hovering in the mid-20º’s and while the wood stove is stoked back to life the warmth of my sleeping bag has a grip on me that I’m fighting. The sludge from the peculator, that we called coffee, was the morning fuel that I needed to be able to put my two feet on the coldness of the tarp flooring and start my day. A hot meal of dehydrated eggs and bacon filled my belly and was garnished with some Tapatio hot sauce. At this point I transitioned from sleepy head to rearing and ready to go charge the mountain.
I’d hike out along the ridgeline moving slowly pausing after every six steps or so to give a listen to the forest and glass the hillside with binoculars. Often times my hunting buddy and I would spot herds of between three to six does, so we’d sit still and look for the bucks. In this unit there was a lot of deer sign; game trails, rubs and scat yet the bucks were few and far between. Then reduce the available number of bucks down to a legal 3pt or better and we are talking about two shooter bucks in the area that this rookie saw. This was a great unit to hunt though and while I came home from this hunt without venison. I know I will return to the woods again to hunt. Now I understand how easy it is to become addicted to buck fever and drop everything during deer season. Already, I’m making notes of what I’d call my successes from this hunt and what skills I need to further develop in the off season so I may become the best possible predator — after all I am now a bow hunter.