2013 Hunting Story Contest Winner
Written by Loy Huskey
In 2005, a good friend of mine, Jim, asked me to go mule deer hunting with him. I had not hunting since I moved to Washington in 1999 and was eager to get back out there. I had heard stories from Jim and other hunters I worked with, and the hunting style in the Northwest seemed vastly different from that of the Southeast where I used to live. I was a little skeptical so I agreed to go along but did not put out the money for an out-of-state tag. I figured I would just bring my cameras and be the unofficial camp photographer.
We left the Portland Metro area around 4:30 on a cold wet Thursday morning, two days before the season began. After about 7 hours of driving through some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, we arrived at our campsite, a flat area on the side of the mountain overlooking Summer Lake, Oregon. The lake was full that year and the Diablo Range in the distance reflected perfectly on the mirrored surface of the water.
We immediately began to set up our home for the next two-and-a-half weeks, pitching tents, fixing up the kitchen area, making a fire pit, etc. Through the rest of that day and the next, the rest of our hunting party arrived, Brad, Jim's son JP, and Greg...four hunters and me, the cameraman. The anticipation of the hunt was virtually tangible and hung over the camp, lifting everyone's spirits. Morale was high and stories of past seasons, successes and failures alike, were traded with fondness and joviality. Finally, someone suggested we all go to bed because, after all, we did actually get to hunt in a few hours.
The alarm went off at 4:30 AM. I had been lying there awake for what seemed like hours waiting for it to go off. I rolled out of my cot and was immediately assaulted by the icy chill of the snow front that rolled in over night. For a few brief moments, while I clambered to don my winter clothes, I questioned my sanity for even going on this trip. At last I pulled on my wool ski cap and stepped outside. If I thought it was cold in my tent, I was wrong. The air outside my tent seemed to freeze my lungs inside my body, or so this city boy thought. I made my way over to the kitchen area and fired up the stove. I had set up the coffee pot the night before and now it was frozen. As the camp stove began its battle with the frozen steel of the coffee pot, I began walking from tent to tent waking up their inhabitants. Soon the camp was alive and a second pot of coffee was boiling.
Gathered around the fire, the hunters went over their plans, who was going where and the areas they were going to hunt. Radios were then checked, breakfast bars were gobbled down, and rifles were checked. At about 5:30 AM the camp emptied, JP and I headed out on foot searching for the elusive monster buck. We headed up some old grown over switchbacks walking toward the cliff face of Winter Ridge. After a few hours and seeing nothing but a doe and some fawns, JP decided to cut across the lava rock toward a thick patch of woods. Crossing the lava rock was more treacherous than we had anticipated and after about an hour of clambering across loose rocks (and leaving copious amounts of DNA on said rocks) we made it across. We sat at the tree line for a while, more to lick our wounds than to look for game, and then we headed off. Shortly before noon a shot rang out from above us. All radios were to be off unless we heard a shot so I grabbed my radio and switched it on. We stood dead silent waiting for someone to talk, waiting for the call. Finally it came; Greg had shot a buck on the flats above us. It took us only about 15 minutes to find him. he had downed a nice size 2x3 (or a 5-point depending where you are from). We helped him get it back to camp, hang it, and I got to help skin my first mule deer. Nothing else was seen that day and we ended day one of the season on a high note...One buck was hanging and the expectations for the next day high.
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The next morning was a repeat of the first, with me being the first to arise and make coffee. It was a little bit warmer which was evident because the snow line was now above our camp. We all headed out about the same time but this time JP and I walked up a steep hill behind camp until we came to an old overgrown logging road, which was at the snow line.
JP and I walked to snow line as quietly as we could and after a few miles, we heard a noise above us. Passing by, going the other direction, was the unmistakable breathing and grunting of a black bear. We waited for the noise to pass, never seeing the source of the deep guttural sounds through the thick brush. Seconds after the bear passed, a shot rang out in the distance. I reached down and turned my radio on waiting for the call. It seemed like an eternity before Jim's voice cracked over the radio. He had a deer down and needed help getting it out of "The Hole." The Hole was the area between our camp and the farmland by the lake, which was about 800 feet below our elevation. Pumped, we headed in the direction of the shot and where Jim said he was.
About a half-mile from camp, off the main road, we dropped into the hole. We found Jim roughly 200 yards down some of the steepest terrain I had ever seen along with one of the biggest bucks I had ever seen. The only thing bigger than the deer was the smile on Jim's face. His sleeves were rolled up, he had blood from fingertip to elbow, and he was slightly out of breath from trying to pull the beast up hill. After a few minutes and many pictures, the rest of the group arrived to help pull it out of the hole. We couldn't go straight up so we had to side hill it until we could see the road above us. We were then able to send someone for a truck and pulled the buck up the rest of the way. When we had it in the bed of the truck I checked my watch. From the time we heard the shot to the time we had it in the truck it had been almost seven hours. Daylight was waning and I was ready to call it a day.
We made it to camp and pulled the deer out of the bed when Brad jumped up, grabbed JP, and said, "Let's go get our deer." They took off in Brad's Isuzu Trooper and when they were just out of sight, a shot rang out. I looked at Jim who just shook his head and went about tending to his deer. I dutifully turned on my radio just in time to hear Brad saying JP shot a deer. I had never met Brad before this and relied on Jim's disbelief to govern my reply (It turns out Brad is quite the jokester). I politely told him that he was full of it and let it go.
A few minutes later, the Trooper pulled into camp and the two hunters jumped out. We stopped tending to Jim's buck and walked over to look at this imaginary deer that they had allegedly shot. In the back of the Trooper, on an old blue tarp, was a young 2x2 buck. JP had a smile on his face and began pulling the animal from the SUV while telling us what had just transpired. As soon as the deer was clear, Brad jumped back in the Isuzu yelling he was going to go get his now. We all just shook our heads in disbelief as Brad sped down the dirt road.
Again, as soon as Brad was out of sight, a shot rang out. Now we all knew that there was no way Brad could get a deer that fast...not again anyway...seriously, what are the chances? Again, I dutifully turned on my radio and waited. This time there was nothing but silence on the radio. I kept my radio on until the Trooper pulled back into camp. Brad slowly emerged and gingerly walked to the cooler, grabbed a beer, and strolled over to watch us work on two deer at once. Finally, he said, "You want to skin mine too?" We just shook our heads in disbelief and told him that we knew he had nothing. After a couple of minutes, Brad walked to the back of the Trooper, opened it and just stood there staring into the vehicle. We eventually took the bait and walked over to Brad. As we neared him, we could see on that same old blue tarp, was another buck.
My first experience with hunting mule deer ended with all four tags being filled in two days. There was much celebrating that night and much sleeping the next morning. Memories were made and friendships established. Since that first year, Jim, Brad, and I have hunted mule deer every year together and have gone elk hunting many times. I have taken my family with me and have introduced my children to the great outdoors through hunting. In fact, my son took his first deer just a couple hundred yards from where I got my first muley. Because of this first trip, hunting to me is not just an experience or something we do, but a way of life and one that I won't easily give up. And for this, I have to say to Jim and Brad, thank you.