All photo credits: Ryan Honea
You’ve just spent the morning at a phenomenal vantage point, looking over miles of terrain trying to find that buck that gets your heart racing. Occasionally, we find him, but usually morning turns to afternoon and afternoon to evening and we head back to the tent at night hoping that tomorrow brings new opportunities — and bigger bucks. I think it’s safe to say that most of the time or, in fact, nearly all of the time, the bucks win and we have to regroup with a change of strategy, location or renewed commitment to our pre-hunt plan. However, on occasion, we do find the buck we’re after and the decisions we make in the moments right after we do typically dictate the success or failure of the day.
My 2021 Nevada mule deer hunt was a straight-up struggle. I drew a tag in a unit that had a decent reputation and I was interested in trying something new. I have my bread-and-butter units in Nevada, but really wanted to test my mettle in a new unit to see if I could deliver a good result in an area I had never been to. Preseason scouting was very difficult — to the point that I was excited to see five deer in an entire day. It was very slow. There is no question that significantly warmer than normal temperatures and drought were affecting the deer and my typical approach simply wasn’t delivering good results. I scouted hard, spending about 12 days in the field. I went high and low, spending hours behind my binoculars and spotting scope.
The terrain was typical of Nevada: lots of sagebrush with spotty cedar at mid-elevations and pines up above 9,000’. I developed a plan to get high on opening day; over 10,000’ where I would be able to see down the north and south sides of the range I planned to hunt. If you’ve never hunted central Nevada, it feels like you’re on the moon. It’s so remote and removed from anything that would resemble civilization, but also heaven for a diehard backcountry hunter. Opening day and the opening weekend came and went with little action. I saw very few deer and only a couple of bucks that required a little extra attention. The biggest was a 160” young 4-point that ultimately got a pass. It was five days of difficult hunting with low clouds and blowing snow, but my resolve remained strong. I had another 10 days to hunt and was certain I would turn something up. During the second weekend, I was fortunate to have another five days off from work and planned to hunt country that was lower in elevation as I just didn’t see what I had expected to up higher when I got a break from the weather.