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Muzzleloader Buck Nevada DIY Style

By Travis Bertrand, Rokslide Moderator

The anticipation of May 25th finally came to an end at 4:06 PM when the Nevada big game draw results were finally posted! I was anxious to see if I would draw a goose egg like in years prior or might the odds finally be stacked in my favor this year? I unexpectedly found my name in the successful index and had to do a double-take because my name rarely makes it on that list! Soon the congratulatory texts started to roll in as my friends and I slapped digital high-fives. I was blessed with a muzzleloader deer tag for some of the roughest country Nevada has to offer. Soon I would find out first-hand just how steep this country really is.

 

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My scouting ventures started in mid-June with a family camping trip to familiarize myself with the unit I would soon adopt as my "home away from home". During that maiden voyage I pointed to some wicked-steep, rocky country and told my wife that she and I would be packing in there to scout later in the summer. I wish I had taken a picture of the look on her face!

A few weeks passed and we finally found time to pack into the top of the unforgiving mountain. We soaked in the gorgeous country as we glassed and set up variouis trail cameras on the water holes we found over the three-day trip.   

Over the course of the next few months, I spent most of my weekends making the grueling drive to the trailhead in God's country. On every trip I found new deer and discovered more new areas and water holes to scout. The long hikes in with my wife gave us time to bond outside the normal day-to-day grind of chores and diapers. It was an amazing time spent alone with her and I think she can now truly appreciate my obsession with the outdoors and hunting.

After a number of scouting trips I'd found some good bucks, but still hadn't found the buck I wanted to pursue on opening day.

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Nerves were setting in as the possibility of not taking a trophy was starting to look more probable. I looked all over my unit, followed leads from previous tag holders, poured over maps, and dang near burned holes through the lenses of my binoculars, yet still hadn't seen a buck that would meet my goal of scoring 180" or stretching a tape 30-inches wide.

Opening morning found me sitting over some low country, against my better judgement, looking over the thick mahogany covered hillside where a mature buck might call home. I spent the first few days of season planted in shade waiting for a mature buck to make a mistake. I never saw a great buck so the search continued. The season started off tough and hope was fading away like the last rays of sun. 

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My good friend Pete was able to drive up and lend an extra set of eyes and a strong back for a few days. His presence brought a wave of confidence over me as we hiked to a glassing spot we had picked out earlier that summer. That boost of energy was ground to a pulp over the next few days as we turned up single digit bucks with nothing better than a young 4x4.

On his last day I finally succumbed to my calling... it was time to hit the high country. We loaded our packs at the trailhead with food for the night and our bivys. Within minutes our death march was halted by a group of three bucks with a good looking three-point at the helm. It seemed we were finally pointed in the right direction.

That afternoon brought a nasty southeasterly wind that whipped through our jackets as if they were mosquito netting and continued to chill our bones until darkness forced us off our perch. Though we never saw a good buck that night, something told me this was the place where I would finish my hunt. I headed home for a recovery day and loaded my pack with six days of food and made a game-plan for my assault on the mountain.

When I returned, the wind was just as ferocious but the direction had changed so the chilly blast was coming from the northwest now. It felt like old-school deer hunting weather, not the typical sunny nice weather one expects in September.  On the familiar hike in, my confidence was at an all-time high.

That evening I set up to glass high off a ridge top, tucking behind some rocks to avoid the wind's lashing while I surveyed some of the most beautiful country God gave Nevada. According to the NOAA weather updates, wind gusts in the region were approaching 70 mph! In spite of the wind, bucks started popping up as the sun went down but they were out of reach.

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The weather sent me to the warmth of my camp earlier than normal. After a quick meal, I nestled into my sleeping bag and tried to recover some of my body heat the wind robbed from me earlier.

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The next morning broke calm, but the cold front wrapped the high sage in a dark gray cold. Fog hung over the high desert and tempered the first hours of daylight. The deer and I both welcomed the first warm rays of sunlight that burned through the gray quilt covering the high ridge to the east.

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As the fog receded I gobbled up the view with my 15x56's anchored on the tripod. A stark-white muzzle slapped me to attention as I struggled to steady my glass on the phantom buck bedded on the ridge below. He was a welcome sight, and upon further inspection, I recognized him from earlier in the season. I had caught this buck in a trail camera picture.  I'd sent that photo my friend in Idaho, Robby Denning, who is a mule deer fanatic earlier in the summer. He replied, "Who cares about score on a buck like that! He has curb appeal. You need to go after him!" I agreed that I would if I got a chance, and that opportunity just presented itself!

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My first glimpse of the buck was by trail camera

The thermals were carrying steadily down-slope, so getting above him was not a viable option. I opted to ambush him on his way up the mountain if he decided to use the path I saw him take a few times before. I sat watching an ambush lane where my shot would be 96 yards at the farthest. I knew that would be a chip shot with as much practice as I had put in over the summer – even with open sights. I established a good rest on a giant boulder and waited for him to show up. I waited... And waited...

Something was wrong... He seemed restless an hour earlier. I waited a bit longer then decided to peek around the rock to see if he was still bedded. I couldn't pick him up but I knew which way he must have gone to escape unseen. I sneaked over to the ridge to see if I could turn him up – and there he was, feeding nonchalantly, 120 yards out, quartered away. Perfect!

I quickly found a good rest and my well-aimed bullet was on its way! He made it forty yards to his final resting place. At that moment, my emotions overcame me. I had just killed the biggest buck of my life. When I found him, I placed my hand on top of his shoulder and prayed. I was overwhelmed with the joy of my success but saddened that my wife was not there to enjoy this special moment with me. With light fading fast, the hard work began. A difficult pack out that star-filled night and a second one the next morning left me with blistered feet, sore legs, but a smile from ear-to-ear.

buck front view

The author's big Nevada buck taken with a Knight Disc Extreme 50 Cal shooting 90 gr of Triple 7 behind a .45 cal Barnes Expander

In all, I spent 17 days scouting and seven days hunting. I collected and reviewed 25,000 trail cam photos, and destroyed a good pair of boots looking for a true, once-in-a-lifetime buck. This hunt reassured me that hard work and perseverance pays off in one way or another and that "once-in-a-lifetime" bucks are not defined by someone else's perception, but by our own efforts and experiences.

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buck side view distance

 

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