THE RIFLE SEASON
FOUR YEARS AGO, IF YOU’D ASKED ME WHAT ANIMAL I most wanted to hunt for the first time, I would have answered mule deer. I can’t say why, exactly, other than I was just enthralled by the animal. And it was that desire that triggered an invitation to western Nebraska, courtesy of my buddies Chuck Smock and Joe Arterburn, from Cabela’s. They’d been given access to hunt a cattle ranch near North Platte, Neb., and asked me to join them. The place was supposed to have lots of deer—muleys and whitetails— and we’d have it all to ourselves. I was in.
Also on the hunt were two of Smock and Arterburn’s coworkers, Wes Remmer and Nathan Borowski. We arrived in the afternoon and spent the next few hours setting up camp. Before dinner, we fixed drinks, and Arterburn made a simple, but fitting, toast: “Welcome to Nebraska.”
Later on, sleep came in fits. Excitement the night before a hunt you’ve been dreaming about will do that to you.
Over the next three and a half days, though, that excitement lessened into just-stay-patient optimism before settling into it’s-not-gonnahappen acceptance. In all, we saw one big whitetail that never gave us a shot; a dink mule deer with a doe; and one decent muley buck that we saw twice on the first day—and I passed on, twice. We’d arrived with the hope of getting a deer for the camp, so it was a little disappointing to end the trip without one. Still, this camp was one of the best I’ve ever shared. We might have eaten our tags, but we also had our fill of fun.
After we broke down camp, I still had one more day before I was due home. A friend of Arterburn’s had offered to come out and hunt with me on the ranch for the rest of the day. The offer was thoughtful, but I declined. I’d really enjoyed hunting alongside Arterburn, and if I was going to shoot a deer here, I wanted it to happen with him. Besides, the deer wouldn’t have been my deer; it would’ve belonged to the camp. And now our camp was over, as was my chance at a Nebraska buck.
Or so I thought at the time.