“How to Drive 19 Hours in Only 21”
My 19 hour drive across country to hunt Mule Deer started after I snuck into my kid’s room at 5 am and kissed their sleeping heads. It would be the first time I had been away for more than a few days since they were born (our oldest will be 5 in January). Silently, I prayed to return home safely and kiss their little faces again in 9 days.
As a dad, I seem to be getting more risk, and danger, averse. When I was a young man, I didn’t think much of potential dangers or consequences. Now, with a pregnant wife and 3 little boys, I am keenly aware of the possibilities of wrecking, breaking down, spending our money on out-of-town repairs, hospital bills, etc. This was a serious trip, across the country, alone, in a 1993 Ford Bronco.
I didn’t know what I was getting into out there, but did know what I was leaving behind back here. To be honest, it was difficult. There were moments on Friday night when I considered not going. Was I neglecting my family to leave them for so long? Would my wife survive the coming war on her patience and resolve from 3 tiny terrorists? Is this whole thing a selfish exercise? Hearing my wife’s reassuring words of support, and reminding myself how I like to over-think situations, I started packing.
Friday Night. (10/11)
Packing. It was hard not to over pack for this trip. I’ve never hunted out west before and it was tempting to be over-geared (read: pack way more stuff than I needed). Even after making a specific list, and checking it so many times Santa Clause himself would approve, I still over packed a little. Luckily, I had plenty of room in the Bronco, and could carry only what I needed into the field each day. In the end, I left several items sitting in the plastic tote all week.
Once the Bronco was loaded up, I packed a cooler full of snacks for the long 19 hour drive and spent the rest of the night wrestling with the boys. Eventually, teeth were brushed, kids were tucked, the alarm was set for 5 am, and I would try to sleep.
The cricket ringtone from my alarm announced the arrival of 5 am into the peace, darkness, and warmth I was busy enjoying. By 5:30am, the tires on the Bronco were rolling down the road, pointed at the interstate. Leaving this early wasn’t necessary, but preferred.
The trip from Georgia to Nebraska involved a layover in Kansas City. I planned to stay with an old friend, so I left early enough that we had time to get some famous Kansas City BBQ and catch up, before I left out the next morning. If I had known how good it would be to see Kevin again, and how great the food would be at Arthur Bryant’s, I may have left Friday night. If I’d known I would also go to my first Cabela’s in KC, I definitely would have.
It was refreshing to re-connect with friends, share some fantastic food, and pick up a few pop-guns for the boys at one of my favorite stores I’d never been to. With 12 hours of driving under my belt, there were only 7 to finish the next day.
You know you’re staying with true friends when you wake up to the smell of Bacon. Sunday morning started with some good breakfast, a long overdue visit to Graceway, meeting Dr Jeff Adams, and then I hit the road for the remainder of my 19 hour drive.
Everything was going smooth until I stopped for gas somewhere off I-70 between Salina, KS and NE. I inadvertently closed my maps app on my iPhone (which I was using as a GPS). Upon restarting the app, service was spotty, but I was able to re-launch the app and hit the road again.
What I didn’t notice, was that when I selected the route again, it was different than my original, and included a lot of back roads. Somehow the remaining 3.5 hour drive took about an hour more. Between the dirt-road detour and having to stop more than expected to alleviate cramping butt muscles, I made the 19 hour drive in 21 hours. But I was finally there, to spot-and-stalk bowhunt for mule deer in Nebraska.
We got into camp and I met Bryan (owner of TDT Outfitters) and his wife Karen. I got settled in and arranged all my gear for the coming week’s adventure. We talked plans and weather. There was a strong front coming through tonight that would bring very high winds Monday. Forecast called for sustained winds of about 30mph with gusts as high as 50mph. Heavy rains would start into the night and we knew Monday’s hunting outlook was dwindling fast.
After some hearty dinner, I crashed early. The driving had worn me out and I was ready for bed. Maybe it was the peaceful Nebraska country, or the warm blankets, or because I was exhausted from all the driving, but I was out. Soon enough my alarm would separate me from my rest, but this time it would be to start my first day of bowhunting mule deer and I welcomed the crickets.
After silencing my alarm, I noticed the sound of wind. Not gentle whispers of winds that some evenings in the Georgia spring enjoy, these were Dorothy and Toto type winds. Add to the winds rain, and temperatures in the upper 30’s, and it was a recipe for miserable hunting.
We didn’t leave camp that morning until after the harshest of the front had passed. In a way, I was disappointed we didn’t start hunting right out of the gate. “I have rain gear, I have layers, I am prepared, let’s go!”, echoed in my my naïve mind. Instead of braving that morning’s torrent, Bryan fixed a hearty breakfast including fresh bacon from the ranch where we’d be hunting. I didn’t exactly complain.
(Side Note: In case you’ve never noticed, I’m a big fan of bacon. If you haven’t already, I suggest you watch this Jim Gaffigan bit about bacon. You can thank me later. Now back to the hunt…)
With the weather radar up on the TV, Bryan’s computer, and my phone, it was clear that things were no good for bowhunting for the next several hours. Nothing was going to be moving, it was too thick to spot anything from a distance, and there would be no way I couldn’t have shot an arrow more than 10 feet. We had to wait it out.
We used small windows between the rain/sleet to shoot my bow behind camp and check my gear.
Most of the houses out there had rows of evergreen trees planted all around them, sometimes several rows deep. These trees serve as a fantastic wind barrier. We stood behind the farmhouse, shooting my bow, inside what might as well have been a fortress. We could hear the wind whipping around, and gusting across the fields, but were not feeling its effects. I was shooting pretty good, but not as good as I was at home. Bryan turned and looked the other way and I drilled 4 shots at 50 yards into a 2-3” circle. We joked about him just not looking when we get on the deer and headed back in to get out of the sleet.
After a few hours the storm was letting up, we loaded the expedition, and headed out. Pulling onto the property where we would be hunting, I was impressed. I’d never seen canyons really. It was incredible. They were so vast and long that my 10x binoculars would leave me wanting several times this week. The land was even better than I had imagined. We started glassing, moving and glassing some more.
Getting out of the truck was a brief proposition. 10 minutes out in that mess was about all we could stand. I was eager to push limits, but yielded to Bryan’s experience. He hunts this property 90-100 days a year so I figured he knew when to push and when to hold tight.
We didn’t see anything. Not a deer, not a glimpse of sky, nothing. It was dead. It was cold. It was the kind of windy that we call a “tornado” back in Georgia. Winds like this around our town would have trees blown over on houses and schools shutdown for days.
There we were, sitting on the crest of the canyon, swaying back and forth in the truck like it was a swing set. A few hours of glassing and searching yielded nothing. The wind wasn’t dying off, the sleet started to roll back in, and we rolled out.
It was a dead first day. Nothing. But, something would change that night. From Tuesday through Friday we were on mule deer every single day. That front turned on the deer movement like a light switch and we were in close to deer the rest of the week. Things were about to change big time. The very next morning I would find myself crouching behind a yucca bush 27 yards away from a very nice 4×3 buck.
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