“If I’m thinking logically, I have no business heading back down there.” I think to myself as I pour over my glowing computer screens plastered with maps of every kind. I feel like a kid playing pirate scouring maps for the hidden ‘X’ and convincing myself that this came from more than just a Cracker Jack box.
I’m not walking into this with the delusions of a naive child however. I know how the odds are stacked.
I get kick in the balls and keep coming back for more. I tell myself that next time will be different, luck will come my way if only for the time it takes to release my arrow pent up with three years of frustration.
But knowing that I’m fighting a losing battle in no way deters me. I know this is the early rounds in what might be a long battle. I go to collect more pieces to the puzzle that one day I hope to complete. All too well I know the bitterness that defeat can provide, but I also know what happens when you let that bitterness ferment for long periods of time. It produces a euphoric elixer and once drunk there is no other way you would want to taste victory.
That, the promise of warm weather and a faint suntan during the dead of winter keeps me migrating back to Arizona’s backcountry deserts from the ice blasted streets of Denver, Colorado.
The goal always remains the same and unfortunately so has the results. Get in as deep as I can into the interior of the scorched earth and find a behemoth mule deer.
The stats mean nothing to me as I look over the success results for the unit I’m going to walk into. Eight percent success rate? I convince myself it’s so low only because the selfish local hunters never report their kills in order to discourage foreigners such as myself from encroaching on their territory.
Besides I know the stats of me killing anything from my couch. Using this perspective, I’m liking my eight percent odds.
At this point packing for the backcountry is about as trivial as getting dressed in the morning. In an hour I’m out the door and pointing the truck just shy of the Mexico border.
“No wall yet?” I think as I pull up to where I’m going to leave my rig for the next eight days.
Man, he was so rah rah rah about it on the campaign trail you would have thought he’d have it half built by now.
“Maybe he decided to just make a giant moat and I can’t see it from this angle.” I wonder.
As I heft my water laden pack onto my shoulders I am glad for the relative flats of the desert. An extra forty pounds of water added to my normal assortment of backcountry gear remind me the benefits of year round training.
I’m aiming for a high point that will let me glass 360 degrees into the small desert arroyos that randomly cut through the land like a weight lifter’s bulging veins. These dried out riverbeds act as hidden highways to the animals that would rather not be seen by prying eyes.
My pack groans like a sick animal as I let it slide to the broken earth. This upheaved piece of land will be my home for the next eight days. It becomes my shelter and my lookout, my sanctuary from the madness of everyday life for a few short days. I think it appreciates my company. The desert can be a lonely place after all.
I get into my grove, glassing to the west in the morning, all around in the afternoon and towards the east in the evening to save my eyes from the sun blasting down from above. As I cook in the sun I look around and think that these rocks aren’t so much cooked from the inside but rather baked from the outside.
One day bleeds into the next and I struggle to remember the day of the week. It’s not relevant however, knowing the exact days only really matters if you’re worried about the weekend crowd coming in and ruining your fun. This most certainly will not be the case in this remote piece of land. The percentages are low that another hunter thinks this out of the way place has potential to hold animals. I take comfort in my stupidity that I like to call ‘optimism’.
I start to wonder if the state has the wrong statistics on the wrong animals after a few days. The desert bighorn sheep are absolutely crawling all over the place. An endless stream of them pass by me as the days push on.
The mule deer on the other hand almost non-existent. A small four by four passes through early one morning, alone as one can only be in the backcountry desert. He’s on a mission however and moves with certainty and speed. The sun’s heatwaves tells his internal thermostat that it’s time to find shade.
He makes no effort in covering several miles of dried up stream beds only to disappear from my voyeuristic prying. He knows how to survive in the environment he was born into. I on the other hand know that I am severely outmatched when it comes to trying to figure this animal’s next move. I’m a stranger in a strange land.
The clock runs out before all the pieces are laced together.
I pack my temporary home and head to the truck. A few more pieces of the puzzle to take home with me. I know an encounter with a monster is in my future and I know I have to have the dedication that is required to preserve from beat down after beat down. I pour the knowledge gained from this trip into the bottle and seal it back up to ferment. I look forward to the day I get to drink from that bottle, but until then I am simply happy knowing that it is there.
// Fred Bohm