I believe the conservation went something like…”Hey Dave! When elk hunting in the Pine Ridge I saw several deer in the 150-160 class!” “We need to get back up there for a deer hunt in the future!” “Uh…okay.” Said Dave. And from there, the adventure was planned over a few years. During that time, Hershy joined the mix as he decided it was time for the Iowa Kid to learn to hunt deer with a rifle. Along the way, the trip came to include my cousin Mark and his 11 year old son John. It would be a good group.
This year we finally departed on the Pine Ridge trip. For some reason, fate would throw in a drought that was the worst we had seen in over 70 years along with thousands of acres of wild fires that would scorch the pristine vistas the Pine Ridge has to offer. The ranch we hunted on was not exception. But I will tell you none of us had any regrets about camping at spectacular Fort Robinson State Park for several days while chasing deer in the rugged mountain-like buttes and dark timber in the region. We had a blast!
When five people camp in a small pop-up camper that long you tend to get to know each other. Being the camp cook, I planned out most of the meals and if you have ever camped with me you know you are in for a treat but plan to eat potatoes. Lots of potatoes. We had potatoes with sausage, potatoes with hamburgers, potatoes with hot dogs, and even with eggs. I like potatoes! I had delegated breakfast to a member that should remain nameless but unfortunately won’t….my brother-in-law Dave. He was to bring biscuits and gravy. Pre made biscuits….but when I reached into the cooler I pulled out a bag with a big, sticky, doughy-like mass that was not pre made. After some verbal warfare, we improvised a dutch oven from a large pot and cast iron skillet and made what turned out to be the best tasting biscuits I ever ate. What Dave lacks in cooking ability he makes up for by being handy (see Duck Blind blog). We even developed a new camp dish that is sure to be a favorite. We call it “swamp gravy.” The name should tell you all you need to know. Its not pretty. We had to come up with ways to use the five gallon can of sausage gravy Dave brought along so we added gravy to everything. For swamp gravy, we start with hash browns, onions, peppers, then add sausage, then eggs and seasoning. At this point it still looks like something you would eat. We then add an irresponsible amount of sausage gravy and continue to cook on the skillet. If you close your eyes, it is the best tasting dish we ever made. Probably took years off our lives but darn was it good!
We spent days trekking up and down buttes in and out of timber. We saw mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, coyotes and all sorts of song birds. We never took a step that we were not certain a big deer was just around the next tree. That is hunting! This was the land of rugged Nebraska wilderness. The land of mountain lions. The land of gorgeous panoramic vistas and we were smack dab in the middle of it!
Unfortunately nature can be harsh. The recent fires torched the once tree infested landscape in many places we had to hunt. Alfalfa fields that once brought deer out of the timber were fried and didn’t provide a cutting this year. Deer sightings were still good but not like I had remembered. The warmer than normal temps also had an impact on the deer sightings. The good news is that the trees will return but the next few years should result in some incredible deer and elk habitat. We ended up with a couple of deer along with a lifetime of memories. When I asked John if he enjoyed the trip…he put on a big 11 year old smile and said “you bet! I can’t wait to come back!” Neither can I john… I though I would share a few photos from our adventure. Enjoy!