Spend any time in the desert, under a late summer sun, and you’ll quickly be reminded of two things: life and death. Oases of life exist. And yet the grip of the desert is always near; the traces of it linger for decades as bones lay bleached, and tracks rest baked into the Earth’s crust, a reminder of the fact that literally everything is on the line out here, day in and day out.
Time in the wild landscapes of Nevada are pilgrimages that consistently remind me of one simple truth: as hunters we are part of nature; not separate. Making the time to immerse yourself, and reconnect affords a unique opportunity to relish the deep and dynamic relationship we have with not only the wild food that sustains us but also the dirt and wind, wilderness and wanderlust, topped off with a blazing hot sun overhead. Out there, life gets stripped down to the basics and as such, the impact to my point of view heightened and evolved. This is the bedrock to Ecosystem Thinking.
A once in a lifetime draw lands me in a new corner of Nevada, somewhere I’ve dreamed of for years. A Full spirit quest was the goal. Doing it with my brother was icing on the cake.
From 30,000 feet, Nevada might look the same: a uniform and undulating sea of basins and ranges. But on the ground, the uniqueness of every zone is like a fingerprint that cannot be duplicated. Nevada is one of the greatest classrooms. And yet, these arid and rugged lands are no easy classroom. The extreme nature of the desert seems to accentuate the subtle details while also accelerating everything. Scouting trips are more than just opportunities to learn the land and pattern bucks, they expose the chinks in your armour, and pressure test your “system” to survive on what feels like a different planet, at first.
Trips like these are unique. No timeline. Just go, and exist. Celebrate your senses recalibrating while you re-tune. The moments that frame this experience all tie back to the ecosystem, the soil and rhizomes, the plants and animals, the subtleties that only someone deeply integrated into a place might pick up on, read and respond to. It’s this heightened level of awareness and sense of place in the broader, living, breathing wild landscape that guides me. It’s not just enough to build connections with nature and wild ecosystems as a hunter and harvester, it’s important to recognize the obligation we have to dig deeper, and be a steward. That means giving back, investing in the places that give you life and purpose, meaning and direction. To be a steward, you must know a place, and know it well; that takes time and study.
Days quickly blend into one, studying the yellows, greens and reds that make up this sea of high sage. The wildlife that crossed my eyes offered a fleeting glance into their world, which I’m a part of - a single thread in a vast web. This all becomes so clear when you lock eyes with an animal and exchange more than words ever will. This is where the magic happens.
Life doesn’t just exist in the desert, it exists because the species that call these lands home have figured out how to adapt so they can excel at life. Nevada’s deserts are home to an abundance of endemic species from the Devils Hole pupfish and pygmy rabbit to the Steamboat buckwheat, those species found nowhere else on Earth. These deserts are also home to the desert bighorn, Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer, the latter of which I was especially interested in on this journey.
I took a beating from the sun, sought shade, worshipped water, and sat behind glass for days on end and watched. I saw the grass blow in the wind, and the way the light changed with the clouds overhead. I noticed the streams of pollinators, and the tiniest lizard tracks that meandered across the ground. I saw the twitch of a deer’s ear, and smelled sage on the wind.
The wildlands of Nevada are a special place. Not only did they provide, again, meat for the winter, but my time reinforced my conviction that being a hunter informs such a unique point of view in regard to our relationship with the ecosystem and the need to not just coexist with the natural world, but how to have a hand in shaping it for good.