Loon Lake up in the Sierras at 6,358′ altitude is across the “hilltop” from Lake Tahoe below (6,224′) and one of the destinations along the famous Rubicon Trail. I’m blessed to have like-minded and enthusiastic neighbors one of whom had heard there was big bucks up there, and invited me to hunt-along with him.
The plan was to leave at 5:00AM. I prepped the truck the night before stowing my long un-used camping cooking-gear in a Rubbermaid ActionPacker bin along with the tent and some (warm) clothing, an and threw EZ-Up and a collapsible table into the back of the Ford and cinched the tie-downs.
I got-up at 4:O’dark-freezing-30 on Friday, and showered (to warm-up, brrr!), then threw together the remaining ice-chest amenities: some frozen meatloaf, beer, milk, water, beer, Starbucks doubles-shots (the last coffee I would see for 24-hours – and grabbed the rifle…and that set me back a half hour. In a hurry I hopped in the F-150, keyed the ignition, and took-off up to Highway 50 heading-up to the turn-off at Ice House Road to hunt.
As I passed through the small community of Camino I opened up the cell phone to call (illegal here in CA, wrong to do it but I did it anyhow) and let him know I was just a half-hour behind and making-up time. As I bombed up the mountain in the dark I got a call and picked it up to find out his alarm had failed and he was the one behind me. For once! I stopped up in Pollock Pines to wait and meet-up, and imagining I was on a more relaxed camping-type expedition went in to Safeway and got: some salt-and-pepper, ground coffee for the little Italian espresso maker, a bag of chips – and fortunately, two ready-made sandwiches.
Up at loon Lake (and way out of cell-phone range) it was a gorgeous morning, and the sun came out to warm us up. We walked and glassed down a power-line road off the side of a high bluff. We went out to a drop-off and looked over the deep ravine 200-feet below and across the majestic mountains. On the top the wind swirled around, so we hiked back into cover and tramped across marshy high-alpine meadows covered in beautiful weathered lodgepole pine deadfall. We snuck between fallen trees and through stands of young evergreens. Every shiny broken tree branch looks like an antler, and each weathered gray stump looks like a doe bedded-down in the tall grass. We saw signs of bear everywhere and I felt a bit under-gunned with just a .243 but my neighbor was carrying a Winchester Model 70 in 7mm Magnum so I felt a little better – Plus I also had my P245 on my hip and two re-loads.
After seeing more bear poop and beat trails through the very congested underbrush, we beat a path around another rather large swampy “lake,” past bear-bushes and through densely woven thickets of manzanita and bear-berries, and made our way back to the truck. No does up here for the rutting bucks to chase and little deer sign. No rubs on trees and more coyote scat than deer prints. What we did see looked days or even weeks old, half-filled with pine needles and tree-duff.
So we headed down off the top-country to high-alpine country where there was a bit more cover and warmth. Van Vleck is a horse camp and there’s a Forest Service Bunkhouse and large meadows with plenty of cover and forage to hunt. So we went out and hunted.
Hunting is a lot like tramping through the woods looking at stumps and shadows with binoculars and enjoyin Nature while carrying a rifle. We hiked around for several miles in every direction and repeated the experience on the following morning until around midday when we called it a day. In the absence of deer we ensured our rifles were properly sighted-in on a stump, lasered at 180yds., and were rewarded with satisfying THWACKS with each shot. OK not our fault.
Deer are not stupid and it was freaking cold at night, as evidenced by a heavy layer of frost on the ice-chest in the morning. They probably all went down to lower and warmer elevations to frolic, eating all the fallen apples at Larsen’s Apple Farm, and rutting about in the land of plenty. There’s a whole bunch of them piled up in ditches by the road where they ended up after an automotive encounter.