The early morning climb up out of the river canyon warmed my body, but when I exhaled the breath was instantly frozen. Shadows stayed long in this open land of the Columbia River breaks and as the sun finally crested over the ridge, we could see three deer across a deep ravine. Peering through a spotting scope revealed that two does and a young buck were up and feeding. The distinctive grey bodies and white rump patches showed them to be mule deer, common in the breaks above the second largest river in the continental U.S.
The area we were hunting was public land surrounded by private holdings, making it an “island” of refuge for the deer. Steep canyon walls reached up toward the plateau, and at the bottom was the river. Along large benches of sediment deposited thousands of years ago are several apple orchards. Apple orchards are great for deer as the tall summer grasses and frequent water spraying from sprinklers means cool evenings during the hot months. As fall comes near the apples sweeten and the deer aren’t shy about their sweet tooth. But the activity of fall harvest chases the deer out of the orchards and into the arid lands above, where sage brush grows tall and offers shade and protection.
At the top of the gorge are the flatlands of the Palouse with rich, fe