November 14, 2016
With one tag remaining in my pocket I knew that I had to make good on a promise that I had made to my daughter after leaving her in school and taking my oldest three boys back in October. I also knew that I just could not leave my two year old son at home again… he sobbed uncontrollably when I left him home with mom on that first trip. So, with permission from my daughter, I strapped a two year old in the carseat, plugged in the tablets, and we pointed the car to the east for the hour drive to the ranch where permission had been granted to shoot doe pronghorn.
The drive was smooth and since it was naptime my son slept most of the way. This was the quietest he would be for the remainder of the trip!
I pulled off the Interstate and after a short drive down the dirt road I pulled off to the side to prep my rifle, get out my binoculars, and get my sweater on. We drove along the road slowly stopping occasionally to glass the sagebrush terraces. In the previous trip with just the boys pronghorn were everywhere… such would not be the case this trip. What we lacked in pronghorn we more than made up for in mule deer. There were clusters of deer around every bend, and where there was a group of a half dozen or more does there was a great buck. We saw some fantastic bucks and I would conservatively estimate 18 to 20 bucks that were 4pt or better… a number of them had inline 5th or 6th points and were heavy and dark antlered. Beautiful creatures for certain, and we watched as these bucks paid little attention to my little silver car on the road just yards away as they focused intently on does. We watched two very nice 4pt bucks go toe to toe over a group of 8 or 9 does at about 30 yards, and watched a very nice 3pt buck corner a doe against a fence and rough her up a bit. Poor doe trotted away from that encounter with her hair all ruffled up and it didn’t even occur to me that an eight year old little girl in the front seat next to me might have some questions about what that boy deer was trying to do to that girl deer… in typical dad response I told her to “ask her mother.”
We drove from one end of the ranch all the way to the other without a single pronghorn sighting. I couldn’t figure it out… just four weeks ago there were pronghorn everywhere. And a friend of mine with the same tag went to the same ranch just three days before and shot a doe early in the afternoon. But today, on this afternoon, it was a ghost town. We turned the car around and traced our path back and made it almost all the way back to where we started before I spotted a small herd of pronghorn bedded up on one of the sage terraces, 3 bucks and 2 doe. I let the kids know that I had spotted some but we would have to hike for them. I received no resistance to the suggestion so we found a spot to park the car, got our coats & orange hats and off we went. We crossed a small stream and made our way towards the terrace edge. The small herd was actually in a highly advantageous place for a stalk. The challenge was not the location of the herd… instead it was my entourage! I wish I could have witnessed that stalk from a distance. I decided that there was little sense in trying to be stealthy about this all… so I just walked in plain view of the herd with my son on my shoulders and holding my daughters hand along a barbed-wire fence until we hit about 300 yards. I told them to sit down on a small hill and plug their ears and I walked another 15 yards away from them, rested my gun on the barbed wire fence and promptly missed twice. To perform my due diligence, we slinked under the barbed wire fence, and again with my son on my shoulders and holding my daughters hand we went to just double check where the herd had been when I shot. No blood was found much to the disdain of my daughter, and we continued up until we reached the ridge and peeked over into the next valley. I scanned for brief moment but saw no pronghorn. We turned and as we made our way back to the car I spotted a mule deer shed in a clump of sage about twenty yards in front of me. I took my son off my shoulders and when we got right up to it I asked if there was something wrong with that bush? Both my daughter and son thought it was the coolest thing and they wrestled with it to get it untangled from the clump of sage. Pictures were taken and it was stuffed in my pack to be shown to mom at a later time.
They wanted to look for more sheds so I threw my son back on my shoulders and we just kind of wandered through the sage terrace until it started to get dark and they wanted to head back towards the car. On the way back to the car the sage flats came to life with bunnies scurrying about everywhere. My son had the perfect vantage point from my shoulders and whenever he would spot one running along in front of us he would squeal and point and yell, “Bunny!!!”
We got back to the car right at dark. We got buckled back into the car and headed home… but not without stopping first at the Wendy’s in Evanston for a hamburger and Frosty.
All in all, I think both my daughter and son both had fun, the sum of the parts was greater than the whole with this adventure. Even though they were disappointed that I missed and we didn’t get another pronghorn they loved the little aspects of the journey… driving down a dirt road with their heads out the rolled down windows yelling “Hello deer!” to every cluster of deer, eating an entire bag of jerky, going to Wyoming for the first time, finding the shed antler, seeing all the bunny rabbits, and telling mom all about it when we got home. Most times I hunt so hard with the intent of killing an animal and bringing home the meat that I overlook some of these simple things, this hunt reinforced to me that it’s not the kill that makes success. I had so much fun with my daughter and my young son, I hope the memories of this afternoon and evening are as fond for them.