Birthday celebrations with my dad usually entail little more than a phone call and an emailed Cabela’s gift certificate. Last year, however, was a BIG birthday, so we celebrated, along with two of my brothers and my husband, for a whole 10 days in September wandering the hills near Afton, Wyoming looking for Bambi’s father. (Well that’s what my Southern California friends tell me, but to me I was looking for a supplier to lots of yummy meals.) It was a trip I’ll never forget (wondering if you’ll live through the 10 mile horseback ride that was supposed to take three hours and takes 6 hours has a way of burning itself into one’s memory bank because a trip that long is a real good indicator there were things going wrong).
These smiles are of ignorant of the upcoming events during the six hours ahead (ex. a horse slides down a switchback and ends up four hooves pointing to the sky; it would soon be coaxed back up in the upright position)…
These smiles say, “We just avoided 10 miles of wondering if we are going to die from horse shenanigans and muddy cliffs by walking out. We’re no dummies!”I think the following pictures may convey a level of fun to the viewer’s eyes. However, I want to be clear that this would be a major miscalculation of the enjoyment found in hunting.
Our days started at 4:30 am – if you don’t count getting up once in the middle of the night to stoke the fire. We ate breakfast then high-tailed it up the mountain with our headlamps, backpacks, and rifles in order to beat the rising sun since deer like to graze before dawn when the weather is cool. In case you didn’t know this about me, I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON. 4:30 am Wyoming time is 3:30 am PST time…I would basically sleep in my clothes for the next day so I: 1) could sleep in five minutes longer than if I had to get fully dressed 2) would stay warm inside my sleeping bag since it was below 20 degrees outside the tent 3) be awoken by the lovely breakfast prepared by our camp cooks versus be shocked into an awakened state by freezing air hitting bare skin.
Once our bellies were full, but not too full, because if they were too full then you would get nauseous on top of the inevitable altitude headache and fake heart attack experience from your body working at 98% capacity while you basically walked like billy goats straight up in order to get to the meadow located a couple miles up the mountain before the sun came up in hopes that you would catch a deer off guard as it wandered into the meadow while it was still cool but before the afternoon sun arrived to push them into their afternoon naps, well then the scouting began.
There aren’t pictures to be shown about this part because 1) it’s hard to take pictures when you can’t breathe and you’re wondering how the hell your 70 year old father can practically jog up the hill 2) when the only light you have is with your headlamp = black picture and 3) when you encounter a pair of eyes at this time of day you must a) stop b) have one person put up their rifle while the other puts up their binoculars to ascertain whether the pair of eyes belong to a wolf that is basically 10 feet away and c) pick up the pace because you’ve just wasted five minutes of darkness wondering if a pack of wolves was beside you which makes all three of these conditions impossible to take pictures.
I will say this. IT’S WORTH GETTING UP EARLY. Here’s why — big reward. You know the saying, early bird gets the worm. Well here, early bird gets to: have a HUGE bull elk cross your path about 50 feet in front of you, have two HUGE bull elks (think rack of horns extending past their hind ends) bugling at each other with their cows and calves with them and cross your path at about 200 yards, see more elk the next day and hear the mentioned above elk bugling once again at one another and if you were my brothers, spot a small wolf pack playing tag with one another.
I should also mention that when you are hunting with my father who forgets he himself isn’t a deer or elk, at this time of day, you get to spot the big bucks a couple of miles away on the other ridge that you will then spend the rest of the day tracking and sneaking up to in hopes that you will eventually be in the same place at the same time in order to snag a successful food source.
Now once the sun is risen and the deer have been spotted, there is time to snap a picture of the indescribable view you are now feasting on. And this, my friends, becomes the reward in mountain hunting…
There have been few things in my life that have required such rigor because this was my first hunt. I think what I learned about myself was hunting is a culmination of so many things I love: being outdoors, watching animals in their habitat (we saw several wolves, 11 mountain goats, and even a fox along our early morning encounters with the elk), spotting animals — which I didn’t realize is a huge part of hunting, getting meat for our family, and finally executing our sneak attacks (moving slowly, at the right angles, taking educated guesses as to where the deer would be). It was the type of living that feels good — physical hard work followed by a cooked meal, familial harassment and stories capped with laughter with some of my most favorite people in the world.
This is the spot both my dad and I shot our deer. And yes, our family food was located on the other side of the canyon…338 yards away. Funny how on the shooting range that 7mm requires a pillow in order to not flinch with the kick but out here, when its all about the moving target, well let’s just say the kick wasn’t even felt.For those of you who are “dead animal sensitive” skip the next picture (I’m hoping this post doesn’t lose any subscribers — I do use all the parts of the deer and eat all the meat if that makes it easier to metabolize the process of hunting).
So Dad, here’s hoping to more memories with you. Thank you for sharing your love for the outdoors with me. Thank you for teaching me through your modeling that doing the hard thing, like taking six months to get in shape for hunting in order to avoid misery but not soreness, reaps unimaginable rewards (like witnessing bull elk establish territory before the sun’s up). Thank you for loving adventures — especially adventures the majority of people don’t do (like hiking to “un-trailed” lakes or hunting without guides in unfamiliar territory.)
Your favorite daughter