It all started with a raffle ticket. My husband and I had just gotten onto the showroom floor and decided to divide and conquer (aka…not drive each other crazy trying to stay together). As soon as we separated I saw the big gold raffle ticket tumbler up ahead of me shining like a beacon and the friendly face of the ticket seller beckoning me towards him. Walking forward, I kept glancing back over my shoulder furtively. My husband would NOT approve of what I was about to do. He’s the conservative one.
Little nervous butterflies did aerial feats inside of my tummy as I kept walking toward the man, while grabbing for the twenty dollar bill in my pocket. When it seemed clear that my husband had walked out of sight; I pulled the money out of my pocket and I did it. I recklessly (my husband’s word) bought a raffle ticket from the Mule Deer Foundation for a pretty little youth Savage bolt action .243. After all, we have two girls and one is old enough to hunt big game this fall. And secondly after all, it was a fundraiser! Whew, with relief and my husband none the wiser; I walk away with a raffle ticket and a lucky gold coin in my pocket.
Lucky? Yes! I won that pretty little rifle coated in Muddy Girl camo and was even luckier to be able to take my daughter out on her first big game hunt where she would be carrying the rifle, in theory that is; in reality I did much of the schlepping as we combat crawled through the desert.
This wasn’t the tall kid’s first rodeo. She has been antelope hunting with the family for five years. She has been on the stalk with me and within 10 yards as I shot for the past two years and has helped me clean out my antelope each time. We have a little joke between us that really isn’t so funny when stalking big game. She gets the hiccups EVERY time we are on a stalk. EVERY TIME….NO JOKE. It’s funny now but it’s never funny in the moment. The ironic thing (annoying) is that when it was her antelope at stake and it would be her opportunity for her first shot she did not get the hiccups, not even once. Funny, huh?
As a mother, I thought I knew my daughter. I don’t look at her with rose colored glasses. I know what she is good at and what needs improvement. I know that when we go fishing if she doesn’t get a nibble in five minutes she is bored until I catch a fish and then she’s all about fishing again…for another two minutes. I know that getting her off of her phone is like separating conjoined twins. BUT, on her own volition she left her phone at home (two hours away from antelope camp!). She appeared to be all in. So, I was all in for her. I said to her that first morning on the hunt, “Tall kid, we are going to get YOUR antelope today. I am not hunting. I am YOUR guide.” Her response was so uplifting, “Yeahhhh riiiiight, Mom, AS IF you are going to let me get my antelope first”. My mother’s heart was bursting with confidence. All right, I thought, I’ll show her.
Early in the day we spot a couple of antelope a few miles away (of course…they’re antelope). This is not at all an unreasonable distance to start working from. So begins the next four hours. We approach by truck to the ridge and peek over. No sign of life. We approach by foot to peek around the curve of the landscape in a sweet little human train; mommy, tall kid, and short kid…NO GUN….and we practically step on top of a doe. Why did I forget my rule? Never peek without a gun. We watch doe and buck retreat over a different ridge. Tall kid and I go after them, this time with a gun. No sign of life. We return to the truck to keep working their trail and, HALLELUJAH, they are peacefully foraging in a perfect spot for us to sneak up on. We tuck the truck down into a depression in the landscape. We leave the short kid and the dog in the truck. Tall kid and I are belly crawling up one side of a two-track and husband is belly crawling up the other. The thought is that tall kid will get her doe and then husband will get his buck. The perfect plan was unfolding. That is until…..
When husband took his gun out of the back of the truck he left the tail gate open. This was an obvious invitation for a lab who was told to “STAY!” to develop short term memory loss and come loping up the two-track. “I’M FREE! I’M FREE”, her wagging tail and wagging tongue seemed to say as we all whisper-yelled at her to, “GET BACK IN THE TRUCK!”. The hubs slithered back down the two-track to replace the lab in the truck and tall kid and I continued our stalk. When we crested the little rise we were crawling up, we saw the tail-end of two antelope hopping over another ridge. Obviously, the commotion of whisper-yelling and a loping Lab was too much for their peaceful foraging.
At this point tall kid and I ditch the hubs. We take off after those antelope, me schlepping the pink rifle and shooting sticks, and tall kid gamely keeping up. I tell her as we are about to come over the ridge to “Be ready, because they will probably be right there”. We crawl over the top and see nothing but continue to crawl ahead. From one large sagebrush to another large sagebrush we make our way until I see them. They are just about to go over another ridge but are standing still at the moment. I set up the shooting sticks and the rifle and urge the tall kid to get ready. I am reminding her of a few things, “Make sure it’s the doe. No black cheek patch. Make sure she’s broadside”. Tall kid responds with, “Something is wrong with the scope! It’s completely black.” I reassure her the scope is fine and patiently coach her through finding her target. It is at this moment that I almost prove my daughter right. I think I only said, “Do you want me to take her?!?!” like three times. She politely declined each time “NO, MOM, IT’S MINE!”
We are so close to finishing this as she finally finds her view in the scope and spots the antelope. “I see her, mom! I see her!” The coaching begins again, “Ooookay. Is she broadside? Is it the doe? Remember your gentle trigger….” BOOM! The rifle resounds next to me. We both look up as the buck and the doe run up and over the rise; both appearing unharmed.
“Okay’, I say to the tall kid, “I don’t think you hit her but we are going to go after her anyways and make sure”. So, the stalk begins again. We crouch walk for a while and then begin our combat crawling up and over ANOTHER ridge. We are just coming down the other side when we spook a few antelope but can’t tell if they are the same ones. We set up and begin glassing. We see a buck looking at us. Then we see a few antelope making their way down to a herd of them about 500 or more yards away. We are looking for any sign of injury. We see none. We decide to sit and wait and see if any more antelope cross our path. We sit for about 20 minutes and nothing changes in our opportunity. I radio my husband, who I can see has parked his truck up on the opposite ridge to our right at about 3 o’clock and has a pretty good view of the whole valley. “Would you bring the truck around and pick us up? Let’s try a new area”, I say. The husband replies, “You want to leave with those antelope right in front of you?” “They are like 400 yards away”, I say. “No, they are about 100 yards to your right.”
What???!!! We can’t see anything to our right. He says, “There is at least one buck and something bedded. It could be your doe. I wonder if she is shot and that’s why the buck hasn’t left her. You’re going to have to work very slow and quiet to get to them. They are in a little depression on the side of the ridge. Just go nice and easy.” And so begins the longest stalk I have put on an antelope yet.
We crawl from sagebrush to sagebrush, on our knees and sometimes on our bellies. We are not saying a word and we are taking pauses often to carefully glass ahead of us. My daughter is close on my heels, sometimes too close. “Quit crawling on my boots!”, I whisper. She doesn’t complain once and I know that her knees must be feeling much worse than mine in the cactus and shale and gnarly branches of the sage brush. Then I hear it. It sounds like her stomach growling. I look back and say, “Is that you?” thinking….great, not the hiccups, but I knew it had to be something! “No”, she whispers, “I hear it too”. It dawns on me quickly that what we are hearing is moaning. It’s her antelope and it has been shot. I tell her this and I see the shadow of sadness cross her face. “Don’t worry” I say. “We are going to get to her.”
Finally, after close to 45 minutes of the slowest crawling I have ever done we see the buck and he seems to see us. He doesn’t leave, though, he keeps looking our way and then back down at the ground. We can’t see the doe but we are pretty sure she is laying there at his feet. I get the shooting sticks and rifle set up again and tall kid gets behind them. I tell her “Get the buck in your sights but DO NOT SHOOT HIM! Wait for the doe to get up.” I can tell the buck’s nervous and he’s going to make a run for it at any moment and if she is able the doe will follow him. “I see her! I see her!” the tall kid says. I am coaching her, once again, through her shot when she says, “Shhhh, mom, I’m trying to concentrate!”
So, I let her be. The doe starts to walk and we see where the leg has been shot. She is starting to trot on three legs up the hill. I give a grunt and she stops. BOOM! The tall kid takes her shot and the doe is down, quick and dead. The buck is still standing there watching the scene. The husband and the short kid are coming down the opposite slope from the truck. He has his rifle in his hand and I am thinking what he is thinking.
I look at the tall kid and say, “You did it! How do you feel?” “I want to go help her and make sure she’s dead”, she says with the start of tears and a quivering lip. “She is dead, honey. We have to wait. I am pretty sure Scott is going for that buck. It’s okay. It was a clean shot and a quick kill. You did good and she is not suffering anymore.” The lip stops it’s quivering and the eyes turn to me. The tears never fully formed and she begins to smile and shake, “I did it, Mom! I did it!” Right about now, it is my eyes that begin to perspire.
I am so proud. I am on the most important hunt I have ever been on. My daughter of the selfie generation, my daughter who loves doing her hair and make up, my daughter who can’t stand to go hiking and would prefer to watch a movie any day over being outside, my daughter just stalked antelope with me for nearly four hours in total and is sitting here with the most awesome look of pride and awe all over her beautiful face. She never complained, she never quit, and she never hiccuped! Her hunt was epic and ethical. I couldn’t have asked for a better first hunt for her.
Wait, I know you’re thinking and hoping this story is over because it is a long one. But, hang in there, because I promise it gets better.
The tall kid and I are comfortably sitting in this clump of sagebrush. Our job is over and we are relaxed. We are watching the husband work down the hillside and get into position to take a shot at the buck. But, the buck doesn’t stop there and keeps moving along the ridge behind us and away from the hubs. I tell the tall kid to make a noise and she does this really cool trilling sound with her tongue in the back of her mouth. I cannot make that sound. The buck is interested and stops in it’s tracks. No shot. The buck starts to move again a bit out of our sight behind us. “Make the sound again!”, I whisper. The trilling fills the air and the buck stops AGAIN! No shot. We are wondering what is keeping the hubs from shooting.
Over the radio we hear, “He is behind you and I am not comfortable with the shot.” I look up the hill and see that he is not directly behind us and still another 150 yards up the hill above us. I tell the hubs, “We are going to lay flat on our bellies and faces. I am comfortable with you taking this shot.” So, the tall kid and I lay down in the desert with our cheeks pressed into the dirt. No shot. I wonder if the buck is on the move again so I tell tall kid to make the noise again. We wait and no shot. Over the radio the hubs says, “Any closer and you’ll be able to jump up and tackle that buck. He is coming right down to you.” At this point a trilling fills the air again, unbidden by me. “Don’t make the sound anymore!”, I whisper-yell to the tall kid. “He is right on top of us.”
At that moment we hear a snort above us. It is so close I am imagining I can feel the hairs on my neck move. The tall kid and I are laying there looking at each other and trying to glance above us when the buck comes down a few feet behind where we are sprawled out among the sage brush. He is so close and he is on to us now. “Holy shit!”, I hear and it’s not from my mouth and it’s not from the radio. It’s the 12 year old and all I can do is to nod my head in agreement. Yes, HOLY SHIT! The buck keeps moving and is now running. The tall kid and I are just staring at each other in amazement. We get up and catch our breath. Okay, game over, it is now time to go and take care of her antelope.
With shaking heads we all meet at the doe. We cannot believe how epic her first hunt has been. I head to the truck to get my knives and am walking back up to the doe and the whole family when I see, WHAT??, another buck looking right at me from the ridge. He is out of sight from the family because they are in the depression on the hillside. I am whisper-yelling at the hubs and he is looking at me like, “What?” I am using my fingers to turn myself into a buck and pointing up to the ridge. He barely glances and shrugs his shoulders. He goes back to cleaning the doe. I run the rest of the way up the side slope and say breathlessly, “I am not kidding. If you walk over to that clump of sagebrush you will see a nice buck about fifty yards away. “My rifle is in the truck,” the husband replies and squats back down to the doe.
I look around and see the tall kid’s pink youth rifle laying against a bush. “Grab the Savage!”, I say. He looks at it for a moment, reaches down and picks it up, and heads out of the depression with the pink rifle in his hands. We watch him peek over the sage brush. We watch him put in his earplugs, shoulder the Savage, and set up for his shot. BOOM! BOOM! (he can tell you about the second boom….something about a trigger?) and he’s got a buck down! Less than 100 yards apart the tall kid and the hubs have taken their antelope with the same pink rifle.
It all started with the reckless purchase of a raffle ticket that the hubs would never have approved of. Not only did I win that little rifle at the expo but it also ended up being the first firearm used in filling our freezer this year. Both the tall kid and her loving, solid, pragmatic, practical (cheap?), non-gambling stepdad went on to harvest their antelope with a youth rifle coated in pink Muddy Girl camo.
It turns out that leaving the tall kid’s phone at home didn’t stop the selfy extravaganza. I found about 50 of them on my phone at the end of the hunting trip. It’s the one time I couldn’t be happier to see her goofy smiling selfy face.