The tall kid practicing with her .243 Savage Axis youth rifle won from the Mule Deer Foundation
Lillian Alice is 13 years old. In our family she is the tall kid. That used to be just a reference to the fact that she is taller than the short kid, but now she really is the tall kid. Only 1.5 inches shy of her mama, she is now big enough to borrow my camo and my hunting boots. Many people say she looks just like me. I see her father in her face so it’s hard to see myself there. One thing I can say for certain is that at 13 she looks nothing like I looked at 13.
The short and tall kid at antelope camp hangin’ in the wall tent
Myself at 12 years old, yikes! I’m the one on the left
This year was the tall kid’s second year hunting antelope. Last year we stalked a single pair of antelope for 3 plus hours and I was with her every step/crawl/drag of the way. That hunt culminated in her harvesting the doe of the pair. (Read about that hunt here.) This year was entirely different.
This was to be the first year that my husband was not with us at antelope camp. I was completely in charge; driving, guiding, cleaning, transporting…all of it. I will say this; being responsible for myself on solo hunts is one thing but being responsible for a 13 and 6 year old plus a blind 16 year old (who was there to “watch” and keep company with the 6 year old while the tall kid and I were on a stalk) was an entirely different thing. We were not alone as hunt camp was full with two families and the elders of one of them but we all separate into different groups when it comes time to hit the roads.
The wall tent filled with two families after a few hard days of hunting
Normally I am the map reader (barely) and antelope spotter as the hubs drives and the kids argue in the backseat. This year would be different. We set out the first morning of our hunt with me driving and trying to spot antelope and stopping to check that our location on the map has not trespassed onto private land. My tall kid is daydreaming with glazed eyes out the window and the short kid is singing songs and playing games in the backseat with her babysitter. We traverse ridges and hillsides on two-tracks that normally I would be closing my eyes to stomach as the husband breezes his way along.
But I am the driver now. I cannot close my eyes. I cannot daydream out the window. The kids think it is all a hoot. The steeper the better. The slicker and muddier the more fun. I am getting out of the truck and checking the depth of certain spring crossings. Will we get stuck? Do we have a cell signal if we do? Antelope hunting just became a much “higher stakes” game with all of the responsibility falling on my shoulders.
The tall kid, footloose and fancy free
We get on antelope after an hour or so of driving. We spotted them from a distance (of course…they’re antelope) and parked the truck and made our stalk on them. We thought they had winded us because we saw antelope much further away from where we had last seen our group. Assuming we had lost our chance we began our walk back to the truck. The tall kid handing me the shooting sticks to carry out. I was about 30 yards ahead of her when, “Mom…Mom…Mom!” I look back at her and see what she is seeing, a couple of antelope have walked right into the valley we are walking down into. I tell her to get set up and take the shot if she feels comfortable shooting off of her knees as I have the shooting sticks at this point. I watch and wait as she tries to get comfortable. The antelope are just standing there, still unaware of our presence. She knows I want her to harvest her antelope first but she finally says, “Mom, you take her. I can’t.” By then the antelope are onto us and they have started to quickly move away from us. I am lining up my shot on a fast retreating doe, waiting for her to pause. She finally does and I quickly guess her distance. The shot sounds off and she is unscathed. I misjudged how far away she was. The tall kid than alerts again, “Mom, there’s more!” Sure enough a much larger group of antelope has followed in the footsteps of the first pair. They are on the move but a few come to a halt when the tall kid lets out her now famous trilling noise. I take my shot and this time the doe is down and down quick. I immediately toss the shooting sticks to the tall kid for her to take a shot at the herd that hasn’t fully fled the scene. She takes a shot but no antelope goes down. I am telling her over and over to not take another shot unless she is entirely sure that the one she had shot at was not injured. She listens to her mom, amazingly, and watches them until they are too far away to have another crack at. She is pretty sure none were injured. She follows the group on her own while I head toward my downed antelope. This was to be her first ever stalk on antelope by herself. No luck. She came back to help me clean mine out while the short kid played photographer.
The tall kid willingly assisting in the cleaning and skinning of mama’s antelope. Mama is wearing the Prois ultra backcountry shirt.
She had missed her first shot at an antelope that day and was beating herself up pretty good over it. I kept reminding her that I had also missed but she was down on herself and determined to redeem herself and to keep trying. And that we did. We got on antelope for the next three hours a few different times. She made a few more stalks by herself but to no avail. It was becoming dusky and the rain clouds were beginning to look ominous. She wanted to keep going. We had just chased another group onto private land and I had decided to call it quits. Shooting light was dimming, the thunderclouds were darkening, and we were at the furthest place in the desert from a good gravel road. I knew from past experience that these two tracks would become impassable, even with a four wheel drive, if the sky unleashed the flood. I also was not confident in my ability to navigate these roads in the dark and in nasty conditions. I became a bit anxious, to say the least. I was unfamiliar with the landscape already and now I was losing visual cues as to where we were in relation to a safe way back to the road. I kept stopping to look for our location on my phone app (thank you OnXmaps!) and then picking and choosing two-tracks based on that. The more worried I became the faster I drove. This led to a few roller coaster moments in the truck as the girls heads grazed the roof and squeals of delight were let out. They were never worried and I was worried two-fold for all of us. I knew we would survive the night if we got stuck, but I didn’t want them to go through that….cold, hungry, crowded and trying to sleep in the cab of the truck…
Spoiler alert….WE SURVIVED!
We made it back to camp and were actually the first ones back. We turned on the lanterns, built a fire, and I made myself a stiff drink.
The comforting sight of home
The next day we set out again. This time we did not have a companion for the short kid and so I informed the tall kid that she was on her own if she needed to get after antelope. I would need to stay behind in the truck with little sis. She agreed. We decided to try for a different part of our hunt area. A bit of a longer drive, we were hopeful for drier roads and more antelope. We got neither. The landscape was deserted. We didn’t see hunters. We didn’t see antelope. Nothing. After a while the tall kid became discouraged and suggested we go back to where we had been the day before. I knew that those roads were going to be nasty, though, and so I found a relatively dry fence line two-track to follow. The tall kid is saying, “There are NO antelope anywhere!” And I am responding, “You know how antelope are…one minute there is nothing and then they materialize as if by the wave of a wand.” We are glassing this wide and long draw we have come into as I am making my last remark. As if on cue, a few antelope appear out of nowhere.” They are 4 to 500 yards away but seem to be unaware of us. I am telling the tall kid she should get out of the truck with her rifle and I will drive out of the draw and out of sight. She seems completely unmotivated until, “Mom! They are running right at us!” In a blink she has jumped out, racked a cartridge in the chamber, and dropped to her knees. I drive up and out of the draw, as planned. As I am driving up the two-track I am realizing that I have left my 13 year old with a rifle all by herself with antelope making their way straight towards her. I didn’t realize I was talking out loud until the short kid says, “Mommy, who are you talking to? Lily isn’t here.” I had been saying, “Don’t shoot the buck. Look for the biggest doe. Take your time. Gentle trigger press.” I had been saying it all out loud as I drove away from my beautiful girl.
I get to the top of the ridge, park, and then get out of the truck and onto the two-track. I am glassing my daughter and the approaching antelope. It is awesome. I am watching her look at them and then carefully crawl forward into a better positions. I am watching the antelope and determining which is the largest doe and presenting the best shot for the tall kid. Back and forth, Lily and the antelope, my eyes are taking it all in. BANG! I happen to be watching the antelope as it disappears. It’s as if it vaporized. Now you see it now you don’t. It was so fast that I even questioned what I saw. Did she hit it? Did it drop? Where the heck did it go? I look back toward the tall kid and I can tell that she is unsure as well. She is looking at the herd running away from her. She is trying to spot her antelope. She is lining up for another shot.
“NO! LILY, NO!” I begin yelling. I am fairly convinced she dropped the doe. I can see a glistening white spot in the sagebrush that I believe to be it. I can tell she doesn’t think she got her. She is going to shoot again. “NO! LILY, DON’T SHOOT!” Now I am jumping up and down and waving my arms. What a sight! She finally looks up at me and gets out of her shooting position. I jump in the truck and turn it back down into the draw. I jump out and let the dog out of the back. “Birdie, go find Lily’s antelope!”, I say. Lily is looking at me and saying, “I had to have got her, Mom! It was a good shot. But I didn’t see her drop.” I told her to follow me as we headed toward the spot in the sagebrush that I had seen from above. The bird dog found it first. I looked at the tall kid and said, “You got her allright. You dropped her where she stood. One shot.”
That look on her face I will never forget. “Mom, I did it all by myself. Mom, I did it all by myself!” Lily, my beautiful 13 year old. Lily, my selfie-taking, make up-wearing teenager who sometimes seems as different from me as the night is from the day. She did look like me at this moment. She was so proud of what she had accomplished. She earned that pride. She had worked so hard for it.
A moment of reverence for a life taken and a successful hunt
One proud mama!
As we were driving out with tall kid’s antelope in the back of the truck all she can say over and over is, “I want an elk tag and a deer tag, Mom!” I laughed and told her slow down as we had plenty of tags in the family already. She kept pressing and so finally I agreed that if she found someone to give an elk to that she could get a tag. I didn’t think another thought about it until…
A few weeks ago the tall kid was getting her teeth cleaned. The dental tech asked to speak with me after the visit. I am expecting bad news about teeth but instead the tech asked me if I would share some elk with her if I ended up with extra. The tall kid is practically jumping out of her seat, “Me! Me! Me!”
I guess I will be guiding the tall kid on her first elk hunt this year.
A surprise snowstorm the day we are leaving antelope camp