At 64-years old, Dave Born never thought it would actually come to this; to have to hike a couple of miles and crawl his way through 100 yards of prairie just to conceal himself behind some abandoned farm equipment in the hopes of sending a 150-grain bullet into one of the 60 pronghorn feeding in the field below. The occasional thorn stabbing into his bare hands didn’t help, nor did the knowledge that his two adult sons were behind him, watching him crawl away. He could almost hear them laughing at the sight of it, especially his oldest, who had talked him into this by insisting that if he was going to fire undetected, he would have to sneak his way in alone. It was the last day on a hunt where the animals had proven to be extremely wary, and there was just too many pronghorn in the basin to risk excess movement.
Finding cover behind a rusted-out thresher, he had to admit his son was right. Despite his best effort, a few of the pronghorn scattered throughout the basin below had noticed his approach. This was likely the last chance to fill his tag, and he knew he had to move quickly. To the far right of the group and 330 yards out, a pronghorn buck kept a watchful eye on a county road a mile distant. Resting his rifle on the side of the thresher, he calmed his breath, took aim and squeezed the trigger. The pronghorn fell where it stood; the rest of the herd heading south like the migrating sandhill cranes that flew overhead. A quick follow up shot and the plains were silent again.
Behind him, his sons smiled. He had made the hike, as they knew he would. Despite his bad knees, he also covered the 100-yards to the old thresher. Once he brought the rifle to his shoulder, there was never a doubt that he wouldn’t make the shot. The boys just needed to get him there.
To say that this type of hunt was a new experience for my dad would be an understatement. Although he has been hunting and fishing his entire life, nearly all that time has been limited to our home state, and with big game specifically, within the boundaries of our 300-acre farm along the Minnesota River. I had a similar history in terms of hunting, but that wasn’t the case with travel. After graduate school I was fortunate to spend a few years working throughout the western states with the Forest Service as an archaeologist and surveyor, getting to hike across and analyze some of the most beautiful landscapes this country has to offer. Eventually settling back home in Minnesota, I continued to feel the call of the West. Around the same time, I became involved in advocating for public lands, recognizing both the value I drew from them during my time as a surveyor and the increasing threats they faced as currency in the arena of modern politics. A yearly hunting trip seemed the perfect way to answer that call. We would become DIY, public land hunters.
2019 was our 4th year of chasing pronghorn across the plains of eastern Wyoming. We had a great time on the previous trips, but I was always left with the feeling that we had somehow missed the vastness of the West that I had felt before. It was the roads. The roads seemed to shrink the plains in on themselves. Hunting on these limited public land units, it was a road that typically separated the land we could hunt on from the places we couldn’t, and the places we couldn’t go were certainly the majority.
I wanted something different for 2019. It was time to stretch our legs a bit. I had no Illusions of days spent hiking for miles upon miles. Dad, nor the breadth of the public land we had available to us was going to allow for that. A few miles round trip though? Despite what he thought I knew we could do that, and in the end we did.
Nearly twenty-seven years ago, my father walked his 12-year-old son out to an old wooden tree stand on his first whitetail hunt. In the predawn darkness, the trail to the stand wasn’t visible to the boy, even in the beam of the flashlight he insisted on bringing. He had walked these woods before, hiking and hunting small game, but when you are young, the familiar geography of a woods disappears with the light, and he was unsure of himself. At the base of the tree, he watched the boy climb the 10 feet up into the stand, extinguish the flashlight and get settled in. With his son in position, Dave made the hike to his own tree farther up the ravine drainage.
A short while after dawn, a yearling buck crossed 30-yards in front of the young hunter. Using the wood framing of the tree stand for a rest, the boy calmed his breath, took aim and squeezed the trigger. The deer fell where it stood. With a quick follow up shot, the woods were silent again.
Hearing the shot, Dave smiled. His son had climbed the tree and waited out the darkness, as he knew he would. Although he had never hunted anything as large as a deer before, once the shotgun was brought to his shoulder there was never a doubt that he wouldn’t make the shot. His father just needed to get him there.