You can smell it as soon as you open the truck door. The sagebrush is everywhere and it’s a smell that tickles my nose and energizes my senses. This smell is commonplace to westerners, but for me it symbolizes something special, something that I wait an entire year for. It’s like a drug that clears my mind and makes me feel like I belong in this place. And not just for a single week out of a long year, but for all time. Wyoming calls to me, it’s always there in the back of my mind, flashing images of the antelope laden grassland, the winding North Platte River, the rocky bluffs, the deep drainages and yes, the sagebrush.
Chance and I arrived in southeast Wyoming to the warm welcome of our friends, Dan and Denise. Dan has known Chance since Chance was a wee little boy, and offered up their home about four years ago, in case we ever decided we wanted to give “western hunting” a go. They had moved to their Wyoming cattle ranch from Indiana and told us that we would fit in just fine out there, based on how much we loved the outdoors and hunting lifestyle. The very next winter we were putting in for tags.
Shortly after arriving, we made our way up into one of the three buttes that our hosts are blessed to have, so we could take in the sunset, the views of the countryside, and see if we couldn’t glass up a coyote. We never laid eyes on the coyote that had been finding its way too close to the house, but we did find a bachelor group of mule deer that have been passing through the ranch periodically, during the later summer months. Dan and Denise both told us if we wanted to shoot the two large bucks that were hanging around about every third day, we were welcomed to do so. After seeing them on Saturday evening, we were left stunned at their size and just their presence.
However, we didn’t have to say a word to each other, we each already had our reasons for our individual desire to go elsewhere for our mule deer this year. Chance knew that Tim, a neighbor and dear friend to Dan and Denise, had been watching those deer and had even been out with his bow, hoping to have a shot at one of them. Tim has given us pointers the last few years on where some good public land was located, and this year, where to go and what to look for, for Chance’s attempt at his first antelope. Chance liked the idea of venturing out and exploring as well, but essentially left the monster bucks, out of respect for Tim.
My reasons were a little different. While I also have respect for Tim and his pursuit of one of these two massive deer, I already had it in my mind that public land was the only option for me, when in Wyoming.
For me, there is a certain appreciation for the “suck” that comes with hiking eight or ten miles, through rough, rocky terrain littered with sage, yucca and cactus, while trying to locate a deer, that you may or not ever even get a shot at. I love the possibility of what could be just on the other side of the next ridge. We live at approximately 840 feet above sea level back home. We hunt, hike and climb in an area of Wyoming that is roughly 4,800 feet above sea level. While that might seem minor to the mountain dwellers, I am most certainly a flatlander.
Part of the “suck,” is when you are gasping for air, and feel your heartbeat in your head as you are pulling that loaded game cart up the monster hill, on the way back to the truck. You feel like you are going to die, and you question why in the hell you do this every fall, knowing that you are going to suffer great discomfort.
But you do it because those public lands keep calling you back, they make you believe that anything is possible, they mesmerize you with their beauty, they hold on to you with their mystery. Some people think I’m crazy for passing up an opportunity at a buck of a lifetime, right there, just waiting for me on our hosts ranch. But I say you’d be crazy to pass up the sights, smells and “suck” of hunting on public land.
For us, hunting is a process. It is an experience that connects us to our food and brings us closer to nature. Telling the stories in a way that inspires others, whether non-hunters or new hunters, to maybe venture out and explore the possibilities of what the out of doors is all about, is important to me and I feel it is crucial to help others open their minds to something they may not be familiar with in the present. We hunt for the challenge. We hunt for the opportunity to explore this country’s public lands. Most importantly we hunt for the food it provides us throughout the year.
We went out to hunt public land not knowing what we might find. We not only embraced the suck, but we endured it. Our friend Tim went out on Thursday night and shot a monster buck behind the buttes. We helped him drag it out, I took his photos for him, and I held a leg while he dressed it out. This buck was magnificent, it was stout, it still had velvet clinging to the tips of his antlers. He was everything you dream of, when you think of a Wyoming mule deer.
But he wasn’t the deer for me.
The deer for me, was the deer I stalked and waited for, for so long earlier in the week. I couldn’t be prouder of our Wyoming hunt this year.
I am thankful for the animals, thankful for our dear friends and their hospitality, and thankful for the public lands that made all of it possible.
Maybe in a weird way, I am most thankful for the smell of the sagebrush, and the year long wait I endure before I can open that truck door, to that familiar smell that lets me know we are back in Wyoming, once again.