A report from the field by Women’s Outdoor News photographer Stacey Huston, on the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt, 2014.
Friday, 2:30 p.m.
The dry Wyoming wind is blowing directly at my face, bringing with it the smell of sage and dust and making the tall fall grasses dance and sway in front of me. I watch as the small herd of antelope – 2 bucks and a dozen or so does and fawns – slowly feed toward us in the small valley. I steady the butt of the rifle against my shoulder and lower my head to peer through the scope.
I reach up and flip the safety off and take a deep breath. “174 yards,” whispers my guide, Josh. Through the tunnel, I set the crosshairs on the buck antelope. There are two does, one on each side of him that are on high alert and staring directly at us, though at this point they are still unsure what exactly they are seeing. I try to remain undetected as I slowly shift sideways in search of a clear path between the pronghorn and myself.
The antelope turns broadside and then quarters away as he feeds back toward the rest of the herd. He continues to walk slowly away until he drops out of sight in a small depression in the distance. No shot, thanks to a clump of grass obscuring my view of the vitals.
I click the safety back on and raise my head from the scope to look at Josh with a grin. He will be back. We have time; I will wait. The doe on the right perks her head and bobs from side to side, sniffing the air. Yellow grass sways, and dark brown eyes peer intently in my direction. Josh whispers to me not to move as a 3rd and 4th doe lock on our location. The buck is slowly making his way back toward us. He circles around, weaving in and out of the herd. This time he approaches to around 150 yards, yet still I will not take the shot, because there are 2 fawns directly behind him as he beds down. We hold our position and wait.
Eventually the does relax and Josh motions for me to back down off the top of the hill and out of sight of wary eyes. On the other side of the rise, we circle around to our right and again, belly crawl to the top. This time there is less to obstruct my shooting lane, but also less to conceal our location. The does are once again staring, but this time it’s at the spot we just left. Our new approach has, for now, gone unnoticed.
Friday, 6:30 p.m.
We pull back into camp just before dark. The girls hurry over to take pictures and give congratulations. The festivities already are under way in the tent and I catch bits and pieces of Governor Mead’s speech as I help to hang my buck on the meat pole.That work completed, I rush off to my room to clean up before heading to dinner. I walk into the tent a half hour later, presentable, but still carrying the faint scent of antelope. (I can’t believe that I missed the speech and most of the auction … but will confess that I wouldn’t change a thing.)
Saturday, 5 a.m.
I can hear the bell ringing outside. It tries to drag me from my sleep. My back is sore. I shift, expecting to feel the confines of the sleeping bag and the bite of cold that comes in the early morning hours in hunting camp. I can hear the wind blowing outside and bury my head trying to hide from the inevitable. I am not ready to leave my cocoon and hope that someone else will get up and build a fire – maybe even put on some coffee – finally, I resign myself to the tasks before me. It has to be done.
I pull my head out from beneath the covers and blink my eyes, expecting to see the glow of canvas. I grin to myself. Down comforter and soft pillows cradle my head. I remember now where I am and that I filled my tag last night. Moonlight filters through the window and I think to myself, “This isn’t like any hunting camp I have been in before.” I settle into the soft bed and my memories slip back to last night’s hunt.
Saturday 8 a.m.
After a great night’s sleep and a nice hot shower, I am dressed and ready for the day. This morning I will skin and quarter my antelope. A few of the ladies are back out in the field hunting. Some of the successful hunters who filled their tags yesterday have left on a fly-fishing demonstration, and others are down behind the rooms shooting skeet.
Throughout the day, more ladies drift in with their harvests and exciting stories of the hunt. One thing that I have noticed here on this hunt, is the outpouring of support and encouragement among hunters. There is no ego here, no jealousy. Just a group of ladies gathered on the high desert of Wyoming to live a little, learn from each other and have fun.
Walt and his wife, Kim Gasson, are here to help those who would like to learn how to skin and process their antelope. Kim and her daughter put on a cooking demonstration and there is even a place set up for chair massages. Walt helps me prep my antelope skull for a European mount and then I return to my room to try to get a little work done.
Saturday, 11:35 a.m
I sit here at the desk my room, editing photos from the weekend and trying to put my thoughts in order to share with you. The sliding glass door to the balcony is open and through the screen, the gentle fall breeze brings with it the sounds of shotgun fire followed by hoots, hollers and laughter from the group gathered in the field out back. This has gone on for hours Bang! Bang! Laughter, followed by oohs and ahs, can be heard as Jim Dawson and his daughter instruct the skeet shooting.
They are great at keeping morale high and people interested. The event is lively and continues to draw people from all across the grounds.
I met women from New York, Wyoming, Nevada, Texas and other places across the nation – women from all walks of life who came here to hunt. Some are return hunters who attended last year’s inaugural event during the legendary snow storm of October 2013. For some of these ladies, this will be their first of hopefully many hunts to come. This weekend presented me with the opportunity for more than just putting meat in my freezer. I met some fantastic ladies, created lasting memories and forged new friendships.
The shooting out my window has stopped, but I don’t notice as my mind has wandered back to yesterday’s grassy hillside, to tell you the rest of my hunting story.
Friday, 4 p.m.
Another clump of grass is digging into my rib cage, my back is sore and my neck is aching. The wind is still perfect, blowing straight at my face. I have no idea how long we have waited, but if there is one thing that bowhunting and photography have taught me, it is patience. The antelope are still sleeping. Even the sentinel does have given up and bedded down to enjoy the warm afternoon sun.
Josh put his forehead down on his binoculars about 15 minutes ago to rest his neck and I haven’t heard a word from him since – only the steady telltale breathing of sleep. I peek at him again out the corner of my eye and try to suppress a laugh. I curse myself for not having a camera, not even my cell phone to document this moment. Time ticks on and I wonder if my hunting partner, Shelley, is getting bored back at the truck.
My mind starts running through all the scenarios that might take place when the antelope finally decide to get up. I might not have much time for a clean shot opportunity and find myself trying to recall if I have a round in the chamber. I reach up and try to silently pull the bolt back to check. Beside me Josh’s head flies up, binoculars in hand. He peers out at the herd. “He’s still there,” he announces quietly. Like I wouldn’t notice he had dozed off.
“Yeah? I know,” I whisper dryly, trying to conceal my humor. He turns to look at me sheepishly, and we both laugh when he realizes that I am on to him. We turn our attention back to the herd below. Time continues to slip by and the antelope herd remains bedded.
Friday, 4:40 p.m.
Yellow grasses dance in the wind and sparse clouds cast gentle shadows over the landscape. The buck has his nose on the ground and his ears bob and sway along with the grass. My neck is on fire from lying here on my belly so long. Josh is a great guide with a supreme sense of humor, and those qualities made this long wait much easier to bare. We quietly banter back and forth and I will not let him off the hook for dozing off earlier. I have finally had enough, as it doesn’t look like these animals are going to move until after the sun goes down. I ask Josh what he thinks will happen if we whistle. He answers that he really doesn’t know. I ponder whether or not it is worth blowing the hunt after waiting for this long, and finally decide it is worth a try. The plan is for me to get ready, and then Josh will whistle. I ready the gun, click the safety off and locate the sleeping buck in the cross hairs. I am ready.
From beside me I hear a pitiful, breathy “ththwweeoooottt.” I pull my eye from the scope and turn to Josh, expecting to see him laughing at me. Instead he meets my gaze and is stone cold serious.
“Seriously?” I ask, “That’s all you’ve got?”
“What?” he asks.
I shake my head at him, set the stock of my rifle down, poke my fingers in my mouth and let out a high pitched shriek. I quickly reach down, pick up my gun and peer through the scope at the … unmoving herd. Nothing! Not even a flinch. Josh and I look at each other and burst out laughing.
Once we compose ourselves, I get ready once again. Josh finally draws the attention of the sentinel does and they slowly begin to get up, the buck rising with them. He stretches and takes a few steps to my left, and as the buck moves away the startled fawns behind him, I inhale, pull the butt of the rifle into my shoulder, steady the crosshairs on a spot behind the front shoulder where brown meets white, and as I exhale, I smoothly pull the trigger.
I can feel the steady pounding of my heart beat where a clump of prairie grass bites into my stomach. I can only hope the antelope can’t hear or feel it, as I am certain the echo can be heard across the prairie and felt in the ground. I rack another round into the chamber. I look over the scope as the herd retreats down the sage covered valley in front of me. I see the buck across the draw. He takes a step, and then stops. He lowers his head …
The dry Wyoming wind is blowing directly at my face, bringing with it the smell of sage and dust and making the tall yellow grasses dance and sway in front of me …
Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt, Part 1, was published on Nov. 9, 2015.