This is a guest post written by Jamie Tankesley, a retired Air Force Staff Sargeant, who attended on a scholarship opportunity and agreed to tell us about what the hunt meant to her. She titled it “Hunting Goes Beyond the Kill,” and we believe you’ll see why after reading her excellent story below. ~BB
This past weekend I would drive 14 hours from Valley Falls, Kansas, to Clearmont, Wyoming. I made my way through a snowstorm that would blanket Cheyenne, Wyoming, where I stopped overnight to rest. For I was making my journey to the Annual Wyoming Women’s Foundation Antelope hunt. I was selected as a scholarship recipient earlier in the year and had been waiting for this trip for some time. I was beyond excited and more determined to make it.
I pulled into the Ranch at Ucross around noon on Oct. 9 and immediately fell in love. It was serene. There were snowcapped rolling hills, tall prairie grass surrounding the property, deer bedded down in the fields all around, horses running by a large pond; I was in a country girl’s paradise.
I immediately got a warm comfort feeling about the experience I was about to embrace. There were 46 shooters this weekend, including a few dignitaries, a handful of guides and countless volunteers. The women of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation were nothing short of inviting, warm spirited and full of laughter as they began guiding us to our activities.
The first day was spent checking in, sighting in our rifles and a physical skills course. I would bring my Tikka 30.06, which I sighted in at 225 yards. Right on target, as I had done at home before coming. I was ready. That night, at dinner, we would meet our guides and learn a little more about what the Foundation does and has to offer the community. My group ended up turning in early after dinner, as we were hunting the Padlock Ranch up near the Montana border and we had an early morning drive.
Morning came quick, maybe it was because I was so excited to get out there. Though I am an experienced big game hunter, I had never hunted antelope before, so it was all new to me. There was a bitter chill to the air, but we were ready. My hunting partner, a photographer, our guide and I bundled up ready to embrace the cold – but, more ready to find the herds and fill our tags. Immediately after arriving on the Padlock Ranch, we saw 2 small herds. We parked and took off on foot to get as close as we could without spooking the second herd. It had about 10 antelope in the herd, but we just couldn’t get to them. We returned to the truck only to notice that from behind one of the rolling hills, was another herd walking out onto a pasture to graze – the same pasture we just hiked through to get back to the truck.
This was it. We were going out. There was a tree line and a creek between us and the herd. We stalked as far as we could with cover from the trees. From there, we could see them. Because of my injuries from military service, it is very difficult to shoot sitting or from shooting sticks; I am, however, an excellent hunter from prone. With that, I army-crawled, pulling myself closer and closer almost to the edge of the creek. I was setup on my bipod and in position. I was ready. Not knowing if they would move any closer and with my guide’s advice, I took a shot; it was a long one and a little too low in the wind. I missed. I felt defeated as an experienced long-range shooter, but what happened next was not what we were expecting at all.
They didn’t run. They didn’t move at all at first, then all out of nowhere, they would turn and run directly at us. I was still set up on my bipod in prone on the ground; set up in the middle of what was a game trail. With the creek between us, we had no idea what was about to happen until they turned just shy of the creek edge and stopped. They stopped right in front of us, with only the creek between and they started grazing. I couldn’t believe it – they didn’t see us. I spotted 3 beautiful bucks, but bringing up the rear was one that had been eating very well. I let him clear the trees and I took my shot. Bam. Down he went instantly. Clean shot, no damaged meat, it was perfect. I was so excited. We would step it off to roughly 110 yards.
Now to others, this may be the end of it for you, but for me … this was only just a part of it. The hunt is so much more than just a perfect kill shot. For me, it brings a sense of belonging to something bigger. This time, it was the Wyoming Women’s Foundation. It is surrounding yourself with a group of like-minded individuals and having a sense of purpose again. It’s being given a task and fulfilling it, even if that is only bringing meat home to the freezer. It’s a place of belonging and not being judged for the multiple brain injuries, having PTSD, or the countless pieces of metal and hardware in my body. It’s filling that void of camaraderie – even if only temporarily, that I lost when I had to leave military service (something only veterans endure and understand). Being a part of this hunt keeps me focused and makes me feel a part of something bigger, something I will always long for again and again.
It’s not as easy to put into words why I hunt or what it does for me … but know this … this hunt, this skill … this is why I don’t give up. I cannot say thank you enough to the Wyoming Women’s Foundation for this opportunity and experience. It definitely will be one for the memory books years to come. I am beyond proud to be a member of the Sisters of the Sage and I hope to be able to return in years to come.
The Women's Outdoor News, aka The WON, features news, reviews and stories about women who are shooting, hunting, fishing and actively engaging in outdoor adventure. This publication is for women, by women. View all posts by The WON