“I can’t believe the only Saturday this fall without a volleyball game is the same weekend I’ll be hunting elk with my dad”, came my whine when my oldest daughters brought home the fall sports schedule. “Why in the world doesn’t the AD schedule more games on Tuesday and less on Saturday?” It was more of a statement out of frustration than it was a question. My daughters were smart enough to know they didn’t need to reply. Trying to balance work, school, sports and hunting just got a whole lot tougher. We would have to be better prepared to be able to pull this off. With a game every weekend until Mid-November we applied for one of the only late limited quota hunts in Wyoming. With odds in the single digits the results were more of a formality than a disappointment. Wyoming has some great general seasons and units but I knew that our chances for success would be pretty slim given the kids schedule. At best we would have one day to hunt, and so we began our preparations.
After looking at our calendars we settled on a date that was going to give us the best opportunity. I had Monday October 13th off of work for Columbus Day and my second daughter didn’t have a game until that Saturday. If she had to miss a practice, this might be the one. My oldest daughter would have to forego this deer season with her high school schedule.
I grabbed my maps of the unit and we logged into our account at www.onxmaps.com. I’m pretty familiar with the unit although I’ve never hunted deer there. We picked out a few likely looking spots on the maps and then verified with OnXMaps by looking at how the roads intersected the private land to get us onto public pieces. One chunk was 3 state sections with some brushy draws sandwiched around some heavily signed private. The next chunk that caught my attention was a couple miles of BLM and State mixed together. The public road cuts across 200 yards of public before bending back onto private. Most of the public land is West of the road with only 2-300 yards of public on the East side of the road. It looks like we’ll need to park and hike to access most of it. The third chunk we picked out had the public road parallel the 4 square miles of public land for several miles, although the road was 400 yards onto private. Finally, at one corner, there was an extra 1/16th section of BLM that would allow us foot access to all 4 square miles of good looking country. Once we picked our spots, waypoints were imported into my GPS. We didn’t have (make) time for a scouting trip but I did get to drive the main road through those sections one afternoon while working. Habitat looked good and I saw a few deer.
Volleyball and hunting season’s progressed until it was time for the hunt. Paige and I loaded up the rig for the 2 hour drive. It had snowed a skiff that day to increase our excitement for the next day. As I pulled into our first location and got out of the truck to arrange our sleeping bags in the back, my headlamp caught shining eyes. Lots of them! Paige and I laughed about camping right in the middle of a herd of deer as we closed the camper shell and snuggled into our bags until morning. The next morning we confirmed that we had indeed camped right in the middle of several herds of deer. It took almost 4 hours to sort through over 100 deer on those 3 State sections. We turned up 3 spikes and 2 forkies. I kept trying to talk Paige into one of them, but she kept telling me I could find her something bigger………………
As I turned onto the main road to our next location, I told Paige we had 4 miles until we were back on public land. She held my Garmin as we navigated the now muddy road from the melting snow. “We’ll be on the public land in about 400 yards”, came her soft reply as she was staring at the GPS in her hands. About then I spotted 10 deer feeding 200 yards off the road. 5 were bucks. 3 forkies and 2-3 points. We watched them for a couple minutes with no hope of them crossing over to public anytime soon. As I headed north again, I knew she was contemplating her choice of passing up some of those young bucks from our first spot. I was going to offer some words of encouragement when I could see a fence and cattle guard approaching. Paige verified that we were about to cross back onto our second location. As we dropped over a small rise toward the cattle guard, 8 deer raised their heads from the tall sage. Two were small 3 points! Half the deer were 10 feet on the legal side of the fence and the other half were on private. I started to ask Paige what she wanted to do when she spotted 2 more bucks up the road 200 yards. No questions needed to be asked about the better of those 2 bucks. I pulled past all the deer until the truck was hidden behind a small rise. Paige grabbed the Weaver rifle and I grabbed the shooting sticks. We crept over the rise to see the 2 bucks on a fast walk toward the private. Paige grabbed the sticks and settled the rifle. I told her to take him whenever she felt solid. I barely got the words out when the 300 barked and her buck kicked his hind feet and attempted to run. He only made it 40 yards before piling up in a sagebrush. As Paige and I stood there and hugged she grabbed the GPS out of her pocket. We both looked at the screen with gratitude knowing he died about 100 yards on our side of the fence.
I had originally sent a note to school excusing Paige “to attend the funeral of a DEER friend.” We made it back for 6th hour Geography which also meant she would be able to attend volleyball practice. No room for error, indeed!