A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I set out on what would be our final hunting adventure of the season. Neither of us had filled our deer tags and I had yet to fill my elk tag. Strategizing the three short days we had left in the season, we decided to hunt deer Friday and Saturday, and take one last shot at elk Sunday. Wishfully thinking we could fill our deer tags quickly Friday and free the rest of the weekend for elk. Our lucky deer spot has been very good to us over the years and we were headed there early Friday morning. We had a plan!
This lucky spot, ideal for hunting mule deer, is nestled in the mountain ranges surrounding the Ruby Valley. The landscape is filled with rolling hills, sage brush, lush grass and juniper trees. Plenty of room for the deer to roam, graze and find respite.
The previous three weekends the wind was against us by constantly changing directions. This particular weekend was unseasonably warm but dead calm. With the rut coming to an end we knew our window of opportunity was quickly becoming shorter and shorter. It was now or never.
There is a lot of quiet time when you are hiking around on a hunt. It always turns into a time of reflection and wandering thoughts for me. I reflect on hunting with my parents as a young child. We hunted for food that would feed all five of us for the year. My mom and dad were avid hunters, not only by necessity, but for the love of hunting. It was a way of life, the only way I knew. I still joke that I didn’t know what beef tasted like until I was a teenager.
My time in the Marine Corps and city living created a 20 year lull in hunting for me. Coming back to my roots and home in Montana has allowed me to get back to it all. My dad was so excited and proud to see me getting back into hunting he gave me his bolt action 270 winchester rifle last year. It was with that rifle I got a beautiful buck last year and I was hoping to do the same this year.
I have to be careful with all this thinking. As my boyfriend Greg says “the moment comes with the suddenness of a broken shoelace.” Within seconds that perfect shot is upon you. You must always pay attention to your surroundings!
This year my chance came with the usual sudeness. The morning sun was rising at our backs. We had already slowly hiked in a mile taking our time and glassing. Pausing for a moment my boyfriend said “Angela, get ready”. I quickly got my rifle out of it’s sling and rested it on my shooting sticks. He had seen a doe bedded down 225 yards away and wasn’t sure if there were others. We decided to take our chances and get a little closer to see if there was a buck with her.
Creeping slowly and quietly another 25 yards ahead we stopped and set up behind a juniper tree. Moments later a big beautiful 4x4 mule buck stepped into view. His head was down grazing. This was my chance. Adrenaline, excitement and anticipation all rushed through me at once. It had been such a long season with so much hard work and my moment was finally here!
I could see him with my naked eye, but when I tried to find him in my scope I couldn’t. The excitement of the moment had completely overwhelmed me. Greg gruffly whispered “what are you waiting for, take the shot!” I gasped in reply “wait, wait I can’t find him in my scope!” Suddenly I found him but I was so frantic I took the shot too quickly and missed him completely. Panicked more than ever I shot again missing him a second time! Greg was standing next to me puzzled by the event unfolding in front of him. This had never happened to me before...
Surprisingly the buck had not been spooked at all and was still standing there. I took a moment and told myself to calm the heck down. I needed to take my time. I found him in my scope yet again. He was walking slowly at this point looking around unsure. I took a deep breath, exhaled and pulled the trigger for the third time. He dropped instantly, it was a perfect shot.
With hunting comes a lot of hard work, emotions and lessons. I learn something every single time. That moment when you kill the animal is an overwhelming and a complex mix of feelings. I believe hunting at its core is conservation of our land and resources. I feel a deep satisfaction knowing that the animal had a great, free range life and that I am doing my part for conservation. I also feel so much gratitude for the animal and it’s sacrifice to feed my family. I am filled with pride knowing that I worked hard to put food on my table this winter. Above all I feel blessed for the opportunity to hunt in this beautiful place I call home. By the end of the season I feel all of that and...utterly exhausted! Ha!
We take our time carefully field dressing our animals, leaving behind guts and bones only. We always butcher our own meat so we take extra care when cleaning the animal. My heart swells with pride when I prepare a meal utilizing the meat from my hunt. Even more satisfying is sharing the recipes with all of you. I simply love to cook especially with wild game bringing my food from field to table. May the adventures continue both in the field and in the kitchen. I can’t wait to see what the next season brings!