We went hunting last weekend. By "we," I mean me, Rob, Lane, Bing, and my dad. By "hunting," I mean "there's a reason it's not called 'shooting' or 'killing.'" By last weekend, I mean last weekend. And it was one of the most frustrating three days of my life.
I soon discovered on Friday morning that while I'd made a big show of packing Rob's conservation license - "Because you'll probably lose it or forget, honey. I'm treating you like a child because I love you." - I had neglected to bring my own. Nor had I packed our antelope tags. After paying extra to get everything reprinted, we also each picked up a mule deer tag, because there's no such thing as too much protein. Rubbing my hands together greedily over the piles of steak, burger, sausage, jerky, and pepperstick ("We're gonna need a bigger freezer!"), we were off.
Our family (or just Dad) has been hunting at a ranch in Cohagen for 32 years. It has many many acres, and we have the benefit of a personal guide to lead us to "target rich environments."
Except that there was no game, or at least only a tiny fraction of the bounty that we've seen in the past. We quite literally could barely find anything to shoot, and the few antelope that were still there would start running as soon as they saw your truck stop... two or more miles away.
Mid-day on Friday, the Perrines and I got good and stuck in eastern Montana gumbo, mostly because I told Bing "It looks dry!" Up to the running boards of a big old Suburban in a mix of clay and bentonite, Bing managed to get hold of my dad and Rob, who had left Billings several hours after us.
"You're stuck? Shoot, I'm sorry. Wish I could help, but Rob and I are trying to change the flat tire we got on our way in. I don't even know where WE are! Good luck!"
Bing eventually managed to get the rig out, but thereafter noticed the transmission acting up. And that rusty muffler? By the end of the weekend, it had been so jarred by the action that it served more as a cowbell than anything else, clanging up against the back of the SUV as it held on by a bolt or two.
Rob got the first deer of the trip, a good-sized doe, late on Saturday night (this was after he emptied the gun in a fruitless frenzy to shoot the biggest buck ever seen on the ranch, but I digress). Bing brought down a buck on our last day (with a mere five hours until we had to leave, we were trying to fill eight more tags: five antelope and three deer). Lane and I lined up on a pair of bucks, and I managed to shoot the hind leg nearly off mine, rather than shoot cleanly through the heart as I had aimed. As Rob, Tom (the ranch manager), and I beat the sage brush tailing my mortally (but not imminently mortally) wounded deer, it hobbled over a ridgeline and vanished. We searched for over a mile and an hour, but it either died well-hidden or had taken a different direction than us, and we couldn't scare it up.
The last few hours involved a long and fruitless sneak on antelope dead set into running into the next county.
As we pulled into the yard to pack up, Bing told me he and Lane had spotted a group of doe mulies in the next section, very close and hopefully already accustomed to the cowbell. Eager to redeem my poor shot, I drew a bead on one and fired. You can tell by the sound when a shot is good, and it hit, but as we drew near, my doe leapt up about 15 feet from me and went running as fast as she could... on three legs. The leg I blew nearly off was flying around as she skittered away, dangling by little more than tendon.
"DAMMIT, you have GOT to be kidding me!" I hollered. We gave chase, and she crested a rise that led straight to the house. When we caught up, hoping to see her milling about on the flat or to flush her into a standing position so I could finish what I started, we couldn't find her. We searched for over an hour, but she had vanished, leaving me with the sick feeling of having two animals suffering and dying slowly by my hand, AND I DON'T EVEN GET TO EAT THEM.
I believe my shooting was a combination of a lack of practice and a bumped scope, because my dad will be the first to tell you that I'm an excellent shot (I'll tell you too, but I like it better when someone else goes first). Lane and Bing figured our inauspicious start was God protecting us from something by delaying us, but I'm thinking my personal hellish disappointment and frustration is all part of a bigger lesson:
Lesson #1: You can't always get what you want.
Lesson #2: Eat more beef.
Lesson #3: But chicken is good too.