As a longtime hunter, there are few things more enjoyable for me than hunting with my children and family. My 29-year-old daughter, Christie, is just getting into hunting as of last year. I went online in June to check this year’s tag results and was shocked to see that Christie had drawn an antelope tag in one of Oregon’s premier units that I have been trying to pull for 11 years!
Christie had a rough last year as her eight-year marriage ended and she suddenly became the sole provider for two small children. In addition, she had to maintain a job through COVID in the medical field and focus on getting emotionally better for the next stage of her life. What better way to accomplish that than with the hunt of a lifetime?
Christie is new to hunting, so we went to the range a few times and had her shoot off sticks, preparing for a shot we knew would most likely be around 400 yards. My brother Matt, and nephews Gavin and Daro rounded out our hunting team. This being free-range cattle country, we also had a secret weapon: a cow decoy we planned to use as cover to stalk close enough to shoot.
After getting all our gear and food together, we arrived at base camp Friday and planned to scout until dark so we had an idea of where to start for opening day on Saturday. The place was flat, dusty and dry.
The first day we were out until dark fell upon us. I felt disheartened, and wanted to go back to camp to rest. The stars that night were bright, and I witnessed five shooting stars. I fell asleep with fire in my spirit and a hope that tomorrow would be a better day.
We got out at dark that morning and rode three on a quad, with me driving and Christie and Daro back-to-back on the rear as we traveled the rock-covered dusty trail. Dismounting the quads, we split up as Matt and Gavin tactically made their way to a little knoll off to our right to provide overwatch while maintaining line-of-sight contact. The smell of sage filled the air as we hiked south and the sun slowly rose to our left. It was calm and cool in the morning, but we knew all too soon the sun would be beating down on us.
This part of Oregon is wild. Wild as in unchanged for millennia. It almost demands a profound reverence and a sense of stewardship for our hunting privilege. COVID-19, sheltering in place, social distancing, demonstrations and politics have no impact on how these antelope behave and thrive here. This dichotomy brings us comfort, as we take in the fresh air, as we breathe in life. It invigorated our souls, and filled our heart’s with hope.
We started after some antelope we saw about a mile out. As we approached the pronghorns, we saw Matt standing up and shooting his pistol at the ground. The antelope heard the noise, looked Matt’s direction and took off. “What is going on?” we questioned, thinking we may have just lost our best and only chance.
After things settled down, we continued on about another 800 yards and then laid low for about 30 minutes, glassing around. As we stood up to move, Daro stood tall, looked behind us and saw a buck with five does about 315 yards away. Christie set the rifle on the shooting sticks and got the nice buck in the crosshair only to have a doe step in front. “Stop,” I said quietly. And then to our dismay the buck took off running to our left. Then the buck stopped, waiting for the others to join, and at that precise moment Christie put one .270 round right in the buck's pump house at 350 yards. It ran a few steps and dropped. I gave Christie a big hug and told her, “Good job.” I saw tears form in her eyes as the relief and adrenaline of the moment came over her.
We waited about 30 minutes for Matt and Gavin to join us. When they arrived, we circled up and clasped hands, thanking God for the opportunity to be successful together and provide precious meat for Christie’s young family.
It was then that we found out what happened to cause the loud disruption earlier in the stalk. Matt had set his pack on a rattlesnake and had to shoot it. Everything worked out great, as this buck was better than the one he scared off!
Although it was a relatively short hunt, it was grueling. Gavin lost 9 pounds, Christie lost 5, and we were all sore and tired. It was a good reminder that when things look bleak, if you persevere and stand tall, success may be just over the next hill.