SITE MAP STALKING FIREARMS & ACCESSORIES CONTACT DEERSTALKER


HUNT REPORT  -  WYOMING, THE COWBOY STATE

"Congratulations!" said the lady from Wyoming Game & Fish Department on the other end of the ‘phone line. "Your group has drawn Region C General Deer permits, and Area 102 Antelope permits." This was the news we had been eagerly waiting five months for. After a year of planning, we could now book flights, and look forward to an October visit to the Cowboy State.

For those of you unfamiliar with hunting in the United States, let me explain a little about this system for getting hunting permits. Wyoming contains good numbers of game animals in an area slightly larger than the whole of Great Britain - and where we have approaching 60 million inhabitants, their residents number less than 500,000. The well funded and very organized Game & Fish Department divides the state into a series of hunting areas, in each of which populations of the various game species are studied by experienced wardens and biologists, who then allocate cull numbers for the forthcoming game season. Would-be hunters have to apply for permits during the first couple of months of the year in which they intend to visit. They then sit around, with fingers crossed, awaiting the draw that takes place at the end of June. Compared with many other states, Wyoming has little public land. If you can get permission to hunt private property in areas without much public access, your chances of drawing permits are usually reasonably good. Even if you live there, you must still apply - although you do stand a significantly better chance of drawing than any non-resident.

We had planned to hunt around Buffalo, on the eastern edge of the Bighorn mountains, part of the Rockies chain, and had submitted applications for Mule Deer Buck and Pronghorn Antelope Buck. I was the leader of the group, and the ‘old hand’ - I had hunted in Wyoming once before! Alby, Kenton and Bob - all experienced stalkers, but none having previously visited the West - had expressed an interest in joining me after hearing stories of my previous exploits. With my wife Barbara, and Alby’s partner Jane joining us, something other than hunting had to be incorporated into the holiday: so a few other relevant side attractions were arranged.

British Airways did us a favour by starting up a direct service from Gatwick to Denver, Colorado, just in time, and even had promotional rates on the fares. No sooner had we booked, however, than Denver imposed a firearms ban in the city - in an effort to cut down on drugs related armed crime - and a few people were advising us against flying in with rifles. There is nothing like the familiarity and confidence of shooting with your own rifle though….

October eventually arrived. On the appointed date we all met up at Gatwick, checking in rifles and ammunition without problem. The ten hour flight was uneventful, if slightly bumpy when we met the jet stream over Minnesota; so after landing and clearing immigration control, we entered the baggage reclaim area with a certain amount of apprehension. No sooner had we started loading the four rifle cases on our luggage trolleys than a customs officer came rushing over.

"You guys going hunting?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied "up around Buffalo, Wyoming."
"Hey there’s some great hunting up there! What rifles have you got?"
"Bolt-action, sporting - we aren’t allowed anything else."
"O.K., follow me." He escorted us straight past a long queue waiting at the entrance to the customs hall, raised a barrier, and we were the first out into the main concourse and car hire desks!

After collecting a matched pair of Jeep Grand Cherokees, we headed north-east for a couple of hours, before stopping at Sterling for our first night. Despite feeling weary from a day’s travelling and the seven hour time difference, we managed to summon up enough energy to dine on some good steak prior to bedding down for the night. Little over one hundred years ago, the modern West was being built around railroads, and the main streets of many towns run adjacent to the rail tracks. Of course, most motels are on Main Street, so throughout the night you experience the rumble of amazingly long freight trains crawling by, announcing their arrival at each level-crossing with a series of blasts from their claxons. Nevertheless, the following morning we felt refreshed, and rearing to go.


CABELA'S HEADQUARTERS STORE, SIDNEY, NEBRASKA

From Sterling, we were ideally positioned for a short cross-country drive to Sidney, Nebraska, and that Mecca for American hunters: Cabela’s. The newcomers were more than impressed by the size and content of the store and, after familiarizing themselves with the general layout, got stuck in to some serious shopping. By the time we left, there were several large carrier bags full of gear strategically tucked away in the recesses of the Jeeps. We spent that night locally, having a fun dinner at Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse - its walls crammed with trophies and old hunting photographs. Sitting at a table, tucking into a large steak, with a huge moose head hanging over you, gives you a sense of…… well, it’s certainly different!


PRONGHORN ANTELOPE AMONGST THE HIGH PLAINS SAGE BRUSH

Driving north, we stopped briefly at Scotts Bluff, a prominent natural landmark for early pioneers travelling west on the Oregon Trail. Crossing the state line, we entered Wyoming at Van Tassell (population 6) and immediately started seeing game. In this area pronghorn antelope are a common sight, and whenever we came across an alfalfa crop, we would inevitably spot several mule deer and/or whitetails. Arriving in Lusk, we found the town running on emergency generators. A blizzard had struck five days previously - yes, this was the first week in October! - and ice had brought down the power lines. We carried on north to Newcastle, a town built around the coal mining industry (I wonder who thought up that original name!), where we were to spend a couple of nights at a pleasant little motel on the north side of town, with whitetails frequenting the garden.

The following day, and we were bound for Sturgis, South Dakota, crossing the Black Hills, which had suffered the blizzard too: up to 5 feet of snow, which had all but disappeared by the time we arrived five days later! I had warned the others that this was the ‘shoulder’ season, between summer and winter, when you can be sweating in a T-shirt one minute, then shivering in thermals the next…. Mention Sturgis to anyone, and the chances are that if they have heard of it, they will be a Harley-Davidson rider: the town is central to a huge annual motorbike rally. Our reason to visit was a little more shooting orientated: Sturgis is also home to Dakota Arms, particularly well known for their magnificent rifles. Manager Paulette Kok led us on a tour of the factory, where we witnessed the skills with which the firearms are lovingly assembled. Kenton’s eyes had ‘that’ glint in them: a possible future purchase? On the way back across the Black Hills, we passed Mount Rushmore, famous for its carvings of the four presidents’ heads. The yellowing leaves of the aspens showed that summer was at its end; and through the trees we caught frequent sights of whitetails, and a few bison.


THE DISTANT SNOW-CAPPED BIGHORN MOUNTAINS

After a second night in Newcastle, at last we were heading West, across the prairie – with a great brunch break in Gillette - until the snow capped peaks of the Bighorns loomed on the horizon. By now, we were seeing wildlife everywhere, which boded well for our hunting. First stop was the Wyoming Game & Fish information centre just outside Sheridan, where we picked up all their latest literature, and a list of local ranchers who might be experiencing prairie dog problems! We then made the short, scenic trip down to Buffalo for one night, and paid a visit to the ranch that was to be our hunting base in a few days time.


MAJESTIC TEN SLEEP CANYON

Endeavouring to share with our friends as much as possible of wonderful Wyoming, we headed across the Bighorns: a dramatic early-morning drive on roads covered with ice and patches of snow, over the Powder River Pass, at 9,666ft., then down through the towering walls of Ten Sleep Canyon. Across the plain to Cody, we were in good time to spend a few hours at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. What a fascinating place this is, divided into six sections, foremost amongst which are three museums dedicated to William Cody (aka Buffalo Bill), the Plains Indian, and the Cody Firearms collection. The latter exhibits over 4,000 firearms, primarily historical American, and a log cabin trophy room with a selection of record book mounts.

We were too late in the season to find a rodeo, so an early night was in order, before a crack-of-dawn start, to drive up into Yellowstone.

Of course, all the best laid plans….. We had barely started our mountain ascent, when we ground to a halt at a road improvement scheme. This involved large amounts of dynamite, so we had to sit around for an hour, taking in the local scenery. America’s first National Park proved worth the wait though. By mid-October it is comparatively tourist-free, so we had some excellent close-up wildlife sightings, and were treated to a "better than usual" show by Old Faithful. As we left by the north-east entrance, dusk was falling, and elk herds were emerging from the forests. Our road back to Cody was via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway – not that we could see much of the spectacular mountain route in the dark. However, we did catch sight of our first moose: just as it was hit by the pickup truck ahead of us – fortunately just a light glancing blow, and neither party seemed any the worse for wear.


A BULL ELK IN YELLOWSTONE

Back towards Buffalo, and as we descended the Bighorns, we passed truck after truck heading up to the high public lands for the first day of the hunting season. A succession of big Fords, Chevrolets & Dodges, crammed full of kit; and more often than not, towing a trailer loaded with generator, deep freeze, and two or three quad bikes. Every now and then we would pass more traditional hunters, with a horsebox hitched up behind.

We checked into our motel, which, in typical Wyoming fashion, welcomed hunters by offering a 10% discount on their normal inexpensive out-of-season rates, and then walked downtown for a beer. As we crossed the intersection, a shout from a large black Ford pickup, "Tally-Ho Cowboy!", announced the arrival of Nick & Denny, my erstwhile hunting buddies from Michigan, pulling into town after a 24 hour drive. Introductions over, we all settled down over a couple of large pitchers of MGD, and did what hunters do best: talked!

We had two days to spare before the hunting started, and these were not to be wasted. We took advantage of the well-organized local Rod & Gun Club, which has open days on their rifle range before the season starts. Hunters can purchase targets for $1 each, and check their rifle’s zero at either 100 or 200 yards. The Club has range officers present to give you a hand if necessary; and the Game & Fish Department have a representative there to offer advice, and answer any hunting related queries. We were happy to find that, despite the best efforts of airline baggage handlers, all our ‘scopes were still perfectly aligned.


RAHIMI'S TAXIDERMY, RANCHESTER, WYOMING

In the afternoon we travelled up towards the Montana border, and the sleepy little town of Ranchester, where Andy Rahimi runs Rahimi's Taxidermy. I had met Andy before, been well impressed with the quality of his work, and become pretty friendly with him. When the rest of our gang saw the fine display of antelope, muleys, whitetail and elk on the walls of his showroom, they were pretty impressed too. After a good chat, and the promise of bringing any trophies up for Andy to mount, we headed back towards Buffalo, stopping at Sheridan on the way, for a spot of shopping.

The following morning we were off for our ‘warm up’ on a small prairie dog town. At last, 16 months after the inception of the hunt, we were about to get our barrels dirty!



KENTON & BOB LINE UP ON SOME LONG-DISTANCE PRAIRIE DOGS

This warm-up day was our first encounter with these squirrel-sized varmints. As we started shooting, a small group of mule deer does and fawns emerged from a reed bed to see what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t long before we were filling the hillside with lead, and accounting for a good number of pests into the bargain. Time was not on our side, so after a good bit of sport we made our way back to Buffalo, and from there out to the ranch that would be our base for the next five days. We dined with Craig, Phil and Pat, three of our guides, and worked out hunting strategies that we were sure would lead us to the best trophies that Johnson County had to offer!

For our hunting area October 15th is opening day of the season, and as it dawned we were already well out in the field, eager to find game. The weather had turned a little from being ‘T-shirt-friendly’ to ‘jacket-essential’. We had split into pairs, with Alby and I accompanied by Jean, who worked the ranch we were hunting. Jean began life in the Basque country, from where he and many other shepherds emigrated to Wyoming, their rough-country expertise being much in demand. We were looking for antelope, and it was not long before we found a few, along with some small mule deer and whitetail bucks. Jean was puzzled that Alby didn’t want to take the first antelope that appeared, but we carried on searching, and eventually came across a herd of half a dozen does being kept in order by a very good looking black-faced buck. Jean was keen for us to try and get a little closer, and I was whispering to Alby "You could take him from here", knowing his prowess with a rifle. Alby lay down on a small knoll, snapped the bipod into position, his PRS 6.5x57 cracked out the shot, and 300 yards away the buck dropped where he stood. A successful morning being concluded, we headed back to the ranch.


ALBY (LEFT) WITH A GOOD-LOOKING PRONGHORN BUCK

That afternoon gave me my first opportunity for a stalk. We had moved on to another ranch, beautifully set in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. Craig had spotted an antelope buck a long way away, lying down amongst the sagebrush, and couldn’t get a clear view of his head. The dried up gully of a small creek bed provided good cover for initial shortening of the distance, but the final approach demanded a 150 yard belly crawl. Half way through this I encountered a serious local hazard. I am well accustomed to brambles, nettles and thistles, but none of these quite prepares you for the experience of laying your forearm and elbow squarely on a little ground-hugging cactus! Worse was to follow: as I recoiled with the pain, I promptly rolled onto another one……. Of course, as all serious stalkers should do, we continued. Finally arriving at a small ridge, we were able to get a clear look at the buck about 100 yards ahead of us. He was a youngster, with quite a bit of growing still to do. I was all for jumping to my feet, but we left him to his daydreams, and crept back the way we had come. No sooner were we well out of sight though, and I was shedding clothes, desperate to squeeze as many cactus needles as possible from my injured arm and thigh.


DISCUSSING TACTICS OUT ON THE RANCH

With plenty of room to play in, we moved a little further south, meeting up with the ranch owner – out deer hunting with a friend from the South – and taking the chance to exchange information on sightings. They told us of a nice antelope they had spotted quite recently, and not far off: we headed in that direction. When we came across them, the lead doe was heading away from us, but just as they looked as though they would disappear over the next ridge, she turned and led them back, crossing in front from right to left, about 250 yards out. Sure enough, this buck was going to be worth a shot. When they stopped again I was ready. The buck turned, and I touched the .308’s trigger. The herd scattered at high velocity, the buck starting off with them; but just as Craig was calling for me to take a follow-up shot, down he went. The shot had struck a little further back than my point of aim – due to the ever-present Wyoming wind for which I had not compensated adequately. The cactus-inflicted pain had vanished in the excitement, and once again I was a happy hunter. Not one for the record books to be sure: but very even horns, good prongs, and nice hooks with ivory tips. What a trophy: what a memory of Wyoming!


DeerStalker's PRONGHORN TROPHY

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the pickups were starting to roll in at the end of our first day. Kenton had a 4x4 mule deer, Bob his antelope, whilst Alby had a muley too, filling both his permits on the first day. Denny got on to a very promising mule deer buck, but it crossed into another ranch before he had any chance of a shot. After a session of caping, skinning and processing, a celebratory drink was called for.

The following morning started windy, and only stayed dry for the first hour of daylight, giving Bob enough time to bag a decent muley. Things then deteriorated rapidly. The Bighorns were covered in thick cloud, which would break every now and again to reveal a progressively thicker coating of snow. There were plenty of elk and deer hunters up there on the public lands, who would be tucked up in their tents for the day. Down below we had a fearsome wind to contend with, which seemed to drive icy rain straight into your face no matter which direction you looked. Craig and I took to quad-bikes, driving between creeks, which we then walked up, checking for any bucks that might be tucked up away from the elements. We came across one or two does, but nothing with antlers. How Craig managed to pilot his bike at such speed in these conditions was beyond me. At least I had glasses to prevent the stinging icicles getting into my eyes – although, of course, I couldn’t see where I was going….

It looked as though the remainder of the day was going to end up barren. As the afternoon drew on, we decided to cut our losses and return to the warmth of the ranch house, which held a certain allure to our cold, wet bodies. We drove back, and were barely half a mile short of base when my luck turned. We rounded a bend in the road to see a sizeable herd of mule deer moving across a field of alfalfa, and there were three bucks amongst them.

Craig slowed the big Chevy to a crawl, and I bailed out into the ditch on the opposite side of the road to the field. I then scuttled down the ditch until I got to a position that I reckoned would bring me on a level with the deer. I still had to cross that road, and in doing so was bound to be spotted with so many pairs of alert eyes present. My only hope was that the herd would move to a hillside that formed the far boundary of the alfalfa field. I crept across the road, keeping as low a profile as possible. The deer were wary rather than startled. I reached the edge of the alfalfa, raised myself just enough to use my binoculars, and kept perfectly still. Sure enough, the safety of the hill beckoned, and as the deer made their way in that direction, I took the opportunity to select a nice representative 4x4 buck as my proposed target. It would be a rangy shot, and with the crops in the way, I would have to use cross-sticks rather than Harris bipod. My buck started ascending the hill, and his body came clear into view. I slowly raised myself, with the rifle on the sticks, and tried to put the crosshair on him. That damned wind again! As soon as I stood up, I was getting seriously buffeted. There was no way I could take a clean shot. Somewhat dispirited I walked on up the road to where Craig was waiting.

I explained what had happened, where the deer were, and told him of the nice buck. Craig thought that, if we were quick, we might be able to get around the back of the hill and intercept the deer there. Worth a try? He set off at a fast trot, which soon had me gasping for breath. This ploy almost worked, but at the last moment we bumped straight into a doe. She turned tail and so did Craig. We backtracked around the hill, and then ran full tilt down to an overgrown ditch. Fortunately nothing showed up, as I was in no fit state to take a shot! Using the cover of the ditch, we slowly carried on around the front of the hill, and eventually spotted the herd back in the alfalfa, milling around uncertainly. Also in sight, on the road, was Pat’s pickup. He and Phil had been driving past, stopped to check out the deer, and then caught sight of a flash of blaze orange (my hat) up on the hill. They pulled over to see if anything was going to happen.

If it did, it would have to be very soon: the light was going fast. My heart rate had returned to something approaching normal, but even from our vantage point high above the field, any shot was going to be tricky. The angle was quite severe, and that perpetual wind was blasting directly across us. Later Pat told me that he was just about to turn the ignition key, certain that I must have given up, when Phil called out "Jesus, he just shot it!". I had been following that buck in the ‘scope and finally, as he stood quartering towards us, the other deer cleared from around him. I was tuned to the wind by now: taking into account the "never aim off" and "always aim for hair, not air" advice I had received, I put the centre of the reticle high on his haunch, and dropped the 150 grain Sierra GameKing straight into his shoulder. As the buck crumpled where he stood, Craig let out a "Yi-haa", and slapped me on the back. Elated and relieved, we walked the 200 odd yards down to my buck. By the time we got there, it was dark.

A dramatic change in weather from the cold, driving rain, heralded a rather lazy day at the ranch. Clear blue skies and a bright sun gave us a great view of the upper reaches of the Bighorns, now brilliantly white with snow. We even gave a hand cutting out the calves that were then trailered out to market. Our cowboy efforts were probably more of a hindrance than a help, so when Kenton brought in his antelope – a grizzled old buck, who had seen a few fights in his time – we caped it out, and did a run up to Ranchester to deposit our trophies with Andy the taxidermist. By the time we got back, dusk had fallen, and Nick had just pulled in with his antelope trophy.

We had planned another day shooting prairie dogs, and headed off past Crazy Woman Creek, towards the Powder River. The track we were driving along bisected a fair sized town, and we stopped here for some sport, hunting first one side, then the other. Although dog-shooting season is at its best around June and July, there were still good numbers to be found. In no time at all, the prairie was echoing to gunfire. Our armoury of a 6.5x57, a .270 and two .308s was not ideally suited to these minimal sized, rather far away targets, but we nevertheless acquitted ourselves well. Alby became our prairie dog champion, with a headshot taken at 514 yards. He was so pleased, he just had to go and pick up the evidence! Rain put a premature end to our endeavours, so we made for Leiter, stopping at a (the?) bar for beers and bowls of chilli. Whilst we were out enjoying ourselves, Denny had been involved in a particularly tricky stalk, which ended successfully when he bagged himself an excellent antelope: very long and wide.


ALBY'S 514 YARD PRAIRIE DOG!

The hunting was over, but we still had time for a little more adventure before returning to Denver. Alby and Jane helped get the horses up to the elk camp, where the hunting was due to start the following week. Wyoming is full of great characters, and up at the camp they met one of the best: Buzz. His job is to zealously guard this area of private land, keeping out trespassers from adjoining public areas. Whenever he meets anyone he doesn’t like the look of, he draws his huge .454 Casull, ‘the most powerful handgun made’, and makes it very clear that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies….. We took a drive down to picturesque ‘Hole in the Wall’ country  – home of the famous outlaw gang, The Wild bunch, led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – and then drove across the southern end of the Bighorns, between Kaycee and Arminto. At one point, there was a considerable amount of doubt as to whether this was a good idea or not: the track surface had soaked up a couple of days rain and snow, turning from baked red earth into a foot-deep, glutinous ‘gumbo’. The jeeps were handling it reasonably well, except for the increasing frequency with which they bottomed out. The worst of it was that we still had thirty odd miles to go before we reached tarmac again! In the event, we struggled on for a couple of miles and things improved. On returning to Buffalo, half an hour with a jet wash managed to get the vehicles back into something resembling a presentable condition.


THE RED EARTH OF 'HOLE IN THE WALL'

Our holiday was coming to its end. Nick and Denny had left for Michigan, with a Ford-full of antelope and mule deer venison, and it was our turn to say goodbye to our Wyoming hosts. The route south allowed us time for shopping in Casper at Taubert’s Ranch Outfitters; a visit to Douglas, home of the Jackalope; and a scenic drive through the Laramie Mountains and Medicine Bow. Our last night was spent in the urban sprawl of Cheyenne, which allowed us an easy run down to Denver next morning. We were sad to be leaving the West: as usual we had had a great time.

Will we be back out there again? You bet! Shortly after this article is published, Kenton and I will be hunting for whitetail deer up around Ranchester. Our second week will be in the company of Nick and Denny, seeking out more whitetails in their home state of Michigan. I have no reason to doubt that it will not be too many years before another group of us revisit the open prairies and foothills of the Rockies, seeking out more critters and varmints in wonderful Wyoming.

p.s.: The following April two crates containing our trophies arrived safely, and with a minimum of problems. I now have a handsome pronghorn and an equally good-looking muley gracing the wall of our dining room, attracting very favourable comment from all those who see them.


A MEMORABLE MULE DEER