My dad hasn’t missed deer season since he began hunting back in the 1950s. Just ask my mom. I never tire of hearing her tell the story of Dad taking her to Wyoming in 1960 on a mule deer and pronghorn hunt shortly after they were married. For Mom, who has never hunted, it wasn’t her idea of a dream honeymoon.
“I held a deer leg while your father gutted his buck,” she remembered, making a face as if she’d just bitten into a bad apple. “Then I tried to help him load the thing onto the trunk of the car, and I ended up with a lot blood on my hands. I couldn’t even see my new wedding ring!”
“She was so afraid the blood would be stuck to the diamond forever,” Dad laughed. “After that trip, I never asked her to go deer hunting again.”
As we crossed the state line into Wyoming, I couldn’t help but think of how things had changed for my father. Instead of driving a 1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Galaxie with his new bride at his side, he was now riding shotgun in his four door Ford F150 with me behind the wheel; my brother, who is 14 months older than me, was in the backseat. For the three of us, this was our first “big hunt” in more than a decade.
In 2000 we traveled to northern British Columbia on a rugged, 2 week long guided horseback hunt for moose and mountain caribou. The driving force behind that trip had been Dad’s desire to experience a topnotch Western adventure with his sons before he was too old for such a trip. Thankfully, the hunt was a tremendous success. In addition to seeing some of the most remote regions of Canada, we spotted more than 20 grizzlies, and each one of us shot a trophy moose and caribou.
In the years following our B.C. trip, we continued a life-long tradition of pursuing whitetails on Dad’s land in Wisconsin nearly every weekend of deer season. Bow, rifle, muzzleloader, you name it, we used it. And while whitetails have always been our favorite species, the talk of planning another out state adventure once again began to creep into our conversations.
We’d kicked the tires of a few B.C. moose outfitter websites, but hunt cost and a realistic view of our physical limitations caused me to look elsewhere. In addition, because our Wisconsin whitetail hunting involves long solo sits in treestands or ground blinds, I wanted a spot-and-stalk scenario where we could share in each other’s pursuits.
Welcome To Wyoming
“You must be Frank,” said guide Kody Glause as he shook my dad’s hand. “Welcome to Wyoming.” I’d hunted with Kody and his father, Kelly, a couple years earlier, so when Dad and Steve agreed to a Western trip, I immediately knew who to call.
Each of us had a mule deer tag and pronghorn tag, and as I discussed with Kelly during the planning stages for this trip, the three of us preferred to hunt together. I knew our chance for top-end trophies was probably better if we split up and covered more ground, but this hunt was about a lot more than antler spread or horn length.
The half hour drive from our hotel in Casper to the Cole Creek Ranch property flew by as Kody explained that animal numbers were good. “Parts of Wyoming and some of the Dakotas were hit hard with winter kill,” he said, “but it wasn’t bad in our area. You’ve got 4 days, so there’s no reason to rush it. We’ll look over a bunch of animals and find some good ones.”
As Kody’s pickup slowly bounced along the two track ranch road, pronghorns could be seen in every direction. Some bucks were alone and others had gathered large harems, and I could tell that Dad and Steve were amazed at the sights.
“If we spot a real good pronghorn,” Kody said, “we’ll certainly make a stalk. But I want to use the first couple hours of daylight to try and find a muley or two while they’re still on their feet.”
Kody’s plan worked to perfection, and within an hour of glassing we were in hot pursuit of five muley bucks that were heading for higher ground to bed. With Dad following Kody’s every step and Steve and I close behind, we crept around monstrous boulders and played hide-and-seek with the bachelor bucks. Soon we’d closed the distance and that’s when things didn’t go according to plan. As Dad slipped around a boulder to ready his rifle, a small buck caught the movement and sent the whole group fleeing. Thankfully, Dad’s experience gained from a lifetime of shooting enabled him to anchor the biggest buck. Obviously, Steve and I weren’t around when Dad shot his first muley 53 years ago, and we felt honored to be there for this one.
After dragging Dad’s deer nearly a mile back to the truck (conditions were too wet to drive cross-country), our focus changed to pronghorns. Dad and I insisted that Steve was next up to bat, and it wasn’t long before our group was again sneaking on critters.
Steve had glassed a mature buck with prongs that flared in spectacular fashion; the trick would be crawling close enough for a shot without alarming the buck or his two dozen closest friends.
Again, we all joined in the stalk, and I hoped the animals wouldn’t see my wide grin as we crossed the prairie. Being with Dad and Steve on this wild ride was pure pleasure.
Long story short, Steve smoked the pronghorn at 185 yards, then only an hour later he and Kody completed a long belly crawling sneak on a bedded muley. Dad and I watched the entire stalk from the pickup; it was thrilling to sit back and wonder when the shot might come. I can still see the buck rising from his bed, finally, and then seeing him fall to the ground before the sound of the rifle blast made it back to our ears. Amazing!
With Steve “tagged out,” the goal for the second day was a pronghorn for Dad. I know he was concerned about having to make a long range shot, most likely in windy conditions, but Kody quickly put his mind at ease.
“Frank, we’ll get you close; don’t worry about that. And if we blow a few stalks, that’s OK because there’s always more animals over the next rise.”
We spent the afternoon in a corner of the ranch that provided ideal stalking conditions with numerous rolling hills. The plan was to peek over a hill to see if pronghorns were escaping the wind in the valley on the other side, then plan a stalk if we spotted a mature buck.
Just before noon, everything came together perfectly. I’d walked ahead of the pickup to peak over a steep hill and immediately spotted more than a dozen animals tucked out of the wind. I was sure they hadn’t seen me, so I ducked low and hustled back to the truck.
Dad was already out of the truck, no doubt reading my body language from afar.
“There’s a bunch of them,” I said excitedly, “and several good bucks. Stay behind me and we’ll sneak along the base of the hill for 100 yards or so and then we’ll crawl up to the crest. The wind is in our favor. Let’s go!”
Ten minutes later, Dad peked over the hill with me kneeling low just behind and to the left. As much as I wanted to see the animals, too, I didn’t want to risk blowing the stalk.
Dad’s breathing quickened as he placed the rifle in his shooting sticks, I was close enough I actually placed my hand on his lower back to help steady him in the wind.
At the shot, I rose quickly to see bucks scattering in every direction, and I feared Dad had missed.
“I got him!” Dad yelled, and soon I saw a buck to Dad’s right kicking in the prairie grass. The range had been 90 yards, and Dad had picked out the biggest buck in the group.
This hunt was all about sharing time with my dad and brother, so I’ll save the specifics of my stalks for a future article. I was happy to tag a couple of decent sized bucks, but the images burned in my brain are those smiles of Dad and Steve just moments after their animals hit the ground.