I was so excited when I received this article on hunting experience from one of my American friends, Tom Mattis. When I first listened to his stories about hunting wild game in Wyoming, I thought it was so interesting and special. I did know that shooting a wild game is not simple and easy, but the more important part that I missed is the process of taking care of the meat after the shot.
A little bit more about our author ;) The author has lived in the states of California, Oregon and Washington and currently lives in Laramie, Wyoming. He is 65 years old and a retired government official of the State of Oregon. He is married to a Vietnamese American woman. He hopes to return to Vietnam someday.
INTRODUCTION. Beginning in the late summer and early fall and lasting into winter, millions of hunters across America head out into the mountains and plains, hills a valleys, rivers and lakes to hunt for wild game. Bird hunters seek wild birds such as duck, turkeys, quail and pheasants, while big game hunters seek out deer, elk and antelope. Wyoming is also home to many other large animals such as the bison, wolf, mountain lion, Rocky Mountain Goat and bighorn sheep.
Each of the 50 states regulates hunting and manages its wild game population to ensure that animals are not over-hunted. Their game and fish departments (ministries) cooperate with private landowners and manage publicly owned lands to give hunters access to areas where game is found and work with universities and private groups to study the habits and health of wild game populations.
Hunting is especially important to the cultures of western and southern states, where hunting has been part of life since Europeans first began North America and settling the American West.
The state of Wyoming is one of those western states in which the tradition of hunting is deeply imbedded in the culture. It is the most sparsely populated of the contiguous 48 states (about 560,000 people), and is very rich in wildlife.
The state is located in the northern Rocky Mountains, at high elevation. The lowest elevation is 945 meters and the highest is 4,207 meters. Overall, the average elevation is 2,042 meters, which means that winters are long and very cold, while summers are short and mild. Average humidity is very low. The game animals that hunters seek out in the mountains and plains of Wyoming are primarily pronghorn antelope, mule deer, whitetail deer and elk.
THE ANIMALS. Pronghorn antelope evolved thousands of years ago and live on the open plains. They are fairly small (a 60 kilogram male is a big pronghorn), have exceptionally large eyes and can see for great distances. Their running ability and eyesight evolved to enable them to escape predators. They can run steadily at 48 km/h and attain burst of speed of 96 km/h. There are about 750,000 pronghorn in Wyoming, far outnumbering the human population. In spite of being called antelope,” they are not related to African antelopes. Pronghorn are nomadic, with some herds migrating over long distances, while others tend to stay in smaller geographic areas. Under normal conditions, pronghorn eat forbs, shrubs and grasses.
Mule deer are fairly large, weighing as much as 150 kilograms and are well-adapted to the high desert mountains and canyons found throughout most of the state. They congregate in small herds and do not travel as far as pronghorn. There are about 400,000 mule deer in Wyoming.
Whitetail deer are generally smaller than mule deer, up to 130 kilos, and found mostly in river bottoms and in brushy habitat. Sub-species of whitetail are found throughout North America, Central American and into northern South America, some of which get as large as the biggest mule deer. There are about 87,000 white-tail deer in Wyoming, but they are much more common in the Midwest and eastern United States.
Rocky Mountain elk are closely related to deer, but are much larger and more sociable, congregating in large herds sometimes numbering in the hundreds of animals. They are among the largest land animals in the world. A large male (bull) can weigh more than 330 kilograms. A close relative on America’s Pacific coast can weigh more than 600 kilograms. Elk have adapted to open desert, dense forests and sparsely forested mountains and plains. In Wyoming, elk, mule deer and pronghorn are often found in close proximity to one another.
HUNTING. Hunting requires patience, knowledge of the habits of the animals, knowledge of regulations, a valid hunting license, a good rifle that is properly equipped and sighted in, knowing when to shoot and – most importantly – when not to shoot. It also requires proper footwear and clothing, for hunting in Wyoming can be very cold and windy.
The hunting seasons are determined by the state government ministry responsible for fish and wild game animals. A license must be purchased for the area and kind of animal the hunter seeks. This year (2013) I had licenses to hunt antelope, deer and elk in an area about 50 kilometers from my home. Because the area is very open, it is important to have good binoculars or telescopes in order to spot the animals before they can see the hunter, and good telescopic sights on the rifle in order to accurately shoot the animal and kill it as quickly and humanely as possible.
My hunting partner and I were very fortunate, with each of us shooting an antelope, deer and elk, all within an area no bigger than one square kilometer. I shot this nice pronghorn buck Male) at a distance of about 131 meters at about 0745 hours on a very cold October 6, only one hour after we started hunting. It weighs approximately 58 kilograms.
On October 17 we were on a hill not far from where I shot my antelope, watching a herd of elk down below us. The elk were too far away to shoot at, so when they began to move farther away we decided to go back down the hill out of sight and follow them into the hills and try to get close enough to shoot.
About 10 minutes later, as we walked toward small stream that we were going to use to follow the elk, five mule deer came up out of the little valley, surprising us. I shot at one the young bucks (males) but missed.
A minute later, my partner shot and killed one of the bucks. We walked across the stream and up the hill where his buck lay, when the other buck stopped farther up the hill and looked back at us. I shot him at a distance of about 110 meters.
On October 22, we went back out to the same hill that we had been before to look for elk and below which we came upon the mule deer. As the sun came up, a small herd of five elk came over the top of the mountain and worked their way down in our direction. There were three males (bulls) one female (cow) and one calf. We hoped to get the cow and the calf because the meat is very tender.
When the elk stopped at the bottom of the mountain we expected them to turn away from us and stay out of range, so we were very surprised when they continued to come straight at us, first the cow, then the calf and then the three bulls.
There was a steep ravine in front of us and a ridge on the other side, and the elk walked straight out on the ridge directly in front of us, giving us a perfect shot. My partner shot the cow and I shot the calf.
(To be continued) …
By Tom Mattis