September 21, 2018

By Casey Adams

I’m sitting on the couch, finally showered and beer in hand, half asleep but invigorated. The sun has set on an opening day for the books.

dog looks at camera
“Time to get going, humans!”

My husband and I rose early this morning when our pointer jumped onto the bed and reminded us—in the language of rough-and-sloppy-tongue-to-face—that it was opening day of sage grouse and chukar. I still don’t understand why the snooze button doesn’t work when I tap Duke on the head, but maybe one of these dawns she’ll give me just three more minutes, please.

We hit the road in the dark, leaving the buzz of antelope opening day behind us. Dan, my guest antelope hunter and outdoor writer, was in the back of my mind. I knew he’d fill his tag, though. Hunters in the know will tell you there is absolutely no certainty a bow hunter will harvest an antelope. It’s a rare and special accomplishment.

But I knew. The Wind River Visitors Council was hosting him, and it would be part of my job to help him if he got a buck down. However, I was about to drive out of service to hunt sage grouse with my husband, dad, and little sister. Furthermore, Dan had the rifle my mom had handed down to me in case he wanted to switch from the bow. So he was pretty much guaranteed to have a successful hunt while I was chasing birds.

I tucked that bit of guilt away for later and looked eagerly down the road to the morning’s plans: Opening Day with Dad. This is tradition. This is legacy. This is what makes hunting so special to me.

We parked the trucks off just off the two-track, loaded the guns, filled our vests with water for Duke, and released her. Six hundred yards later, she was on point. I missed, and Dad was kind enough to let me know anybody would have trouble with a shot like that. My sister and I chatted about the time she accidentally texted her boyfriend when she meant to text her friend … about him. Dad listened, knowingly but not smugly, as Lonnie and I recounted some lessons we had learned about Duke’s training. Duke flew through the sage brush back and forth before us, stopping only occasionally for some water from Lonnie’s vest.


Dog on point in sage grouse
Duke on point.

Sometime later, Duke locked on point again, telling us with her rock-solid positioning that the birds were directly upwind from the tip of her nose. We walked in front of her and the bomber birds lifted themselves into the air. Shot flew, some hit and some missed. We shared notes and chuckles and kept a close eye on Duke, then we dropped our voices and moved in again when she went back on point, having given chase to the birds who had previously eluded us. By the time we had four grouse in our vests, Duke was at 26 miles and it was time to give thanks at the altar of the tailgate.

As is tradition, we lined the birds up on the tailgate, admired and thanked them. Empty guns were returned to cases, phones were filled with photos, and a half-eaten breakfast burrito was polished off by the deserving dog.

Dog looking at birds on tailgate
Duke gives thanks at the altar of the tailgate.

We loaded up and made a heading for town. The moment we summited the high point on Highway 28, my phone chimed. It wasn’t Dan.

Then it chimed again:

An Opening Day to Remember
Texts amongst hunters.

I sent a flurry of enthusiastic congratulations, and eventually called him to tell him to bring his buck and his stories to our house.

Dan is an outdoor and travel writer and radio show host. He was visiting Wind River Country to pursue a lifelong aspiration of hunting antelope, and it was my job to deliver an enjoyable time and memorable, if not successful, hunt (I’m not Diana, I can’t guarantee a hunter’s fortune). I had scouted his hunt area and sent countless emails back and forth to do everything I could to ensure that. Dan and I had hit it off right away upon his arrival, and we collaborated to set him up for success afield in the last two days of bow season and the first days of rifle season.

When we met up, at his own tailgate (beneath the hatchback of a rented Toyota) lay his first-ever pronghorn. One clean shot and a lifetime of desire leading up to it. Dan has wanted to hunt antelope since childhood, and his excitement had been borderline childlike as we had discussed tactics, practiced with the loaner hand-me-down rifle, and texted after each trip to and from his blind.

Dan recounted the story of the morning’s hunt, peppered with lessons he had learned over previous three days of antelope hunting. We toasted and started the process of donating the meat.

And now here I sit.

My feet hurt. I have a little cut on my finger. My back is tight, and I should be drinking water instead of one more beer. I’m content. I am absolutely thrilled for Dan and proud of him. I’m also relieved to know that I’m capable of helping a visitor fill his tag. I’ll never repay Dad for me what I could impart on Dan and for making hunting part of my life, for instilling ethics and a balance of excellence and fun in me. I love the hunting buddies I share the couch with, Duke and my husband. My sister’s entrance onto the opening day scene is icing and a forecast of the future I’m looking forward to sharing in the public lands of Wind River Country.

High mountain desert
Our lands of Wyoming’s Wind River Country.
Posted in Notes From the Field