Friday, October 9, 2009

Snowbound in Story (Wyoming, that is)

I'm glad we finished our hunt last night! We had planned to leave where we're staying here in Story, Wyoming this morning, ahead of some bad winter weather. It was a good idea, but one that didn't quite work out. The weather got here overnight, and now we're stuck.

Fortunately, we don't fly out from Denver until Sunday morning early, and the weather is supposed to improve overnight tonight. So we should be able to get home on time.

After we got our antelope on Tuesday, we went back to hunting some of the Walk In Areas (WIAs) right around Story and Sheridan on Wednesday morning. What a mess! If you've never walked in Wyoming gumbo, think of it as red Georgia clay on steroids. Thursday morning it was cold and windy, but the snow and sleet wasn't predicted to start until about 2 PM. The weatherman was a little off on that one, too. By the time we had gotten about a mile back into the WIA we were walking, the sleet started and the top layer of the soil got just wet enough to turn into gumbo. At one point I had about 4 inches of mud on the bottoms of my boots and could only take a few staggering steps at a time before I had to stop and clean off my boots and start again. I thought I would never get down off that hill!

That was the same day we had an epiphany. To put it another way, we stopped by the Wyoming Game & Fish office in Sheridan and I rather randomly asked the right question.

I have to preface this by saying that the Wyoming game regulations are some of the most complicated and arcane regs I've ever seen. At the time Rick put in for tags, he was told the only public land deer tags available were for whitetail, so that's what he got. However, some of the WIAs we were hunting on were private land, and there were still private land mule deer doe tags available.

So early on Wednesday morning we stopped by the Sheridan office and asked if those mule deer tags were valid on the private land WIAs. The answer was yes, so we bought one each. After all, if we happened to bump into a muley doe on the WIA, it would be a shame not to be able to take it because we didn't have the right tags!

Then came that random question: I asked if by any chance Game & Fish had a list of ranches that accepted hunters who were willing to take does instead of bucks. The lady behind the counter handed us a short list of ranches in Sheridan County who were actively looking for doe hunters, and a longer list of ranches statewide who allow hunters for bucks for a trespass fee.

After staggering down off the gumbo mountain, Rick and I decided we'd had enough of that kind of walking. I got on the phone calling ranches on the list we have, and within ten minutes had us lined up for a whitetail doe hunt on Thursday morning with a down-the-street neighbor of Bob's, just four houses down from where we're staying.

"Just don't shoot any bucks," he said. "I have all those sold."

"No problem," we assured him. "We don't even have buck tags."

Another phone call resulted in the rancher's wife telling us they had an outfitter who handled all that, and we called the outfitter. His response was "Do you want to go this afternoon?"

So at 5 PM Wednesday we met Tim Loftus, a guide for Big Buck Outfitters ( and off we went in search of mule deer does.

These boys know their business. We both had our does that evening.

One thing I learned during my phone calling, though, was that althought the ranches don't mind the mule deer--and some would prefer not to have hunters take mule deer does--they surely do hate whitetails. As the rancher's wife said to me, "They eat the hayfields, they eat your flowers, and they'll eat your children if they stand still."

Thursday we spent a fruitless morning plowing through deep snow on the neighbor's nearby ranch in search of a whitetail doe. We saw deer, all right--at 3oo to 400 yards away! Not an ethical shot for hunters who are accustomed to southern hunting, and maximum shots of 150 yards. At least it wasn't gumbo, but it wasn't productive, either, and we knew we had only Thursday evening left to hunt.

So that afternoon we went with Tim again, this time for whitetails. It's truly amazing how many whitetails this country holds. You can see literally hundreds of them in the green fields in a single afternoon, and they mostly ignore vehicles and even people walking. We had another hunter with us this time who took two whitetail does, and still we had all four animals in 90 minutes.

To be fair about it, that kind of harvesting of animals isn't hunting in the true sense of the word. It's much too easy to be real hunting. Nonetheless, I can see why landowners desperately want the number of deer on their property reduced, and if you're meat hunting, that's a simple way to get your venison and work on the population size at the same time.

So now we're waiting for the weather to clear, so we can pick up our venison from the meat processor and head for home.

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