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Two with One Shot

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In order to appreciate this story a person needs to be familiar with Stillwater and Yellowstone Counties here in Montana.  In this story, I lived in Absarokee (derived from Absaroka; a Crow Indian name meaning “People of the Big Beaked Bird.”)  Drive the only road three miles south and there’s the parking lot where the miners catch the buses to the Stillwater Mine in Nye.  Head in the opposite direction, north and in 15 miles you come to the next town, Columbus.  On this part of Highway 78, (the only road connecting all of these, 1-horse towns) there are several turns offs for fishing access or dirt roads leading to ranches out in the hills.  Columbus sits right on Interstate I-90 where heading east for about 50 miles, takes you to the largest city in Montana, Billings.  It’s a lot of driving.   It’s a big state.

if i had to pick one thing that makes me smile about marriage i would have to say it is how much couples actually talk to each other when they’re claiming to be “giving each other the silent treatment.”  i had only been married a short time but was still very excited about going out to do one of my favorite hobbies, hunting.  my husband and i had been fighting all week about…. well it doesn’t really matter what subject started the fights, they all ended up being about money – or the lack thereof.  i had planned this mule deer hunt all week and was very excited for my days off to finally arrive.  everything was perfect:    backpack was packed, rifle was clean and way too much ammunition packed.  i had even scouted the ranch where i had permission to hunt and could set my watch by what time the deer entered his property.  they didn’t linger very long, scrounging for grass and socializing before they all went and bedded down in the forest for the day.  there were no bucks in this herd, they came along much later.  but i wasn’t horn hunting.  i wanted a big doe and i knew exactly what sausage packages i would order with her.  i had everything planned out.  all i had to do was… get a deer!  (much easier said than done, for you non-hunters reading this).

that morning my husband’s tension had been building up.  i found the silent treatment very easy to act out on my part because when he acted out his Abusive and Neanderthal behaviors, i just clammed up anyways.  why bother?  i could not hope to ever win an argument, say anything right or even compete with a champion insulter.

early on the morning of my planned hunt, i had just come in from loading all of my gear into our pickup.  i pulled the car into the drive so my betrothed could head on out to his carpool’s parking lot.  heading back into the house, i could hear the breakfast dishes already being tossed around.  he made an overly (unnecessary) dramatic gesture of getting past me and rushing out the door.  i paid him no heed until i heard the doors opening and slamming on the truck; my heart sank.    to this day i always wonder what the neighbors must have thought when they watched Don have one of his temper tantrums?  looking out the window, it was just getting light enough to make out all the ugliness going on (again) in our driveway.  Don had taken every item i had packed in the truck and threw it across the yard.  all of my gear, my clothing and coffee cup.  just like he did every time i packed the car for a road trip, just like he did when we were on said road trips and just like he did when we were leaving for our wedding.  the only item he carried in and layed down was the only item he had respect for; the firearm.

face to face combat now: “you do not have permission to use MY truck!” he screamed down at me.  so much for the silent treatment.  “i like how you think you can go hunting by yourself!!  you’re going to stay here and clean this pigsty of a house!!  you don’t just get to lay around like a fat pig all week and then do what you want on your weekend!!  you didn’t even ask me if you could go out!!”  i always stared at the clock during these temper tantrums. the bus schedule was strict and carpooling was mandatory at the mine.  Don hated the thought of paying the hefty fine at the guard shack more than the thought of me going out and succeeding at something.  right on schedule, he grabbed his bag of diggers and lunchbox and stormed out of the house.  my body’s uncontrollable shaking didn’t start until he drove away in the truck.

to myself, the shaking was always a culmination of -upset at being in a fight, -humiliation at the hand of the man i share my life with, -seconds of realization that the man who knew me best was right, i was incapable of hunting alone, -stress over trying to figure out how can i hunt without a truck? -and more humiliation when i had to go out and pick up all of my belongings from all over the yard.  just because you couldn’t see them didn’t mean that each and every neighbor wasn’t watching me from their curtained windows; calling their friends…  now the heaviness would start to set in.  what now?   go back to bed?  deal with bored dogs all day?  stare at the TV in my pajamas and daydream about my hunt?  all of that Again?  i don’t know where it came from but something made me take a deep breath and stand straight up right when i walked into the house.  not realizing it then, today i believe it to have been the Patron Saint Hubertus.  the air i took in was clean and clear, just like being outside.  my eyes flashed to the kitchen clock, i was only a few minutes late, if i drove a little faster on the highway…

in less than five minutes i had the dogs kenneled, my gear all loaded up into the car and even grabbed a diet coke for the road.  i didn’t pause for even a second to come to my senses and talk myself out of things and i’m sure the only people more amazed than myself as i drove out the driveway in our 1993 Chrysler LeBaron were all of my spying neighbors!

Five miles before the highway lands in the town of Columbus, i turned off the Joe Hill Creek Road.  this hunt i had planned very differently by parking on the “high side” of my friend’s ranch and stalking the deer just as they entered his property instead of walking the wet, “low side” of the ranch, trying to find them once they bedded in the forest.  the road seemed a lot rougher and the ditches a lot deeper in the car than they did all of those trips in the 1/2 ton Dodge pickup but i just kept creeping up the hill.  slowly, quietly, don’t want to disturb or even worse, deter them from the normal routine they had developed here.  my plan had been to park right in front of the gate to old Bob’s ranch.  then i’d gear up, lock and load and ease my way down the hillside, into the trees where i would take position as the herd approached.  i had even practiced some up hill target shooting.

however, due to the morning’s events, i inched the car around the dirt corner to see the herd casually crossing the road onto Bob’s ranch.  i froze.  again, the shaking, the images of failure flashing in my head.  i looked at my watch, the deer were exactly on time.  it was i who was late.  when i looked back up at all of the does and fawns, most of them were staring back at me!  some hurried on across the road, a few in the back turned and jumped back onto the ranch they just came from.  but all of the rest stopped and were all just staring at me.  i must’ve looked a fool in full camo out here in a Front Wheel Drive car.  they acted as if they’d never seen such a sight!  so, i took their lead, eased the car into neutral as rode the brake on back down around the corner.  i parked the white car in the ditch and as quietly as i could, geared up and got my rifle ready.  i mused at the fact that my most prized possession, this 7MM-08 was a wedding give from my betrothed.

as was normal, my mind was having a battle with the devil.  it was working on convincing me that i had messed this whole hunt up.  now i was going to have to do what i usually did, wander the ranch for hours on foot and hope to scare up something worth my tag.  belly crawling under the barbed wire fence… of course i got stuck but that was always part of my planning, getting stuck in a fence!  making sure i hadn’t lost anything and my rifle’s safety was on, i continued to belly crawl to the top of the hillside to see what, if any, deer were still out in the open.  in my mind’s eye i was hunkered at the bottom of the hill in the forest looking up the hillside at all of those deer – getting to take my pick.  reality was, i was belly-scooting, breathing in the cold air and dust from the ground and dried up grasses.  finally i reach the hill’s edge.

as i peek over, unable to breathe from excitement, expecting to see nothing, i saw the entire herd!  they were slowly working their way down the hills, filling their bellies before their morning naps.  once my brain took in that this hunt could still happen, my body let the adrenalin flow!  i was truly happy again!  scooting back behind the cover of the hill, i readied my rifle.  using my toes to scoot me millimeter-by-millimeter, i found a stable position and wrapped myself around my rifle.  everything felt so natural.  i did forget to get out my range finder and use it but my thinking was that if i could see the whites of the deer’s eyes, i was probably in good range and knew right where to aim.

all i wanted was meat and i put the crosshairs onto the fattest doe i could find.  my brain wrestled with the equation of shooting Downhill; i couldn’t remember it.  but give or take an inch, this was a sure shot.  slow breath in, squeeze (don’t pull) the trigger.  i’m told the sound is what scares the herd, they aren’t aware that ‘there is a hunter and we are being shot at,’ the sound breaks them into their flurry.  i quickly re-chambered a round and just watched the herd dissipate. they really were beautiful, graceful creatures and they were so delicious!  when i stood up the only movement was a small deer, a fawn.  he had a non-lethal wound to the neck.  instinct was telling him to get to the safety of the forest; my math told me that he’d bleed out before he reached the woods, several yards away.  i didn’t want to have to drag a carcass up any more hill than i had to and besides, this is not how i was taught to hunt.  i removed my sidearm, my back-up; a .22 pistol.  i aimed right behind his ear and apologized to him as i squeezed the trigger.

as i looked down at the little guy i started to cry.  not because i’m a girl but because the adrenaline of the day was catching up to me and i had only been awake for a few hours.  how did i take such  small deer?  he was past having spots but much, much too young and small.  it looked so much bigger in my scope!  my husband was going to Kill me!!  I leaned over, resting both hands on my knees and waited for the tears to subside.  i have never even stalked such a small deer.  straightening up, my mind resigned that there was nothing i could do.  i had a lot to learn.  i tagged my little guy and started hauling up to the hill to the ranch’s gate.  i did occur to me that it probably was a good thing i harvested such a small guy, at least he would fit in my car’s trunk!

walking up the hill, something caught my eye.  there was a hump a way’s over that i didn’t recognize.  i’d been hunting this ranch just long enough that i was familiar with the landscape and i did not remember this geographical mark at all.  i readjusted my pack, got a better hold of my fawn’s legs and turned sharply to the right, heading directly to whatever this was.  several feet later, my jaw dropped allowing a loud, gush of air to enter my lungs!  i grabbed my chest; this wasn’t a part of the earth.  i dropped my bag, but kept my rifle strapped to my shoulder.  i ran over and dropped to my knees!  it was the big doe i had in my sights!

a quick inspection showed an exit wound.  my bullet went right through her – she was dead before she hit the ground – and it must have punctured this fawn hidden behind her.  now i was feeling tremendous fear.  did i have a tag for both?  i didn’t clear beyond my target; a huge, hunting no-no.  i looked around trying not to panic.  what else could my bullet have gone through?  how was i going to handle two deer?    curse my husband for taking the truck!  i needed help.  more fear: in the years i’ve been coming out here, there has never been any cell service.  what on earth was i going to do?  i found a tag and tagged my doe.  then i flagged the spot and started hiking up the hill.  my mind was scattered, i’d have to wait for an idea to force it’s way in.  as i flipped open my phone, more air escaped my lungs in a yell for joy!  i had full service!  since the previous year of hunting out there, they had ladden the valley with cell towers!  i dialed a number from memory.

“Hello?”

“Hi Bob, this is Judith.”

“Well hello Judith, how is the hunt going?”

“Say, are you doing anything right now?”

in less than half an hour, with the help of my best friend, both deer were being dressed out.  the old man and i had to use a wench to load the doe into the back of his pickup.  “God DAMN that’s a fat deer Judith!”

“yeah.  i’m really please with her, she’ll make some excellent sausage.”  we both spent quite a bit of time scraping the fat out of the inside of the prized carcass.

“so he just took off in the truck hu?  even though he knew you were going hunting?”

“he’s having one of his moods, Bob.  obviously, it didn’t stop me from going out.”  i was trying to move him off of the subject of our “marital dispute.”  lots of couples had nasty fights but i was always too embarrassed to try to explain my betrothed’s bizarre behaviors.  i was becoming the master of “subject modification.”  due to his interest in my rifle’s ammunition’s power, i reenacted the hunt for my friend.  usually at this point of the hunt, the adrenaline has mellowed out and i feel only slightly more hungry than exhausted.    but i was still full of energy that was only growing inside of me as i realized – yet again – how much of a disaster this hunt could have turned out.  it was very ammateur of me to  not take into consideration what was behind this herd and the full travel of my bullet.  nothing would have happened today but i had not once ever thought beyond the target in my sites.  it was an enormous lesson for me, one i’ll never forget.

“Now,” the old man was ready to plan, “what are we going to do now?”  (sigh).  i still didn’t have any ideas mainly because i was still scared of “being in trouble.”  my brain wouldn’t wrap around the reality of the situation, only of the brainwashing it was used to.  i just forced myself to think logically.  Don wouldn’t be home for hours, i could handle this.  Since Bob was meeting a friend of his to go on their own hunt, it was agreed that Bob would take my car to his house in town, then he and his friend would take off for their, weekend hunt.  “are you sure you have spare keys?”  he asked, dangling my one, set of car keys in the air like a little bell.

“yes.  i’m great.  just lock them in the car at your house.”  i was then to take his old Ford pickup to where my husband’s truck was parked at the carpool lot past Absarokee.  i would use our truck to transport my day’s haul to the processor in Billings.

after bombing through the rough roads out in the hills, my bladder needed a pit stop.  to the doggie’s dismay, i was only at the house long enough to use the restroom, clean up a little, empty all pockets of all unnecessaries, which seemed to me, was everything i was packing around!  grabbed a diet coke for the commute and continued on south to the parking lot.  maneuvering the two trucks, open-tailgate-to-open-tailgate proved to be quite a challenge for me and i’ve no doubt that a video of my antics are on You Tube or some, other, social media website out there somewhere!  of course, not one person using the gas-n-grocery/casino stopped to offer help, assistance or even tell me what a dumbass i was.  that’s what happens when they’re all hiding behind the curtains snickering at you!

finally, trucks lined up, i clambered in and dragged the bloody carcasses from one bed to the other.  the Ford was an open bed but the Dodge had a topper on it.  a dozen or so head bangs and my deer were in my truck.  now i parked Bob’s truck at the lot, made sure i had his keys and headed north for the highway that would take me to Billings.  some, ninety minutes plus later i was watching the guy at the processor’s hang my two prizes (well, one prize and one story) from the meat hook while i excitedly filled out my sausage order.  having gone over the menu for weeks now, i knew exactly what i wanted!

collecting my claim checks, i was giddy.  that made the immediate drive home go by faster, i had a lot to do still.  i stopped at the local car wash in my home town (being as how it was .50 cents cheaper than the one in Columbus) and washed out the bed and added a little of the used fuel.  then continued on south to the Nye turnoff and traded parking spots with the bloody Ford.  on our way back to it’s home, i stopped at said car wash again and put a little more fuel in it than what was loaned to me.  then the old girl and i bombed back up north to it’s home.  i parked in front of my friend’s house.

he was a (very rare) passenger on a weekend hunt with his best friend.  they weren’t due back until sunday evening, sooner if they had fantastic luck.  i had to hand it to the old boy, i wouldn’t want to sit in a tree stand in this cold for two, whole days!  as i left the truck keys in our agreed location, i went digging for my car’s spare.  i was starting to feel the morning’s exhaustion set in and it was only early afternoon.  my heart didn’t just sink but fell out of my camouflage jacket and smashed onto the cement driveway when all i felt was cloth in my little pocket where i kept my vehicle keys during a hunt.  my mind raced 1,000 miles an hour… before i had time to freak out over where i could have lost the thing, a picture popped into my mind’s eye:  it was laying on my kitchen table.  when i had emptied all of my pockets, i absent mindedly emptied ALL of my pockets!

exasperation took over my body.  well, nothing to do but get back into my friend’s old Ford and head back down the highway, back home again.  it was a long, long, windy, 30 mile commute.  the image of Bob shaking my keys at me, “…are you sure you have your spare?”  well, i DID at the time!

home again.  this time, the dogs wouldn’t be ignored.  i let them out of their kennels to run.  they were insane with jealousy, smelling the blood all over me, knowing i had loaded a gun and left without them!  i played for as long as i could tolerate the downtime but  i was getting really scared, if i didn’t have this day wrapped up by the time Don got home, his wrath would be unimaginable.  dogs pouting back in their kennels, spare car key in my hand, i headed north again.  now muscles were starting to ache, previously unknown cuts and punctures were making themselves known to me, not to mention, i was feeling famished!  finally i arrived in Columbus:

parked the damn Ford.

got into the damn Chrysler.

drove the fuck back to Absarokee!

finally, i was home for the day.  i dealt with the dogs, enjoyed the world’s best hot shower, (i think it should be a requirement for everyone to have to do something outdoors long enough to appreciate how wonderful hot showers are)!  as i cleared out the last of my day’s mess, i finally looked at the clock.  oh my God!!  when did it get so late?!  Don would be home very soon!  i looked around the house, i had planned on getting some deep cleaning done before i realized i was going to spend more time driving today than breathing!  quickly, i opened the freezer and pulled out a couple of the many, already-cooked-ready-to-heat-up meals i had packaged and labeled.

as fast as i could work, i put on water to boil the pasta.  setting the table, my sweaty hands kept dropping the dishes.  if i didn’t get a hold of myself, all hell was going to break loose.  i set Don’s place how he likes it and put my two claim checks with the salt and pepper, where he would see them almost immediately upon starting to eat.  the sound of the kitchen clock ticking away the seconds was like someone grinding my brain with a cheese grater!  i was going to go insane if i didn’t get his supper warmed by his arrival.  quickly, i fed the dogs so they would calm a bit and put the news on the tv.  at least i couldn’t hear the clock ticking.  everything was coming to a nice boil as that demonic sounding, red, Dodge pickup pulled into the driveway.

at last.  i could relax.  he didn’t die at work today and i had supper waiting for him.  everything else was just going to be a “normal” night of our on-going “silent treatment.”  he entered the house in his normal fashion, crashing, banging, throwing his things around,  the dogs making as much racket as he.  after he gave them their cookies, he stepped into the kitchen to inspect the checkbook from it’s drawer in the desk.  “well i see you didn’t spend any of my money while i was working, i’m amazed.”  Don dropped the checkbook back in it’s home and slammed the desk drawer shut.  he then walked through the house.  if he were in one of his “high’s,” he would be whistling and admiring all of his belongings, telling me how nice something I hung up or decorated looked.  he would be chatting with the dogs, commenting on whatever he was going to eat smelled like heaven.  instead, he spoke normally for being in one of his “low moods.”  “well, you obviously didn’t do any housework at all today, that doesn’t shock me.  so i’m guessing you sat on your ass all day today while i kill myself at work.  you just don’t get what marriage is all about do you?  sure wish i knew that a lot sooner.”  yes, of course his words stung but by this point in our, short, short marriage, i was so used to them.  if i hadn’t had days like today’s hunt, i might even believe every, other word he said to me.  but right now  i was tired.  i was keeping my end of the “silent treatment” – my thoughts being that i would only acknowledge my husband when/if he (ever) said anything respectful or even intelligent to me.

“spaghetti is ready to eat.  the meatballs are antelope.”  i walked over, feeling like my sweat suit i was wearing was made of armour.  …oh, but if only…. i usually waited until after supper for a cocktail but my stomach hadn’t settled down enough yet for me to want to eat.  i took the loaf of french bread out of the oven and went over to the desk where i kept my liquor.  it didn’t really go with tonight’s “carefully prepared” meal but i wanted a Seven & 7 and i wanted it strong!  the first drink i poured i just stood there and drank it all.  focusing only on how good the expensive gin went down my throat, esophagus and landed in my belly.  i loved how a drink so cold could feel so warm entering my body.  i loved how it instantly relaxed me.  only the sound of Don throwing his dishes onto the counter made me wake up from this relaxed state and look over.  he had already cleared his first plate of my delectable homemade spaghetti and now was using his fork to smash all of the meatballs sizzling in the frying pan.

“the meat gets cooked WITH the spaghetti!  i only like it IN the sauce!  christ, you can’t do anything right!”   then the whole pan of meat got dumped into the vat of sauce.  this was an absurd statement and it showed on my face.  this oversized, spoiled rotten, mentally ill man and i have known each other since we were kids.  the meat in spaghetti has ALWAYS been in the form of meatballs and you don’t put them in the sauce too soon as to avoid them getting too soggy.  i shook my head in disgust and while i wondered if i was ever going to speak to the man of who’s bed i shared, i poured myself another drink and sat at the table.

there already wasn’t a lot of the meal left but i was quickly losing my appetite anyways.  aside from that incessant kitchen clock ticking, the only sound made was the ice clinking in my glass for two, more drinks.  then, Don saw the two claim checks from my deer.  my heart skipped a beat, now maybe this would cheer him up when he sees that i shot two deer with one shot and that he didn’t have to do Anything!  they were already at the processors waiting to fill our freezer!  alas,  once again, my heart sank at the sound of his voice.  “what the fuck is this?” is all that he said, staring at the little, pieces of paper.  “i said, what are these?!”  his raised tone sounded genuinely ignorant.  i knew he knew what our processors claim checks looked like.

“deer.”  is all i would say.

now his anger seemed to spike.  “you went hunting?!  today?!  when i specifically told you not to?!  you had better not have used my truck!  i didn’t give you permission to use my truck!!  what the FUCK are these!??!  TWO?!?  are you telling me that after killing myself all day at work,” (louder) “after telling you to stay home and clean this pigsty,” (louder) “now i suppose i have to go and clean and gut two deer!!!?”

i waited for the last of resonance of his voice to clear the air.  i listened to the dogs all take their usual hiding places when their dad loses his temper like this.  i waited for the ice to stop clinking in my glass  after setting it down.  we had a staring contest going on, Don and i, there wasn’t time to debate in my head if i was going to keep up with this “silent treatment” or not.  i was going to have to answer him.  he was being ridiculous; he knew what claim checks were, he wanted a fight.

after i took a deep breath, i spoke very slowly, “all right, are we speaking to each other now because THIS IS A REALLY, LONG, FUCKING STORY!!”

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Just an Average Antelope Hunt

Other than maybe bear & definitely elk & sheep, antelope is some of the toughest hunting there is & is only getting harder.  This year I drew a tag in my 1st choice area; closest to my home, where all of my friend’s ranch’s are.  Only had to sign up for 1 Block Management area.  That kind of luck hardly EVER happens!!  Sunrise on opening day, I’m glad I read the weather report & put my lined pants on.  7:14am which meant we were out there driving around at shooting time; 6:44am.  Pitch dark & headlights EVERYWHERE!  Twenty-nine degrees with wind & snow.  It would warm up to the ’50’s that day, & by day’s end we’ll have been sweat-soaked, wet from mud & snow, & as perfectly wind blown as the sky was blue!  All of this traffic, yeah, I’m SURE the antelope don’t know anything is a-miss!!  I mean, this ranch is one, seriously, remote place… except for opening of the seasons.  Then you’re inundated with out-of-county license plates!  (Really ticks off the locals)!
   We pull up to a hill we’ve seen them hunker out of the wind before they go water in earlier weeks.  Get out, gear up, lock & load….of course, only Jodie gets caught up in the barbed wire fence!  (I’m the smallest, freakin’ person there)!  Ok.  Walk quietly.  Breathe quietly.  Talk quietly,  or, in my case, argue quietly!  Ever argue in whispers – to people who are all, hard of hearing – in 40mph winds?
   “Get DOWN!”
   “I AM down!”
   “What?”
   “I AM down!”
   “Get down MORE!”
   “I’m as down as YOU are!”
   “What?”
   “I’m   as  down  as   YOU   are!”
   “No you’re not!”
   I grab each man who stands, at the shortest, a foot taller than my 5’3″.  One-by-one I pull down on their vests until their heads are even with my own.
  “There! Now!  Where’s the herd?  Can you see them?  Can they see me?  I can’t even see over the weeds yet!”  Push them away.  It was voted that I would be in the front of this hunting pack on stalks.  Later, I was to find out that it wasn’t because I was the smallest but because no one wanted my loaded gun behind them! 
 Found a small herd, decent buck in the back.  We hunker down; walk all, hunched over, me actually holding onto a person in front of me because “we’re trying to look like a cow.”  Somehow, I forgot to practice this stance in my “get in shape” exercises… & my low back is making me PAY for it!   The sun & the wind are completely against us; bad deal.  Bad stalk.  Soon to be a lesson learned.  Pretty close to the horizon now, time to strap the rifle behind you & get on hands-and-knees, crawl in the snow, to as close to the top of the hillside as we can get.
   I’m always amazed at how farm land can look so flat.  Even the hilly stuff looks like smooth grass.  Welllllll it isn’t!  We are crawling on the 
sharpest, pointiest, broken up rock there is!  The snow numbed my knees for a short bit but the cutting sensation soon came 
through in all it’s glory.  I kept having to stop, rest, readjust my rifle… it’s getting annoying for those in the hunting party. Kind of like having to
wait for your kid sister who can’t keep up!
   Finally made it to as close to the top of a ridge, hiding behind these weeds that look huge out on the Prairie…. I’m told to hide my fat,
x-tra wide body behind them.  Ummmmmm these wouldn’t hide a crow!  You don’t think those critters down there can’t see me
behind this??  Anyways, I get into the prone position & try to take aim.  Shit.  Now I’m too low below the weeks and I can’t see them. Scootch closer.  Take aim. Still can’t see them.  Scootch closer.  Take aim.  Finally I get to the edge enough to barely peek over. Freakin’ whole herd is just STARING up at me!  Like…. totally inspecting me and everything!  I looked over at the others.  (they whispered)
   “You got too close to the edge.  You’re busted.  You’d better hurry.” 
Crap.  I take aim, didn’t feel good, squeezed the trigger.  Nothing.  Squeeze…. nothing.  I’m shaking the barrel all over.  I roll over, empty out the chamber, thinking I have a jam.  Reloaded – again nothing.  Repeated the act in futile.  For the 1st time in 10 years of hunting, I’d forgotten that the safety was on!  The guys stand up.  Herd had moved on.  (yeah…. everyone got a few laughs at my expense…) I learned my lesson. 
   Then we see 5 hunters walking the top of the ridge across from the draw I just scared the herd out of.  They are in good position with
the wind & sun & the scared herd is running right up to them.  I’m instructed to “get down” in the snow, hoping that the inevitable shooting will chase the herd back to us.  Wind at their backs, the herd runs blindly into the sun & only the sudden raise of 5 rifles makes them stop on the hillside.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!      BOOM!      BOOM!
    Watching….. not 1 falls.  Head matriarch turns sharply away from the hunters but keeps running up the hill.  She gets to the top, whole herd behind her, buck in the very back.  Typical.  Except that they stopped broadside in front of the hunters!  They can’t be 100 yards from them!  We watch.
BOOM! BOOM!     BOOM!  Every antelope in that herd turn & run away.  We’re staring breathlessly….. not a single animal faltered, jumped or even kicked.  They just followed their leader & were running.  BOOM! Dirt kicks up behind the buck, who is just running like a ballerina now.  I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t know what was worse; screwing up a shot because I jammed my safety or shooting 8 – 10 times into a herd that close & every hunter missing every shot?
   Back to the truck for more driving.  The day couldn’t have been more beautiful; blue skies, warm sun, wind was a bitch but then, she usually is.
   We saw, as is typical hunting, some amazing sites.  More hunters than antelope at times, it seemed.  We pulled up to 1 crossroads
& there, up on the top of a hill, was a buck antelope perfectly silhouetted in the sunrise.  Pan out and down and at that intersection were 5….
count them FIVE pickup trucks stopped, watching him!  We all laughed out loud.  Stupid bastards!  Poor baby!  That buck wasn’t going to MOVE until after dark!  Then he was going to run like the dickens!  Saw more stuff…. a poached doe shot in the butt (where the only good meat is on those animals) & tossed in a ditch.   Later on, a buck running around with his lower jaw shot off.  Realities of people thinking they can make long shots just because they have powerful scopes and/or people using calibers they have no experience using!
   Later, we get a stalk on another herd. The snow has melted off by now & the rocks are still sharp as hell.  Get to the top of a hill & there’s a gully down below we figure has a herd in it…. by the way the semi-circle of trucks are around it – basically facing us.  The familiar BOOM! BOOM!     BOOM!  Glass around and see a hunter standing next to his truck.  Not against it, or leaning on it or behind it.  Then he gets something out of the bed of his truck, and…BOOM!  Then he gets into his truck & drives off.  Just then, some does come running to the top, right in front of us.  I lean across the truck bed & get a secure hold.  I have her in my sights.  She’s going down.  In the standard, loud whisper, “I’m taking the fat doe on the far left…”  But I’m immediately, given directions.
   “No! Wait!  Pick up your gun!  That’s (our friend) in that truck down there.  This must be his shot.  C’mon, get in the truck.”
   You’re kidding me, right?  “I’m on her!  I’m right there!  There’s no one else in my sights!  I’m here!”
   “No!  (friend’s) truck was there 1st… don’t mess up his shot.”  Dammit!  Empty  the gun – again.  Get back in the truck.
   Later on, grabbing a bite to eat at the house, said friend pulls up to the house.  I run out & look in the back of his p.u.  “How come I don’t see a damn goat in there?  I wasn’t allowed to shoot that fat doe because it was your shot!”
   No, it turns out he & his truck full of friends were just being entertained by the man who wouldn’t use a backrest & couldn’t hit his target.  Dinner break over – back in the truck.  We drove & drove & drove & hiked & hiked….. never got another shot the rest of the afternoon.  One family we visited on their ranch had 10 hunters unloading & taking off orange vests.  They had harvested 8 antelope that morning and were all heading into the mighty town of Molt for some dinner before she closed at 2:30.   We asked where “hunter #11 was?”
   “Oh! He got disgusted with his gun & drove in to Billings.  He’s at Cabela’s buying an $800 scope & having them mount it.  He’ll be back before shooting time ends.”  An addendum followed, “Of course, I don’t think it was the scope’s fautl!”  (Chorthols of laughter disappear out onto the prairie).
   Back at the house that evening, our crowd is all winding down.  Working the dogs who’ve been kenneled all day.  It’s about 40 min’s of shooting time left.  Everyone is phone calling each other to compare days.  (The next time someone comments on women gabbing on the phone….. hu-uh!!  Grown Ranchers & Farmers are the gabbiest I’ve EVER heard!  A bunch of old hens going on & on!  The only reason they finally get off of the phone is that they realize, hey, they’re kind of hungry!  Turns out that there was a wounded buck out there that wasn’t getting up, just looking around.  The better part of his whole leg had been blown off.  Location….. where that ass was shooting into the coolie we watched earlier!
   I begged & BEGGED someone to drive me out there – we had just enough time!?!  ‘No.  Coyotes would get him tonight.  It wasn’t pleasant but it was the way of nature.’  To die by the dog is the worst fate.  They eat you alive by starting with your anus & intestines.  One of the favorite ways Indians used to love to kill white women was to tie them to the ground, cut a slit in their abdomen, pull out a little intestines, then let the dogs do the rest that night.  Had to learn to not think of the wounded, it was as my friend said; it wasn’t pleasant but that’s the way it is.
  
   The next morning came awful, awful early.  I almost heard the ruckus & shuffling noises downstairs before the ceiling light in my room was snapped on – a most assured way to wake me!  That loud, deep, gravely voice from our host;  “I’m not your damn mother!  Get your ass up & make the
bed!  Eggs in 2 minutes!”
   I tried my hardest to apologize & thank him for the heads up but my morning alertness & instincts on being woken up so…. “gently,”
kicked in & what came out of my mouth was not unlike….. “mmmmfff!…what the.mmmff!…. shh…. get the fff…. fkgn egg bullsh….. OKAY!!”
Five minutes later, I was stuffing my sblister-ridden feet into my boots & scarfing down some eggs & freshly butchered pork sausage.  My low back was really biting me.  Walking, hunkered over like a cow might be out of the question today.  My thigh muscles were all, locked up.  Man, I’m a total wuss!  Guess my pre-hunting exercising didn’t amount to squat!  Then I went to move in my over-the-ankle boots & froze with pain.  Having not worn these in a while, where the tops are tightly laced around my lower shins, right abouve the ankels, was all bruised up!  Who gets bruises from their boots?!  How in the world was I going to walk around today??  I went & inspected my legs closer.  My knees were a joke!  It looked like someone took a sharpie & drew dots all over them in my sleep!
   My thighs were spotted with the nickle-sized, pointy-rock jabs – already turning blues & purples.  Lesson learned; I’m putting knee pads in my backpack when I get home!  Auugghhhh!  This was going to be agony.  But no one else was complaining about any pain so I couldn’t be a girl!  When I came back out to clear my breakfast plate… there was a stack of pancakes on it!
   Pancakes!!  I got nauseous just looking at them.  Everyone else was finishing up their stacks.  How in the Holy hell was I going to get out
of THIS??!?  Nothing makes me sicker, faster than the smell & taste of pancakes!! 
   “For someone who didn’t fill their tag yesterday, you sure are moving slow!”  It was commented to me.  How could I complain about 
this home-cooked meal when everyone was being so gracious?  I was raised to clear my plate & NEVER complain of the food, especially
food served you as a guest.  However, I was old enough to know what I knew & I knew if I ate those, I’d be vomiting soon enough.   So, I just went into survival mode: 
   I put about a 1/2 cup of butter on them & more syrup than I thought I could stand.  I took as big of pieces as I dared & shoved them so
far down my throat as far as I could as so I tasted them as little as possible.  Someone looked out the window.  “Headlights.  Looks like the damned
interstate out there!”  I got up & scraped the rest of my plate into the garbage while everyone was preoccupied with “their neighborhood being
overrun by out-of-county hunters.”  (I spotted 3 sets of headlights within a mile).  We geared up, loaded up & headed out.  There were magpies and turkey vultures and eagles and ospry and  – you name it – flying all OVER the place! Gut piles everywhere.   
   “Man!  Coyotes ate well last night.”
   With every bump on those dirt roads…. I could feel more & more pancake juices working their way up – not down.  Driving around and around
and around.  Then we stop on a hilltop.  Driver decided this is a good time to plug in his cell phone & see if he has messages?  I glassed out
my side…. “Hey, who’s property is that herd on?”
   Driver whipped out his binoculars…”Son of a bitch!  That’s MY ranch!!”  Bomb on back down, hurrying back ‘home.’  Hunkered over, holding the back of his vest to keep myself pulled in close so we looked like a cow… I found this position very natural to be in as I felt like I was about to hurl pancakes all
over the south end!  His mare got excited seeing us walking around out there & she trotted up to us.  You couldn’t have bought a better cover!  We just walked below her so it looked like an 8-legged horse out there!  Petty cool.  Then, just as my back was about to give out on me in this position, it was time to crawl again.  I gave thanks out loud that the ground was such soft dirt, wet & muddy from all the snow melt but felt so good to crawl on!   When we crossed the strips into the corn stubble, we all pulled out our thick gloves.  A lesson learned from the very 1 time I had to cross corn stubble on my hands & knees & went home with multiple, bloody, puncture wounds all over the palms of my hands!  Now we’re down on our bellies, stalking ….. a herd that, at some point, had run off over to where the truck was when we 1st spotted them!  And now 3, other trucks were barreling down on their position…. it wouldn’t last long.  The chase continues.  I was soaking wet & cooling off fast, which was delaying the inevitable with the pancakes doing flip-flops in my belly!
   A little later, we’ve parked by a big, weather vane to camo the truck and are going to try to stalk a herd we THINK might be on the backside of
this hill.  Earlier we saw a buck chasing off a smaller buck.  So we figured a herd was nearby.  We found the buck that had been chased off, he was nice but
my guide felt the one that was doing the chasing would be a lot more respectable.  Besides, this buck here was standing on land NO ONE
had permission to hunt.  Walk hunkered over, stop, s-l-o-w-l-y raise your head, peeking downhill, looking for a herd; see nothing, hunker back down, take a few, more steps, stop, s-l-o-w-l-y raise your head, peeking… see nothing, hunker back down… like a cat stalking a bird in tall grass…finally saw the whole hillside.  No herd.  Now…. it was time to give back allllll the pancakes I’d forced myself to eat.  Right then.  Right there.  All at once.  My belly cramped so hard – I’m laying on the ground, shivering from cramps, ready to eat a nearby cow pie to get the ‘pancake’ take out of my mouth,,,, my host, the chef is just staring at me.
   “So.  You don’t like my pancakes?”  I was too sick to care about being embarrassed.  I blurted out the 1st thing that came to my mind.
   “Pictures paint 1,000 words!”  By then, another of our troop had joined us and ‘the Hunter & a Gentleman’ helped me walk back to the truck.  I was even taken back to the ranch house and allowed to clean up.  Another lesson learned… I know better than to eat pancakes, no matter how rude it sounds, declining them.   Then, back to driving around to find another herd to stalk.  A sarcastic comment was made regarding my steadiness of my stomach; it was meant to be a joke.  It was very 1-sided.
   “As soon as we get out of this truck,” I told our chef, “I’m punching you in the nuts!”
   His face went stoic but he kept on searching for our prey.  “This truck has a looooooot of gas in it, I’ll think we’ll just drive around a while.”
   Soon after, perched up on a hillside, there are 3 does.  So far, they haven’t seen us but I didn’t bring my backpack with me this time (my steady rest).  There have been so many “nothing there’s” and now we find something.  I’m sitting curled up, trying to balance my rifle on my raised knee.  Between a stance I’m not familiar with & the 40mph winds that have been blowing for 2 days – I can’t hold the cross hairs still.  1/8″ is 6 feet difference.
   (whispering) “Those does don’t even see us.  Take one.”  Balance… balance… reposition.. “They’re lying down, you’re not going to get a better shot.”  Balance…. breathe…. reposition…
  “I can’t do it.  I’m not comfortable.”
   “It doesn’t get any easier than shooting a lying animal.  Hurry before they spot you.”
  “I need my backpack.”
  “What”
   “I… need…. backpack!”
  “We can’t leave.  We’re not going to get another opportunity like this.”
   Against everything I’ve learned, I didn’t feel right about the shot but I went ahead and took it.  Complete miss.  The does jumped to their feet and were looking up at me.  I rechambered, tried to take aim, couldn’t hold the cross hairs still but fired again anyway.  Complete miss & gone were the Prairie Ghosts like the ballerinas they are!  “I will never take another shot unless I have my pack & aim steady!!  You guys can shoot from any position, I cannot!”  Lesson learned.  Unload, back to the truck, off to yet another area.
   They tell me I looked really down but I didn’t feel it.  Actually I felt good knowing that my gut instinct was always correct & it’s unethical to make a shot you’re not sure of.  I wasn’t going to do it again.  But then the cell phone started ringing; neighbors started stopping us on the road;
   “Hey, we hear Jodie’s trying to get a doe.”
   “Hey, how’s Jodie feeling? We know where she can go look for her a doe.”
   “Did Jodie get her doe yet?  Does she want some help?”  For a bunch of old-timers who didn’t believe in new age technology… and for an area not being serviced by the Internet…. word sure did travel fast! 
   “What did you tell people?!”  I holler at the driver.  “I don’t need any damn help hunting!  I’m just making a lot of mistakes!  When did all these people KNOW about my day?!”
   Without making eye contact, my host answered “I called Jonesy & might’ve made a small comment… it’s no big deal.”  I heard regret in his voice but I was too upset now.
   “I’m not a kid!”  (Pouty, angry face)!
   “I know you’re not.”
   “I don’t need help hunting!”  (Add crossed arms to pouty, angry face)!
   “I know you don’t, you’re doing fine.”
   “SHUT UP!! NO I’M NOT!  QUIT PATRONIZING ME!!”  (Angry face turns to punching the driver repeatedly, in the arm)!
   Finally.  Silence.  Gee, isn’t hunting FUN?  Is this a migrain I’m feeling?  No, absolute hunger as my belly’s completely empty!  Not good for my mood!
 
   We’re stopped on the road by a neighbor and are politely visiting.  The sun’s out & it’s going to be much warmer than yesterday, even with the high winds.  I’m un-layering.  Neighbor hollors,
   “What’s this I hear about you missing a shot?  I thought you were the 1-shot wonder of the valley?!”  Daggers flew from my eyes but my little gossipy hen had already ducked & dodged them. 
   “Have a good conversation this morning, did you?”  I hissed.
   Neighbor, not trying very hard to stifle a laugh, glasses back up the road…
   “There are a couple of bucks… look like they may cross the road onto my ranch…..”
   Sure enough, those 2 boys went right onto this land, where we were being invited to hunt.  Bombed and bonced over, stopping behind a hill – counting on that they were still coming this way.  We FLEW out of the truck, loaded & took position.  Our host down on the ground, leaning against the truck tire.  Me, leaning my rifle across the hood of the truck.  It felt good – finally.  My 7MM-08 felt like an extension of my arm.  I was relaxed – well, probably could have been considered exhausted until the adrenaline rush amped me back up to ‘relaxed!’  As soon as the boys pranced around the hillside they saw 2 trucks & 3 people looking at them.
   They suddenly changed pace & slightly in direction, but that just made them perfect broadside.  Again, I cleared with my partner;
   “I’m taking the one on the right.”
   “Just go ahead & shoot 1st.  They’re so close I can take mine whenever.”  He was using a rifle much too large for something as small as an Antelope but was practicing carrying it for the upcoming Elk season.
   I held the cross hairs right where I wanted.  Just needed him to stop for a second.  Someone “bleated” & both of them froze.
   1 shot.  I reloaded & put the cross hairs back on him, as naturally as if I’d been doing it all my life.
   The noise, naturally startled him but then he immediately looked dazed, staggered, then fell.  He was down.  I still can’t watch the end.  I moved my scope over to my friend’s antelope that was proving to be a little tougher…
   He hadfired 2ce – at a MUCH closer range than my ‘less than 100 yards’ & that younger buck didn’t even get startled.  He just kept looking at his shooter like, “What?  What are you doing?” 
   Anger, frustration, very few words but the look in my friend’s face said it all.  He opened the cab & threw the rifle in there.  “Here”, I said, putting my safety on, “don’t get mad, use mine.”  Two more shots & the younger buck was down.  One theory is that all the jostling around, his scope got knocked off.  Disgust & frustration was all settled in and he was already talking about buying another rifle.  Time to gear up & go clean our animals.  Two more gut piles to litter the land.  My bucks horns measure 11″ and that is the smallest I’ve ever harvested.  Birds of prey fill the perfect, blue sky.  Sun felt amazing – if a person could get out of the wind.
   Home from the processors in Billings – it’s supper time. “What is there to eat?”
   “I have some fresh, Walleye I just caught last week.”
   “Sounds delicous.”  And it was!
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