By Stetsonville Brad
A question I’ve asked myself and probably many of you have asked the same one: Can an average kid from Wisconsin go out west and be successful?
Here’s my story.
I am a 43-year-old father of an 11-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy and have been married for 19 years. Why do I tell you this? So that you can see I am busy working, and taking kids to events. Just like many of you.
A couple of years ago I decided I was going to attempt a mule deer hunt and I chose Wyoming as my destination. I started by acquiring the necessary gear. What you take is up to you. I bought a used Cabela’s tent with a wood stove, a cot, a decent sleeping bag, and a good backpack. That was the big stuff and I spent just over $700 over the next year. Use Craigslist, Facebook Market Place, and just keep your eyes open and you can get the gear necessary for not an arm and a leg. I chose Wyoming because their non-resident mule deer tag is about half what a non-resident whitetail tag costs in Nebraska. I know this because my brothers hunt there. Next, find a friend or a group of friends or family members who have the same dream.
Now for the hunt. It’s October, 2017. My friend Troy and I load up my truck and head west. We drive straight through and arrive in the Shoshone National Forest, south of Cody, Wyoming on Saturday morning. We spend the morning admiring the amazing mountain views and setting up our camp. Totally exhausted from the drive, but excited beyond belief as we do a little bit of scouting. The first thing we find is an elk carcass that has been buried by bears. We could see the carcass is mostly gone, but couldn’t help but notice the claw marks from the bears burying the carcass. This was only about 120 yards from our tent. A little more than unsettling, but they won’t bother us.
Sunday morning we wake up to the strongest winds we have ever experienced. It was unreal. The sand and dust would pelt us in the face and make breathing and keeping our eyes open difficult. We worked our way to a vantage point that we dubbed Razor Back and started looking for some deer. We saw a few does and a fawn, but eventually got rained out. Later that afternoon we drove to another area and did some more scouting. There we found a trailhead where we hiked to a vantage point where we could watch a rancher’s alfalfa field and into a mountain pass. Here we watched two nice bucks in the alfalfa field and wondered if they would ever come up into the public mountain pass where we were watching from. But, they stayed on the ranch getting fat and after a few hours we decided we would try this spot again in the mountain.
We got back to this spot early the next morning. Once we got to the best vantage point, we decided it would be best if we split up to increase our odds. Troy won our rock, paper, scissors contest so I moved on a couple hundred yards to find another spot to watch from. We were hoping the bucks from the day before were in the fields feeding all night and we would be able to catch them moving into the mountain pass to bed down for the day. The morning was absolutely beautiful and watching the sun come up over the mountains was simply breathtaking. I couldn’t have been happier!
A short time later, at about 7:30am, I heard Troy shoot. I couldn’t see him from where I was so I quickly moved to the crest of the draw I was in. I crawled up to where I could see and be ready for a shot. All I could see was what looked like a good buck standing in the draw in front of where I knew Troy should be. A thousand things were going through my head: Why isn’t he shooting? Why is that buck standing still after a shot? Is it wounded? Is his gun jammed? I didn’t want to shoot his buck so I sat there wondering what to do. The buck started trotting off and disappears down a little valley and all I can think is that I should have shot it. A few seconds later he comes up the other side of the draw and I decide I can’t let him go. I am already in the prone position, resting on my pack. Nine years of training in the National Guard came in handy as I squeezed the trigger the buck dropped at 264 yards. Immediately Troy jumps up from behind the boulder he was hiding behind and starts hooting and hollering and hopping up and down. I still don’t know what happened with his shot so I grab my 2-way radio and ask: “What just happened?” Troy yells through the radio: “We just doubled!” I couldn’t believe it. I got up and started over to see what we did, later to realize I forgot my rifle laying right there!
The two bucks came down from the mountain pass that morning, not up into it as we expected. Troy watched them come in and took the bigger buck with one well placed shot. I couldn’t see it from my vantage point, which explains why he wasn’t shooting the buck I saw when I crested the hill. After some congratulations and pictures, we got to work boning the deer out and smiling the whole time.
Needless to say, this was a hunt neither of us will ever forget!
And just to add to the adventure, when we set up camp we put a trail camera up overlooking our tent. Being on public grounds we just wanted to keep an eye on our stuff. When we were packing up, we looked at the pictures and look who came to visit. Not once, but twice!
So, to answer the question: Yes, an average kid from Wisconsin can and did have an amazing hunt out West. All of it was a do it yourself on public ground hunt. One thing I did realize is that I will never regret going on this hunt, but I sure would have regretted it if I hadn’t!