Ten months of classroom study, days of target practice at the shooting range and hours of immersing myself in the ethics and strategies of hunting all built to a climax on the weekend after Christmas: my first big game hunt.
The anticipation was almost overwhelming as, on Dec. 28, my daughter, Natalie, and I embarked on our first big game hunt as members of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Rookie Sportsperson Program (RSP).
The RSP is a free program offered by CPW’s Southeast Region headquartered in Colorado Springs. It takes novice outdoors enthusiasts like Natalie and me and teaches them outdoor skills. Hopefully, attendees are inspired to get outside and sample all the adventures available in Colorado’s great outdoors.
We are learning about hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and much more. We became certified in the safe handling of firearms through a Hunter Education course and have been out on a couple small-game hunts with our mentor, District Wildlife Manager Logan Wilkins.
Along the way, Natalie and I began to understand why people hunt. We learned how hunting provides perhaps the most organic, natural protein one can find. And we learned how CPW uses hunting to protect big game animals from starvation and disease that result when herds grow too large, leaving no food for them on over-grazed habitat.
Way back on March 30, in anticipation of my hunt, Wilkins helped me decide which hunting license to buy so I could join him on a mentored pronghorn hunt near his district in Limon. Ever since, I’ve had the license in my wallet, just waiting to use it.
Every once in a while, I would take it out and read it: “Resident Pronghorn License. Doe Late Rifle. For Units 110, 111, 118, 119, 123, 124. Season Dates: 12/01/19 – 12/31/19.”
On the big day, Natalie and I met Wilkins at 6:30 a.m. in Limon. It was a cold Saturday morning, but I was burning with the Big Game Fever. Wilkins had gotten permission from a landowner in the area to let a couple novice hunters come try their luck at pronghorn hunting.
As we stepped out of the truck, the wind blew bitter cold in our faces and would continue to blow throughout the day. I was proud of my daughter: she never complained.
My first good chance to get a pronghorn came early in the day. We found a position in a field around 150 yards away from a group of pronghorn and sat down to keep from drawing attention to ourselves.
I positioned my lefty Savage Rifle, loaded with .243 Winchester ammunition, on a set of shooting sticks and tried to aim as the wind whipped us. Out in the field were two does and one antlerless buck, “all legal” with my license, Wilkins told me.
I took a deep breath and found them in my scope. But I couldn’t get the crosshairs to hold still long enough to feel comfortable taking a shot. We had practiced on targets at 100 yards and these pronghorn, at 150 yards, were just out of my range.
As I struggled to calm my sights, I sat back on my butt and we adjusted the shooting sticks. But I still couldn’t get the scope to remain still long enough to feel comfortable taking a shot. We decided to get up to try to get cover behind a nearby hay bale.
“We’ll see what they’ll tolerate,” Wilkins said.
Turns out they didn’t tolerate much from us. As soon as we got up and began walking, the three pronghorn took off, moving so quickly out of range that their speed seemed almost supernatural.
“They say they evolved alongside big cheetah-like cats,” Wilkins said. “Myself, I like to say God was just showing off.”
He told me pronghorn will stand facing into the wind so that the scent of predators is blowing toward them. And I read online later that windy days on the plains can dry a pronghorn’s eyes, impairing their sight and making them skittish.
They certainly were jumpy the day we were hunting them. We spent the rest of the morning trying to spot and stalk them. Many times we saw a herd and crossed freezing fields hoping to sneak up only to pop up over a small hill and find the herd had disappeared.
We broke for a late lunch around 1 p.m. Wilkins offered to get a hunting blind – essentially a camouflage tent – that we would sit in until dark. But bad weather was moving in and news of cars sliding off nearby Interstate 70 convinced me to call it a day.
When we got home, I fell asleep sitting on the couch while my girlfriend was talking to me about how our hunt went. The next week, when people asked me how my hunt went, I told them what I’d heard others say: I ended up just taking my gun for a walk.
But the day was much more than just a cold hike with my gun. As with my small-game hunts, I got to experience with my daughter an adventure we will never forget. Sure we didn’t even get off a shot. But we enjoyed the preparation, the anticipation, the quest, the shared experience of trying to feed ourselves the way our ancestors did a century ago.
Like many things, it’s more about the journey than the actual destination.
Travis Duncan is a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Denver. Travis has lived in Colorado nearly 20 years and loves the outdoors. If you have a question, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sounds like a great experience; and good for you for not trying to squeeze off a shot you weren’t comfortable with. I know the urge to “see what happens”, but if wounding the animal is what happens you’ll realize too late that it wasn’t worth it. I’m sure the ethics you learned in the CP&W classes gave voice to your better judgement, and I imagine your gun appreciated the walk. Enjoy your newfound activity, and thanks for sharing it with the next generation. That’s essential in many ways.