Merry Christmas from California Sportsman! Have a safe and prosperous holiday. Check out this family hunting adventure that’s available in our December issue:
By Tim E. Hovey
In the fall of 2015, I took my daughters Alyssa and Jessica out to Wyoming to hunt deer. After hunting hard near the town of Cody for three solid days without luck, a chance meeting with a game warden would lead us to a land manager named Alan. With little more than eight hours left to hunt, Alan agreed to give us access to an immense amount of property so that we could hopefully fill our tags.
We hunted hard that final evening and were able to put three doe in the coolers for the ride back to California. Beyond grateful, I called Alan and told him how much we appreciated his generosity. He seemed more thrilled that my two daughters had driven all the way from California and had killed deer on the property. He ended the call by stating simply, “See you next year!”
Needless to say, I stayed in contact with Alan, and when the 2016 Wyoming deer season rolled around, I asked him if he had any open spots for us to hunt the farm again. ”Come on down!” he texted back.
ON OPENING MORNING, WE decided to hunt Bureau of Land Management ground first in the hopes of running into bucks. The actual owner of the property Alan managed would only allow does to be taken by hunters, and this season both Alyssa and Jessica wanted a chance to shoot a buck.
The morning hunt was extremely cold and windy. I set my daughters up at the edge of a canyon and I hiked further down the ridge to look for deer. After several hours of brutal winds and near-freezing conditions, we hadn’t seen a thing.
Back at the truck, I could see that the girls were spent. We were only 10 miles from Alan’s farm, so I texted him to see if he was around. Instantly he suggested we come onto the farm to meet him.
Alan was all smiles as we shook hands. He was glad we had made the trip out again and quickly produced the hunting permits for us to fill out. He pulled out a map and pointed out a few spots he had seen deer recently. He then folded the map up and handed it to me. We again expressed our appreciation and got back in the truck and headed out to hunt.
The property is a mix of agricultural fields, native habitat, heavily wooded creeks and levees – essentially everything deer need to happily live on and thrive. That was part of the problem. The land is a working farm and the deer heavily impact profits by openly grazing on the crops.
The owner, under Alan’s suggestion, had decided to open up the property to hunters to hopefully keep the deer numbers in check.
SINCE WE HAD BEEN successful there the previous year, all three of us were very excited to be back on the property. Alan’s report that the deer were skittish and hard to find this year did little to dampen our enthusiasm.
We drove onto the west side of the property at about noon. Less than a mile in, Jessica spotted a small group of antelope way to the left and near the very edge of the property. They were over 800 yards away on alert and looking to their right. I grabbed the binoculars and spotted what they were looking at. A whitetail doe was approaching the group; for some reason they didn’t like it.
There was no cover and I knew a really long shot might be difficult for the girls. As we sat there thinking about what to do, Alyssa suggested that I head out and see if I could get close enough for a shot. I looked back to Jessica and she nodded in agreement.
I grabbed my rifle and shooting sticks and closed the door. The big difference between this hunt and our previous one here was that Alyssa now had her driver’s license. I handed her the keys and told her to stay put until I signaled them.
The field I had to cross wasn’t planted but had been heavily disked. I had to navigate huge chunks of dirt and move through massive dips in the field as I closed the distance. As I moved, I watched the group. The doe and the antelope were focused on each other and never noticed me. I just kept hiking through the rough field towards the deer.
At about 450 yards, I noticed that the doe was now moving away and towards the boundary of the property. Another 50 yards further and she’d cross the fence. I had sighted in the Savage Axis rifle to shoot long distances, and the week before at the range, I was regularly pinging the 400-yard steel. The rangefinder put the deer at 429 yards, a long shot for sure, but I felt I could get it done.
I set up the sticks, sat on a huge chunk of dirt and found the deer in the scope slowly feeding away. Within seconds the deer turned broadside and I placed the crosshairs at the top of the shoulder, right above the heart, and squeezed the trigger.
The doe hopped once and started running towards me. I loaded another round and waited for the deer to stop. Seconds later I saw her stumble and then fall over. The shot was right through the heart.
I heard the truck horn go off several times as the girls celebrated from afar. I motioned for them to bring the truck up as close as they could. It was an awesome feeling to know that I could now rely on my daughters to assist on my hunt. Within a few minutes, Alyssa navigated the old farm roads and pulled up within feet of the dead deer.
With an assist from my hunting partners, it took less than 30 minutes for us to completely quarter out the deer and put it on ice. We cleaned up and got back on the hunt. Jessica voiced the general mood.
“One down, two to go!”
WE SLOWLY DROVE THE edge of the old cornfields. As we cut between parcels, Alyssa spotted several adult deer cutting from the native vegetation at the edge of the property into the crop. We quickly got out, but the eight deer had disappeared in the dry corn.
We were convinced that more deer were holding tight in the corn and kept searching the edges. With about 45 minutes of daylight left, Alyssa spotted two huge doe standing in the corn, 60 yards from the truck. She told me to stop, quietly got out and made her way to the front of the truck. I watched as she rested her rifle on her sticks and mounted up behind the gun. The shot came and she turned around with a huge smile on her face.
Despite hearing Alyssa’s deer crash in the dry corn, she wanted to track it. The trail was easy to follow and the large doe was piled up in the field 40 yards from where she had been hit.
As daylight faded, I handed Alyssa a headlamp, a skinning knife and told her to start quartering out her deer solo deep in the old cornfield. I knew deer would be moving as the sun began to set and I was hoping we could find our third and final doe for Jessica.
Alyssa took the processing gear and got to work. Jessica and I got back in the truck and started looking for deer. We didn’t have to go far.
Jessica spotted a smaller doe standing in the next field over at only 130 yards out. She grabbed the shooting sticks and I grabbed the rifle. Jessica then found the standing doe in the scope and took her shot. The deer folded right there.
Three tags, three deer, though it wasn’t quite over yet.
AS WE CELEBRATED, THE deer suddenly got up and started trotting towards the edge of the field. Jessica took a rushed shot at the escaping deer but missed. Within seconds the deer disappeared in the thick brush. We were both stunned. The shot looked perfect and I had even spotted blood on the escaping deer’s side.
We searched until dark and both of us felt like the deer was gone. We were about to head back and help Alyssa when a heartbroken Jessica suggested we take one more look.
I drove down an old road adjacent to a large drainage canal. At the end of the road, we turned around and headed back. I was in the middle of consoling Jessica when she spotted the deer floating dead in the canal.
We loaded up Jessica’s deer and headed back to help Alyssa. With headlamps and flashlights guiding us, my daughters and I skinned out and quartered their deer in the darkness of an old cornfield in northern Wyoming. It was a memory I will cherish forever.
THE FOLLOWING DAY WE made a point to drive out to the property and thank Alan, who was so happy that we once again had filled our tags on the property. As he shook my hand, he looked me square in the eye and said something that struck a chord. “Don’t stop doing what you’re doing, Dad!”
Early the following morning, we loaded up all our gear and started the long drive home to California. The trip back was bittersweet for me. I know future trips will be tough. The girls had to miss a week’s worth of school to hunt the opener. I know as they get older, catching up on schoolwork will be harder for them.
Jessica sat up in the back and said, “Hey, Daddy, thanks for taking us deer hunting in Wyoming.” Alyssa thanked me as well. The worries about returning evaporated.
Those would-be trips didn’t matter. What mattered was that both my girls were there with me then. And I’m very confident that one day the Hovey family will be back! CS