Right after my GPS had authoritatively announced my destination would be on the right, I saw a sign that read, “Ucross: Population 25.” My kind of place. Just over the next hill I saw the welcoming arch of The Ranch at Ucross, the horses in the front pasture and large white tents down the driveway. I checked in, quickly dumped my gear in my room and ambled over to the meet and greet. Under the watchful eyes of a magnificent bull elk mount on the wall, one-by- one, ladies trickled in and took their seats. Old friends scurried together for hugs and how are ya’s. While some others had that look. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it in the mirror and in photographs of some of my earliest hunts: my uncertain face staring back at me. Some of these women had never hunter before now.
I spotted my friend, Janna Waller, and a handful of women whom I know from social media and we all got to chatting on the back porch overlooking the trout river. We ogled at what had to be close to 50 whitetails meandering around the green field next door. We updated each other on our hunting seasons so far, until our hosts called us inside to officially begin our weekend. Representatives from the Wyoming Game & Fish Department covered rules and regulations, and the the Wyoming Women’s Foundation staff answered questions from the eager new hunters. To my surprise, I learned there were 44 hunters, more than I had even expected! After some mingling we went back to our rooms to clean up for the coming night’s festivities. Upon entering the tents for the first evening, I liked seeing all the landowners and guides involved in the hunt. In fact, we sat with our landowners and guides for the evening. I shook hands with our gracious landowners, a charming, silver-haired couple. She had just returned to the table, her hands full with 2 plates of pie. He leaned over to slide her chair back for her and with a wink, relieved her of one of the slices. I met my hunting partner, Danielle; we hit it off immediately and I knew I would enjoy spending the next 2 days with her. Brenda Weatherby welcomed all the hunters for the weekend and told her personal journey into hunting: “Everywhere I went, I found women that wanted to learn. There were also women who wanted to teach. It was us all taking a step forward together. The friendships are way more important than the trophy. It’s about participation, not perfection.”
The stars still twinkled while I wandered down to the main house for breakfast the next morning. I mounded my plate with fresh biscuits and gravy and tucked into it – grateful to have this hot meal, instead of the usual Pop Tarts and gas station coffee when hunting alone. Our guide warmed the truck and we piled in. Arriving at our ranch, we set off on foot at just about daybreak. Reaching the first ridge I admired the view bathed in the clementine glow of dawn. We spotted a few groups of antelope all in the center of wide open flats; clearly they had seen a few hunters this season. We checked out all the fingers in that section of the ranch and then went to circle back to the first herd. We crawled in between an opening where a lone buck could see us. I felt thankful to have my built-in knee pads in my pants! Up the next hill we went and slid on our butts down the other side into a narrow drainage. One last climb and the herd now stood in range. Danielle readied for the shot as I peeked over the top to film the moment of truth. One shot and he fell. The rest of the herd scattered as we celebrated. He was a handsome buck and we quickly started field dressing him. We made a quick stop back at the ranch to get him on ice, before we departed for my evening hunting location.
We drove around the whole loop of the ranch a few times and didn’t see a single antelope. Setting out on foot we went to explore some areas tucked away near the edges of the property and still no luck. Our guide then told us that a buck had been shot there this morning, and the place crawled with antelope. I glanced at the clock, knowing that cocktail hour was about to get started. We started heading toward the ranch entrance. On our way, we spotted a lone buck and our plans for getting cleaned up and decent for the big auction dinner went out the window as I went out the truck door. I got him in my crosshairs just as he headed toward the side of a hill. Every time he stopped he stood either directly head on or quartering hard away. He walked out of view and the 3 of us took off in chase. When we got to the next ridge he had worked himself into the field below us, as he stood surrounded by a group of cows. For 20 minutes whenever he moved, they moved, coordinated like a Secret Service detail. I relaxed, lowered my gun, wiggled my fingers, but my heart pounded. Finally, a clear shot, at 200 yards. I pulled the trigger. The cows stared at me unimpressed while the buck took off. I completely missed. Working around the hill, we tried to find him until…