Last night’s dinner was the latest in a series of delicious memories involved with the bullet I fired from a .270 last fall.
Grilled kabobs of Montana pronghorn backstrap – cubed, marinated, skewered with red peppers, onion and pineapple – always generate high praise at our dinner table – even before the red wine is served.
My family appreciates the effort I put into bringing wild game to the table. To some extent, they know how much work goes into the hunt before and after the trigger is squeezed.
In this case, the wild-game dinner in March 7, 2012, was the fruit of a text-book hunting trip that started in May 2011. The work began by applying for a special permit in May followed by contacting landowners, zeroing in the rifle, scouting the landscape, readjusting plans to fit weather and other conditions, spotting the pronghorns with binoculars and crawling a mile through farm fields and pasture.
Making the shot was but a split second in a hunt that transitioned into field dressing, skinning, carrying the carcass half a mile and transporting the meat to the garage for butchering and wrapping.
The shot almost seems insignificant in a successful hunt. So much more time is expended before and after the climax of the trigger squeeze, the impact can be underrated – except on the day the bullet misses its mark.
Hunters quickly get over a clean miss. Even on the trophy of a lifetime, they’ll hang their heads a bit, wish for another chance and take some ribbing from their hunting buddies.
A good sport can find solace in knowing the critter won a round.
But no hunter worth respecting quickly gets over a shot that draws blood without killing the game, especially if it cannot be retrieved.
I’m reminded of a late-fall email report from a local friend who’d just returned from his long-anticipated mule deer hunt. He had ridden out of town with high expectations and optimism to devote more than a week to the trip in Montana.
He returned with a gaping hole in the experience.
“We had a great trip, albeit I’m still suffering from the hunt,” he said.
“I shot a terrific buck that dropped like a sack of proverbial stones. He was across a coulee about 150 yards away. I was certain he was down for the count. Dead. But when I crossed the coulee and began climbing up the other side, I saw him running up the hill.
“There was a small tuft of hair, no blood. I followed his tracks in the skiff of snow and ultimately did find blood. We spent 8 hours looking for him, tracking him for over a mile before we lost any and all sign in tall grass.
“In 54 years of hunting I’ve never lost a bird, an animal – nothing. I’m haunted by the experience.
“I had several chances to kill other bucks that day, but declined. One was a huge 4x4, much bigger than the buck I wounded.”
He felt so guilty, he notched his expensive Montana nonresident deer tag and brought it home, in lieu of a trophy mount, as a reminder of a flawed hunt and a mistake he doesn’t want to make again.
“The notched tag is hanging here in my office,” he said.
Even the best hunters I know have a wounding-loss story. As the saying goes, it happens to the best of them.
I told my friend I could not admire a hunter who didn’t have a conscience. The goal is to get the job done legally, efficiently, painlessly and with some reasonable degree of reverence. Sometimes we fall short, not for lack of preparedness, but because we are human.
I admire a compassionate hunter more than one who is simply successful.
I have an antelope roast set aside to share with my unsuccessful friend. He has reason to celebrate, too.