The Beauty of Letting Go…

I started this project because originally I wanted to get back to me. I wanted to find fulfillment in something I had once loved to do, that had gotten away from me.

Throughout this first month, I was surprised in how this project affected my wellbeing. I have been able to meet and work with some pretty neat people. All these people are living their own lives and are on their own journey to pursuing happiness and finding meaning in what they are doing.

There were days when I wanted to go fishing and days when I wanted to stay at home. Regardless of how the day started, I found that I never regretted getting out on the water. It brought this “alive-ness” back that was exciting and fun. I liken it to the feeling you get when you have anticipation for an exciting trip or meeting with a friend or going to a concert or road trip. 

You never know what the water will bring you that day. The casting may be difficult due to brush or the bank behind you or the wind, but then you get that perfect cast laid out on the water and you see a ripple as a fish swims by under the surface. Or you catch a fin break the surface out of the corner of your eye. The feeling of “what if” or “just one more cast”…I just come alive.

That is one piece that I love so much about fly fishing. It brings me to life. I don’t have to anticipate a big trip or something overly exciting…because the feeling I get when I very hopefully send my line out onto the water and anticipate the tug and the shake and the fight, well it is the same feeling all in a place that is fully accessible to me at any time. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant event to bring me to life – it is any river or stream or pond in this beautiful place I live.

One weekend, my son Lane and I went to a river that we drive by all the time. Driving in and seeing a couple other trucks parked there I was thinking, this isn’t going to work. There are other people here. There are always people here. It is right off the road, we have been here before. It isn’t anything extraordinary. It was heavy, I was already expecting disappointment. But as soon as we started to pick our way down the trail and saw all the things you tend to discover when you’re in nature, everything else just melted away. 

I received that place differently than I ever had before. It was beautiful, the sun was warm, we shed our coats. We laughed as my dog Berty drug a rotting deer leg out of the trees. I didn’t even mind when she raced in circles around us and ran right through the hole I was wanting to fish. We simply enjoyed that moment. We soaked up the sun. We listened to the water. We watched the geese. We followed animal tracks. It was the ordinary and we felt alive. 

We didn’t catch any fish that day. But we were filled with joy from our time together and the potential to catch fish. It was the same old place we had been to before, we had driven by and explored several times. But this time I saw it differently because I felt like I was growing and moving forward. Maybe that is why I love being near this moving water so much. It’s rushing reminds me of movement and growth and alive-ness. 

Lane was patient and encouraging. And as soon as we got back to the truck, he suggested we stop at the gas station for ice cream sandwiches. He remembers me telling him that when I was a kid, every time I went hunting with my dad or we went and worked cows, we stopped for ice cream sandwiches on the way home. Even in the middle of nowhere. Even in the middle of winter. So we did! And with the heat on full blast we ate our ice cream sandwiches.

So you might be wondering if I caught my January fish! Well, there was one day I went out mid January. It was 28 degrees. No wind. I picked up my friend from Casper and we headed to a popular fishing spot west of town. We caught up on life during the drive and solved the world’s problems…as many people do on their way to go fishing. 

I had just gotten off a phone call that had left me emotional and upset. I was disappointed that I had started out anticipating having such a great day…and it spiraled quickly down the drain. It was a situation that I wasn’t able to control and left me feeling hurt and deceived. I had been betrayed by someone I trusted. I was so irritated that my day had been ruined, all I wanted to do was to just stop at the local dive bar, have a couple beers, and head home.

But we decided we would regret wasting a non-windy day, so we found a spot on the river and stepped out of the truck. The second my boots crunched in the snow, I knew it was the right decision. The air was the kind of crisp that makes the snow squeak and echo with every step. I took a deep breath simply so I could feel the coldness fill my chest. I heard the rushing water and was reminded of growth. I was alive. I could feel the coldness bite my cheeks. I watched as, what used to be cold air, was released as warm puffs of breath floating in front of me. 

I began to assemble my fly rod. With every section that was connected and lined up, I began to feel this release. Yes, my emotions were raw, but here they were flowing from me as I put my rod together piece by piece. They no longer consumed me and I began to feel a sense of peace as I finished attaching my reel. The incident that morning didn’t take away from who I am, didn’t make me less of a person. Didn’t take away from the growth I have experienced. Didn’t reflect my worth. It’s the beauty of just letting go.

By the time I had tied on my fly, and it took a few tries due to my cold stiff fingers, I had refocused for the day and was ready to catch my first fish of 2022. I stepped toward the river, determined to do what I came to do.

Now, it wasn’t an easy time down by the river. Although the sun was warm, it did nothing to hold back the cold. Casting, in the beginning, was difficult. I couldn’t find my rhythm. The balance between the end of my rod and the weight on my line didn’t feel right. I was getting caught up in the reeds. My guides were freezing up and the line just wouldn’t cast smoothly. I cleared my guides, and then I focused on the feel. I tried to find my rhythm. I relaxed and enjoyed the moment and let it come naturally. I eventually found the balance between my rod and the weight on my line. And it felt good. I found the sweet spot on my mend and watched the indicator float smoothly in the current.

And the fish hit…little fish sticks. Yearlings just hatched out last summer, it seems as if I had found the nursery. Feisty and aggressive. They were swimming in the shallow water to avoid the bigger fish in the deep runs. I couldn’t get my line out far enough to get to the bigger fish without getting snagged on my back cast. I considered getting my waders out and moving about 10 feet off shore, but I just didn’t want to stop! And thats okay because my cast felt good and the mending felt good. I started with a rockworm and caught my first trout of 2022. As I held him up for a quick photo, I laughed at the size of this little guy. I switched it out with a mayhem midge and caught four more. By then our fingers were frozen and we were ready to get some lunch. We hiked back to the truck and broke down our rods. We went to the nearest bar and ordered rocky mountain oysters, beer, and cheeseburgers. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.

I learned that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I have an entire row of midges and rock worms in my fly box. But I always choose one of the dozens of others I have, thinking – ooo this looks good! This one’s pretty! Tony said that they’d be hungry for whatever they find under the water year round…and he was right. I also learned a little about weights, which I rarely used before. I paid attention to when the fish hit my fly and it was usually right near the end of my drift. I got to where I almost anticipated that tug right as my indicator was nearing the end and it helped me get used to what it felt like.

Like I said before, I am doing this to find myself again…get back to me. Rediscover fulfillment in something I used to love. And literally wallow in the beauty of letting go. Well, I find it appropriate that I was given an opportunity that morning to put it into practice…on the same day I caught my first fish of the year. And the first fish I released in 2022, helped me learn again about the beauty of letting go.

Ep. 1 – Freedom

This month we sit down with Tony English, a guide on the North Platte River. He shares with us information about flies, reading the water, and winter fishing tips.

This episode encompasses so many different levels of learning for me. Recording a podcast proved to be a challenge in and of itself, and I am learning as I go. Be gentle. Sitting down with someone I had never met before (that I can remember anyway…I have been on enough float trips that the names have begun to run together, which illustrates my confusion on the recording) presents a challenge and certain level of anxiety for this introvert. I learned that I say, “um” and “so” entirely too much and I hope to grow in that area.

Looking past these rocks in the road, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this new person and his journey in fly fishing. I enjoyed learning about bugs and being able to dig up some information that I did, in fact, already know and understand.

In this episode, Tony summarizes how so many of us feel about fly fishing and spending time in Wyoming’s great outdoors. While it is a place that keeps us on our toes, Wyoming feeds our infatuation with trout and our passion for fly fishing. #WYONTHEFLY

Trailer – Getting Back to Me

How does fly fishing help you find fulfillment, strength….and you? We are going to fish our way through 2022 and focus on getting back to the things that fulfill our lives. Follow our journey or join us in this challenge of catching a fish every month for the year 2022. At the beginning of each month, we will hear from folks who actually know what they are doing…and then it will be up to us to land the fish. At the end of the month, we will again connect to share what we learned and to share stories of success and challenge.

As we move through the challenge use the #wyonthefly when you share about your journey through pictures or story. We will find each other in the hashtags! Please share any questions through email or on Twitter – we will answer questions on the podcast!

Credits:

  • Host: Havely Holt
  • Produced by: Peter Blomberg
  • Music by: Peter Blomberg

The beauty of letting go…

Grief is a journey. It is there and then fades. It hits you in the deepest part of your soul and flows back to wherever it came from. It comes during the quiet moments of reflection and it comes uninvited while life continues its cycle. And while it isn’t fun or enjoyable, it does drag you along on a journey of growth. Internal, emotional, and personal.

2021 has brought with it the loss of several people who were special to me. People who have impacted my life, many times unbeknownst to them. But one of the most impactful losses was a dog. My daughter’s dog, Tuff. And not because I actually liked him, because most of the time he drove me insanely crazy. His death was impactful because I have had to watch my daughter experience this heart wrenching grief. She has spent nearly every day with Tuff for the last seven years. He cuddled her through the divorce and split his time in both households, right by her side. He was there for her as she navigated the difficulties of middle school. And he was ever present in all our celebrations and gatherings. He loved her through it all.

This grief, for her, is a learning experience that will emerge time and again as she walks through life. And as a parent, while I’d do anything to erase her heartbreak, it is an experience that I know is necessary. And I’ll love her through it.

This video was created by her sister. I’ve already watched it again and again…but the end gets me every time. The music may be muted due to music copyrights, but you’ll want to watch with the volume up.

All my love. 💗

Dog Days of Summer

Ya’ll. It is the Dog Days of Summer. Really, all of 2020 have been the Dog Days. Did you know that the Dog Days of Summer are believed to be a time of drought, bad luck, unrest, and general discomfort? Basically sums up the first 6 months of 2020. Wouldn’t you agree?

However, the Dog Days are traditionally early July to mid August. It is the time when the star Sirius (part of the constellation Canis Majoris) rises just before dawn. And, other than the sun, it is the brightest star in the sky. Sirius rising. So it is only appropriate that during the beginning of this time, I am preparing to journey nearly 800 miles to pick up a new pup. My new pup. My first gun dog.

This was not a decision that I came to on a whim. I am easily annoyed by most dogs…other people’s dogs…and even my own at times. My patience is short for ill behaved pets. I’m extremely busy. I’m a single mom of three kids who are involved in every activity under the sun. Is this really something I want to get started in? I don’t even know anything about training a dog! And most gun dogs are smelly, slobbery, and sheddy. Right? Right.

And a once in a lifetime dog only comes along once in a lifetime. Chances are unlikely I’ll ever find one that satisfies every requirement on my long list of gun dog deal breakers.

BUT.

Last fall I went hunting. Like -h u n t e d- the entire fall and winter months. I headed out every chance I got with whomever I could drag along with me. I realized how dependent I was on other people. Men specifically…to guide, to teach, to borrow their dogs. To feel safe. And although I’m not the traditional “feminist” type…I am a very independent type. I didn’t like trying to schedule what I wanted to do around other people’s schedules. I wanted to know how to do it and be able to go and feel safe. I wanted a companion that was ready to hit the hills whenever I was.

Enter gun dog stage left.

There are so many breeds to choose from, and you really have to do your research to choose the one that is right for you. I knew I wanted a no-to-low shedding dog, loyal, good with kids, adaptable to hunt or track anything, and one that didn’t drool all over my floor. I wanted one big enough that would help me feel secure outdoors when I went on my own. I wanted one that would hold a point, because my shotgun skills need some work. Mama needs a minute to get set up. I wanted one that would hunt for ME and feel like we are in it together. Water, field, upland, mountains, sheds, blood tracking. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it isn’t.

I remembered a friend who had an unusual, dare I say *ugly*, dog. As I researched and inquired on different breeds, I sent him a message. Surprisingly, through many chats and messages later, the ugly dog pretty much seemed to fit the bill. He put me in touch with the club that manages this breed and I got on the waiting list! Due to the rarity of this dog in North America, the breed is being managed by an amazing group to ensure the maintenance of high standards. I wasn’t expecting to get a pup this first year, but that was okay because it gave me time to prepare. I needed to know how to manage this type of dog and how to train it.

And then it happened….I got the call. A pup in the last litter of 2020 was mine. Imagine my excitement! Imagine how my excitement turned to shock and awe as I realized how quickly this was going to happen and how much I still needed to prepare! This was happening.

So I have spent hours and hours and hours reading, researching, watching videos, asking questions, listening to the experts, and even hanging out with the original ugly dog – Gus. And here we are, in the Dog Days of Summer. And I’m heading to pick up my new gun dog. My companion. My future partner in crime. My protector. My hunting buddy.

Meet Cestička Liberty…my little path to freedom. We will call her Berty. We love her already, despite all the challenges and growth we will soon encounter. We will grow together and learn together.

And besides, a once in a lifetime dog only comes along once in a lifetime….

This Goose Is Cooked

Imagine the excitement that filled my heart when my 13 year old daughter, Lilli, hears that I am going goose hunting and says, “I want to go!”

Yes! Finally, a child who is interested in hunting! One out of three isn’t too bad…right??

My expectations were high early that morning as we traveled the 45 minutes to meet our guide, Jared. I met Jared this summer at a banquet on the opposite side of Wyoming. We have kept in touch on social media and when he suggested we hit the goose blinds – my response was simple, “What time do I need to be there?!”

As we drove down the interstate, Lilli and I talked about hunting and she asked asked questions that I surprisingly was able to answer. Although I consider myself a newbie to hunting, it felt good to be able to share what I have already learned with my daughter.

This is one reason why I became so involved in hunting and fishing so quickly over the last few years…because I knew it was something I wanted to share with my kids. And to do that I needed experience. In order to share what I learn…..I had to do.

We arrived ahead of our 5:45 am meet up time, so we ran into the gas station for snacks and to use the restroom. When kids tag along, making sure their needs are met will go a long way in ensuring an enjoyable day for them and a successful day for yourself. We grabbed snacks and hot chocolate, then headed out to the blinds.

As we unloaded the trailer in the dark, I was surprised how Lilli jumped in and started helping as if she knew exactly what she was doing. Under direction from Jared, we got the decoys set up and the lay down blinds positioned and camouflaged.

Climbing into the blinds as the sun began to peek over the horizon, anticipation of the day’s hunt mounted. Lilli was soaking it all up. As geese approached Jared began calling, and you could see how much he loved doing this. His enthusiasm in calling, the knowledge he shared, his patience with his pup, Bella…we were witnessing someone doing what he was born to do.

It was perfect. It was a beautiful morning and we were learning from an amazing guide. I peeked over at Lilli, expecting to see an excited smile and anticipation in her eyes.

She was asleep.

Dead to the world asleep.

I just laughed to myself and thought, “So this is what it’s like to hunt with kids…” I adjusted my position and readied my shotgun. She wouldn’t sleep for long…the geese were starting to circle overhead.

It was a great day, as any day hunting usually is. We knocked some geese down and let some fly to see another day. I learned a lot; the biggest lesson being that I need more experience and practice with a shotgun. But mostly, I was grateful I was able to hunt and learn from a friend and share the experience with my daughter.

Shredded Goose Street Tacos

Showing my kids where their food comes from is important to me. So involving them in preparing the harvest in the kitchen is equally important. Lilli prepped all the ingredients going into this recipe, and then we cooked it low and slow to ensure tender, shredded goose.

  • 4 lbs goose breast
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 chipotle chilis with sauce, more or less for heat
  • 1 small white onion, quartered
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • small “street taco” shells
  • Serve with: avocado slices, diced white onion, lime wedges, Cotija cheese, and cilantro

In a food processor add garlic, chilis, onion, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, bay leaves, paprika, clove, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, and beef stock.

Mix on high until the ingredients are combined.

Lay goose breasts in a slow cooker and cover with mixture.

Cook on high for 6-8 hours. If you are using a pressure cooker, 1-2 hours.

Pull meat out of sauce and shred. Once shredded, spoon sauce over meat to maintain moisture. More sauce can be added to prepared tacos.

To each street taco, add shredded meat, avocado, onion, Cotija cheese, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.

The leftovers were fantastic and even more flavorful the following day.

Later in the week I used the shredded goose meat for an amazing breakfast. I buttered a thick slice of toast, spread on a thick layer of mashed avocado, piled on some warmed goose meat, a couple spoonfuls of warmed sauce, and topped with a runny egg. It’s life changing.

When the Universe Conspires

Sometimes things are so intertwined, it’s hard to sort through the tangled ball of yarn of events that connect the parts of your life.

That is what my life is becoming. A tangled ball of yarn.

A wonderful, connected, amazing, beautiful tangled ball of yarn. I pull on one piece and it pulls another in close. I pull it back the other way, but it is still connected.

Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt 2017: Sisters of the Sage

Two and a half years ago, I posted a piece about the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt. At that time, I felt the impact of the hunt, but I never could have imagined how it was about to change my life. That hunt gave me the confidence to go on other hunts. It gave me the determination to learn everything I could about hunting. From equipment to ecosystems, I soaked it all up.

I devoted quite a bit of time continuing my fly fishing journey, but I also started to give hunting just as much attention. These activities provided me with a deeper connection to the outdoors and a deeper love and appreciation for the land around me. I also began to recognize the part that Shelley played in all of this.

D53FC4A9-511D-4B83-AED1-9FBF1483A4D4

For those of you who haven’t read Sisters of the Sage, Shelley is the donor of the scholarship I was awarded so I could attend the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt. Shelley knew what this hunt could do for women. She arranged it so that every year one woman would attend the hunt through her generosity. And, I know I wouldn’t have continued down this road if it hadn’t been for Shelley and the connection I felt with her. This connection isn’t one of a long time friend or mentor. Shelley passed away before I was even able to meet her. The connection stemmed from those who love her and those who believe in her vision. It stemmed from those people who were willing to share the essence of Shelley with me and the voice and tone in which the scholarship was given.

As my life continued to evolve and gain momentum, I realized that it wasn’t just the scholarship that changed me. It was Shelley’s ability to see the impact this COULD have on a woman. It was the forethought and generosity shown by her. That is what impacted me the most. This concept…it truly inspired me to live my life. It took one person to inspire me to live my life. The impact, forethought, and generosity of one woman inspired me to take it further. That is where #onewoman began. With the realization that one woman can inspire someone to live their life, and the effect that has on everyone around her.

629C819D-6C14-442A-9FF1-9DB4DA6C8E67

This last fall, I hosted a ladies beginning fly fishing camp at our cabin in the Laramie Range. Six women came from around the state of Wyoming and Colorado to learn how to fly fish and enjoy the fellowship of newly made friends. I shared my story with them and the story of our cabin. I shared Shelley with them so they understood the impact of #onewoman. The weekend was a successful endeavor, and at the end the ladies gave me a gift certificate. I used the gift certificate to buy a new rod, personalized with #onewoman.

170DF0B2-A6F9-4660-BE35-E618C1E12D0D

However, when the rod was delivered it went missing from my front step. It took me by surprise, but I wasn’t angry or upset. It was as if I knew it would be taken care of. Orvis replaced the rod immediately. Within two days I had another rod in hand and ready to go. So I happily went along my fishy way.

Imagine my surprise when we stepped outside on the day after Christmas, to find a beat up, water logged Orvis box on the front step. It was the missing fly rod. I contacted Orvis…they said the rod was mine to do with what I wished. Another rod! I was beyond excited! But even through the excitement of landing another rod…there was something nagging in the back of my mind. I couldn’t bring myself to open the box and use the rod.


In early January I joined the First Hunt Foundation through the encouragement of a friend and guide of one of my previous hunts, Fred. My birthday was on the horizon,  and a birthday fundraiser to benefit the First Hunt Foundation was what I had in mind. $500 was my goal. It was then that I decided to use the extra rod to encourage people to donate to the Foundation. To gain entries into the giveaway, people could donate or post about something that brought gratitude into their hearts.

The day to draw a name for the fly rod giveaway approached as the fundraiser closed. Another friend, Jason from Cowboy Drifters, donated a reel and line to outfit the rod. It was now ready to be passed on.

I loaded nearly 100 entries to the random name wheel and prepared to go live on Facebook to announce the winner. As I spun the wheel, my mind was racing with possibilities and the hope that someone would be chosen who could really benefit from a new fly rod. The first name that popped up on the spinning wheel of names was none other than….Fred! I chuckled at the coincidence of him winning the fly rod I was using to generate a fundraiser for the organization he introduced me to. He asked me to spin again, he was donating it to the next person on the wheel of names.

I spun the wheel a second time.

My friend and colleague, Ashley, was the next name to pop up out of the nearly 100 entries on the wheel! I was excited for her, as we had fished together before and I knew she would put the rod to good use. I ended the Facebook Live, satisfied with the giveaway and the amount of money raised for the First Hunt Foundation, which ended at $1,300.

But as I sat down to catch up on messages, it hit me.

Ashley won.

Ashley won the #onewoman fly rod.

Ashley won the Shelley rod.

Ashley harvested an antelope at the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt last fall.

She was the Shelley Simonton Scholarship recipient for 2019.

And out of nearly 100 entries, she also won the #onewoman fly rod tonight.

The Shelley fly rod.

IMG_1871

Tears streamed down my face. This is the moment when the Universe taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hold my beer. I’m showing you how I run the show.” It’s that moment when you know in the deepest part of your soul that your efforts have been acknowledged. This was a tip of the hat.

Every decision I make is directed by the Universe and is bringing me into my best life. And when I’m ready…when it happens, get a front row seat, because it’s gonna be amazing.

You have a purpose. Do your thing. Share your gift. Refine and develop this gift, and be ready to receive all the goodness coming your way. #onewoman

Sisters of the Sage

About a year ago, my dad mentioned a women’s only hunt. An antelope hunt. Really not my thing. I smiled, nodded, and thought….yeah, so this has nothing to do with fishing, and hunting can be difficult…and you get hot…or really cold…and you sweat. And antelope smell. Well, I imagine they smell. I don’t really know.

Shortly after, I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook page of this very hunt. Everyone was smiling, there were sweet sentiments, and congratulations. Being a little nosy, I looked up the hunt to see what it was all about. Lo and behold….in the description, a word shot out at me. FISHING. If you harvest your animal, you come back to the ranch and have the opportunity to learn from a guide and FISH. Done! They had me…hook, line, and sinker.

I pulled up the application and typed out an essay about why I wanted to attend…which may have included a story centered on fishing and my kids. My goal was to harvest an animal the first morning out and then spend the next two days fishing. I read that there were many applicants and I kind of put it out of my head, knowing there was a good chance I wouldn’t be invited to attend.

And then, several months later, I got the call.

I was invited to attend the hunt on scholarship! The scholarship was set up through a fund by Shelley Simonton, a leader in making the hunt what it is today. I was beyond excited! Fishing here I come! Bring on the camo! I have struggled connecting with other women who enjoy fly fishing, and this was an opportunity to connect and network with women who may have my same interest!

My curiosity about who Shelley was got the better of me and I did a little online stalking. Turns out she was an influential woman of Wyoming, who believed in empowering women, their ability to be self sufficient, learning from one another, and the camaraderie experienced while hunting together. She sounded like my kind of lady. And I was honored to be included on the hunt through her generosity.

The following month, I received a second message. After battling cancer, Shelley had passed away. I was struck with unexpected emotion. I knew she had touched many women’s lives and I mourned for their loss. I also felt a sense of loss myself. Having never been able to meet this remarkable woman, I felt the loss of never being able to experience the infectious personality I had read so much about. The meaning of the scholarship became even deeper. I was hopeful for success in the hunt, to be able to honor her in the only way I was able.

Throughout the summer, I began collecting my first pieces of camo. I practiced shooting a gun and ended up receiving my first rifle. I excitedly checked off one item after another on my packing list. The anticipation of the hunt began to mount.

IMG_6194.JPG

Driving onto the ranch property, I was nearly overcome with excitement. As I passed under the entrance welcoming me to my weekend, I looked to the sky and thought, “Well, here’s to new adventures. Wish me luck.”

Following registration, I headed to the gun range to sight in my rifle. There was a group of men available to assist with the sight in and I certainly felt like a fish out of water. I had trouble sighting in my gun, despite the gentle corrections from the helpers. Once the volunteers felt the gun was good to go, the gentleman encouraged me to try shooting from the prone (yes, I had to learn what that was) position, aiming at a “gong” on the side of the hill nearly 200 yards away. Awkwardly I assumed the position, laying on the ground as he helped me situate the gun. There was a cameraman nearby and I had to laugh as he was snapping pictures of this extremely obvious novice.

Aiming my rifle in the direction of the gong, I squeezed the trigger. The volunteer exclaimed, “You hit it!” I was doubtful. With my earplugs in, I didn’t think I heard the ring of the bullet hitting metal. I lined up a second shot. This time, as I squeezed the trigger, I heard the audible ring. I looked at him excitedly as he smiled and nodded back to me. I looked back through my scope and saw the paint chipped away where I had made the shot, nearly right in the middle. I was surprised, but encouraged, and thought I better quit while I was ahead.

Arriving back at the lodge, I was overwhelmed with how nervous and anxious I was for the following day. My hands were shaking and I was emotionally unprepared for how unsure I was that I could actually pull this off.

The next morning came too quick. I hit the ground at 5:00 am, jittery and uncollected. Nonetheless, I layered my camo, double checked for my hunting license, extra bullets, my rifle, double knotted my brand new, never before worn, hunting boots.

At the ranch house, I met up with my guide and local land owner, Kellen Little. My hunting partner turned out to be Wyoming’s first female Supreme Court Justice, Marilyn Kite, a founding member of the hunt. No pressure there. It was then that I was introduced to Shelley’s husband, Matt Bowers. He would be joining us for the day. Lord, please let an antelope stand in front of my rifle. I felt as if the outcome of the day hinged on whether or not I was able to harvest an animal. I wanted my guide to feel success. I wanted the Supreme Court Justice to smile upon me. I wanted Shelley’s husband to not feel like this was a wasted trip.

IMG_4343

Squeezing into Kellen’s truck, we headed on down the road. The sun was just coming up and the frost sparkled over the Wyoming landscape. Everything was painted a crisp mix of green, gold, and orange. I sat up front, as I had the first opportunity to take a shot as the newbie. It didn’t take long before the other three passengers were cutting up and joking with one another. Watching them interact with each other, I eased into the comfortable atmosphere. Their stories of hunts from years gone by were rich. I laughed with them and was surrounded by their memories. The ribbing that each one endured from the others was endearing as personalities emerged.

I watched as they reveled in knowing they were among friends, who were about to make new memories together.

And I was privileged to be part of it.

The laughter and reminiscing was peppered with accounts of Shelley, and her personality became more and more evident to me. This person was such a highlight in so many of these stories. What gratitude I felt, because of her forethought and generosity.  I was bouncing around in a truck, enjoying the incredible Wyoming landscape, listening to these three – who were quickly becoming my friends – recount great hunts of the past, learning about the history of the land….and a realization washed over me.

It isn’t about the antelope.

These friendships, these people, these relationships, remembering, memories, new experiences…this is the hunt.

Before we even made it to our first location, I knew this day was already a success.

I was in the midst of building memories of the 2017 hunt. We were on the verge of being a part of next year’s stories. Harvesting an antelope is inconsequential.

These people, the camaraderie, experiences, moments shared. This….this is what I came for. The anxiety of expecting an outcome for the day melted away, as I became one who reveled in knowing I was among friends who are making new memories together.

We searched, we stalked, we worked hard that day. I put many miles on those new boots. I scaled the side of a steep hill 150 feet high, shouldering that new rifle. I belly crawled, scuffing the shiny, new barrel on the ground. Just to peek over the edge of the hill and see the herd trotting out of range and climbing back down.

IMG_8445

Marilyn, Kellen, and Matt laughed with me and we continued to formulate new strategies. They encouraged me. I felt acknowledged and accepted and I persevered through the day with a genuine smile on my face. The team motivated me to try again and again. Kellen’s patience and humor kept me on track and in the moment. His encouragement strengthened my resolve…even when I shot him a “What the hell?” look when he told me to get down and belly crawl with a rifle in my hand. This young lad, 10 years my junior, wants me to do WHAT?!? I can only imagine what was running through his head as he waited for me to literally inch my way a few feet each time.

As we slowly approached the fourth herd of the day, it was evident they were aware of our presence. The herd began to move away and out of range. We decided to make the long trek around the other side of the hill in an attempt to meet them from the opposite direction. We crept around the backside of the hill, putting another three quarters of a mile under our feet. Approaching the top of the hill, Kellen again motioned for the infamous belly crawl. The thought crossed my mind that he was pulling one over on me and the joking and laughing in 2018 will be about the middle aged hunter attempting the crawl.

We peeked over the hill and the herd was unaware of us. I quietly loaded my gun while Kellen continued to scope the herd. He looked through the range finder, which he probably picked up nearby from the dozens he has lost in the brush over the last five years, and whispered 99 yards. I waited for the herd to move into a position that I could view them through my scope. Kellen whispered the number of bucks and pointed out one that would be a good option. I struggled to find the buck in my scope. Finally, he stepped into position. “I got him in my scope,” I whispered. Kellen quietly responded, “When you are ready. Take your time. Deep breath.”

The buck turned broadside. I aimed the crosshairs of my scope behind his shoulder, where the white darkened to brown. I let out my breath, I squeezed the trigger. I watched the antelope through my scope and I knew I had hit him. He spun around and I reloaded my gun in anticipation of having to take a second shot. The buck fell to the ground as the rest of the herd blazed down the hill. I lowered my gun and a sense of accomplishment washed over me. I turned to see my guide’s excited smile, “You got him!” A celebratory hug and we were both on our feet headed down the hill.

As we approached the buck, I was in awe of how beautiful this animal was. I was filled with gratitude of the food he was providing for my family. I was proud that I was able to do something I was quite certain, just that morning, I couldn’t do.

IMG_6293IMG_3684

That first morning of the hunt, I harvested my antelope. Later that day, Marilyn was able to harvest hers. We left the ranch that morning as strangers and a single goal in mind. We returned to the ranch as friends and comrades, accomplishing so much more than our intended goal. This moment, this experience can never be replicated. Yes, there will be hunts in the coming years that will add to and enrich our lives. But this one, the first, will always be.

IMG_5462IMG_6283

IMG_2061

Of course, I went fishing. The next two days were spent fishing with guides. I learned about casting, reading the water, bugs, and more information than I’ll ever be able to use. And I loved every second.

IMG_5471IMG_6303IMG_0949

But, reflecting on the weekend, my mind returns to the hunt. Not the animal harvest. It is the moment in the truck, looking at these people who are now my people, when I realized the true intention of the day. The moment when I realized the day was already a success.

IMG_5479

Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt 2017