It all started when my wife Barbara and I, touring through some of our favourite Western states, stopped in to say hello to our friend Andy Rahimi, a well-known taxidermist in Ranchester, Wyoming. Andy was pleased to see us, and asked whether we were hunting. When we replied no, he insisted that I hunt with him the following year – which Barbara thought sounded a good idea (at the time).
So the following January, and I was just about to get an application in to Wyoming Game & Fish to see if I could get a Deer Buck Licence for area C, when Kenton – who had accompanied us on the previous Wyoming hunting holiday – asked whether he could come along to shoot a few prairie dogs. I suggested that if he was coming, and it was alright with Andy, he too should apply for a deer licence. The forms were duly sent in, and then we had the long wait for the computer draw at the end of June. No problem: we both got permits. After that it was down to sorting out dates, flights and car hire. As the weather was likely to be inclement, and there wouldn’t be too much else to do out in the middle of nowhere for a non-hunter, Barbara bravely decided to stay at home, and look after the dogs.
Eventually Wednesday 8th November arrived: we drove up to collect Kenton, and then on to Gatwick airport. Kenton had managed to get a really good deal on flights – using Airmiles – which gave us return tickets by British Airways for £180, including airport taxes! This turned out even better, as we were then offered an upgrade to business class – luxury! The 9 ½ hour flight was uneventful, and we landed at Denver, chilly but clear, and around about freezing. We picked up a Ford Explorer 4×4, and started heading north-east. It was almost immediately dark, and after an hour-and-a-half we made our first stop at Sterling, for a steak and a good night’s rest. An early start the next morning saw us arriving at Sidney, Nebraska by 8 for breakfast – which gave us a full morning in Cabela’s. I found myself a very good cold/wet-weather jacket, that was to prove invaluable in the days to come. Kenton found lots of stuff…….
Driving into Wyoming, the temperature was gradually decreasing, and just before we got to Lusk for a refuelling stop, some fairly serious snow started falling. Fortunately it was very fine powder, so didn’t affect the road surface too much (we didn’t even have to use the windscreen wipers). We drove on through this for about 5 hours, making very good headway, and got to Buffalo for a night’s stop at the Z-Bar motel. We awoke to a carpet of snow, a temperature of minus 15°C, and a brisk walk downtown to Tom’s for bacon, eggs, hash browns, pancakes, and some of the best coffee in the States. Fighting fit, we set off for Sheridan, visiting Wal-Mart for some general shopping, before carrying on up to Ranchester. We were there early in the afternoon, and stopped at Big Bear to say Hi to Andy. We chatted for a while, and made plans to meet up for an afternoon hunt the following day (Saturday). We checked in to the Western Motel, and then set off for a drive around, to catch some of the stunning scenery. Starting up the road to Burgess Junction, on top of the Bighorn Mountains, the snow was getting heavier: so after making it to 8,000 feet, we decided to turn back, and leave the full ascent for the following morning. A quick detour into Montana was followed by dinner at The Branding Iron in Dayton – the only place to eat, unless we went all the way to Sheridan!
Saturday dawned, and it was COLD! Minus 24°C showed on the Explorer’s dashboard, which didn’t take the additional wind-chill into account! But aside from that, it was a really beautiful day, with a deep blue cloudless sky – which was to stay with us throughout our time with Andy. After breakfast, Kenton & I drove right up to Granite Pass (9,033 ft) through fresh snow along untreated roads – a very scenic drive. Then back to Ranchester, met up with Andy, and out to his place at midday. Andy and Laurien live in a beautiful spot, with a magnificent vista of the Bighorns. No matter what time of day, there is usually plenty of wildlife to be seen from their house. We started out, and were immediately seeing deer, although they were mule deer, and we were after whitetails. We had a good walk around in the snow, and got back to find all the whitetails in Andy’s, eating the pheasant food. Laurien arrived back from Veterans Day at her school in Sheridan, and we went to Dayton for dinner. Sunday was another fruitless day: very cold again, and although we did see some whitetails, there was nothing that we could get a shot at. In the end, the cold beat us (a very strong north-westerly wind), and we returned to the house for an early dinner.
Monday saw us out at the crack of dawn, with Andy leaving us to it, as he had work to do with all the deer trophies coming in to his studio. Kenton & I stalked up Columbus creek, where I got onto a couple of whitetail bucks. I did get a shot at one, but was having severe misting problems with glasses, binoculars and telescopic sight: I over-estimated the range, and shot over the top of the buck. We saw one or two others, but no chances. I had one good stalk, but found it to be a good mule deer buck, so had to leave it. In the afternoon, we sat up on the west side of the creek, looking for deer coming out in the sun on the far (eastern) bank. A young spiker came out, and was eventually joined by a mature buck. I thought about a shot, but was rather hesitant after the morning’s miss. Then I said to myself “If you can’t shoot that, you shouldn’t be here”, and shot him through the top of the heart at 250 yards. He is a good-looking 9-pointer, and a very nice buck for my first whitetail. We made our way back to the house, and Andy drove his truck out to pick the buck up.
Tuesday morning, and another early start saw Kenton immediately get onto a nice 8-pointer, which he duly shot, and we managed to catch Andy before he left for work. So he had two whitetails to take back to Big Bear. They have been mounted, and arrived in England the following April. My trophy now sits alongside the mule deer and pronghorn antelope that came back after the last Wyoming hunt – splendid mementoes of great times in the Cowboy State. We spent some time at Big Bear, and then went out to a local ranch to thin out the prairie dog population. The afternoon turned relatively warm, and the thermometer showed above freezing (just) for the first time! That evening we invited Andy & Laurien to dinner in Sheridan, before saying our goodbyes. We had had a fantastic time in Wyoming as usual: every time I leave the state, I wish I didn’t have to…..
The following two days should have been ones to forget about: driving across “the plains states”, which are terminally boring. Once you leave the Black Hills, on the Wyoming/ South Dakota border, there really isn’t very much to see at all……. However, with about three hours driving to go before we stopped for the Wednesday night, we got into an unpredicted winter storm, with heavy, wet snow falling on the interstate highway. Some of the time the only way you could tell you were still on the highway was because of the tracks of a vehicle that had gone before you; and we passed numerous cars, lorries and trucks that had fallen off the road. After a night’s rest, we awoke to less snow, but – even worse – sheet ice, and even more vehicles off the road. So we eventually made our way in to the more populated area of Wisconsin, where the snow turned to rain, and the traffic started building up. What with the weather, and a four hour traffic jam around Chicago, we were well late by the time we eventually arrived – in heavy snow – at Nick & Mary’s house in Traverse City, Michigan. Never-the-less, we were warmly welcomed, and sat down to a dinner of whitetail fillets, washed down with rioja.
On Friday, we made a leisurely start, going in to town to purchase our deer buck permits (no need to draw in Michigan), and visiting Nick’s new office. With the temperature just below freezing, and frequent snow flurries, we drove 30 odd miles up towards Petoskey, to the farm that Nick hunts. Unfortunately all we saw were does, no bucks. This was to be the form most of the time in Michigan, and most hunters we spoke with complained that they were not seeing any deer at all. Back to Nick’s and we had Alaskan king salmon (caught by Nick the previous month) for dinner, along with a couple of bottles from his impressive wine cellar. Saturday morning, and we were up at the farm for dawn, but had no luck again. Then we had to get back to Traverse, for Kenton to catch his flight back home – he had to leave early, as one of his children was ill. Nick and I returned to the farm in the afternoon, but spent much of the time sheltering from some heavy snow, and then looking for Nick’s walkie-talkie that slipped from his pocket. Fortunately it is yellow, and I managed to spot a corner of it peeking out of the snow…… That evening we went to one of the good local restaurants, Hattie’s, were host, Jim, was having his annual Nouveau Beaujolais bash: this was great fun, with five different wines to quaff, and some excellent food too.
Sunday saw us taking a lie-in. Then getting ready to move down south a couple of hours. We stopped by Nick & Mary’s daughter Kirsten’s house, where she and husband Brian are awaiting arrival of second child. Then Nick & I drove in convoy down to Alma, where Nick was brought up. This is quite a prosperous little town, based on a farming community. We were staying with an old school friend of Nick’s, Jim, and his wife Judy. They have a lovely ranch home – with about 2,000 acres of farmland – and made us extremely welcome. Jim runs a local car dealership, Miller Auto, and says the farm is just his hobby. We were hunting on the Monday and Tuesday, being looked after by Ron, the local funeral director. Stalking woodland and the edges of maize fields, once again we were out of luck on whitetail bucks, although Nick shot a doe (he had a doe permit). I didn’t try a shot at the only buck I saw: a mature 6 pointer, in hot pursuit of a doe. Judy kept us very well fed: in fact, when Ron and his wife Julie came for dinner on the Tuesday evening, Julie told me that I was eating in the best restaurant in town!
And so…… Wednesday 22nd November, and time to go home. I made an early start, and headed for Detroit after saying farewells. There was just one more place to visit before getting to the airport: just south of Detroit, at Dundee, is the latest of the Cabela’s stores, and one I just had to visit. This is three times the size of the one in Sidney, Nebraska: in fact it is so huge that the full-body mount of a charging African bull elephant (just one of many examples of excellent taxidermy there) does not look very large or impressive… I only had a couple of hours there, and would really have required a couple of days to do the place justice! I needed to be at the airport fairly early, as this was Thanksgiving eve, and I had been warned that the roads and airport would be jam packed by late afternoon. All in good time, I returned the Explorer to Hertz ( having covered 2,872 miles) and checked in. I managed to get another upgrade, and spent an easy 6 ½ hour flight back to Heathrow.
It had been some holiday. I certainly enjoyed my unsuccessful hunt in Michigan, have some good friends there, and will no doubt visit them again. As for out west, I can only agree wholeheartedly with the greeting sign confronting you as you drive across the state line: “Wyoming: like no place on Earth”