This was my second year hunting and my first successful hunt.
From my previous experience hunting deer and elk in Oregon, I had low expectations, despite drawing a tag for either sex pronghorn. I knew that hunting often meant long days of hiking and never seeing anything, much less getting close enough for a shot.
Opening morning was off to a good start when we glassed a group of pronghorn only 15 minutes after shooting light, about a mile away. We started off hiking towards them along the ridge, aware that by the time we got close enough to them, they may be gone.
We’d been hiking fewer than 10 minutes when Kevin suddenly stopped and whispered, "Look!” There were 3 does on the ridge across from us at 225 yards. He whipped out the tripod, his voice shaking with excitement. "Are you ready?" I wasn't sure.
I stared through my scope at the 3 pronghorn for several minutes; they stared right back. Then the biggest of the group turned broadside. I still wasn't sure. My breath was coming in hard and fast. Not ideal shooting circumstances. Several more minutes went by, and the doe just stood there, waiting. I was thankful for her patience in light of my indecision. I knew she was offering me the perfect shot.
I took a few steadying breaths, turned off my gun safety, exhaled, and pulled the trigger. Through the scope, I saw the doe fall. I started crying almost as instantly, turned on the safety and put the gun down.
It's difficult to explain how I felt when I killed my first animal. I had cried, but I wasn't sad. I was relieved. Relieved that I hadn't missed, or caused injury. Relieved that I had been successful. Proud, and then slightly guilty for feeling proud. Sad for feeling guilty, maybe. It happened pretty fast. Walking up to her after the shot was a blur.
Pronghorn are beautiful animals. I cherished being close to one, and spent time appreciating the animal in front of me before reducing her to meat. The field dressing process was fascinating; Kevin helped direct me where to cut and helped hold various parts as I sliced away, dinner becoming more recognizable as the animal in front of me transformed into a sparse carcass.
Later that day, hunched over a cooler, we spent hours trimming the meat into more manageable pieces for the freezer. I am thankful for the meat I'll be sharing with friends and family for the next several months from this successful hunt. I feel good about where it came from, and I am proud of that.
Kevin's warned me that future hunts won't be so easy (I'm ruined for life! 20 minutes into opening morning!) but I'm looking forward to my deer and elk tags this fall all the same.