Monday, November 14, 2016

Awesome Antelope

This year PJ and I were blessed to be able to go antelope hunting for the first time. We both harvested an antelope buck, but this post isn't really about the harvest - it's more about the experience and about the animals. It's about getting outside in the high desert of Wyoming and seeing plenty of wildlife. PJ and I enjoy hunting, but even more than that, we hunt mainly to provide meat for our family. Game meat provides a lean, healthy, and fairly economical source of protein for us. We butchered both antelope ourselves and all the meat is in our freezer now. Hunting gets us out into God's creation, enjoying areas we might otherwise just drive right past. So, regardless of your views on hunting, I hope you can enjoy this post!

PJ has hunted archery before, but this was my first time going out in archery season for any animal. (PJ harvested his buck in archery, but I got mine in rifle season.) It won't be the last time for me! Archery season is so much quieter. You can hear so much more. I've seen antelope plenty of times - driving past them in the car. But I never, ever HEARD an antelope before this fall. You'd think these animals are completely quiet, but get close enough and you'll discover that they sure make some really interesting noises! They have a call (that apparently means "something isn't quite right") that sounds like a buzzing honk/wheeze. That's the best I can describe it. You'll just have to come hear it for yourself!

The animal that we call "antelope" is technically not a true antelope. It's proper name is Pronghorn but not too many people out here actually call it that. In fact, if you want to hunt one you will apply for an antelope license, not a pronghorn license. Among many people here they are somewhat affectionately known as "speed goats". Males (bucks) have horns (not antlers). Females (does) can have horns too, but the horns on the doe are typically very small. A buck is identified by his large, pronged horns and black cheek patch. One thing that makes an antelope unique is that it actually sheds its horns each year, where horned animals typically do not shed their headgear. The horn is actually compressed hair. Pretty interesting.

These are a couple of shed horn sheaths.

We took a crash course in field judging antelope from our friend who was hunting with us. From what I can tell, this is a pretty good buck:

Definitely larger than the average bucks that we saw. You can see the "prongs" on the horns which give them their proper name. Each buck can be pretty unique. You can have individuals like that guy where the horns curve towards each other in the center, nearly touching each other. You can have ones where the horns stand more straight up, or ones where they are laid out more towards the sides.

You can even have some like this fellow below!

In this picture (below), you can take a pretty good look at another interesting physical feature of this animal - its mane. The mane on an antelope is a line of darker, longer hair that runs up the back of its neck.

These are very wary animals, and they see danger pretty much everywhere. And they are fast. Sneaking up on one is no easy task! One part of what made the hunt so fun is that we saw so many animals! Probably hundreds of antelope just in the relatively small area in which we were hunting. Get too close too quickly and this is the view you'll get:

This isn't a super good picture, but if you look you can kind of see that they puff out their white, uh, bottoms when they are alarmed. I'm assuming this is an alarm signal to other antelope, much the same as the way a whitetail deer flags its tail when it is running away from a perceived threat.

You'd think, until you actually get out there and start walking it, that the area in which these guys live is fairly flat. It looked mostly flat where we were hunting. But as you start walking across that "flat" landscape you start to find hills and valleys and ravines that you had no idea were there. And there are usually more antelope around every corner too.

The antelope fawns in this picture (above) are already a few months old. Really little antelope fawns are my favorite wildlife babies. They are just really, really cute. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of a really small one, so you'll have to consult the internet if you want to see one. :)

We also came across a den of fox kits. They were awfully cute, and not really afraid. We happened to spot them while we were driving and we sat in the car and watched them for a minute or two before they decided they'd better head for cover. Three of them went down into the den. The fourth got spooked when we started driving and took off the opposite direction from the den. We were driving on the road, but he must have thought we were coming right behind him through the sagebrush because he was ducking and weaving all over in an attempt to get away (from something that wasn't even chasing him). It looked so funny. Their tail is as big as their body and we could just see that big, fluffy tail darting around wildly between the sagebrush and weeds.

I apologize for the quality of the next two pictures, but the yawn and the stretch were so cute (even if they turned out horribly out of focus and the color is all wonky).

Thankfully I did get a couple of better shots, too!

We saw lots of birds too, and heard even more than we saw. One time when we were walking we spooked a great-horned owl out of a tree. They are so amazingly silent when they fly. Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough to get a picture.

Our hunting trips this year were the first times that PJ and I left the kids with someone else overnight in at least five or six years (maybe ever), and it was great. I love being with my kids, but it was definitely nice to have some time alone with my husband again. We spent a lot of time talking, and we realized that it was the first time in a really long time that we had been able to carry on an extended conversation without being interrupted!  It got me remembering a little of what life had been like during the first few years of our marriage... What was that, like, a century ago now? Haha.

We spent one night camping in the back of our truck. It was really uncomfortable and cold, and the moon was so bright that we had a terrible time falling asleep. And I should have thought to use the facilities before I got into the back of the truck, because trying to crawl out of the back window was even worse than crawling in had been. (PJ was laughing at me mercilessly.) But as I stepped out of the truck and into the silence of that place at night and took in a deep breath of that fresh, crisp air... it was as if I was breathing in peace itself. I just stood there and let it soak into my soul. Breathe out, and the tension went with it. There is just nothing like a quiet wild place to restore your soul - a place where you can actually be still, and the pressures of the world and of your daily life can wait until tomorrow while you relax and connect with God in the glorious wonder of His creation. Take in a sunset. Take in a sunrise. Breathe. And know that God is good.

God made the wild animals according to their kinds, 
the livestock according to their kinds, 
and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. 
And God saw that it was good.
-Genesis 1: 25 (NIV)

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