latest

Memories of a Hunt and a Homestead

By: Randy Tucker

We live in a time of constant connection. You can’t seem to go anywhere without the omnipresent digital world clawing at you.

In these times of modern insanity, I often think back to times when it was just me against the world. There were no digital lifelines, no “nanny state” checking up on my every move, no “On Star” or other tracking device hooked to my vehicle; it was just me somewhere on the planet, with no one else having any idea where I was.

Those were good times. Times when your strength, wits, experience, and a little bit of grit carried you to remarkable places, where very memorable things happened.

One night, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I set out for home late in the afternoon trying to outrun one of the infamous November Wyoming blizzards that strand college kids in the bland, lifeless town that was Laramie during breaks at the University of Wyoming.

The further west I traveled on Interstate 80, the worse the weather became. I caught a glimpse of a sign through my rapidly swinging windshield wipers as I tried to see ahead of me. “Arlington Exit, one mile,” it read.

Arlington boasts the highest constant year-round winds in one of the world’s windiest places. It is now the sight of a huge wind farm stretching for dozens of miles along a high ridge west of the hamlet of 15 people.

Just as I passed the sign, a gust of wind whipped my underpowered, gutless, two-wheel-drive 1969 Rambler American into a spin on the outside lane. As the car executed its second “cookie,” the huge wheels of an 18-wheeler, and my life, flashed right in front of my eyes.

On the third spin, the tires caught a little pavement, tossing me against the center of the car as it straightened out.

I took the exit.

There was a precursor to the modern convenience store at Arlington, a tall yellow A-frame building with a few amenities to offer inside. I took the chains out of the trunk, hooked them on the rear tires, went inside, where a group of truckers were already gathered, waiting overnight for the storm to break. I spent 15 cents on a cup of coffee then started back to Laramie. I made it just before the cafeteria closed for dinner. I was hit with a storm of “I told you not to try it…” from my buddies, but made it home the next morning in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Yes, I called home collect, person-to-person that night to let my parents know I was still in Laramie. That’s a trick kids today can only hear about in this era of ubiquitous cell phone connection.

A few years later I was hunting “The Breaks” north of Lusk just a few miles west of US Highway 85, the old Cheyenne to Deadwood Stage route. I walked in a mile or so from my truck and started up a series of prairie draws. They were sagebrush-lined on the top, but had heavy growths of cedar trees and scrub pines in the middle. I’d read in Outdoor Life to walk 50 yards, count to 50, then repeat as a method of hunting prairie mule deer.

It worked. On about the fifth time, I stopped. A nice buck jumped out 75 yards ahead of me. I took one shot with my Remington 788 and filled my tag. He wasn’t huge, but he still tipped the scales at around 150 pounds.

I field dressed the buck, then tried to figure out how to get him back to the truck, a little more than a mile distant at this point.

My .308 had a sling, so I threw it over my back. I picked up the deer across my shoulders and began to walk east. It’s something I wouldn’t try today in my 60s, but was no big deal as a 20-something who was used to hard work on the farm and in heavy construction.

As I saw my truck in the distance, I noticed that familiar dark green color of a Wyoming Game and Fish truck parked next to it. “Why not?” I thought. “I’m the only guy out here, they were bound to notice.”

A friendly game warden opened the tailgate of my truck, then helped me put the deer into the bed. He checked my tags, checked the deer, and smiled.

“Smart of you to tie a little orange ribbon to those antlers. Otherwise carrying a buck like that could get you shot,” he said.

“That’s why that rack is orange,” I laughed. He was the only human being I saw that entire day until I returned home and hoisted the buck into the air over a tree limb to skin it.

On another adventure in the same Niobrara County wilderness, I was spring turkey hunting. The season was late that year. I’m not sure on the date, but it was after I’d finished coaching high school track, so it was sometime in late May.

I didn’t spot many turkeys, that day, just a few hens running ahead of me on a sandy, sagebrush flat.

The area I was in had several abandoned homesteads. Those crumbling buildings represented the dashed hopes and dreams of generations long gone.

One small house was covered with tattered yellow, brick-patterned tar paper. The shake shingles were in bad shape, and bricks from the collapsed chimney had fallen on the roof. I thought it a small miracle that most of the glass remained in the windows, albeit that old-style glass that is thicker on the bottom than on the top as gravity slowly pulls the glass towards the earth.

The door opened easily to a single main room, with a small bedroom in the back. A three-legged table, a cupboard with a few dishes, most of them chipped and broken, and a pile of newspapers in one corner where all the evidence that remained that a family had once lived here.

I took a look at the newspapers; they were editions of the Denver Post from the fall of 1940. Ominous headlines mentioning the Nazis moving across Europe, the impending fall of Britain to the Luftwaffe, along with more mundane news of the Front Range in Colorado filled the pages.

There were a couple of sections of full-color Sunday “funnies” as well. Funnies, the cartoon section of the newspaper caught my eye.

I took them with me and had the school secretary laminate them for me that fall when I returned to my classroom.

I wished I hadn’t laminated them. It destroyed the elegance of reaching back in time to another era, while also protecting the images for future generations. I still have those laminated funny pages. I sometimes used them as bulletin board material in my classroom.

I didn’t see anyone else that day either. When I got back to Lusk, I asked some locals about the homesteads I’d walked across, but no one in town could remember who lived out there or who made the original request for a homestead. Those memories faded with the falling bricks, flying shingles, and tattering tar paper.

Those times alone I could have been t-boned by a semi-truck, but I wasn’t. I could have been mistaken for a deer and shot, but it didn’t happen. I could have been bitten by one of the many rattlesnakes I saw hunting turkeys that afternoon or fell into a hidden cistern, but it never occurred.

What did happen were a few imprinted images that no doubt seem more dramatic today than when they took place. But that’s the magic of advancing years. The older I get, the better I was, is a common theme I hear in guys my age. But at least we did it alone, without being monitored into submission.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at ratucker@wyoming.com.

 
You've successfully subscribed to Gunpowder Magazine
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to Gunpowder Magazine
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.
Contact - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy