Hunting Solo

 

By: Jennifer Bickel

One thing I have found in the hunting industry is there are lots of shows and people that are into solo hunting. The one thing that is rare with these shows and people, are women. What I want to do is blow that wide open. I want to show other women, who may be afraid or think they can’t do it, that they can!

Being a solo hunter wasn’t something I had really thought I would want to do when I started hunting.

I always enjoyed the company of having people to hunt with and be able to share everything as I went along. Solo hunting isn’t something that you go out once and master. It takes time and definitely some patience. I can’t even count the amount of times I wanted to just throw my bow off a cliff. It’s one of those things that you learn as you go along and the more mistakes you make, the more you learn.

It will push you to limits to where you want to just give up. It is not only physically enduring but mentally as well. But it is also one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. It will give you feelings that you can’t even explain, no matter how hard you try. Believe me, I have sat here for over 5 hours trying to think of some way to explain how amazing it all is. I’m no solo hunting expert, I’m still learning, I just want to share my experiences from past and present with you.

I am lucky enough to have grown up on a ranch in North Central Wyoming. I have always been involved in the outdoors. It was something we always did as a family when I was growing up. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I took things into my own hands. As most of you know, Wyoming is a great state to hunt. Between the plains and the mountains, there is no shortage of animals.

My first solo hunt experience was mule deer in 2009. This was a pretty easy way for me to start because I started out by hunting on my parent’s ranch which I knew very well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a high fence ranch so it’s not easy to hunt mule deer there. I just knew the land and so I was not worried about getting lost or anything like that. I also made sure I had a First Aid kit and a cell phone just in case.

It seemed like I had blown stalk after stalk after stalk. I went home each night and watched mule deer hunting videos to try to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong. I was used to hunting with my other half, Travis, and he would tell me what to do and how to do it. I wasn’t used to making decisions on my own and coming up with my own “game” plan. I got frustrated and felt defeated. I started questioning my hunting skills and wondered if I was really cut out for this. I really put myself down a lot during this hunt. I thought I would be able to go out, find a deer, stalk up and shoot it. I was finding this was much easier said than done.

After hunting several days with no success, I gave up. I decided I needed some more help and more time to develop my hunting skills. It was a real wake up call for me. I knew that even though I felt like I was a good hunter and was confident in my skills, I still had so much to learn. I vowed to continue researching and teaching myself new techniques, shooting my bow more and doing everything I could possibly do to make myself a better hunter. I knew this was my passion and what I wanted to dedicate my life to.

I gave it almost a year before I decided to try hunting alone again. Archery antelope had rolled around and Travis was in Oregon salmon fishing at the time. I decided to make the 4 hour drive to where I antelope hunt and try the whole solo thing again.

This time I had one more obstacle I had to overcome. I was 6 months pregnant and not small at all! The area I was hunting opened for archery on August 15th. August is the hottest month in Wyoming and for any of you who have been pregnant; you know how uncomfortable the heat is.

Now add on trying to put on stalks. I am lucky there were no cameras around at that time. Trying to army crawl up on antelope was probably one of the funniest looking things ever. My stomach would get in my way and basically trip me to the point where I found myself constantly face planting. I stayed and tried to hunt for a week. I was unsuccessful and went through all of the same emotions again. I was mad at myself and extremely frustrated. I kicked myself the whole way home. I felt once again, like a failure.

September finally came around and I decided to be persistent and try archery mule deer hunting again. I kept telling myself to not get so depressed when a few stalks didn’t go the way I wanted them to.

With each unsuccessful stalk that I did, I started a new routine. Instead of beating myself up about it, I started reviewing the stalk over and over in my head and trying to figure out what I could learn from it. This made it so much easier when I saw those horns running the opposite way and my arrow still nocked.

Then, it was almost a picture perfect stalk, even with my huge pregnant stomach in the way. I had seen this buck a few times. He was a 4 x 5 with eyeguards. I have a definite “thing” for mule deer with eyeguards. He had kickers off each side and was just gorgeous. He was with only one other doe and they were both walking across the top of a hill, feeding on some sagebrush. Every once in a while they would feed in on the hill a little bit and disappear from my view but I could tell where they were heading. I watched them until they fed over a little bit and I couldn’t see them anymore.

This majestic buck stopped at the top of the ridge and looked back giving the author time to take this photo.

I checked the wind one last time and then, I ran. Which I’m sure wasn’t much as a run as I was thinking it was, probably looked more like a fast waddle to anyone else that may have been watching. I got ahead of them a little ways and got set up. Then, just as I had hoped, the buck made his way back over to the side of the hill where I had a clear shot at him.

I ranged him at 18 yards, a shot that I practice probably a few thousand times every year. He stopped broadside, we locked eyes as I drew back. I got my anchor point and then placed my 20 yard pin, right where it needed to go. I slowly slid my finger onto my release trigger and pulled……

I stood there staring. My bow still out in front of me, I was froze. I had pulled the trigger on my release on a buck at 18 yards. I watched my arrow as it flew perfectly out of my bow and straight into the broadside buck. I felt like I had been holding my breath for 20 minutes. I let a deep breath out; I knew I had made a perfect shot. The buck took off running with my arrow still in him over the hill. Even though I was 7 months pregnant, I ran up that hill faster than I had ever run in my life. I got to the top of the hill and saw the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, it is a picture that will be forever ingrained in my head.

The sun was still coming up and the sky was a deep blood red, there was a fresh fall crisp in the air as I took a deep breath. I scanned the brown hillside looking for signs of my buck. I took another deep breath and this time I got choked up and felt a lump starting in my throat. I was scanning the hillside and couldn’t find my buck. My eyes were racing back and forth looking over everything, all I saw was brown grass and sagebrush. I closed my eyes and replayed the entire hunt in my head all the way to the point where the buck took off running.

I started second guessing myself. Did I not see my arrow hanging out of him? Was that just my mind playing tricks on me? I replayed it all again and again. I opened my eyes, calmed my nerves and took another deep breath and scanned the hill again.

There he was, not even 20 yards from where I had shot him. It was one of the most emotional moments I have ever had and not just because I was pregnant. Everything that I had worked for in the past year, all the frustration, preparation, heartbreak and everything else finally came together. I had shot my first animal while solo hunting. Not only was I solo hunting but I was hunting with my bow and I was 7 months pregnant.

I walked up to my buck and was in awe. It was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever experienced. There were so many different emotions mixed into it and I felt relieved.

After thoroughly checking him out, I finally decided to go share my news. I got back in my car and drove to my Dad’s house. I told him I had just shot a nice buck and wanted to get the bobcat to go grab him and hang him in the shop. My Dad looked at me in disbelief, like he was waiting for me to tell him I was just kidding. When I finally convinced him that I really did shoot one, he got his knife and came with me.

After all the miscues, missed stalks and watching the hind end of game Jen gets her buck and what a buck it is.

When we walked up to my buck and I was able to show my Dad, I felt a sense of pride from him that I had never felt before. We got the buck all dressed out and loaded onto the bobcat. I had called Travis and he said he was about 2 hours away to come check out my buck. He couldn’t believe I had shot one either. It was a day I will never forget.

When my son was born in November, I named him Easton. I figured it was a fitting name and it had a story to go with it. A story that he could tell his friends at school. It’s a story that I still love to tell and I get people who think I am absolutely crazy for bowhunting solo while being that pregnant.

After shooting that buck and knowing then what it felt like to hunt solo, I knew it was a new obsession. It lit a fire under me to only become better. To continue to push myself to new levels and see just what I was able to accomplish. It’s a feeling that I don’t think anyone could ever explain and get even close to the actual feeling of. It’s something that you have to experience in order to know what it is truly like.

I did not elk hunt that year while I was pregnant because I figured that was a little too much for being that far along in my pregnancy. Immediately after shooting my buck, I knew that next year, I was going to try to elk hunt alone. But I knew I was no solo hunting expert and I had a lot to learn before then. One thing I did know though was it was one of the most exciting hunts I had ever been on and it gave me the shove I needed to become the best solo hunter that I could be. This was only the beginning!

Solo hunting requires more than just grabbing your bow and hitting the field. In my next article I’m going to cover some of the necessary items you need to have with you when you hunt alone. See you next time.