By: Randy Tucker
My wife likes to describe herself as a “City Girl” from Lusk. That’s Lusk, Wyoming, population 1,500, the biggest city in Niobrara County.
We met 41 years this May and were engaged four days after I first saw her working the register at the local Safeway grocery store, a summer job she took before her first teaching position, a second-grade classroom in Greybull, Wyoming, 308 miles distant. (And yes, I learned it was exactly 308 miles each way before we were married the following June.)
For a 20-something teacher, there wasn’t much in the way of social life in that tiny cow town set on the edge of the Nebraska Plains, but there was plenty to do if you liked dove, turkey, mule deer, and antelope hunting. The fishing wasn’t bad either if you had access to some of the private bass and trout ponds.
Sue lived up to her image as a city girl. She didn’t hunt, didn’t fish, never worked cattle, never fired a shotgun, pistol, or even a .22, had never ridden a horse, and the bounty of the grasslands and broken ridges, dotted with scrub pines and juniper surrounding her home town was foreign to her.
Jump ahead a few decades, and she learned the country life, not by choice, but more of a trial by fire after we moved onto our farm in Riverton. She quickly learned to feed cows, run the squeeze chute when we had to work cattle, and resigned her operating room fixation on household cleanliness to fit a more “organic” rural lifestyle.
She even learned to tow equipment with my truck, a job she still hates.
One year, our son Brian decided mom needed to go pheasant hunting with us.
During the regular season in Wyoming, we worked several of the public habitat areas maintained by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. When Brian was a teenager, then a college kid, we walked the habitat on foot, hoping to flush something by chance.
After he graduated from Dickinson State University in 2009, he found a German Shorthaired Pointer. Samson is a remarkable bird dog, pointing on grasshoppers at six months. He’s almost 13 now and moves a little slower, but he still has the urge to hit the brush.
Sam was in his prime when we decided to take Sue on a pheasant hunt.
The Wyoming season is a short one, usually just the month of November, but there is a nearby game farm with stocked birds that offers hunting opportunities year-round.
We called ahead, purchased 20 stocked birds, and headed east to the tiny hamlet of Lysite, Wyoming.
I had my 16 gauge Stoeger, over-and-under shotgun, Brian took his Remington 870, and we borrowed my dad’s 20-gauge 870 for Sue. We took her target practicing with our sporting clay thrower on the far side of the place, and by the time we were done, she was hitting targets.
On January 1, 2014, we set out on a brisk, 18 below zero morning from Riverton. It was a 60 mile drive to the game farm.
We paid the owners for the 20 birds. They told us which areas to hunt, and which to avoid since they had Angus cattle grazing nearby, and off we went.
We fanned out behind Sam as he worked hard back and forth between us. We set Sue in the middle, and a few yards of Brian and me on the right and left side.
It took Sam about five minutes to lock on the first rooster. We moved Sue up close for a shot, but when the rooster flushed, he was gone before she could draw a bead on it.
We repeated the process a few more times before Sue asked us to just take the shots when the birds flushed off Sam’s point.
Over the next hour, Brian and I combined for 17 birds, Sam flushed one and jumped high in the air, knocking it down and bringing it back to us without anyone firing a shot.
We hoped for a warming trend as the morning progressed, but this was Wyoming: It was 25 below zero at 11 a.m. when we walked back to the truck.
We took 20 birds between us. Sue never took a shot, but she enjoyed the Wyoming scenery, she was fascinated by the pair of owls we spooked, and a couple of coyotes that lurked nearby caught her eye as well.
The coyotes were hanging around for stray birds that we missed, and that were too cold to flush.
We set the heater on high in my GMC 1500HD for the drive home. Sam had a pile of Milk Bone biscuits that he loudly crunched for a few minutes, then he fell asleep on a blanket on the passenger side rear seat.
Sue talked to us for a while, but holding Sam’s head in her lap was a powerful sleeping aid, and she too was sound asleep before we hit the highway 18 miles from our hunting site.
All in all, it was a fantastic morning.
Brian and I ended up eating all the pheasant breasts. Sue referred to them (and still does) as pigeon.
She remains a city girl at heart.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.