By: Randy Tucker

The magic of youth is the combination of confidence and strength that only the strong, young, and clueless can possess. That was my early hunting persona.

As a teenager, I always hunted with older men or my idiot friends. Later, as a college kid, hunting was a social activity. There weren’t many serious hunters at the University of Wyoming, but we managed to find each other.

Those expeditions were epic, and I’d never change them for any other outdoor experience. Going to school in Laramie offered many outdoor adventures you could never find in the Ivy League or along the West Coast. The Snowy Range Mountains beckoned just a few dozen miles to the west, and the Laramie River drainage brimmed with rainbow, brook, and brown trout. The plains in between were filled with ducks, geese, deer, and pronghorn. Yes, I enjoyed college immensely.

After graduation, my first teaching job was in the tiny eastern Wyoming border town of Lusk. Lusk had a deep, diverse history, the epitome of life in the west, but the magic of the seat of Niobrara County was the deer, pronghorn, turkey, and dove hunting.

It was a benefit, a welcome benefit since it was also the lowest paying of all of Wyoming’s 49 school districts at the time.

I taught history and coached football, basketball, and track for three years at Niobrara County High School. During that three-year stretch, I drew a turkey tag for the fall and spring seasons each year.

That’s six big birds, and I took advantage of those tags every time.

In my final year in Lusk, I was a newly married man. My wife Sue and I had joined in holy matrimony the previous June, and it was almost a year later.

I was permitted to hunt private land on the Cheyenne River north of the tiny town.

On an April morning, I parked my truck and set out on foot, following the seasonal drainage of the “river” that would turn into a dry stream bed in the late summer months.

The Cheyenne River drainage was once a heavily homesteaded area. As I walked north along the trickling flow of water, I spotted remnants of many homesteads. They were the forgotten dreams of earlier pioneers who desperately tried to scrap an existence out of the arid high desert. A few of the homes and barns were still standing. I took a break from hunting to explore these forgotten dreams.

Aside from the telltale signs of old glass, glass thicker on the bottom than on the top as gravity forced it to flow like slow-moving water, there wasn’t much value in these old buildings.

I found one with newspapers dated 1939 and 1940 piled in a corner. The headlines were pure gold to a historian: “Germans Invade Poland” and “Japan Advances in Manchuria.” I could almost feel the visceral nature of history come alive.

The history was palpable, but I was out there in the wilds of  Niobrara County to find a big tom turkey.

I continued north along the creek, looking for signs of a turkey. It was everywhere, like in the white droppings dripping along the trunks of cottonwoods where they roosted. It was in the tracks leading to standing water in the riverbed, but I didn’t spot a tom until late in the day.

An hour or so later, the 22-pound tom I took with my Remington 870 12-gauge was memorable.  I made a mental note to return to the area in June when the foliage was in full bloom to see how the landscape had changed with the seasons.

Two months later, the old buildings were much livelier with the cottonwoods, willows, and elms fully leafed out around them, a surprising number of lilac bushes and apple and crab-apple trees had survived as well. A few coyotes and a single badger gave away their hidden positions as I walked up the trail by the river.

Then I saw her. A mule deer doe in distress. She was trying to hide in a willow thicket, but I could plainly  see her.

As I watched the doe for a few minutes, she started to have the contractions I was familiar with watching as a kid growing up on a ranch. She was showing similar patterns to the hundreds of cows I’d watched calve.

I took a seat on a fallen tree about 40 yards away and observed the doe. After a few minutes, a fawn emerged.

Fascinated, I watched as she licked the newly born fawn, removing the covering viscera and nudging the newborn to its feet.

The entire process took less than 30 minutes from the initial visible contraction to the fawn nursing for the first time and then the new mom and baby trotting off on wobbly legs into the surrounding brush.

I walked back to the truck later that afternoon with a new appreciation for the few wild areas left in America.

Wyoming at its best.

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 [email protected].