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Fork to Field: Part 1

Posted by Dave Allee on

My friend Ryan is gifted and inventive in the kitchen, and his fascination and love for food is about to go to a new depth—Ryan is planning his first Pronghorn hunt for Wyoming this Fall.  Kind of a fork leading him to the field thing...

Having been on exactly one more Pronghorn hunt than Ryan has, I feel compelled to help get him as ready as possible for this experience.

My 2016 Pronghorn Hunt with my Dad was one of my all-time favorite experiences, and a memory I will cherish a lifetime.  The amount you learn by experiencing something once is significant, although I know enough to know I'm no expert.

For the sake of this article, we are going to assume the starting point of this preparation process is absolutely zero—"born yesterday".

I think it's important to start of by analyzing the motivation for taking on something as complex and significant as a big game hunt.  For me, it was driven by my fascination and appreciation for Pronghorn, and my desire to go through the process of field-dressing something and preparing it for food.

I can't speak to Ryan's motives, but having seen him in the kitchen, it can be safely assumed that the culinary portion of the experience has to rank fairly close to the top of the list.  

Hunting is often misconstrued or misunderstood to be an opportunity for chest-pounding bravado by neanderthal-esque men.  Author and Wild Game Cook, Hank Shaw, compared taking a game animal for food to plucking a carrot from the garden.  In either instance, you are plucking something at the right moment to convert it into nourishment.  Granted, the weight of the moment may strike the hunter much differently than the gardener, but the act carries more similarities than first glance may suggest.

To travel from California to Wyoming is to leave the familiarity of suburban life, where every need is met with immediate availability, and immerse yourself in a wild that still covers most of the Western United States. 

To go afield with a rifle is not a facsimile of a hunting experience, it's embracing the reality of what is required to procure food for the table—a reality that is as beautiful as it is messy.

Ryan will inevitable experience what I experienced two years ago—and hope to experience again—the feeling that embracing the messiness of the hunt leaves you with a deeper appreciation not only of the meals that this individual antelope will provide, but of every meal enjoyed hereafter. 

Studying Your Quarry
I had a two year runway to gear up for my Pronghorn hunt, and as painfully long as it was while we were waiting to draw a tag, it gave me ample opportunity to study our quarry.

Pronghorn may look like a confused member of the Deer family to the casual onlooker, but they share very few behavioral or anatomical traits.

Deer are primarily nocturnal, feeding at sunset and sunrise and bedding down during the heat of the day.  Pronghorn, on the other hand, are not members of the deer family at all.  They are actually members of family Antilocapridae and aren't technically antelope either.  They are born to run.  They run fast, and they sustain their speed over long distances.  They are said to have evolved to be able to outrun the long-extinct North American Cheetah, which is appropriate as they are the second fastest land mammal on earth, trailing only the African Cheetah.

Behaviorally, the biggest difference between a Pronghorn and a Deer is that the Pronghorn sleep at night and are awake during the day—all day.  This will become incredibly evident if you take a drive through Central Wyoming.  You will see tons of Pronghorn.  They hang out in herds, and there seems to be a herd behind every knoll on the landscape. 

During the Fall, when hunting season is taking place, the Pronghorn are amidst their mating season, and you will be privileged to watch bucks corralling their harem, while simultaneously trying to chase off other bucks who come to challenge them.  My Dad and I watched several would-be suitors get chased off by unimpressed alpha males who were more than happy to defend their herd.

The daily routine affects the hunting experience substantially.  When hunting elk or deer, it's a pre-dawn, first-light pursuit.  Antelope is more of a "finish your breakfast first" hunting experience, which in a way is kind of nice. 

The challenge is not so much in laying eyes on a Pronghorn buck, but in getting within range.

To Be Continued...