Hunting at what appears to be the edge of the world is more than surreal, it takes your breath away … but allows you to continue breathing. It’s sensory overload without being so overwhelming that the world as you know it ceases to exist at that moment. It takes days of mornings, work whistles, dog kisses, and mundane trips to the supermarket after to realize how amazing that one hunt was.
The first season I ever hunted was, on paper, easy. I had a slew of New York tags for everything from bear to turkey to deer, but I was only focused on the last. I had tens of thousands of acres to hunt but I only focused on the front fifteen, maybe twenty. I participated in one push, I walked the tree lines, the men of my party believed it to be the “easiest” for me to tackle, I was trotting down a mud road, a toddler could have done it.
I hunted from two stands that first season, one that looked out to the aforementioned dirt road and a quasi-open thicket, and one that resembled the Taj Mahal. If I’m leading you to believe that this was some sort of deer hunting super-structure with turrets, marble pulpits, and inch after inch of priceless artwork adorning the sides, then I’m doing a fair job of describing the monstrosity.
It appeared, at least to my novice eye, that the stand could be seen from space. It was crudely thrown together in a haphazard way, as if the foremen overseeing its construction went to Home Depot and proclaimed to the irritated shop keep looking to lock up, “Put whatever you have left in the cart, I’ll take anything you’ve got!”, and they did.
Three minutes is what it took to climb the seven staircases that led to the zenith, a rickety piece of plywood that wasn’t attached to anything and swayed whenever the lightest of breezes past through it. The tree, a necessary part of a “tree stand” I came to understand, was buckling under the pressure of the massive structure. It called out to me as I took a seat on the rusted patio future strewn about the top, I didn’t make out what the tree said but it looked as if it was dying, slowly turning into what adorned it.
For weeks, I walked to one of the two stands, scaled them, sat, looked around for a while, waited till dark, got down, was escorted by whomever else was hunting back to my Jeep, and went home.
Hunting, I thought then, was easy.
We had heard about the mystical landscape before we moved here. People talked about the Badlands but have never gone, didn’t go near it, or took pictures long enough to show friends back home that they had “been there”. Months, chaotic ones, have passed since we made our move North. We hadn’t carved out time to drive the two hours to the alien landscape- creating and maintaining a life here in Bismarck was at the top of the To Do list.
Friday last, we went on our first deer hunt to an area we had heard was good for deer. Another area that was completely underwater last summer, the acres were rebuilding, save for the miles of water-hewn trees, their still-standing counterparts wearing the insignia of their battle, water marks to their midsections.
Solo hunts were on tap so we kissed as we usually do; I went my way, he went his.
Three hours passed. I happily sat on a log, read a little, and looked around. Starting to feel as if this was the huntress of yesteryear, I got up, started walking. I kicked up a doe, the first deer I had ever seen on any first day of a hunt.
We reunited and walked some more towards the Missouri River. When we reached the furthest point, he said, “I think it’s time to make the trip.”
“The trip, the big one?” I had asked, knowing full well what he was thinking.
He looked into the distance, eyes sheltered from the sun’s rays by his giant hands, and nodded.
Four the next morning, I was awoken by three tails (well two, the little one has a nub) smashing against the side of the wall. Jovial in the way only dogs can when awoken hours after they had gone to sleep, their eyes screamed WE’RE GOING SOMEWHERE, WE’RE GOING SOMEWHERE WITH MOM AND DAD! MOM AND DAD!
Our troop was left sadly for the day and they howled their disappointment as our truck eased from the driveway.
Night became deeper as we fell an hour behind. The flat North Dakota landscape continued to be so. Flat farmland, a flat area adorned with oil pumps, drills. Dickinson rose from seemingly nowhere.
We stopped to get something to drink on the way in. A man in a gigantic truck smashed into the concrete barrier between our truck and the gas pump. He missed us by half a centimeter. His buddy, more concerned for us than his buddy’s lack of driving skills, yelled from the window, “Did he getcha?”
Morning rose and as she stretched, she found us taking in our first glimpses of Badland beauty. Before our eyes, the landscape changed into ancient river beds, dried valleys, towering buttresses, swooping curves, and dazzling colors.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park opened like an envelope for us, inviting us inside to be sent away, to somewhere unlike anywhere else.
We had planned to GPS our location and then walk as far as our hockey and football abused bodies could go. Our phones decided that moment was the best time to lose signal. I, a worrywart by nature, looked to him like a puppy caught in a rainstorm. He shrugged his shoulders, mumbled something about being “fine” and started off. I, agast in his wake, finally got half a bar of signal. I GPSed our site and sent it to his mom with the note, “We’re going off, this is where the truck is, just in case.”
Please check back next week as The Deer Huntress continues her quest for a Badlands muley.
The Deer Huntress writes, hunts, and wears a lot — a whole lot — of camouflage face paint. She has a soft spot for adopted pets, which makes it no surprise that her home is run by three rescues, Dixie, Titus, and Avery. TDH is married to an admitted huntaholic who is refusing treatment and oftentimes is lost for days only to be discovered wearing a ghillie suit. She can be found, with him in tow, surely, at the nearest blind, tree stand or whiskey emporium.