Wyoming Wildlife - May 2020

First-Hunt Magic

Ayden Fatherree harvested a bull elk during his Super Tag hunt. In 2019 the Wyoming Super Tag hunting license raffles raised more than $1.14 million for wildlife conservation and big game management in Wyoming.

Wyoming's first youth winner of the Super Tag describes his hunting experience

Photos courtesy of Fatherree family
5/8/2020 5:11:45 PM

Ayden Fatherree is no stranger to the outdoors. At 12 years old, the seventh grader from Prairieville, Louisiana, had experience fishing and hunting small game, white-tailed deer and turkeys. But, an unexpected phone call from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department came on July 17, 2019, that set in motion a hunting adventure beyond his wildest expectations.
Ayden  had won the 2019 Wyoming Super Tag Elk raffle. The Super Tag raffle, offered by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, provides the opportunity for 10 winners to pursue one of Wyoming’s 10 premier big game and trophy game species, along with one trifecta winner the chance to hunt three of the species offered.
Ayden’s dream of going on a big-game hunt in the Rocky Mountains became a reality,  and thanks to his grandmother, “Nana”, who purchased a ticket for him when she was applying for his cow elk license. His ticket was one out of 15,950 sold that hit the jackpot, making history as the first youth to receive a Wyoming Super Tag hunting license.
Ayden wrote about how surprised he was to find out about the win:
"When I got out of school, my dad took me to my grandparents’ house so they could tell me about the call from Wyoming Game and Fish. At first, I did not understand what they were telling me. I thought I had drawn a cow elk tag and was very happy. When they explained more in depth what the Elk Super Tag meant, I almost passed out. It was a dream come true."
Preparation for the hunt began almost immediately. The Fatherrees booked a hunt with Bruce Bolli, a guide at Wood River Ranch for mid-October in Hunt Area 63. The carefully-timed hunt coincided with Ayden’s fall break, so he would only miss a few days of school. While waiting for October to arrive, the family filled their weekends with trips to practice shooting his grandpa’s, or Pawpaw’s, 7 mm Magnum rifle. Ayden sighted in his rifle prior to his hunt and practiced shot accuracy. Before the hunt, weekends typically included practicing at the rifle range at various distances. 
“It was about 97 degrees when Nana and I flew out of New Orleans, and only about 27 degrees when we arrived in Cody, Wyoming. My dad and Pawpaw picked us up at the airport, and we made it to the Wood River Ranch a little before midnight.
“We woke up Saturday morning to a blue-bird sky, the great Rocky Mountains and the sound of the Wood River. Mrs. Amy Bolli, the ranch manager’s wife, made everyone breakfast. Then, we met our hunting guide, Mr. Mike Potas, and discussed the upcoming elk hunt and how the day would go.
“Before we left for hunting, we checked my rifle for accuracy. Lots could change after the long trip from Louisiana. I took three shots: one each from 100, 200 and 300 yards. I hit all the targets perfectly. That afternoon, we drove to our hunting area through a few ranch gates. There was snow on the ground when we got to the top of the mountain and started looking for elk. We sat for about 35 minutes before I saw my first elk, a 5-by-5 bull. Seeing this elk made the hunt seem real. We probably saw 12 far-off bulls that afternoon before we headed back to the lodge to form a plan for the next day’s hunt and to eat dinner.”

The next three days followed the same routine: arriving at their hunt area before daylight and watching for bulls feeding in clearings.The hunting party moved to higher elevations where bulls fed in the evenings. Close-encounters with the quarry happened often, including a mature 6-by-6 only a mere 150 yards away. It bolted before Ayden could set up his shot.
"When we woke up Wednesday morning it was very cold, I think 16 degrees. We heard some bugles in the morning, but the big bulls across the valley never came out to where we could see them.
"That afternoon we surprised some elk while driving. As we came over a hill, four bulls crossed a big clearing and the trail about 100 yards in front of us. One of the bulls really stood out to me. It looked like it had a giant pine tree of antlers on top of its head — very tall, very wide and plenty of big points. This was the closest I had been to a really big bull elk. We never saw this elk again, but I will dream about him the rest of my life.
“We hunted a new area that afternoon. We had to hike up a steep mountain. Halfway up I had to give dad my rifle and backpack. Sometimes the rocks under our feet would cause us to slide downhill a few feet. I didn’t think I could make it to the top.
“When we finally got to the top, we stopped to catch our breaths. Then we walked down the ridge for about 15 minutes and started glassing. Later, we crossed the top of the ridge to the other side that overlooked a giant wallowing hole. Mr. Mike spotted a group of bulls below us to our left. We kept watching the big clearing with the wallow and saw a big bull come to it. A few minutes later, two more big bulls came out and started feeding.”

It was likely more bulls were by the wallow. While Ayden’s dad stayed behind, the rest of the group continued their stalk down the mountain.

Ayden walks down a ridge during his Wyoming hunt.
“My heart was about to beat out of my chest. When we finally got within range of the bull, I set up my tripod and was about to shoot when Mr. Mike asked if I was aiming at the bull on the opposite side of the wallow. Thank goodness he asked me, because I had not seen this bull, and he was even bigger than the one in my sights. I adjusted my position.
“As the big bull turned broadside, I shot. The bullet went right over his back. I adjusted my aim. I shot two more times, each time seemed like it would be a perfect hit, but the bull did not react and slowly walked behind some brush. When the bull reappeared, I took one more shot and he disappeared.
“Mr. Mike and I went after the bull not really sure what we would find. Pawpaw went back up the mountain to get our gear. When Pawpaw got to my dad, my dad told him the bull was down, and he knew exactly where it was. Dad and Pawpaw beat Mr. Mike and me to the bottom and led us right to where the bull was lying.
“There were hugs, handshakes, high fives and tears when we all placed our hands on the big 6-by-6 bull. Mr. Mike was just as excited. I was the first youth hunter he guided in his 25 years of being a guide. We took lots of pictures. It was getting dark fast.”

Field dressing the bull lasted until after dark. It was late when the group got to the lodge,and the hunt proved to be tiring for everyone.
“I went to sleep as soon as I lay in bed. When I woke up early, I was super sore. I can only imagine how dad and Pawpaw felt. I grabbed my fly rod and went to the lake to go fishing. It was really hard to catch a fish without a barb on the hook, but eventually I caught cutthroat trout that weighed about 2 pounds. I cleaned it and brought it to Mrs. Amy to put in the cooler. She smoked my trout for dinner, and it was amazing.”
Young hunters like Ayden are the future for hunting and conservation efforts in Wyoming. Game and Fish is dedicated to getting kids outdoors and enjoying the joys Wyoming offers. To help get more youth outdoors, Game and Fish has launched the Inspire a Kid initiative. The Inspire a Kid webpage provides families and kids with ideas of how to get involved in outdoor recreation. The page provides activities, videos, events, recipes and other inspiration for families looking to spend time outside.

— Ayden Fatherree lives in Prairieville, Louisiana and is the first youth winner of a Super Tag.
— Glenn Pauley, Wyoming Game and Fish Department outreach specialist, contributed to this article. 


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