Dotty Judy doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of the big-game hunter.
She is a grandmother who, as of June, had never shot a high-powered rifle. Still, the Pendleton woman celebrated her 70th birthday in August by bagging a buck antelope while hunting on Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon.
Judy laughs as she describes her journey from neophyte to successful big game hunter.
The journey really began when she moved to Pendleton in 1981 to teach elementary school. A few weeks later, she met her future husband, Cliff, at a 10-kilometer running race in Pilot Rock. Dotty got to talking with the wood products worker, who was also a marathoner and lover of the outdoors. They fell in love, married and formed a blended family of four children and now five grandchildren. Sometimes Dotty would accompany Cliff hunting just to be outside photographing wildflowers and feeling the wind in her hair.
“I did not grow up hunting,” she said. “I knew nothing about it until I met Cliff.”
Dotty, a Pendleton native who had moved away to attend the University of Oregon and start her teaching career, began bow hunting with Cliff about 15 years ago.
“I’ve never been successful,” she said. “I’ve never even been close enough to shoot an arrow.”
Nine years ago, she started applying for antelope, elk and deer tags for rifle hunts but wasn’t successful until this season. In mid-June, Dotty was attending a PEO convention in McMinnville when her cell phone chirped. She saw Cliff’s name on the phone’s display.
“Guess who got a tag,” he said.
Dotty had scored buck antelope and deer tags, while Cliff hadn’t gotten anything. He offered to coach his wife in marksmanship. The couple headed to the woods several times for target practice over the next six weeks. To her consternation, the Ruger 30-06 that Cliff had won in a big buck contest kicked hard into her right shoulder but she gradually acclimated to the feeling.
“I started at 50 yards since it was new to me,” Dotty said. “Then we went to 100 and then 200.”
“She was a fast learner,” Cliff said.
On Aug. 13, they hooked their trailer to their pickup and headed for the Steens. Before the departure, several people had stirred up Cliff’s dander by asking who would actually be pulling the trigger.
“I don’t have the tag,” he answered stiffly. “She’s got the tag.”
The couple marveled anew at the splendor of the Steens when they arrived. They had seen it before, but were freshly blown away. Both had competed in the Steens Rim Run, a high-altitude 10-kilometer race that starts at 7,830 feet and finishes above 9,730.
“We knew the beauty of the area,” Dotty said.
Dotty’s first opportunity came on her birthday, Aug. 20, after they hunkered down under a juniper tree to wait for a thirsty buck antelope to arrive at a nearby watering pond.
“You’ve got to wait until they come to you,” Dotty said. “Their vision is incredible.”
The temperature rose from the early-morning 39 degrees to the mid-90s as the day progressed. They watched hawks on the wing, a blue bunting and jackrabbits and listened to clack of grasshoppers. Jets passed high overhead, slashing contrails into the sky. As she waited, Dotty practiced lifting her rifle from knees to shooting position in one fluid movement.
Cliff locked on a group of antelope with his binoculars. The animals moved quickly, scattering and reforming into a herd in a kaleidoscopic way. Dotty’s blood adrenaline surged when she saw a buck in the group arriving at the watering hole. Her hands shook and she tried to calm herself as she took aim. As she got ready to squeeze the trigger, a pickup truck rattled over a nearby cattle guard and the buck sprang away.
Success wouldn’t actually come until three days later on the seventh and last day of the hunt. Cliff asked Dotty if she wanted to hunt or just pack it in. She wanted to hunt.
About 10 a.m., “I heard a little snort behind us,” Dotty said. A 100-pound buck with 12-and-a-half-inch horns circled around until he came into view by the watering hole. This time, she didn’t waver as she shot him 130 yards away just behind the shoulder. He went down.
Fifty-seven pounds of antelope meat are now tucked away in the Judy’s freezer.
Dotty doesn’t know too many other female hunters. One of her friends afterwards asked if she felt regrets at shooting an animal, but Dotty said she feels peace about the act, knowing the buck didn’t suffer. Feeling remorse, she said, would be akin to feeling guilty when eating a beef steak purchased from the grocery store.
Dotty said the antelope hunt will likely be her last since getting an antelope tag can take 20 years — Cliff is still waiting. So, she will treasure the experience.
“I wasn’t out to prove anything,” she said. “I was just out to do my best.”
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-966-0810.