This isn’t so much a hunting story as a story about family, the passage of years, the things that change, the things that never change, and what it all means to us.
In 1972 during one of the Boeing busts my father had to leave Mom and the kids behind and go work in Ohio because there were no jobs in Seattle where we lived. Two years later things got better and he was able to come home. On the way back he stopped in Wyoming to hunt Antelope. For a farm boy from Pennsylvania, this was a real adventure. He shot a small buck (about 8 or 9 inch) with Grandfather’s Savage 99 in 358 Winchester and was totally thrilled. The horns and hide went into the basement chest freezer till there was enough money to pay a taxidermist. 4 months later the freezer croaked and everything in it was ruined. The picture was all that was left, hanging on the wall and fading over the years.
Dad taught me and my brother to hunt and deer season was a family ritual with us. We hunted close to home, in places we knew well, with family and close friends. Many years went by, pictures accumulated on the walls and horns in the garage. Then mom got sick. Dad took care of her, seldom leaving her side, and for the next 7 years did not hunt. Mom passed away in the summer of 2016. Dad was 83 now and I asked him if he thought he had a few more hunting seasons left in him. He thought maybe he did, so I started planning a hunt.
I had enough preference points saved up to draw an antelope tag in a decent unit in Wyoming that had adequate public land access, so that was no problem. I told him we could likely find a bigger buck for him than the one he took back in 74, but he didn’t care much about that. He’d grown up dirt poor on a farm and had always been a meat hunter. That wasn’t likely to change now.
The tag wasn’t a problem, but his knee might be. Dad had a bad knee that he had put off getting repaired while he took care of mom. Time to get that fixed. He got in to the Doc and got the surgery scheduled. It would be done 8 months before the hunt, which would mean he would not be 100% recovered, but the Doc gave him a green light, with some limitations… he couldn’t kneel on that knee, and it probably would not have full range of motion yet. That would present some limitations on shooting position and he couldn’t walk more than a few miles a day, but we figured we could work that out.
Last problem was a rifle. Dad hunted with an old, beat up model 700 with a 4X fixed power scope. He always bragged on how accurate that rifle was, but with a low power scope and cheap factory ammo, how would you ever know? Not the ideal rig for antelope, but Dads shots had always been 100 yards and under, so it had never been a problem. He’s also a lefty, which meant I couldn’t loan him one of my rifles.
He came down to my place in September and brought the old rifle so we could give it makeover and see if we could get it set for the kind of longer shots you sometimes get in antelope country. I scrounged an old Weaver 3X9 I had sitting in the gun safe and we swapped scopes then we worked up some hand loads to test and headed to the range. With the load it liked best, allowing for a called flyer, that old beater of a rifle shot ¾ minute. He was right about that old rifle… and he could still shoot. Mission accomplished, we headed out to Tillamook bay to do some crabbing, which was another thing we hadn’t done in a while. We killed them. Best crab season they’ve had in ten years. There really are few things better than sitting in a lawn chair, eating fresh crab with a cold beer and watching the sunset over the ocean.
In mid-October Dad came down to my place again. He had all the family camping gear in the back of his truck. I had called him the week prior and he had already started packing. In the end, he pretty much brought everything. Nothing had been used in at least 7 years, and some of that gear I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. Lot of memories there. We sorted through everything, weeded it down to what we thought we would actually use and stared driving.
We drove 16 hours straight through, with a stop in Boise to visit my niece who is going to school there. When my brother and I were little, Dad would load us in sleeping bags in the back of the truck with the gear and drive all night to eastern Washington to hunt. Now Dad got to sleep some while I drove. Lots of time to talk about family, old friends, and hunting seasons past. We arrived at Medicine Bow in the morning, gassed up, and headed into our hunt unit to look for lopes.
This late (mid-October) lopes would be forming up into bigger bands and the large bands are hard to get close to. We started looking for lopes in the foothills above the sage flats since the terrain often broke up the big herds into smaller groups and would give us some cover to work close.
Heading up into the hills we spotted a couple bucks that had broken off from a larger band. They were about 400 yards out and wary, but had not bolted. We piled out of the truck to see if the ground gave us any options for a stalk.
Hunting magazines will often give you advice about shooting in wind, but that advice is always about the effects of wind on a bullet. They never seem of offer advice on how to deal with the effect of wind on the shooter. I got out the Kestrel and it clocked wind gusting from 15 to 35mph in random gusts. It’s impossible to hold steady in that unless you can get prone and really hug the ground. It did not look like we’d be able to close the distance without being spotted. Decided to pass on these two.
Driving further up into the hills, we glassed a lone doe and buck in a basin sheltered from the wind. They saw us but did not looked spooked so we kept driving around the shoulder of the ridge and out of sight to where we could double back and try a sneak. Keeping low in the sage, we topped over the ridge looking down into the little basin and started to glass. We spotted our two animals about 300 yards out. Keeping low and moving only when they were looking away from us, we cut the distance to a little over 200 yards and found a big rock that Dad could shoot from without having to stress the knee too much. It was an awkward position, but best available under the circumstances. I got prone over my pack about 15 yards uphill so I could see Dad’s shot impact and provide a follow up if needed. The sound of the shot was whipped away by the wind almost instantly and there was an eruption of snow and dirt in front of the buck and both lopes took off. 200 yards is a long shot for Dad, and the buffeting wind and awkward position blew the shot. Dad was never a trophy hunter, any buck would do for him, and I was not fussy either as this hunt was about family, not inches of horn, but I started to get the idea that getting Dad a shot that was close enough, that he could take from a comfortable position, was going to be harder that I had thought.
This was disappointing due to the miss, but here we were on morning of day 1 and we were already getting shot opportunities, so from that perspective, things were looking good. We decided to look for a place to set up camp. A BLM employee we met on the way in told us there was a BLM campground on the north end of the unit, in the foothills where prairie starts to turn to timbered draws. We headed north toward the campground and Dad insisted I take shotgun in case we ran across a band of lopes we could make a stalk on.
As we climbed north toward the campsite I kept one eye out for lopes and the other on the GPS screen. This unit is about 50% private ground, checkerboarded in with the BLM and state land and you have to get that right. Learned that from Frank years ago and using onXmaps. The lopes seemed to know there were some areas where they would not be bothered. They tended to group up on private ground.
We spotted a group of lopes headed south, parallel to the road, about 400 yards out and on BLM ground. As they passed behind a little ridge, Dad had me bail out and he continued on up the road to where the lopes would see the truck move on. I worked down to a point where, if they continued their course, the herd would come out from behind the ridge and maybe give me a shot. Right on time they started to appear, first a few does and yearlings, then a decent buck. I already had my rear on the ground and the rifle settled on the sticks. The shot broke with the crosshairs just behind the shoulder at a bit over 200 yards.
Years ago, Frank introduced me to Mike Abel (a fine gentlemen and superb shooter) when Mike drew a South Wagontire tag in Oregon, a unit I had hunted with Franks advice the year before. Mike and I have had a few adventures since then (Blacktails, Bunnies, and Rockchucks, oh my!) and Mike coached me a lot on my shooting (thanks Mike and Frank both), so I had no doubt about the outcome of that shot. The buck ran about 40 yards and piled up.
Dad and I took pictures, field dressed the lope, hauled him to the truck, and followed the road 4 more miles to the campground. A couple other groups of hunters were also there (deer and elk hunters) and we found a site near a creek in a little stand of aspen. I did the heavy lifting as far as setting up camp, but as Dad remarked to some of the other hunters in camp, that was only fair since when I was little he got to do all the work.
The campsite had some elevation and was just a mile or two south of the unit boundary we had tags for. From camp, we could watch lopes through the spotting scope. Not our unit, but still really cool.
Just setting up camp felt good. It felt great to be setting up worn old camp gear that I remembered from my childhood. The lantern we’d used for 40 years, digging out the old camp stove and kettle… every gouge and ding in that old gear was a reminder of hunts and time with family many years ago. When I opened up a can of stew to heat up for supper, it looked a bit odd though. I checked the bottom of the can and the stamp said “best if used by October 2010”. Some gear does not improve with age. Fortunately Dad had packed enough non-vintage food to keep us twice as long as we were likely to stay.
Next morning we were out glassing a couple big patches of public ground that seemed to attract lopes. We spotted a band grazing and bedding on a flat, just clear of the sage, about a half mile from the road and thought they might be stalkable given the terrain. Once the road passed behind a little hill, Dad bailed out and I drove on about ¼ mile and stopped to watch the show. Dad followed a little dry wash to close most of the distance and made a slow crouching approach through the sage. Wind was gusting at about 20. He kept getting closer, 200, 150, and I kept thinking “What are you waiting for? Shoot!”. Finally they busted him at about 75 yards and the whole band tore out of there at top speed and trailing dust. Turned out the issue was the knee again. The wind was too strong and gusty to take a standing shot, a kneeling shot was not an option due to the recent surgery, and a sitting or prone shot wasn’t possible due to the height of the sage he was using to cover his stalk. By the time he worked past the tall sage, they had spotted him. We decided that this spot was definitely a draw for lopes and we would try to find a way to ambush a band as they filed down from the hills to graze in the evening.
The afternoon we spend driving and glassing an area the BLM guy recommended on the other side of the highway. Lots of lopes, but they had obviously been hunted hard and the terrain there did not offer much in the way of cover for an approach. Found some really cool geodes and some jasper and agate for my sister the rock hound.
On the way back to camp for lunch and some rest, we stopped to check zero on Dad’s rifle. I dug out a cardboard box for a target and set it up at 200 yards. Dad shot across the truck hood over a folded up coat. Great group. The horizontal stringing was all due to the gusting wind, which almost never stopped in this country.
That evening we were staked out at what we though was a logical funnel for lopes headed from some private land in the foothills to the flat we hunted that morning. With about 30 minutes of light left, we saw a lope headed down and it looked like we might be able to get out in front of him. We got closer, but at the last minute, he started to veer away. Dad took a standing shot over the sticks at about 150 yards, but the lope took off running. We watched him go flat out for half a mile and over a ridge. Did our due diligence and found no blood. Again, the inability to get a good position due to the knee and the gusting wind had blown the shot. Dad was starting to get frustrated, but this was only day 2. Lots of time left.
The next morning we decided to cover some new ground, an area east of Pine Creek that we thought might have a small band or two up some dry washes in the foothills. It had snowed the weekend before our hunt started and many of the bands we glassed every day were big groups. The big groups tend to stay on the flats and have way too many eyes on duty. They are very hard to get close to. Lopes tend to group in to larger herds and get more skittish as winter gets closer.
Following a little dirt 2-track up toward the hills we saw several groups, but all were down on the flats below the hills… private ground. Even these spooked and ran at the sight of the truck while still ½ mile away. Seemed like every day the herds were getting larger and harder to approach. We headed back toward the main (gravel) road to get some rest at camp and work out a plan for the evening hunt. It was only day 3, but the big herds, lateness of the season and that constant high wind had us feeling much less confident.
As we were crossing several big blocks of private ground we approached a dry creek bed and saw a small band of lopes coming up out of it toward us. I glanced down at the GPS and was surprised to see there was an odd shaped ¼ square of BLM land right in the middle of the ranch land and we were right in the middle of it. I stopped the truck, Dad piled out, and I got out the binoculars to watch. He kept low in the road cut and got a bit closer as the lopes filed out of the creek bed. The herd just piled up there, about 100 yards away from him, and milled around, seeming not sure what to do. There was one good buck in the bunch, about 10 does and maybe 5 yearlings. Trouble was there was a doe standing right in front of the buck and a doe and yearling right behind him. There was no shot with the does and fawns in the way, and if the herd bolted and ran he’d never get a shot. Dad settled the rifle on the sticks and waited. I watched through the binos for what was probably a minute or two but seemed like much longer. I won’t say I heard angels sing… but the wind died down and the buck took two steps forward. Only the bucks front quarters and neck were in the clear, but Dad was under 100 yards and had good position. I heard the report of the rifle and the buck dropped like a puppet with the strings cut. Dad had his second lope on the ground, 43 years after the first one.
This is a great story written by David aka “Average Joe”! It is about the love of hunting, success and making new friends! Bwana Bubba
Average Joe tries a Smoke Pole
After last year’s Antelope trip to Wyoming I decided to keep it close to home this year and try to take a nice Blacktail. This is not as easy as it sounds – these deer are not known as timber ghosts for nothing. I’ve taken a couple of forkhorns in the past, but nothing bigger than that. Any buck that made it past his first rifle season is a cagey customer, sticking to the thick stuff and mostly nocturnal – except during the rut.
Bubba hunts as an archer and a fair part of his season is during the rut, but us rifle hunters are out of the woods well before that. Except… turning to the Oregon Tag Guide, there are a couple of black powder rut hunts in southern Oregon that do not take a dump-load of points to draw. Also, a couple years ago Bubba introduced me to a Mike, who lives down in that area and might be willing to help me get my bearings.
First step was to get a proper rifle for this hunt. I settled on a Knight Bighorn, the version that is OR and WA legal meaning it has exposed ignition, no shotgun primers, no pellets, and iron sights. This was a pretty easy choice as it is stainless / synthetic so it will handle wet weather and has a crisp light trigger with no creep, but the double safety is a bit… different. I had it CeraKoted to make it extra waterproof. The notch and blade sights proved problematic as I’m almost 50 and my eyes are not what they were. This problem was solved with a Williams peep sight. Time to hit the range!
This rifle did not like round balls. Past 50 yards the accuracy went off the rails. I’m told this is because a 1/26 twist is meant for slug and not ball. Fortunately Thompson maxi hunters shot well in it. I got it sighted for 75 yards and put a fair bit of time into practicing from field positions to the point where I knew what I could hit and and from what positions out to 100 yards, which was about my limit without a scope.
I talked to the area USFS biologist and he was kind enough to send me a map with some of his suggested areas circled. Common theme – South facing slopes with benches. This being a late November hunt, chances were that many deer would already be concentrating on their winter range.
Mike knew some great places to hunt in this unit and not only offered to scout it with me but was willing to go along on the hunt if his work schedule allowed for it. Mike is a fine gentleman who not only knows the area extremely well but he is also experienced at hunting thick brushy country and is a world class marksman. He and his wife Cristine even offered to let me stay at their place during scouting and hunting trips. They are wonderful people and I can’t thank them enough.
In early October we hit the road to scout and over two days covered over 200 miles of gravel roads and trails. We saw few deer, but the biologist had told me not to expect them to be in the lower elevations until mid-November. We marked 6 places that looked encouraging on the GPS. Mike explained to me his method for rattling in Blacktails. I had heard about this but never seen it done. Would this really work? I sensed Mike might be a bit skeptical about black powder gear (big slow bullets, iron sights and over a minute to reload). I have seen Mikes skill as a hunter firsthand and could see he was confident – I just hoped I could hold up my end when the time came.
The week before I was headed down to hunt, Mike and Cristine put out some trail cams in an area we had marked as promising. They saw lots of does while putting out the cams and one nice three point was on camera when they picked them up a few days later.
Saturday morning had us headed down off a USFS road, down into some oak draws leading to an open meadow in a creek bottom. We set up back into the oaks and got comfortable and Mike went to work. He checked the wind with his bottled smoke – very squirrely wind, changing direction frequently. Then he got out some big shed antlers and started crashing and banging them together, digging up the ground with them, and thrashing the foliage. Then he would give a few grunts on a grunt call and do some more banging and thrashing and then give it a 15 minute rest before doing it again.
After the second set, Mike spotted a deer headed down the hill toward us. A little spike wondering why there was a party and he was not invited. He hung up about 30 yards out trying to figure out what we were. I had already decided not to settle for anything less than a 3 point, so we watched him circle around us through the brush and finally head out after we assume he winded us. I’ve never seen a deer come running TO noise in the woods before. Mike was making a believer out of me real fast.
FYI, these deer are hard to spot in late November as everything in these oak savanna’s is more or less deer colored that time of year. Mike spots them right away but it takes some getting used to if you are used to different county.
After another 20 minutes at that spot we moved a few draws north and set up again. Again with the thrashing and grunting. After about 30 minutes Mike whispers to me “Deer coming in behind me”. Sure enough, a buck has been heading down the hill toward us. He hung up at about 45 yards, behind a little rise, a fat 3 point staring right at us but not sure what we are yet. I shifted sideways and back through the brush trying to get a clear shot past the grass / brush obscuring his lower chest and the Madrone branches in front of me. He is facing directly at us, which doesn’t allow much of a target and an offhand shot is the only one the terrain allows.
I got steady on him and pulled the trigger and CLICK! I had forgotten to take off the second safety. I re-cocked the rifle, got steady again, and this time got the satisfying BOOM and cloud of white smoke. Through the cloud of smoke, the buck dropped without taking another step.
We took a minute (and then some) to reload before approaching to examine the buck. He was very pretty and symmetrical and the nicest Blacktail I’ve had the good fortune to take. Mike has totally sold me on this method of hunting.
We got the buck dressed out and the meat and head loaded in the packs for the climb back up to the road.
The bullet had entered high in the front of the chest and there was no exit wound so after we had dressed out the buck Mike went hunting for the bullet. Following the wound channel, he found it had gone lengthwise through one lung, raked along the bottom of the spine, and came to rest behind one of the rear hip joints. After going through 36 inches of deer, the slug retained 270 out of 275 grains and had expanded to almost an inch.
This was one of the most fun hunts I’ve been on. It was a great combination of beautiful country, magnificent animals, learning new techniques, and spending time with good friends. I’m planning to save my deer points for a couple years and do this hunt again. Mike seemed to enjoy this late black powder hunt and hopefully Mike and Cristine will put in for the same tag and we will all hunt together next time. David K.
Introduction on this story written by David K, aka DAK is the second on Antelope – Pronghorn, one being in 2010 on hunting in Oregon! David is CFO for a major Oregon company! CFO’s are like engineers and they are of course very analytical about everything, such as equipment and how they go about life. My years of observation with buyers of RV’s or Sporting Goods has lead me to Dogma ! They have to do the Research! So enjoy a real story from the “AVERAGE JOE” Cobra
Back in 2010 my brother and I (with lots of advice from Frank) hunted antelope in Oregon’s South Wagontire unit. It was a fantastic hunt and a great experience and we decided we just had to hunt antelope again soon. The only problem was the 10+ years it takes to draw a tag in Oregon. We started planning a trip to Wyoming.
My family has always hunted close to home. As a kid, my father rarely hunted more than a few miles from the farm he grew up on. Out-Of-State hunts were things that Eastman and Capstick and O’Connor wrote about in magazines. My family’s hunting trips, if told honestly, sounded more like they were written by Patrick McManus, or Jeff Foxworthy. But, that never discouraged us before and it was not about to this time. We had a great time and learned a lot that will help us plan future trips. In the hope that some of our experience might be helpful to other ambitious antelope hunters (and because Frank again gave me some advice that turned out to be golden) I’m passing this story on to him to pass on to all of you…
Note: I got a fantastic buck in 2010 and had decided any mature buck would be what I was after. My brother Brian had never hunted lopes but had studied them as a biologist. Brian is a bit of an artist at heart and for him the experience of the hunt is a kind of art. For him a B & C buck shot from the roadside would not be as meaningful as a small buck skillfully stalked in beautiful country.
Step #1 – Getting the tags. This is surprisingly confusing! Wyoming antelope tags are either “Any Antelope” or “Doe” tags. Both of these have early and late season tags (4 possibilities). These have “Special” draws (the tag costs more) and a “Regular” draw (8 options). Each of these 8 options will have varying draw difficulties depending on the unit. Once we figured all this out (not easy) we were able to put in for a “Special, Late, Buck” tag in a unit with good public land access and high draw odds.
Additional administrivia – In Wyoming if you were born before 1964, you have to have a hunter safety certificate. You also have to have a “Resource License” in addition to your tag. According to the local game warden these are things out-of-state hunters often miss.
Step #2 – Get good maps. Frank advised me to get the Wyoming Plat Map for my Garmin GPS. This shows the ownership blocks in addition to all the usual Topo Data and will jack into the computer so it can be viewed on a big screen.
Step #3 – Use the maps to figure out where in the unit to hunt. Most Lope country in Wyoming is checkerboard private and BLM land. You can only access the BLM land where public roads touch it and much of it is “landlocked” The Topo maps showed some good big blocks of contiguous BLM land in parts of this unit. The local game warden told me to sign up for the HMA’s. These are Hunter Management Areas where the private landowners grant hunter access for those who sign up and agree to follow the ranch rules. These HMA’s can be a few small blocks or 80 square miles, but you have to sign up for them online ahead of time.
So, we had tags, maps, a game plan, and 9 days to get it done (5 hunting days with 2 days travel each way).
Step #4 – Life gets in the way, deal with it… A few days before the hunt Brian (my brother) finds out that his girlfriend’s mom’s boyfriend has passed away and the funeral is Saturday. His girlfriend also has an appointment in Portland the Monday after the hunt and he will need to driver her there on Sunday. Two days gone and the window is narrowing but we still have time for a good hunt.
Saturday evening after the service we get the camper shell mounted on Brian’s truck and find out the lights don’t work (mechanical difficulties have always figured prominently in our mis-adventures so this is no surprise). After a few trips to the hardware store we have it fixed and are on the road. Brian tells me his girlfriend’s Uncle Joe who came to the service had a nasty cold and he’s hoping he doesn’t come down with it. We head east and, of course, he is coughing and sneezing before we hit Spokane.
We got as far as the Montana border before we had to pull over and sleep Saturday night. We drove all day the next day (Brian coughed, sneezed, dripped and went through two boxes of Kleenex and a multitude of cold meds but he is tough and takes his hunting seriously) and by 10:00 Sunday night had reached the northern edge of our hunt unit.
Lesson #1 – Allow a full two days for the drive or you will miss some beautiful country and start your hunt already tired.
Got up Monday morning and headed into one of the big blocks of BLM land. Once you get off the highway the two-tracks that go through this BLM land are pretty rutted out and can turn to soup when it rains. Everything was dry, but we didn’t want to push the truck too hard with a camper shell on top.
The BLM blocks had lots of Lopes. We must have counted 50 in just 5 hours of hiking. Three looked like decent bucks but all these animals were hyper alert and very skittish. We saw a couple hunter’s camps in the distance and all the two-tracks had seen ATV traffic.
Lesson #2 – For the best hunting, find places the ATV’s can’t go or are not allowed too go. The biologist had told me the same thing – get away from the ATV’s.
The wind in Wyoming is fierce. During our whole trip it blew almost all the time at anywhere from 20 to 40MPH. I had expected wind, but this was unreal. Blowing dust, OK. Blowing sand, still OK. But blowing gravel was something I had never experienced. This wind has all kinds of implications for how you hunt and the kind of gear you bring.
Lesson #3 – Plan for high winds, they affect EVERYTHING.
We headed to the southern end of the unit to hunt one of the HMA’s where no ATV’s are allowed.
On the way we probably saw another 100 or so antelope from the county road. I turned on the Garmin GPS with the Plat Map. Most of these animals were on private blocks, but some were on public land that had enough cover for a stalk but they were mostly younger bucks and we had just started to hunt. A GPS with the Plat Map that tells you EXACTLY what is and is not public land opens up huge areas that can’t otherwise be hunted without the risk of a trespass issue. These checkerboard lands often hold less pressured animals because ATV’s don’t go there (a one square mile block is not enough space to make deploying the 4 wheelers worthwhile). Thanks for the advice on the maps Frank.
On the way to the HMA boundary we noticed a lone doe on the other side of the fence that paralleled the road. She was running in circles about 200 yards ahead of us and acting nuts. Then we saw her fawn, also about 200 yards ahead, and on our side (the wrong side) of the fence. We had just driven past the gap in the fence and the two of them were separated. We backed up 500 yards, but neither of them would come back to the fence gap. We figured the only option was to get up some speed and blow past them and the fawn could work his way back then. As we approached the fawn, he crossed the road in front of us and started to run parallel about 50 yards off the road and ahead of us. Brian pushed the gas till the meter read 45 MPH and the potholes just about shook the truck apart and that fawn kept pace with us for the next mile till we hit another fence line and he circled back to join mom. This fawn was all of 5 months old.
Once in the HMA we saw two big groups of 20+ animals which looked to hold a couple mature bucks. They were a mile or so off when we spotted them and if we had not had just a couple hours of daylight left we would have tried a stalk. We decided to come back the following morning and see if we could locate one of these bands again.
Following a county road back to town, just at dusk, we spotted another small band that had a buck in it. They were following a fence line toward a waterhole to the south and would cross the road ahead of us if they continued. The Garmin GPS showed them to be on public land. In the low light I couldn’t get a good idea of the buck’s horns, but he had a dark cheek patch, heavy bases I was sure about, and was a big bodied animal. Brian stopped the truck and I decided to have a go at him.
I bailed out and worked into a position where they would pass by at about 250 yards which was a distance I had practiced at. I got seated, put the rifle on the bog-pod and let them get a little closer. Based on the estimated wind speed and direction I figured about a foot of hold off. Just as the shot broke, a sudden gust pushed me off by a good 2 feet (fortunately forward of him and a clean miss). Even sitting from a bi-pod the gusts were nasty enough to affect aim severely, see Lesson #3.
I figured they would blow out of there like scaled cats. Their reaction was exactly nothing. They stared in my direction and in the dim light I don’t think they knew exactly what I was. My dad taught us when you fire a shot you have to assume a hit and you are committed to finish what you started. At the next shot the buck hunched up and staggered showing he was hit hard and then he lay down with his head still up. The does were still staring but did not run even now. My third shot rolled him over. I had no clue why they had not run at the first shot, but my tag was filled.
Antelope are beautiful animals and I’ve always thought their horns were elegant and graceful. As Brian and I approach this animal I discovered he was possibly the ugliest antelope I’d ever seen. This was an old buck with stained and worn teeth who was more than a few years past his prime. He was big in the body, with a broad, scarred nose from fighting over does. His horns were heavy and gnarly at the bases, but the tips were chipped and splintered and the prongs were broken and abraded back almost to the main beams. This old boy was too old to win his fights and not smart enough to know it. I think this was a cool trophy in a different way and I was pretty happy about it.
We got him dressed out and in game bags. We stowed these on top of the camper for the night to let the wind cool them. Field dressing an animal in a 30 mile wind is a huge hassle, see Lesson #3. By the time we finished it was late and we decided to camp right there and make a plan in the morning. Brian coughed and sneezed all night in spite of the cold meds.
In the morning we decided to hunt back through the HMA and head back to town and see if we could get some dry ice to keep the meat cool. We spotted two bucks, one of them nice, on a block of public land off the county road. Brian bailed out and I drove on about a half mile to where the truck was out of sight, grabbed my spotting scope, and got to the top of a small rise to watch the action.
The Lopes were about 700 yards from where Brian bailed out and there were some deep gullies leading in their direction. Brian used the gullies to get within 300 yards and crawled through the sage to work closer. He got within 200 yards, took a bead on the larger of the two, and decided he wanted to get closer. At 190 yards they busted him and blew out. 200 yards is a make-able shot for Brian. I suspected this stalk just wasn’t the sort of hunt, the sort of memorable experience, that he had in mind and later he admitted as much.
For my father, hunting was about putting meat in the freezer and I often find myself thinking that way. Over the years I’ve come a good ways towards seeing it the way Brian does.
Moving into the HMA, we spotted one the bands from the day before. They were bedded on a bench on the other side of GW creek from the road about a mile away. Just seeing the truck stop to glass made them nervous and they started to work away from us toward some knobs on the low ridge above them to the north. There was at least one mature buck in the group. I thought our odds of catching up with them were pretty slim, but this was the hunt Brian was looking for and he thought we could do it.
We drove 2 miles further up the road and parked. Brian’s plan was to head north, cross GW creek and climb the ridge on the other side, then work our way west toward the knobs they had been headed for. He thought that if they hadn’t totally blown out, they might be feeding and bedding behind the knobs out of the worst of the wind.
In the creek bottom we discovered an old mining claim. I don’t know what they were mining for but the tailing’s had lots of red, orange, and pink Jasper. We pocketed some of the prettiest pieces for our nieces. We also discovered this country has lots of prickly pear cactus in spots. This stuff grows low to the ground, is well camouflaged, and has needles 1-1/2 inches long. It can make a stalk very painful in country where there is no good cover and you have to crawl to get closer.
The wind really started to howl as we crested the ridge and worked our way west. Brian’s nose would drip and the wind would pick it up and blow it back onto his glasses so he had to wipe them off regularly. The guys who write articles for hunting magazines never mention this kind of stuff.
Coming up around the shoulder at the base of the first knob I saw the backs and ears of lopes feeding just over the crest of a shallow rise on the other side of a very shallow wash. I grabbed Brian (who saw them just about then) and we hit the dirt.
Brian stripped off his day pack and crawled on hands and knees down into the wash and up the rise on the other side while I fished out my camera (with good zoom) and took pictures. As he neared the top of the rise he went down on his belly and scooted forward on toes and elbows, 4 inches at a time, till he could see the lopes. He stripped off his binos so they wouldn’t scrape on the ground as he crawled forward. His hat kept trying to blow off his head and go sailing across the prairie toward Sheridan (which would probably have spooked the antelope). He belly crawled the last 50 yards.
There were a dozen does and 2 young bucks, one of which looked respectable, but no sign of the larger buck yet. But, every little wrinkle of terrain in county like this can hide animals. Brian took a bead on the bigger of the young bucks but just then noticed the back of an animal with his head down feeding down the next wash off to his left. Might this be the larger buck? Just then the young buck put his head up and stared hard at Brian. On his belly, he would not have looked like a person or a predator, but he did look like a strange lump on the ridgeline that was not there before and might possibly have moved. The smaller buck and a doe stared at him also and he figured he’d better take the shot now. Just then the larger buck fed out into the clear. Brian took him with one perfect shot at about 100 yards. From where I was laying about 150 yard away the sound of the shot from Brian’s 30-06 was little more than a muffled pop. The wind just whipped the sound away. Another mystery solved. The buck I took didn’t react at the sound of the first shot because he barely heard it over the 35 MPH wind. Brian’s buck was a beautiful animal with long hooks and graceful curving prongs and the stalk and the country were classic.
We got his buck dressed and caped and packed it three miles back to the truck. In addition to the GPS Plat Map, another piece of gear that was really golden was the “Just One” pack. It is one of those wing style packs that folds down to a low riding day pack but when the main compartment is expanded will let you add 4 quarters, backstraps’, and a cape and head very comfortably.
Brian sneezed and coughed and went through 2 boxes of Kleenex on the way home and somewhere near Billings the grill over the camper’s refrigerator service port was torn off by the wind and went sailing away. These things happen to Average Joes so we don’t start thinking we are Eastman or Capstick or O’Connor. But, even those guys would have approved of how Brian got his antelope. DAK aka David
David and I had many email contacts, he bought a Garmin GPS, came by and I marked maps. He made the trips to South Wagontire to scout all the hotspots and said he had a great time and lots of buck lopes. I feel that David made it one of the great hunts, with friends and family.
First a confession: I read a lot of hunting magazines, Easton’s Hunting Journal, stuff like that. Those articles are about umber-hunters, alpha predators who know their game and their craft. Every season for them is the kind of adventure guys like me dream about. Average Joes like me respect and admire those hunters, but even though we would sometimes like to, we are never going to be those guys. This year I wanted to see if an Average Joe could have an adventure like that, but home-grown, without guides or out-of-state tags.
I had enough points to draw for Antelope and this appealed to me for family reasons. 35 years ago during one of the Boeing busts my father had to leave the family behind and go work in Ohio because there were no jobs in Seattle where we lived. Two years later things got better and he came home. On the way back he stopped in Wyoming to hunt Antelope. For a farm boy from Pennsylvania, this was a real adventure. He shot a small buck (about 8 or 9 inch) with Grandfather’s Savage 99 in 358 Winchester and was totally thrilled. The picture is still on the wall of his home in Naches, Washington. The horns and hide went into the basement chest freezer till there was enough money to pay a taxidermist. 4 months later the freezer croaked and everything in it was ruined.
Dad was never one to complain and these things can and do happen. Five years later he drew a goat tag and shot a Billy with 10 inch horns which made an impressive mount. Still, I very much wanted to see a Lope hang on his wall.
My first step was to search for some advice from somebody who knew what they were doing and I was fortunate enough to find Frank’s website. After I explained what I wanted to do he helped me figure out
1. What unit to put in for
2. GPS model suitable for a novice
3. Choice of rifle and round
Frank also shot me some GPS data on areas in that unit that he knew would be good bets. He even took a lunch hour from work to sit down with me a go over maps and talk about tactics and how to judge horns. I was advised repeatedly to hold out for a mature animal and not settle for the equivalent of a spike or fork-horn, which is what most hunters do. Franks info was gold and his advice was dead-nuts-accurate. Thanks Frank.
I kept pretty good notes on the scouting and hunting trip both. If this was an article for Eastman’s Hunting Journal it would be titled “Average Joe Hunts Antelope”.
Scouting Trip July 30 –
Got up VERY early. Waterhole 1.0 is about 1 ½ mile from the road and waterhole 1.2 is another mile further past that. Since we suspected the wind would come in from the north again, we fumbled around in the dark till we found a good hide on the top of the rimrock to the south of the waterhole. There were a few high puffy clouds so we should not get stupid hot like yesterday. Got up early and got on 1.0 before light. The GPS is a huge help and got us to our hide in total dark without a problem. I was too pumped to sleep last night and was very tired.. Met Brian and Dad in Madras and headed south again. First stop was the waterhole the satellite picture showed near our core area. This turned out to be a near perfect setup with high ground and cover overlooking it. Only trouble was there appeared to be zero Lope tracks at the water, just a few coyote prints. This hole was surrounded by sage and I wonder if the lopes don’t hang out in the sage unless pressured on the open grasslands. In the morning there was a buck watching us from about 600 yards out. He is probably 10 or 11 inches but not much mass and skinny cutters. This is the kind of buck most hunters take but Frank says to pass on. In the morning as we were munching granola bars and Costco muffins and getting ready to explore some of Franks waypoints the packrat hops out onto the top of the truck engine (the hood was still up from the prior night rat hazing attempts). He is about the size of a big squirrel with very hand-like front paws and a furry tail, but otherwise looks just like a very big rat. He jumps onto the left fender, from the fender to the left side view mirror, from the mirror to the dash, runs across the dash, jumps to the right side view mirror, from the right mirror to the right fender, and, I swear, flips us off before diving back into the engine compartment. Dad and my brother Brian drove south from Naches to scout with me and I met them in Madras. Dad is pushing 80 now and won’t be doing much hiking, but will drive and glass from the high points while Brian and I do the walking. Brian is a biologist and worked for a few years studying coyotes and sage grouse at Hart Mountain. He has never hunted Antelope but is familiar with their habitat and is better at spotting distant animals than anybody I know.We stopped in Silver Lake for gas and lunch. A couple guys at the diner heard us talking about Lope hunting and mentioned they had seen animals over near P—– Basin.
We drove east through Christmas Valley and saw 8 does in the irrigation pivots with a small buck. Past the town we went south on P—– Basin Rd. There is lots of country, but not much water this time of year; at least that we could see. Just south of V—– Butte there were some stock pond by the road and a very heavy horned buck jumped off one of the holes, crossed the road in front of us and raced through the sage up and over the shoulder of the butte. It is absolutely amazing how fast they run without seeming to make any effort.
Joining up with Hwy 395 we went south and then cut west to the area Frank had given me GPS data on. We drove through the Seeding that Frank had marked and saw two young bucks (the bigger one probably 9 inches) feeding in a dry lake bed maybe 400 yards from the road.
Further south we met two coyote hunters coming back to camp. They were using small (and very quiet) dirt bikes to cover long distances and rough roads. They said they had seen two nice bucks a few miles further south but the road there was a real goat path. They had been seeing the same two animals almost every day and thought they bedded in the seeding above and went to the lake for water. The maps show no springs or even topography that would lead to them so this makes sense.
As it got toward evening the Jackrabbits came out. We must have counted a hundred in just the hour before dark. They seem to frequent the border between the sage and the crested wheat grass in the seeding areas. They must be feeding in the grass at night and taking cover in the sage during the day.
We found a place to camp for the night near a gate with a couple of rock jacks holding up the wire fence. Pulled out cots and sleeping bags and slept out. Great to fall asleep to clear sky and lots of shooting stars.
About midnight Brian woke up to the sound of something scrabbling around the engine compartment of the truck. Looks like we had attracted a packrat that had taken home. He popped the hood and hunted around with a flashlight and the noise stopped. 5 minutes after he got back in the bag it started up again. This went on all night.
July 31 –
Driving back toward the main road we saw the two small bucks from yesterday watching us from 800 yards or so out in the sage. They were not far from where we saw them the night before. According to everything I have been reading, lopes are creatures of habit and don’t move far if not pushed.
Going west we saw 10 lopes in a dry lake bed maybe ¾ mile away. We thought one was a buck but it is hard to tell. One thing I am learning is that when you combine flat(ish) land, long distances, and hot weather, the high powered spotting scopes are not much good – everything is blurred by heat mirage. They saw us though. They got nervous being watched and headed out over a ridge to the west.
Next we checked out one of Frank’s marked waterholes (call this one #2). There was still water in it at the end of July. Brian says these big holes are dozed out and lined with Bentonite clay to prevent the water from seeping away into the ground. The dry part of the lake bed had green forbs and dry Pepperweed that the lopes like to feed on. The waterhole had seen lots of lopes based on the tracks, and wild horses as well. 12 of them were watching us form about 600 yard out, a group led by a big black male. They won’t come to water with us there and eventually headed off to the southeast. This must mean that the “possible” waterhole the map shows in that direction still has water. From the image on Google Earth it looks much like #2 and is to the southwest of Frank’s other marked waterhole (we marked Frank’s second waterhole waypoint #1.0 and the possible #1.1 and #1.2.
#1.0 is our next stop. It is about 1.5 miles from the road and appeared to have water still (though it is hard to tell due to the shallow angle and heat mirage. The terrain hides #1.1 and #1.2 from view. It was starting to get warm so we decided to head down toward the head of the lake and see if the lakeshore road was passable. We got about 4 miles down the road before it got bad. Very deep erosion ruts and patches of soft loose sand. We decided getting stuck was not worth it and we were running short on gas anyway. We headed back to hwy 395 and went south down the lake shore. At the end of the lake in a pivot there were 15 lopes with one nice buck. Heavy horns but one of them was deformed and cocked to the side. I don’t know who owns these farms or where you would ask permission to hunt. There seem to be no farmhouses, just barns and tractor garages.
We drove north to Paisley for gas and Gatorade. Late July here can get seriously warm in the afternoon. Does anybody know what the ODFW was thinking when they set the season at the third week of August? Other states do not do this.
They guy at the gas station said to try up near the “Paisley Airport”. There is BLM land that borders the pivots and the lopes move back and forth. We took a drive out to the border between the BLM and pivots. We saw three bucks in the pivots; two of them looked fair to decent. Whether they go up into the sage on the BLM land I don’t know. We decided to ask at one of the ranch buildings on the land.
The lady at the cafeteria building told us the AG land here is all owned by the XLZ Ranch which is owned by Simplot Corp and their HQ is in Boise. We are free to ask for permission to hunt but we won’t get it. The company gets Landowner Preference tags which they reserve for their executives and executives of companies they do business with. “Figures”. We decided to pass on hunting anywhere near the pivots. The maps are not real precise and I don’t need a trespass issue. Anyhow, hunting in a hay field does not seem near wild and adventurous enough, even for an Average Joe.
On the way back to camp we saw two animals in the far distance north of the dry lake bed we saw the animals at in the morning. Think they were bucks but they were way out there. Also as we approached camp we saw 10 does on the ridge top to the east.
Brian and I took a walk down to the dry waterhole where we saw the two bucks the other night. There are several scrapes and they seem to have been eating the Pepperweed and bunchgrass. In the sand at my feet I noticed a scattering of obsidian flakes. I have done some flint knapping (Brian is really good at it) and the bulbs, waves, and ridges on these flakes are unmistakable – 500 or 1000 or 5000 years ago another hunter stopped here to make a stone knife to dress his kill or maybe replace a broken arrowhead and then continued on with his hunt. “Very cool.”
We found a place to park away from any rimrock or rockjacks (which we suspect are packrat havens) and got out the cots and bags for the night. The place we picked has a distant view down to waterhole #1.0.
August 1 –
Brian and I took a walk cross country to a distant ridge that we hoped would give us a view from above down to waterholes 1.1 and 1.2. 1.1 looked to be dry but still a lot of green vegetation so it has not been dry long. 1.2 still had water (at least we think so) and we saw 5 animals watering there but could not see much detail due to distance and heat mirage. Hiking back to the truck we saw 8 lopes had come in to water at 1.0
We think we have a game plan now. We will come back the Friday before the opener and walk in to 1.0 and 1.2 and locate good hides. Before dawn on opening day we will walk in and set up. It is getting warm now and Brian and Dad have a long drive home so we headed out.
On the way out we met another truck out scouting Antelope. This guy turns out to be a guide named Brian Dewey. He told us our plan seemed to be a sound one. He had a blind set up on another waterhole about 5 miles to the east and planned to be on it with a client opening day. He said after the opener the lope bands will be pushed and move about and may be hard to approach, but will still need to go to water. After being pushed some, they will settle into their old routines in a few days. With fewer than 40 tags for the whole 1200 square mile unit they will not be pushed too hard. He said the mature animals this year seemed to be running 13 to 14 inches with only fair mass.
In they next two weeks I updated my paper maps and went over the area in Google Earth looking for water holes that were of the size and shape of the ones that we had found still held water. Found one additional one near the core area we planned to hunt and several others between 5 and 10 miles away. These would be backup if we did not see good bucks in the core area.
Also made a final trip to Douglas Ridge rifle range and verified the ballistic hash marks on my scope are correct. 200 yards is dead on, 300 is the first mark and 400 are the second. Everything looks good.August 13 – Day before opener
We then walked in to waterhole 1.0. Tracks showed heavy use. Lopes approach this hole from all directions based on the trails. Wind is from the southwest, which is typical, so we located a spot about 175 yards east of the water that had a good shot position and marked it on the GPS.
Headed for waterhole 1.1 next! We came in sight of it over a gentle rise in the prairie and Brian spotted a lope there. We got low and crawled in another 50 yards or so to take a look as it was a buck and he had not seen us. We got to within maybe 250 yards, close enough to get a good look. Nice buck. Not a lot of height, but very heavy horns. We backed out without ever getting close enough to see whether there was water.
Next we headed for 1.2 since we had seen animals there while scouting but never got in to take a close look. There is a shallow swale leading down to 1.2 from the west and we tried to keep low and approach from the nearby sage to break up our outlines in case there were lopes there. We see a herd coming west up the swale. I think they winded us but are not really panicked and did not see us. There are about 15 does and one buck. The buck is a lot like the lone animal we saw on 1.1, but maybe not as heavy.
We waited till the herd moved off and was well out of sight over the next ridge and walked down to 1.2. It is smaller than 1.0 but well used and has lots of tracks. Approach is limited to the east and west as it is walled by steep rocky slopes on the north and south. We find what looks like a good hide in the rimrock to the north and mark it on GPS.
We circled wide to the east of 1.0 so as not to spook the herd from 1.2 if they had gone there. Brian spotted 5 lopes to the east of us in some sage pockets among the wheat grass. Too far to see if any are bucks. Also saw a coyote headed for 1.0. He crossed in front of us at 100 yards. We got back to the truck 30 minutes before sunset.
Plan is to be hidden on 1.0 before daylight. If nothing comes in, we will wait till about 11:00 and try and sneak in on 1.2 and see if there are animals bedded there. Dad is going to drive to a high vantage point nearby and watch through the spotting scope. We have a two way radio (which we set to vibrate on call) so if he sees anything coming he can give us a heads up.
August 14 –
Ranges to various spots near the water are from 150 to 350 with the water’s edge being about 200. I saw something moving at the water’s edge as the light improved and dialed my scope down to 5X to get a look (can’t see much at 16X in very low light). It was a flock of mallards. There is no water plants in the waterhole for them to eat so they must have been traveling between Albert Lake and Summer Lake when night fell and got caught here. They headed out when the light gets good enough.
Dad called at 9:45 on the radio to tell us a herd is headed in from the east. Unfortunately, the wind was then blowing from north to south. At 10:00 they came in but winded us as they passed on the trail to the south. There were about 15 does and one decent buck. The does took off to the south, not panicked, but they didn’t want to stay there. Except for two does who headed down toward the water. The buck did not want to let his harem break up and followed the two does trying to turn them back with the rest of the herd. They were not coming in on any of the main trails now and getting a clear shot at them from prone in the sage was a problem. They stopped briefly on the flats south and west of the waterhole. Based on the ranges I took earlier, this should be about 300 yards. I sighted on the 300 yard mark on the ballistic hash marks on the scope and fired.
All three animals took off after the main group of does in the general direction of 1.2. They were going too fast to get a second shot off. The buck did not look to have been touched and we watched them run about half a mile till they got over a rise. I don’t get it. I know I was dead on and steady when the shot touched off.
I walked down to where he was standing when I fired to look for blood or hair with Brian directing me in. Nothing! I can’t see how I could have missed. Going in to 1.2 didn’t make much sense any more. If the herd was there, we didn’t want to push them and our odds of getting a good sneak on spooked animals was low. We headed back for the truck, after marking on the GPS a spot on the OTHER side of the waterhole in case the wind direction stayed like this and we wanted to hunt this hole another day.
Back at the truck we decided to take a drive to check out another waterhole to the west. It had a fair number of tracks, some of which looked fresh, but is pretty close to the road. This would not be my first choice, but might be worth setting up on later in the week. We saw a lone buck on a knob to the north about a mile out. He did not look very big, but hard to tell at this range. He saw us so a sneak was probably not going to work. It was getting really warm by then, probably 95+ and not a cloud in the sky.
On the way back to camp I called a stop to check zero on my rifle. I couldn’t get over the miss earlier and wondered if the bouncing over bad roads in the back of the truck on the way here knocked the scope off zero. When I set up to take a sighting shot the reason for the miss was obvious – I still had the scope dialed to 5X. The ballistic hash marks are calibrated for full magnification of 16X. At 5X the 300 yard hash mark is more like a 900 yard holdover. I had sent that round sailing two feet over his back.
On the one hand, I’m kicking myself for making such a dumb mistake. On the other hand, it is a relief to know for sure that the shot was a clean miss and not a wound. Still, I can’t recall every reading of a bonehead move like that in any of the hunting magazines; Alpha predators just don’t screw up like that.
On the way back to camp Brian and I took a hike out on a ridgeline hoping to get a look down on 1.2. We got a good view from about a mile and a half out and there were lopes feeing nearby, at least 5 of them.
The heat was just brutal by 4:00. We try glassing the benches above Lake Albert in the evening but nothing seems to want to move in this heat. We decided to set up on 1.2 in the morning.
Back at camp, it cooled off quickly and I got a good night’s sleep. Dad did not. He heard a packrat in the cooking boxes and was in and out of bed all night trying to chase it off.
August 15 –
About dawn, a family of coyotes came in – a mated pair and 3 pups. The wind was dead calm and the rimrock to the north and south sort of captured and magnified the sounds. I could hear the coyotes lapping up the water from 175 yards out. Very cool. We watched them through binoculars for 30 minutes or so. I was sorely tempted when the two adult coyotes line up at the water’s edge, giving me a potential two for one shot, but stayed focused on lopes. There was a little stilt legged wading bird foraging around in the water, but the coyotes left it alone. Brian and I were bracketed by sage, wearing face mesh, and covered up with Camo burlap. We were so hard to spot that birds foraging in the sage often landed on us.
About 8:00 a pair of does came from down the draw to the east of us headed toward the water. Timing was lousy as I was up getting a bottle of sunscreen out of my daypack. The guys in Eastman’s Hunting Journal never have that happen to them. The does spooked and headed back up the draw but didn’t seem to alarmed, I don’t think they knew exactly what they saw.
At 9:00 a group of does came in to water, down the same draw the other two used earlier. 10 of them drank, browsed a little on the Pepperweed and green forbs in the lake bed and started to head out. Suddenly the lead doe got all tense and moved out in front of the herd. One of the coyotes was trying to pull a sneak on them and was hiding in the sage near the mouth of the draw. The lead doe stamped her hooves and the coyote tried to circle around and get a run at a fawn in the back of the herd. The lead doe ran back toward the waterhole and the whole herd moved with her making a big noise of pounding hooves and kicking up dust. The coyote was right behind them. At the lake bed the whole herd stopped and pivoted as one to face the coyote and they all started stamping their hooves just daring him to try it. The coyote ran off up the draw. That was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.
Apparently the lead doe was not convinced the coyote has given up. The herd grazed around the waterhole and bedded down in the dry lake bed. We watched them though binoculars for the next hour.
About 10:30 the bedded lopes started to get nervous. I wondered if the coyotes were back, but it looks like a family of wild horses was coming in to water from the east. The lopes spooked and went running west up the swale toward 1.1
The mare came in first followed by her colt and a stallion and they all tanked up at the waterhole. The horses waded out in the water to drink, where the lopes had stood on the bank. The coyotes came back and tried to pull a sneak on the colt. The mare took major offense at this and chased one of the coyotes through the sage around the waterhole while the colt stuck close to dad. They drank again, browsed a bit, and headed back out the way the came in.
The coyotes decided that this is about all the action they are going to see at this waterhole today and headed out due south. This was going to take them straight at us. We held still and they got within 10 yards of Brian before they spotted him.
By then the clouds had burned off and it was starting to warm up. We headed back to the truck. We did not see any bucks come to water, but I would not have traded the circus we got to watch at the waterhole for a big set of horns. That was just too much fun.
Back at camp we discovered we were just about out of ice and the packrat had gotten into the cook boxes while we were gone. He opened a box off granola bars, took a few bites from each bar, and stole the wrappers from all of them. Dad was taking this personal now. We headed in to Paisley to get gas, Gatorade, Ice, and rat traps. On the way in we saw a big herd of lopes in the pivots where they know you can’t touch them. We made our supply run, had lunch at the café, and headed back toward camp.
On the way back to camp we passed a shallow canyon where there is a waterhole about ¾ mile from the road. This is one of the waterholes Frank liked (#2). Brian spotted lopes grazing the edges of the lake bed. They saw us too. Didn’t’ see any bucks in the group, but we might not have seen all of the animals that were there. Couldn’t tell how many as the knob that overlooks the waterhole might have been blocking some of them from view. They were getting very nervous about us watching them. Brian thought we could make a sneak on them.
Dad drove on, and when we were hidden from the waterhole by a slight rise in the land where the road went into a shallow cut, Brian and I bailed out and Dad continued driving. He drove on and over the hill and we were pretty sure the lopes watched him go. It was about 3:00 by then and 85 degrees or so. Not miserable hot, but no cloud cover. Wind was quartering from us past the waterhole, but frequently swirled and changed direction. Our plan was to sneak out to where we could come up the back side of the knob and peak down on the lake bed and waterhole and hopefully get a shot at any decent buck that happened to be in the group.
Unfortunately we had a half mile of sage flats to cross to get behind the knob. Nothing for it but to crawl on hands and knees through the sage. If we stood up we’d be visible to the herd. The sand had been in the sun all day and was seriously HOT. We crawled fast over the sandy spots and stopped on the occasional patch of dry grass to prevent burns on our knees. Our hands were getting scorched too so we grabbed handfuls of rabbit brush and grass to protect them from the heat. The knee pads and gloves were in the truck. This stuff never happens to the Eastman’s Hunting Journal guys.
As we reached the back side of the knob we saw a cloud of dust rise from the area of the waterhole on the other side. The wind had been swirling and shifting so we figured we were busted. Not sure though, so we started crawling up the backside of the knob. As we reached the top, we saw a herd of wild horses heading out toward the east, which must have been what raised the dust. We backed down from the top and headed slowly through the tall sage around the north shoulder of the knob. The lopes were still there.
We stayed low and glassed from the sage. There looked to be a single buck in the group, with about 15 does. Horns were not real tall but looked like they had some mass. This was definitely a mature animal, but I didn’t have a shot from that position, the sage was too high for the bipod (25″ fully extended) to give me a clean shot over the brush and the distance to too far for an offhand or kneeling shot. I’m just not that good at distance shots without a solid rest.
I scooted forward through the sage on my behind looking for a position where I had clearance over the sage and a solid place to anchor the bi-pod legs. The herd was grazing the dry lake bottom and the edges of the sage. The truck had left an hour and a half ago and they had forgotten all about it and seemed to have no idea we were there. Finally I had a solid rest (not a prone shot which I would have liked but a decent sitting position) with a couple inches clearance over the sage. I estimated the distance is close to 300 yards. The range finder, naturally, was in the daypack back in the truck, along with our canteens. The Eastman’s Hunting Journal guys don’t get excited and forget critical equipment, but Average Joes do.
By now though, the buck had bedded down. He was facing us, with a doe bedded crosswise about 10 feet in front of him. No shot. We settled down to wait.
We watched the herd browse and walk about for half an hour and finally the buck got up. He grazed toward the sage line and I finally had a shot broadside and clear of the does. I jerked the shot. I knew what I did as soon as the trigger broke. When I miss big, this is always the reason and the bullet always goes way low. Brian had been watching through his binoculars and whispered that I hit the dirt in front of him. The lopes were just standing there looking around, and it dawned on me that down in this bowl the sound of the shot probably seems to come from everywhere and they still had not seen us hidden in the sage and wearing Camo.
I jacked another round in and settled in for another shot, holding on the 300 yard hash mark and being careful to get a slow squeeze of the trigger. I lost the sight picture at the shot but Brian whispered that he was down. I chambered another round and got the crosshairs back on him anyway. After about 5 seconds he got up, but stumbled around looking dazed. One more shot put him down for good. It was 5:00.
When we were convinced he was really down, we headed down out of the sage on the knob. The does finally saw us and bolt off to the east. This was a nice buck, not a record book or even close, but a mature animal with good mass and cutters. Both hits were high. The shot distance was more like 225 than 300. Note: Lopes are small; they are usually closer than they look. We called Dad on the radio and he headed back in the truck.
We took lots of pictures, did the gutting, and washed up at the water hole. Once we got the lope to the road and into the truck we stuffed the body cavity with ice (which we just picked up in town) to cool the meat and head back to camp. By the time the sun went down we had the quarters and blackstrap in game bags and in the cooler.
The hunt was not quite over though. Dad wrapped a dab of cream cheese in a piece of tin foil and set his rat trap. About 1:00AM the packrat got what he deserved.
In the morning we got camp broken down in a couple of hours and head out, still early. On Red House Road there were a couple of ODFW guys who checked my tag and taped the horns. 13-1/2, with 4″ cutters. One of the better ones they had seen that season.
So, summary: The hunt ended with a long and difficult stalk under nasty conditions and ending in a difficult (for me anyway) shot. If I left out the blown shot at waterhole 1.0, getting busted by the two does, leaving critical gear in the truck, and of course the packrat, you could almost put this in one of those magazines. I guess there are adventures out there for all us Average Joes after all.