Fast paced, action packed fun…that is what this long awaited antelope hunt turned out to be. For months, my husband, father and I were anticipating the adventure. Finally, the day arrived to set out in search of the prairie goat. We left our home at 3:00 AM in order to make the four hour drive. We wanted to get to the sage covered country where the deer and the antelope play, by shooting light.
Having only gotten two hours of sleep that night, one would assume I might get some sleep on the drive but that was an impossibility. Excitement was taking over and replacing my sleepiness with wide eyed energy. The last time I had been antelope hunting was eight long years ago. It was time. The SUV was packed to the top with all our gear. Coolers filled with ice, patiently awaited an ecstatic stuffing with boned out meat. This trip was the maiden voyage for my new AR15 that my husband got me for my birthday. I was hoping to break it in today. We had spent considerable time on the range getting acquainted with my beautiful new Vortex scope. My husband choose the Viper PST 6-24x50mm FFP with the new EBR-2c MOA reticle because he knew I liked being able to reach out there a ways and this scope seemed like the perfect one for the job. We had my drop chart plastered to the stock so that we could quickly adjust the scope after getting a rangefinder on the antelope. My dad was along for the adventure and just hoping to see some goats up close.
After four hours of driving and a stop at the local gas station for ice, we turned off the main road onto the dirt and were headed into the unit we would be hunting. There is something about antelope country that is breathtaking. The smell of the crushed sage coupled with fresh crisp air and mountain vistas is a hard experience to beat. We would be hunting at over 7000 feet elevation.
Antelope hunting is unlike any other type of hunting we do. Usually, when you head out on a hunting adventure, you hope to be the only person in the area when you show up. Antelope hunting however, is a whole different ballgame. It is very helpful to have multiple groups of hunters out on the flatlands pushing the herds around. The land is like a checkerboard of private, state and BLM properties with a random network of dirt roads and trails. We were so glad to have our GPS equipped with the OnX Maps chip which enables us to know exactly where those public land boundaries lie. With such a mixture of accessible and non-accessible lands spread out across vast acres of sage-land it would be very difficult to locate and stalk antelope on public property if they were not pushed around by everyone out seeking to fill a tag. Adding to the challenge is the fact that antelope are fast. They can run at speeds up to 60 miles per hour and maintain that speed for miles. The herds of hundreds dart over the rolling, sage covered hills as if they were starlings in flight. Grainger Hunt, a senior scientist at the Peregrine Fund, described it best when he was speaking about the flocks of birds. They are “a dazzling cloud, swirling, pulsating, drawing together to the thinnest of waists, then wildly twisting in pulses of enlargement and diminution,”. Such it is with the antelope herds. It is mesmerizing. All these things make for a one of a kind adventure. We began opening day following the streaks of sunlight west across the valley. We spent a lot of time glassing the countryside. We spotted orange clad hunters dotting the landscape like pumpkins in a giant patch. There was a herd of antelope already being stalked as well as three moose trudging up out of a patch of golden aspens.
We took some time to stop at talk to some of the hunters. They were all great to talk to and very willing to try and point you in a good direction. One of the hunters was a local out looking for predators. He pointed us in the direction of a herd and we headed that way. We ended up finding an area with a great vantage point and watched a very large herd traverse the hills in front of us and eventually disappear over the other side. One lone buck suddenly reappeared on our side of the hill. He seemed reluctant to follow the herd. The others continued on but he wandered along the ridge line feeding instead. Eventually he bedded down. Dad got the rangefinder out and determined he was at 955 yards. My husbands gun is capable of an accurate shot that far and since it wasn’t windy and the buck was calmly bedded he decided to try and take him.
He got set up and dialed his scope to what he believed would put him right on. The rifle had been sighted in at 3000 feet elevation and we were now hunting at 7400 feet elevation. He took a few practice shots without a round in the chamber and calmed his breathing. That drastic change in altitude affected the bullets flight enough to cause him to miss, just barely. He was only a couple inches over the buck causing dirt to spray onto him. The buck jumped up and then he trotted down the ridge line without stopping and was concealed behind some small hills directly to our left. My husband put his gun away and I grabbed mine as we set out on a stalk. We worked our way to where we had last seen him being careful to keep the hill between us and the buck. We hoped to eat up some of that distance between us before we were seen. Slowly cresting the last hill revealed his head just on the other side. He saw us as well and ran to our left. I dropped down into prone as Tristan ranged the buck. He stopped at 344 yards. We quickly calculated my turret adjustment and I peered through my crosshairs. I was surprised how steady they were. I settled and fired in what seemed like seconds. It probably seemed like an eternity to my husband. I heard the tell-tale thwack that assured us of a hit. I watched through the scope as he ran a few yards and fell. I saw his head collapse slowly and knew that he was dead. Excitement and respect instantly took over. I had finally broke in my new gun and it performed beautifully. We would also have tasty antelope meat in the freezer once more. Tristan went back to the truck to get Dad and our gear. I watched to make sure the antelope wasn’t playing ‘possum. I saw the guys come back into view and we headed to the buck. We notched my tag, took field photos and got to work skinning and boning out the meat. I kept marveling at how beautiful a creature he was. The patterns of color on his hide were especially vibrant. We made quick work of it and packed the meat back to the coolers where they were immediately covered in ice.
The gear was packed back up and we once again positioned ourselves at the vantage point knowing that it was only a matter of time before more antelope darted our way. We would not be disappointed as herd after herd ran by us from all different directions. We didn’t know which way to turn. None of the antelope would stop long enough to give us a shot and eventually the area calmed down. We decided to pack it up and take the ridge a long way around to another vantage point. The adrenaline and energy I had been living on suddenly vanished when I was out of the wind and I slept.
I woke refreshed and prepared for another adventure. We eventually spotted a small herd concealing itself in a bowl at the base of a steep hillside. We figured they would stay back there as it was a secluded and safe place. Dad and I stayed at the rig with our GPS radio and Tristan took off up the hill to try and put a stalk on one of the bucks. We enjoyed the view and did some glassing and picture taking while we anxiously waited to hear a rifle shot. At one point I thought I may have heard something but it had become so windy with an approaching storm front that I couldn’t be sure. Finally, a crack came over my radio and Tristan said, “ I got a buck down!”. Whoops and hollers came over from our end and we grabbed the packs and started the hike. When you are hiking at almost 8000 feet it is way different than the 4000 feet I am used to. It is awesome. When Tristan and his buck came into view I had to smile. This day just could not have been any better. He recounted his tale when we arrived while we admired another gorgeous animal. His stalk had worked out perfectly and he was able to get to a shooting position 506 yards away from the herd. He picked out this buck and made an absolutely perfect shot on him. The buck went only a few feet before he was dead. Once again the area was filled with a flurry of photos, scalpels and game bags. We tromped back down to the rig and icy coolers.
A couple more hours of shooting light were spent glassing and attempting to fill our doe tags. No such luck but as the light faded with sunset, concealing the sage and antelope in a cover of night, we were left completely satisfied. I was overwhelmed by gratitude for the opportunity to experience such an epic day doing what I love with people I love. The day will be a memory burned into my mind forever and definitely a hard one to beat.