Day One...

By Tim Hoffer
Montana, DIY, Private Land

Day One... - Tim HofferNovember 2013 EBJ (Issue 80) - The day dawned cool and hazy and I as drove east, the smoky horizon appearing out of focus from nearby forest fires. Thankfully, the area I would be hunting was clear from smoke. August had been parched and hot in southwestern Montana.

Turning off the rutted gravel road and parking the truck, I scanned the rolling, rocky terrain in front of me, searching for the telltale colors of antelope. A few distant tan and white boulders caused a double-take. I decided there were too many "antelope rocks” out in this area and needed to cover some more ground.

Nearly a decade ago I began hunting this piece of land. At first glance it’s an unlikely antelope area. Its borders are a few worn fences, steep weatherworn rock faces, scrub brush and timber – more elk habitat than antelope country. It’s a place people just drive right by, focused on the striking mountains in the distance.

A crude pile of rocks at the far end of the ranch functions as a makeshift graveyard for cattle that don’t survive the winter or calving. Bits of bleached ribs and skulls peek out from behind the tall grass. In certain sections it’s flat as a pool table and then it rises steeply enough to hide a bighorn sheep, if ever one were to get lost here. If this country has taught me anything, it’s that looks can be deceiving. I have concluded it offers up a fine blend of two ingredients – just enough antelope and perfect stalking conditions.

Easing from one rise to the next, I spotted a lone, bedded antelope buck tucked near a dark gray boulder about 300 yards away. He didn’t see me and stayed bedded.

I eased back from the skyline and began mentally sketching out a stalking route. A fence line running north and south dipped out of sight and provided the most likely approach. Carrying only my bow, rangefinder and binoculars, I set off at a brisk pace. Only once during my hike up the fence line did I peek over, trying to relocate the bedded antelope. With the rolling terrain, I eventually lost sight of him, but I knew his general location because of a conspicuous, gray rock near his bed.

By this time the sun blazed brightly overhead. A stiff wind blew fast-moving clouds that caused the light to ebb and flow over the dry, sage-dotted terrain. Tracing a path far above the buck, I turned and eased downhill, keeping a low, sloping ridgeline between us.

As I slowed down, I scanned the rolling edge of the rise in front of me where the buck should be bedded. I panned left and right with my binoculars, looking for anything to give up his position. Ease forward and scan – ease forward, keep scanning; don’t rush it. He has to be there. He has to be.

Day One... - Tim Hoffer

For a full account of Tim's adventure, go to page 14 in the November/December 2013 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.