First and Finest

By Steve Bemke
New Mexico, 2011, Guided, Private Land

Steve Bemke - First and FinestOctober/November 2012 EHJ (Issue 133) - Looking down at the temperature gauge in my truck, making my way west through southern Kansas, 100° registered on my dash. A few minutes later, 102°. I had left my home in eastern Missouri earlier that morning, where the first break in the record heat all summer was anticipated. Then came 105°; something is wrong with my temperature gauge, this couldn’t be right. A short time later, I stopped for gas and was blasted by the sweltering heat when I stepped out of my truck.

I typically spend my time pursuing autumn whitetails in the brilliant fall hardwoods of the Midwest. A bowhunter at heart, I occasionally pick up my rifle or muzzleloader where my typical shot is less than 150 yards. In fact, other than practicing at long distances at the range, I have never taken a shot at an animal over 130 yards. But that was all going to change. Eight hours later, there I stood in the searing August heat in Logan, New Mexico on my first ever hunt out west for antelope.

New Mexico, like many areas, was experiencing their worst drought in decades. The rolling landscape reached for miles. Bone dry, you could almost taste the dirt and sand in your teeth. A sea of scattered yuccas and the occasional cactus dotted the surroundings. Yet, as dry as it was, the open country was beautiful in the approaching evening sky.

Our camp lay at the end of long cattle road, nestled between an old abandoned ranch house and a cattle pin shadowed by an old windmill that was still pumping water from the earth far below. The hunt did not start till the following morning; however, my guides, along with a couple other hunters and I, set out on the 38,000-acre ranch to glass some prospective candidates for the next day’s hunt.

It didn’t take long, as we spotted a group of does being trailed by a mature buck in the distance. Seeing my first antelope in person, it was almost alien, yet completely striking in appearance. The light from the setting sun’s rays against the antelope’s white and tan coats, beamed against the hillside.

I was instantly hooked, and the anticipation for the next day’s hunt grew at each passing minute. We went on to locate a few more shooter bucks for the next day’s hunt, and after swapping hunting stories in camp that evening, I went to bed where I laid in my tent, eyes wide open thinking of the next days hunt. I awoke in the dark of my tent just before dawn to a great horned owl perched in an isolated tree nearby. It called out eerily in the quiet, dry morning air. The only other sound came from the nearby windmill that creaked and moaned with each methodical turn. The night sky gradually let go of its grip of the coming morning as my guide, Jerome and I, headed into antelope country.

The first morning was eventful. After a blown stalk in the first hour on a 70 class buck, we drove across the ranch to try and locate the large buck spotted the night before accompanying the handful of does he was keeping company. After a long, slow, and deliberate walk around one edge of a tall ridge, we finally reached the end with no antelope in sight in the valley below. There was one last finger just over the ridge we could not see over, and crept over to check it out.

Sure enough, we spotted the does bedded about 250 yards below us. After a few minutes of glassing, Jerome spotted the buck. "There, under the cholla,” he said. "What the heck is a cholla?” I quickly responded, ignorant of my foreign surroundings. After a quick lesson on cacti, I quickly found the buck bedded beneath the cactus in question.

The does who had been watching us intensely, finally spooked and made a dash to our left. Soon after, the buck was on their heels. I moved to the next opening between two yuccas, and the buck stopped broadside to find out what the commotion was about. "207 yards,” Jerome whispered. My heart pounded, my cross hairs bounced over the buck’s vitals, my breath erratic, the buck stood and stared towards us.

Steve Bemke - First and Finest

For a full account of Steve's adventure, go to page 36 in the October/November 2012 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.