A successful first Antelope hunt in 015...
I'll start by apologizing for how lengthy this became...
Several of you know that I was lucky enough to draw a rifle tag in unit 015(my first choice) on my very first year putting in for an antelope tag, with zero points accumulated. With that rather unexpected occurrence, it was to be my first time pursuing antelope. I approached it as I have approached my last two seasons of deer hunting, which were my first experiences in big game hunting, and all self "taught" beyond internet research. My good friend and I were lucky enough to both pull deer tags in the same unit those two years, and he being new to the sport also, we got to learn a lot together in those days in the field. And two years of work later, on the final day of the season last year, we managed to harvest a nice healthy buck.
I had a general grasp of the area I wanted to hunt, as I've spent some time up in the area chasing chukar around. I pulled out the maps and set out to find a point as far from any roads as possible, and fairly flat, but with a little terrain that would allow some elevated glassing and in turn, cover for stalk. This area is higher than I think most people typically hunt antelope, and has a lot more vertical topography that I think I typically visualize as "antelope country", but it just felt right to me. A buddy and I made it out the weekend before opening day and drove a few of the roads. We didn't get much scouting in, as several hours into the trip we managed to get stuck in the mud(mud? in August, in Nevada???) after the road kind of fizzled out into a spring creek which proved to be pumping a good amount of water. It at least confirmed that this road didn't continue through, that there was water readily available nearby, and there was very little sign of traffic in the area. We spooked one nice buck a mile down the canyon, so we were confident this area had animals.
Last weekend we cleared Sunday-Monday on our work schedules and hit the road. We arrived to our "campsite" by noon and loaded up for the afternoon and started hiking. After seeing how many people were down low in the flats, buzzing the roads loaded 4 deep on their side-by-sides, I knew that our tactic of getting up high and away from the roads was worth a try. Within an hour we had eyes on a herd of 7 antelope silhouetted on a ridge(one nice buck), well over a mile away, and across a deep canyon. With a ton of daylight left we decided to start heading for them. The stalk took about 2 hours, as we were a little over precautions with our movement and noise level. We dropped our packs way to far away, and just as the rain began to fall and the thunder boom. This turned out to provide excellent cover for the noise of us walking through the rocky terrain. We lost sight of them as we approached 400 yards out, and had to play the terrain a bit while keeping the wind still in our favor. Eventually we popped up about 200 yards out with a bunch of eyes and ears pointing our direction. We had definitely blown our cover, but they weren't too concerned by our presence, as was evident by the buck mounting a couple of the does as we watched... haha. I tried to settle myself on the tripod, shooting from a knee as the sagebrush was tall. As the buck cleared the rest of the herd and stood broadside I let my finger tap the trigger. They jolted as the crack of the gunshot echoed. They ran about 20 yards and perked their ears up again in our direction, I reloaded, as the buck looked uninjured. Again I squeezed off a round, and again no reaction from the buck other than a casual jaunt north. Aside from the confusion of missing two shots at a distance that I was comfortable with, we were perplexed with the lack of urgency to leave the area. In my experience with deer, the second they know you're there, they're a county away. With antelope it seems like they are less spooked, even by gunfire. The heard continued away at a medium pace across the plateau which allowed us to keep an eye on them as we headed back to collect our packs and plan our next move.
Long story short is that over those next 36 hours I had several great opportunities and managed to miss 6 shots... I was left a little discouraged, but with some comfort in now seeing how the animals move, think, and react to your presence. The following day at home, I headed out to re-check the rifle, as I had done the day before heading out last time. The first three shots told the story... They were all about 8" to the right at 100yards. I put 20 rounds through the gun at varying distances and after a couple of short sprints to get the heart rate up. Confidence restored, I was set on heading back out a few days later.
The following Sunday I was loaded and headed out for a solo mission of redemption... After a few miles hiking back into the same familiar brush I spotted my first animals. About 800 yards away and kind of meandering without much direction. It was just after 2pm, and with plenty of day left, I decided I would be aggressive with this one, and if I blew it, I'd have other opportunities. I pulled back around a knoll and down, then advanced forwards with a rocky outcropping providing me some cover. This put me what I would guess was 600 yards out. I poked my head over the rocks and was unable to relocate them. They had either spooked and took off running in those 5 minutes, or they had slipped just behind a tiny roller of a hill several hundred yards out. With nothing to lose, and the clouds rolling in, I went for it. I dropped down and began to skirt my way around the slight bump of a hill. Taking it step by step, and stopping to glass the newly visible land with each step. Several steps later and the tips of 3 sets of ears, and one set of antlers became visible, all pointed at me. Now decision time. Rather than trying to press forward and get in a position to shoot and risking them spooking, I opted to lay down and get setup in hopes of them continuing to move to my left, which would put them into a little draw that was picture framed by some brush on either side of me, giving me a clear shooting window. Time ticked slowly by as the rain would spit heavily for a few minutes and then lighten up. I could still see the three of them when I lifted my cheek just off the rifle's stock. Taking time to line up bushes and estimate the distance to each so as to be comfortable with where they might end up and the shot length I might be facing. They were in no hurry, and weren't concerned by what they minutes earlier detected just over the hill(me). Soaking wet, trying to prevent the muscle twitches, laying there in the mud, slumped over my pack in a prone position waiting for the second I would get my redemption. The rain lightened for just a minute, they all took two steps forward. I cranked up the zoom on my scope, flicked the safety off, and settled my breathing one last time. Crack! The sound of a solid hit was evident, and the buck staggered for about 40 yards before settling down in some lava rocks. The does sprinted off as I stood up to shake the caked mud from my pants, rifle, binoculars, and pack. I'd done it!
Then of course the work began... I quartered him out, and loaded my pack with what I guess to be 80 pounds and set off for a few miles across the now rain soaked mesa towards the truck, and a cold victory beer! He's not the biggest trophy out there, or even the biggest I had put my crosshairs on, but he was perfect for me. The sense of accomplishment of not only harvesting, but to put in some honest work, miss some opportunities, and to do it alone made it even more special.
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