I was off with a vengeance. This was 3 years in the making, and excitement ran high. As i packed the truck on friday morning I triple checked everything. Before i loaded the most crucial piece of equipment I decided to shoot one last time. I raised up drew back, calm, careful i was at the 70 yard line and mid draw i hear a pop! And feel a crack. The pop was my d loop. The crack was the sound of my nose breaking as my closed fist impaled my own face. The blood ran instantly. And panic set in. Ive practiced with the same six arrows for months. Had them numbered 1-6 and knew exactly where each one would hit at each yardage. Arrow number 1 was now 9' high in a pine tree stuck about 4 inches in with pine sap slowly filling the precision weaved carbon i depended so highly on. I had an extra pack of dloops in my hunting pack. I tied another d loop on for the first time ever. Ive never been so hesitant to draw a bow! My knock point was a touch off. My draw was a touch longer but my arrows still flew true thankfully. My hunt had officially began gear was loaded and trucks were fueled and we were off!
Arriving in antelope land i was overly eager. Pronghorn are on of my favorite animals to chase but this was the first time with the bow and i knew the chase would be substantially more difficult. It wasnt even half way into day 1 and camp was set. Organized, clean, and i was expecting it to run like a well oiled machine. The first hour into glassing i had spotted two antelope in a stalkable location and i was off to close the distance. 3/4 of the way thru the stalk the clouds began to thicken and the temperatures were dropping rapidly. I heard thunder crack and within seconds the rain came pouring down. I was soaked, muddy, cold and soggy. And smiling from ear to ear! Coming from 117 degree temperatures this weather was enough to call my trip a success! I spent the rest of the afternoon in the tent enjoying the company of my father and the smell of wet sage as the rain continued on.
The following morning i was too impatient to wait for the alarm clock to ring. With the vision of white throat patches and heavy black horns dancing in my head i was definitely awake and ready to work. Franticly running around camp acquiring the gear needed to start my quest. Hours before daylight i was ready. Spotters cleaned binoculars cleaned hat tightened. Bonzai pack filled with what i needed to take rapid repeating stalks. I knew this was to be a game persistance and i was willing to be persistant. What i did not know at the time was this was also a game of patience. And i seemed to have forgotten that at home... Ill admit i blew my load on day 1 i had made at least 7 stalks no where close to bow range and had used up plan a,b and c
On previous scouting trips to the area i had spotted several trophy class bucks and had them semi patterned for the water they like to use. But with rainstorms daily these antelope had standing water every 100 yards and no need to travel to their favorite springs. After several days and over 20 stalks on this weary majestic prarie game. The drive to be awake and behind glass before the sun made an appearance was becoming substantially more difficult to find. I had tried decoys, knee pads, white flags, belly crawls, i even caught myself running behind and next to antelope hoping they would tire before i did. Surprisingly enough there lung capacity seemed much greater than mine after a mile or two of sprinting in anger. I believe it to be day 4 or 5 by this point and have yet to be in bow range.
I did some research via you tube and had seen before where guys would use horses as decoys and it seemed to work with ease.
Plan H was deemed a go and i found a new motivation to get back after these longwinded prairie cheetahs. Horses saddled and loaded i was off to the same valley i had drug myself out of with little to no hope of ever being successful. First stalk on horse back was much more efficient after 4 hours i was 80 yards from a antelope that was sure to make eyes pop. He kept a safe buffer at around 80 yards and would never let his guard down. Something about 6 legged horses did not make him too comfortable. Eventually he grew tired of us repeatedly cutting in front of his travel path and off he went. The horses needed water at this point so we rendezvoused at the trailer for lunch and discussed a new game plan. Walking next to horses on sagebrush was sure to get someone injured. Bot my father and i had been clipped in the heel several times during the first stalk by a horses hoof and we decided to head for the slew. Which is where i spent the previous days. It was flat and the pronghorn were a plenty. With only ankle high grass the stalks would seem much easier. We also focused our attention on groups rather than single bachelors. To our amazement we were much more effective with this new tactic. The antelope actually stayed bedded as we closed the distance from over a mile away. Within an hour we were able to pick up horns in the group and i had my sights focused on the largest buck of over twenty antelope. Slowly we would let the horses graze on the grass and every so often give them a kiss or two so that they would head in the direction of the antelope. Finally i ranged over the horses back and we were 150 yards with the whole group of antelope still bedded in the brown grass. Inch by inch we made our way closer 100, 80,70 "its working!!!" i said with bright eyes to my dad. Finally a doe in the group had enough of us and slowly veered away from us. not long after she snorted. Everyone whi has done spot and stalk antelope knows that when you hear a snort. Your heart drops. These animals have communication skills that are far beyond the credit they are given. (so ive learned the hard way) i ranged her. She was 55 yards and the group was crossing the path we had traveled at the same distance. The buck i finally decided to focus on was now slowly grazing away from where he began. Within seconds he appeared from outside my horses torso and i ranged him at 55. I set an arrow, handed the reins behind me to my dad. Told him "hold on. Im not too sure the horses will tolerate this" he slowly pulled my horse away. I drew back. Exhaled slowly. Checked my bubble for level. Opened my front hand. Told myself. "Just like practice" "this is it" Slowly squeezed the release and sent a carbon stick at 300 feet per second directly at the animal. Everything went silent until i heard a bone crushing whack! Blood ran red and he made his run for the sun. Away from the group the animal seemed confused. Suprisingly the horses stayed calm. Which i did not expect. Hints the reason we brought 2. I thought i would need one to round up which ever horse decided to bail out once i realesed! We gave the animal over a half hour and watched him bed. I lost sight of his horns and assumed his head was down and expired. I inched over to the pronghorn via horseback and thats when i learned the hardest bow hunting lesson there is to learn. Patience. Leave the animal until your sure.. He had some life left and no longer liked horses. So we decided to back out and return the following day. With temps dropping below the 50s in the evenings i was confident the meat would be fine. And the animal deserved to expire in peace. We returned the following morning and began our search. After 5 minutes in the general area you begin to question everything that happened the day before. "was it a good shot"? "did he clot up"? " i swear he was right here when i left" i slowed my heart rate and let my instincts take over. Anyone who has had the oppurtunity to let the primal instincts we posess as humans be released for good knows this is an awe inspiring feeling. I began listening to crickets. Watching the field mice. And focusing on earth rather than ground. I heard the wings of a bird soaring in the distance. I turned to see a black raven making eye contact with me as he surveyed the land. I followed his movements as he passed by and suddenly his head was locked on to something not 25 yards from me. I ran as fast as my sore legs would allow to find my antelope right where we had last spotted him. Meat chilled and fully intact i was a humbled man.
A day of rest and recoop was needed after the antelope hunt and meat processing. I took the day to reorganize equipment make some phone calls and answer emails. Most importantly speak with my wife and recieve pictures of our 5 month old baby girl who has been on my mind since i left home the 6 days prior. Her smiles and giggles made it extremely difficult to lay still on top of my bedroll in the comforts of a mummy bag surrounded by wet muddy clothes during the antelope hunt. Something about being away from the two of them with more support than a man could ever ask for made me that much more determined to get these tags filled and get home to them. During my day off i was blessed to enjoy the finest of jack and cokes and snap a few pictures of the beauty were usually too busy to appreciate.