Game Changer: My First Ever Antelope Hunt
In mid-September I received a call from a good friend and former boss, Clint Olsen. He was in rough shape. During our conversation he detailed how he had moved his trucks from North Dakota to Wyoming to be closer to home, but promised work had not panned out. So, he was starting with a new company in a week and now had his fair share of work. Clint asked me to help drive one of his trucks and get him out of the huge rut he was in. He said he needed a “GAME CHANGER”. Two days later I was on a plane headed to Wyoming.
I landed at nine o’clock in the evening and was behind the wheel working by midnight. For the next three weeks, I pounded the dirt roads of Wyoming delivering water to the oil wells. When all was said and done, it’s safe to say we really did change the game for Clint.
There was only one day left before my plane took off to head home, so Clint asked how I wanted to spend my last day in Wyoming. I enthusiastically declared, “Kill an antelope!”
We headed to a local sport shop to buy a license, and Clint let me use his gun. After a couple of practice shots, the gun was shooting 3” to the left and the scope was maxed out, so I decided “Kentucky windage” it was going to have to be. Our final preparation was a quick ride to check out some state land before I decided I better get to bed.
I had mixed emotions as I tried to fall asleep that night. I was excited for the chance to hunt but didn’t expect much to happen knowing it was a spur of the moment hunt on public ground.
The next morning came early, and unfortunately Clint wasn’t feeling well. So, he told me to just take the truck and go without him. The sun was just coming up as I got to the hunting spot we picked the night before, and I noticed there were already a few trucks parked on the road. I grabbed my gun and my Wal-Mart backpack, which did not contain much more than two bottles of water and a map, and I headed out.
I hiked back one and a half miles before heading east. Soon I ran into a guy on a four wheeler and he looked at me angrily. “Do you have any idea where you are?” he questioned. I sternly replied, “I am pretty sure I know exactly where the #@!* I am.” He explained that I am trespassing, but as I pull out my map to show him that I am, in fact, on state land he assures me that I am not. Instead of arguing, I decide my time is better spent heading back west.
My blood starts to boil as another man comes up on a four wheeler. I’m ready for another argument, but instead the older man says, “Sorry my friend gave you a hard time. You are right, you are not trespassing.” I converse with the guy for about twenty minutes about hunting and life, as if we are long lost friends. He informs me that if I’m not afraid to walk, the hunting is much better a couple of miles back. His instructions are to walk straight back to the fence and head north. Then when the fence ends I am to head east and glass the valleys. I thank the man for his advice and decide I better get walking if I am ever going to cover the ground he is indicating.
About an hour later, I come to the end of the fence. To my pleasure, I see a herd of ten antelope about a mile to the east. All I have are binoculars, and I cannot tell if there is a buck in the herd. I haphazardly figure out the odds in my head and decide that out of ten antelope at least one has to be a buck!
I drop down off the hill into a dry creek bed. Everything seems to be going well at this point, and I even find a mule deer shed and a whitetail shed along the way. When I think I am close to where they were when I first spotted the herd, I sneak up over the rise. All I can think is, “Damn Antelope walk fast!” They have moved and are still about a mile off.
I pull out my binoculars again and glass the rest of the valley. My eyes land on the figure of a single antelope bedded down on a side hill; it’s too far to see if it is a doe or buck though. All I can see is a fence line at the top of the hill with two wooden posts barely standing out. I set my mind on the herd of ten again.
I cover a half mile before crawling up to the top of the ridge. I finally feel like I am gaining ground. I take a second look at the bedded goat I saw earlier, and to my delight I think I see horns. Now I’m a little bit torn between the herd and the lone antelope. I decide to take my chances following the herd of ten, hoping there will be a big buck.
I travel another half mile around the valley, and when I’m in a good position, I peek up over top again. My heart drops as I scope out the area.
The herd of ten I was after are now about five hundred yards out. They are bedded down in an open field, which means there is no way for me to get to them. Adaptability has always been part of my game plan, so I head back to check on the bedded Antelope. Perfect, it is still there. I’m a little disappointed now though because I am pretty sure it is a doe. I’m too far away to be completely certain, so I start heading toward the fence a little less than a mile away.
On my way to the fence, I pull out my binoculars multiple times to check on the bedded antelope. Each time, my identification of if it’s a buck or a doe changes. Soon I am at the fence and start hiking toward the goat. After walking for what seems an eternity, I see the two wooden fence posts I spotted earlier. I keep scanning, but now, even though I am close, I still can’t see the bedded goat.
Finally I am right at the two wooden posts and still no sign. Damnit. Damnit. Damnit. Somehow it must have spooked and headed out of the country. I take two steps away from the fence, and all of a sudden there it is, and YES! it has horns. All of my walking and stalking suddenly seems completely worth it.
I immediately drop down, remove my pack, get out my water and take a couple of drinks. I know he can’t go anywhere without me seeing him, so I take my time to gain my composure. Once I feel I have recovered from the hike, I start belly crawling down towards the buck. Little by little I crawl down, and soon I can see his horn tips. I inch a little further until I can see his neck, then the top of his back. Just a little more and I am finally in position to shoot. He is looking out into the valley and has never once looked my way. I settle the crosshairs on the base of his neck and move over a touch to the right for the Kentucky windage. The moment is perfect, so I squeeze off the shot. He never knew what hit him. My very first antelope down!!!!
It’s amazing how modern technology has affected the hunt. Here I was in the middle of nowhere, and I still managed to make a phone call to my girlfriend letting her know I had killed my first antelope. Then I texted my kids and followed it up with a Facebook post. Finally, I called Clint to tell him I had one down. Despite feeling ill, he said he would be out to help me in a little while. I thought the hike and stalk at the beginning of my hunt were work, but little did I know what the next six hours would bring.
I caped and quartered the antelope and put the meat in my backpack. I grabbed the gun, head, and cape, and took a quick selfie to capture the moment before heading out. I kept a nice pace down a sloping hill and through a dry creek bed for the first half mile. It wasn’t long after I started the uphill climb that I realized things were going to be tough. My backpack was heavy and unbalanced and the gun kept sliding off my shoulder. Finally I decided it was worth taking time to stop and repack.
I got the meat repacked and managed to strap the gun on the pack. However, even this didn’t seem to matter when in another half mile I was worn out; this wasn’t good. Soon I was covering only a couple hundred yards between breaths. Once I got to the top, I looked down the hills and thanked God because the rest was down hill! Little did I realize that downhill was going to be harder on my knees, back, and ankles than the uphill climb.
Three and a half hours of hiking out there finally brought good news. I could see for miles. I was three falls and what felt like six heart attacks into my trip back, but now I could see that I was within 500 yards of the truck. I took one looooooong last break and then headed out on what was going to be the final leg of my antelope journey. When I got 300 yards from the truck I finally ran into Clint. Even though I was ready to kill him, I was glad to see him. Like a true friend, he even agreed to carry the pack the last 300 yards.
When I was finally at the truck, it was a huge feeling of accomplishment to know I had pulled off a spur of the moment, 100% self-guided antelope hunt. Despite all the ups and downs, my first antelope hunt will always be known as the “GAME CHANGER.” If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t change a thing.