Nebraska Antelope Hunting Trip With Mike and Anthony
September 8 - 16, 2017
- ~22 hour drive each way
- ~4,000 miles driven
- 100 degrees - the heat index on two days when the daytime high reached 94 degrees.
- 6 liters - the amount of water consumed per day/person for the first couple of days in the extreme heat.
- 6 - the number of days Cowboy Beans were served.
- 20 oz - about the size of the steak we had for dinner one night.
- 1 - the number of Jack Rabbits that attempted to sabotage the hunting trip.
- 3 hunters (Cory, Mike, Anthony)
- 1 antelope killed (Mike)
- ~4% - the odds of killing an antelope with a bow on public land in northwest Nebraska (we beat the odds!).
- 72 miles - the distance Cory and Anthony each hiked over the course of the trip.
- 19 miles - the distance Mike hiked.
[ You can see all the images and videos at the end of the blog post ]
After driving 22 hours through the night we arrived at a gas station in Crawford, NE around 5:30 AM. The area was deserted and the lights at the gas station were on, so we took that as a sign - it was time to hop out in the gas station parking lot and get ready for the morning hunt. After all, you can sleep when you're dead, right?
Still dark, we pulled off a gravel road and ventured onto a dirt path that Anthony had recalled from his previous hunting adventures in this neck of the woods, err grasslands. After parking our rented Toyota Sequoia just shy of a barbed wire fence we ventured out on a short hike out to the top of a nice overlook (pictured above). It was time to get out the binos and spotting scope and see where all the antelope were!
We were initially spaced out from one another by about 50 yards or so and were all looking in different directions. You could see for miles, but visibility was a little limited once you got past five miles or so as there was a haze in the sky. Okay, so we weren't actually looking for antelope five miles away, but the point is that all the haze was from the massive wildfires that were burning in the Pacific Northwest. These fires were 1,000 miles away - crazy! Anyway, about 30 minutes had gone by and no one had seen anything yet. I (Cory) saw some animals about two miles away that I thought could have been antelope because they were running, but as it turns out, cows can run, too.
A little while later, Anthony somehow spotted the first antelope of the trip about 2 miles off to our east. It was a lone buck (which as it turns out would be a rare find during this trip) and he was heading in our general direction, albeit slowly. For the next hour or so we took turns looking through the spotting scope making sure not to lose sight of him. We were playing the waiting game and were just hoping he would bed down in a spot that would make for a good stalk. When it was Anthony's turn to watch through the spotting scope he ended up sitting on a cactus (the ground was covered with cacti). This after warning us on the drive out about how we had to be careful where we sat because of all the cacti. Only fitting.
As we were waiting for this goat to bed down Mike spotted several mule deer about a mile and a half or so off to our south. There were several bucks in the group, but none of us had mule deer tags, so we just enjoyed watching them while we patiently waited for Mr. Goat to bed down. He finally did so around 8:30 AM, and he was bedded in the perfect spot - in the badlands (the sandy areas within the grasslands). His bedding location was around a mile off to our east, so we began the slow trek down from our perch. We made our way through the badlands, making sure to stay out of sight of the goat, and about 20 minutes we later arrived at the back side of a large bluff. We all climbed to the top to get a feel for where exactly we were at in relationship to where Mr. Goat bedded down (he was still probably half a mile or so from our location). Once we had our bearings set, I stayed at the top with the spotting scope while Mike and Anthony headed back down the bluff.
After disappearing behind the bluff, Anthony and Mike reappeared a few hundred yards below me and to my right. They proceeded to slowly make their way closer to the sand dune where we had seen the antelope bed down. At this point none of us had any eyes on him as we believed he was still bedded down below the edge of the grass in the sand. About 10 minutes had passed when suddenly the goat appeared about 90 yards in front of Mike and Anthony, but he was on the run. Perhaps he spotted us from his bedding area or maybe he was just up and walking around and saw us before we saw him. We will never know, but it was still a pretty cool encounter for our very first morning of our week long antelope hunting trip.
We then hiked the two miles back to the truck and made our way to the High Plains Homestead | Drifter Cookshack and Bunkhouse. This is where we stayed for the week. We had lunch (buffalo burger, homemade chips, cowboy beans, and a beer) at The Drifter and then proceeded to take a solid two hour nap in our cabin.
By mid-afternoon we were up and ready to head back out for the evening hunt. Mike and I ended up putting on a stalk on a buck we called Nuevo, but he didn't let us get closer than 120 yards with the decoy. That evening we saw at least 20 more antelope, but did not have any success. Antelope hunting was still new to us, so it was a big learning curve early on. Even spotting the Antelope from the road while driving around wasn't too easy the first day. We would continue to get better and better at this each day.
Day 1 Stats: 19,045 steps | 9.99 miles | 2,939 calories burned
The second day consisted of bright sunshine with temperatures in the mid-90s and a heat index around 100 degrees. We quickly realized on this day that we did not have enough water. Nonetheless, we were still able to put on 4 stalks in the morning and a couple more in the evening.
We started Sunday off by hiking about 2 miles into a large piece of land well before sunrise. We made it to the top of what was probably the largest bluff in the area and began scoping for antelope. We saw at least 25 antelope that morning, including several bucks. Once the antelope bedded down we began our stalks. Mike stayed up high on the bluff trying to sneak up on a couple antelope. Mike got to within 115 yards before the antelope started barking at him, so he decided it was time to kill the first antelope of the trip. He took his 70 yard pin and placed it on the top of the antelopes back and let his arrow fly. The shot was perfectly on line - but it didn't quite have the distance, landing only 30 yards short. As a matter of fact, the arrow fell so short that the antelope weren't even really scared and generally stayed put. Mike wisely did not take another shot as he didn't want to lose another arrow.
While Mike's stalk was ongoing Anthony was putting on a stalk of his own on a couple of antelope that were bedded down at the base of the bluff. I got into position to spot for him and was texting him directions and updates as he slowly stalked an antelope bedded down just outside of a shallow ravine.
Anthony made a good stalk down the ravine, but the last two trees that I could see were different than the last two he could see. This meant he ended up popping up at the wrong location and unable to get a shot at the antelope. As Anthony went off sprinting after the antelope I started heading back down the rock hill I was perched on to retrieve my gear.
As I was walking there Mike called and told me about his shot that landed just a few yards short. In the meantime I nearly stepped on a Jack Rabbit that was seeking shelter from the scorching sun under a Dasylirion Wheeleri (type of desert plant). The rabbit took off down the rock hill in a beeline for my bow. He attempted to jump the bow, but his oversized back feet caught my string and my bow went tumbling down the hill. It had flipped over four times, landing directly on the sight several times, no doubt messing up my finely tuned 11-year old bow. I'd just have to shoot instinctive until I had a chance to sight the bow in again.
We regrouped at the top of the bluff and were watching a few other antelope off in the distance. Mike and Anthony put on a couple more stalks while I headed back to the cabin to get us more water, grab the Ibuprofen. and let Mike (the owner of the place we were staying) know we would be having dinner again that night. It wasn't even noon yet and I had already gone through 4 liters of water and had hardly anything left - certainly not enough to go on any stalks.
On one of their stalks Anthony had a good buck within 80 yards but couldn't get a range on him, so he didn't shoot -- something he regrets. As I was heading back to camp to make sure we had enough supplies for the evening hunt, Mike and Anthony took a nap under a tree in the scorching mid-day heat. I picked Anthony and Mike up around 2 PM and we headed out to find some antelope to stalk for the evening.
A few antelope (1 buck and at least 3 doe) were quickly spotted not far off the road. We had to drive about a mile or so past them in order to get out of sight. Mike then set off on a stalk to get that buck. Anthony and I continued driving just a little farther down the road until Anthony spotted a seemingly lone antelope in a perfect spot for stalking. I set off after this one, which was just on the other side of the road where Mike was putting on his stalk. After circling around to the back side of the ridge this antelope was bedded down below it all looked like it was coming together perfectly. It was quite windy and the antelope was dead upwind of me. I slowly snuck over the ridge and expected to appear right on top of the antelope, and that is exactly what happened - there it was, just 30 yards away. There was only one problem. The antelope was already dead. I didn't end up seeing another antelope the rest of the evening.
Anthony ended up stalking some antelope, but they were constantly on the move, so he was never able to get close. Mike had some close encounters with mule deer, but was never able to get close to the antelope as they were in the wide open. We headed back to the cabin and had dinner waiting for us in our room. It consisted of a massive steak, baked potatoes, salad, and of course Cowboy Beans.
Day 2 Stats: 18,433 steps | 9.72 miles | 2,777 calories burned
The day Mike got the job done and killed the first antelope of the trip! It was another scorcher with temperatures in the mid-90s and a heat index of around 100 degrees.
We started off the day in a new location, only about 15 miles from the South Dakota border. Mike and Anthony went off one side of the road and I ventured off the other. I saw two antelope about a mile out shortly after sunrise and decided to put on a stalk as they were in a nice hole that would make for a good stalk. I set my pack down when I got to within 200 yards and began to crawl the rest of the way. I popped up over the hill and they were just on the other side about 80 yards away. They turned out to be two doe, so I set my bow down and watched them for a couple minutes before they spotted me and took off. I had no plans of shooting a doe until the last two days of the trip. I then headed back up to my original spot (the only place I had cell service) to see what Mike and Anthony were seeing. I ended up heading over to their location on top of a large hill. Several herds of antelope were visible from that location, including a group within the badlands about 2.5 miles away. They were in a good spot, so I drove Mike over there and dropped him off.
We were able to see several antelope from the highway we were on, so Mike knew exactly where they were. As Mike was heading down over the hill he saw the dominant buck running off another buck. He took this to his advantage and placed himself between the dominant buck and the group of does he was with, knowing he would eventually walk back to be with his does. On his way back to the herd the buck stopped just 65 yards from Mike. As Mike took aim he was breathing heavily thanks to his quick descent and this made the shot sail right over the back of the buck.
After realizing that he just missed a big buck at 65 yards, closer than you'd ever imagine getting to an antelope with a bow, Mike was able to regain his composure. He then made an attempt on the buck that was run off - after all, it was only one ridge over. As Anthony put it, "he ninja snuck into his bedroom" and let another arrow fly, once again at 65 yards. This time, Mike didn't miss. It was a perfect shot right behind the shoulder. The buck only ran about 60 yards.
While all this was going down Anthony was chasing a buck in circles for 3.5 hours and I was within about 2 miles of the South Dakota border putting a stalk on a lone buck. As soon as I got the call from Mike I canned my stalk and made the nearly 3 mile trek back to the truck. With it being so hot out we needed to get the buck dressed and on ice as soon as possible. Within about two hours of Mike killing the buck he had it dressed and we packed it up and carried it out in our packs. I drove through a field and was able to park just 100 yards or so from the kill site, so we were fortunate to have a very short and easy hike out with all the meat. After getting the meat and cape on ice we went into town and had some tasty BBQ.
Anthony set off on a solo stalk in the evening and I ended up putting on a stalk on several antelope that weren't too far from the road. Mike was in the truck and giving me directions. We could see a water bin from the road, but since I had to wrap all the way around to avoid being seen, I lost sight of the water bin. I eventually saw the water bin again, then another, and another. I thought I was heading towards the right one, but as it turned out it was probably close to a mile away from the correct one. I still saw three antelope near that water bin, but they were different antelope and were too far away to shoot. Once I realized where the correct water bin was I attempted to sneak up on the antelope that were still nearby, but they were gone by the time I got there. By this time it was pretty late, so I headed back to the truck to see if we could find anymore close to the road.
The only other antelope we saw was a group of about 8 and Anthony was right over the hill from this herd. Mike and I parked on the side of the road and were able to watch Anthony as he slowly crept up over the hill to get into position for a shot. The herd started walking straight towards him, so I texted Anthony to "Stop!". He immediately got into a crouched position and from our vantage point looked like he was ready to shoot. A few minutes went by when seemingly out of nowhere the buck took off full steam ahead, running directly at Anthony, and he had no clue.
This all went down in a matter of seconds, so we had no time to send Anthony a text to warn him. Instead, the next thing we knew, the buck came to a screeching halt at what looked like just 20 yards or so from Anthony. The first time Anthony was able to see the buck is when its head appeared in the center of his range finder. You see, at the time, Anthony was ranging objects because he and everyone else thought he'd have a little time before they popped up over the hill. The buck must have caught a glimpse of him and rushed up the hill to check out what had the guts to impend on his does. It was during the start of the rut, so the bucks were a bit aggressive at times.
In reality the buck popped up about 40 yards or so from Anthony and then quickly took off back down the hill. Mike and I then got to enjoy watching Anthony chase after this herd. It was pretty funny from our vantage point. After all this we headed back to the cabin and caught up with our bunkhouse neighbors, they were fossil collectors. They heard we had killed an antelope with a bow and were quite impressed. They said they have been coming there for 11 years and no one ever gets one with a bow.
Day 3 Stats: 23,955 steps | 12.25 miles | 2,941 calories burned
Another day of scorching hot temperatures and 12+ miles hiked. Anthony and I chased goats around all day - so many goats! We had several close encounters and even had a thunderstorm move through in the evening to help cool things off!
Tuesday - the 4th day of hunting. We were all pretty beat, but still managed to get up well before sunrise and head out to some new spots. I went to a large sandstone rock called Sugar Loaf and Mike and Anthony went down the road a little ways. I was able to see three separate herds of antelope from this location, but none were in ideal locations. I initially set off after a group of two that were only a mile away, but getting down from this rock quietly proved to be near impossible - getting up was much easier. The two antelope must have heard a rock move and were then looking in my direction the rest of the morning. There was no chance to get close to either of them, so I decided to wait until a herd of about eight bedded down. They were about a mile away from my initial location, but in order to get close I had to make a large circle around Sugar Loaf in order to approach from behind and remain out of sight.
There were seemingly a million bluffs and sand dunes and I had no clue in which one(s) they were bedded down. This meant I had to sneak up very carefully over each and every bluff. After the fourth bluff and still no sign of any of the antelope, I began to wonder if they had already spotted me and bolted. Finally, after the fifth bluff I spotted a doe bedded down about 400 yards away, but unfortunately she was bedded down on top of the sixth bluff while all the others were bedded down in the sand dune below. I couldn't possibly get any closer without the lookout doe spotting me. All I could do was sit and wait them out and hope that when they got up they either headed my direction or all went down into the sand dune so that I could get closer.
I sat there for over an hour, all the while getting burnt from the harsh sun. Let me tell ya, humans were not meant to go hunting with temperatures in the mid-90s and heat indices around 100 degrees. This isn't like back east where you have trees galore to seek shelter in the shade. There is literally zero shade across 99.8% of this public land. Anyway, it was 82 minutes after I first sat down before she finally stood up (literally, 82 minutes - I kept time because what else did I have to do?).
Once she stood up some of the other antelope started getting up and moving around. I still didn't see the buck at this point, but I knew he was there somewhere. Another 20 minutes passed before I finally saw the buck. The herd was about 400 yards away and still had no clue I was there. It didn't take long for the buck to start chasing some of the doe around. There are a couple things you need to know about antelope before I continue.
1.) There is no rhyme or reason to the movement of antelope. It's not like whitetails where they tend to follow predetermined paths. This is all open grassland, there are no paths. And 2.) Antelope do not like to jump fences. During the entire trip we never witnessed one antelope that jumped a fence. Instead, they find a hole and cross under the fence.
Alright, back to the stalk. As I was sitting on the ground trying to avoid the infinite number of cacti around me, the buck started chasing all seven doe. They were initially heading away from me, but then they turned right and started heading towards the road. They were still a few hundred yards away at this point. This was the first time I got a good look at the buck, and boy was he funky. His left antler was normal, but his right antler wrapped down around his face. This earned him the name Flojo, which according to the google translator on my phone meant "funky" in Spanish. However, as it turns out it actually means loose or lazy. Not sure how that mix up happened, but I kept the name Flojo anyway.
The doe were running away from Flojo, but it wasn't long before they hit a fence. They had two options: turn left and run away from me or turn right and head in my direction. They chose to head right! I still couldn't move as there was nothing but wide open grassland between me and the fence, which was about 300 yards away. Flojo was just sort of trotting along behind the doe and barking at them constantly. Eventually the doe ran out of sight and although the buck was still following along, he looked like he was about to give up. There was a rolling hill about 150 yards from me and as soon as Flojo disappeared behind the hill I made a run for it. My goal was to get to the edge of the hill as fast as possible and hope to get close enough for a shot.
Lo and behold, Flojo reappeared when I was mid-sprint - go figure, right? I instantly hit the ground and started barking at him - I had nothing to lose. To my surprise he actually started walking toward me. He would walk a few yards closer, then appear like he was about to take off, so I would bark again. Mind you, I'm sure my "bark" sounded atrocious, so he probably thought it was a dying antelope or something, which is why he didn't seem too afraid. I was able to range him at 120 yards, and I even drew back my bow at one point, but he just never came quite close enough for a shot. There was a lot of action packed into the last 30 minutes of that mornings hunt, but just like every other stalk before it, it proved to be fruitless.
As for Anthony, he started a stalk on a buck near where Mike shot his, but there was private land nearby and no one was sure exactly where the boundary was located. Most property was not very well marked out here. Mike texted Anthony that there was a suspicious vehicle in the area, so he played it safe and called off the stalk.
By this point I was drowning in my own sweat and waiting on the road for Mike and Anthony to pick me up. A good 30 minutes later and Mike arrived all by his lonesome. Turns out he had dropped Anthony off along the way to stalk a goat they had seen from the road. We drove around for a few minutes before Anthony texted to come pick him up. The goat had busted him and was long gone. These bad boys can run at speeds of up to 55 mph!
We drove around a little longer and Mike somehow spotted a buck bedded down just 100 yards or so off the road. It was an impressive find because this buck was not easy to see. We did a couple drive-bys because neither Anthony or I could see the buck initially. I spotted the buck on the second drive-by and he was bedded in a perfect spot. Anthony never saw the buck, but Mike and I told him where to go and he was off on another stalk. We drove up the road a little ways and pulled over. We did not have a line of sight on Anthony or the buck from where we were, but we knew it wouldn't take long for Anthony to get within shooting range. About 10 minutes had passed and Mike decided to take the truck closer to a location where we could see a little better.
As we drove by we saw the buck standing up, clearly looking at Anthony. We couldn't actually see Anthony, but the buck was looking in the exact location where we expected him to be coming from. A few minutes later the buck took off. We weren't sure what happened. As it turns out, Anthony was only about 80 yards from the buck and had an open shot, but he could see the top of the truck and saw the vehicle come to a stop. He was not able to identify the vehicle, so out of fear that he was on private land (remember, the public/private land boundaries were not always clearly marked) and that it was perhaps the land owner that had stopped on the road, he didn't take the shot. Had there not been a suspicious vehicle at the other piece of land earlier in the morning, or had we waited another five minutes to drive down, perhaps Anthony would have been able to kill that buck. That buck ended up being Flojo. He was in an area very near where I had stalked him earlier that morning. This would be a common theme over the coming days. We headed back to the cabin to take a little nap and get some fuel to make sure we were ready to go for the evening hunt.
Day 4 Evening Hunt
Are you still with me? Good. This was a long day of hunting, and we haven't even covered the evening hunt yet! We drove around like usual and quickly found what appeared to be a lone buck a few hundred yards off the road in a very large public walk-in property. I set off after this buck. The evening hunt started out hot, but clouds were moving in and rain was visible in the distance. After about a 15 minute hike to get into position I arrived at the base of the hill we saw the goat walk over. I very slowly snuck up to the top, hoping he would be there somewhere on the other side. Instead, I saw 11 antelope! There were 8 doe and 3 small bucks. At this point I was going to shoot anything, including a doe. We were quickly realizing just how hard it would be to ever get close enough to one for a reasonable shot.
Once I had the antelope in sight I could not move any closer. There was a large open grass ravine in front of me and they were several hundred yards away on the other side. Since I couldn't stalk them from that direction, I decided to go down the back side of the hill I was on and attempt to circle all the way around the ravine and come up from behind them. I had quite a hike ahead of me.
Shortly into this hike, which I estimated would be at least 3 miles one way, a dry thunderstorm hit and I was forced to seek shelter. Being in the middle of no where with no taller objects around me, all I could do was take off my gear and crouch down near the ground and wait for the storm to pass. There was a fair amount of cloud-to-ground lightning, so it was too risky to continue hiking with all my gear. Being a "dry" thunderstorm there was very little in the way of rainfall - just a few sprinkles. This is how many wildfires get started across the Plains and Western US. And as it turned out, this dry thunderstorm started two wildfires in the grasslands, both of which were put out later that day.
After only 10 to 15 minutes the storm passed and a brilliant double rainbow formed. Of course, this was the one time I did not bring my high-end photo gear with me. Instead, I had to settle for taking a few pictures with my iPhone, which did the scene no justice.
Once I was done taking photos I turned around and there were 6 more antelope behind me! Definitely wasn't expecting that and I have no clue where they came from. The herd of 11 were still on the far hill of the ravine, but now I had another group to stalk that were much closer. There was nothing but air between me and this new herd of antelope, so I had to try to hide behind something. I decided it was time to try and set up the decoy. These antelope were watching me the entire time and were only about 500 yards away, so I figured there was no way they were going to let me set up the decoy, stake it in the ground, and hide behind this fake goat. After a minute or so I was able to get the decoy set up, using my pack as a third leg (see the photo at the begging of the Day 4 section). Somehow, the antelope were still there, though they did just see an antelope appear out of thin air, so I'm not sure what was going through their tiny goat brains.
After getting a better look through my binoculars I determined that there were four doe and two baby bucks. I was going to shoot whatever got within range, which I decided would be 100 yards. After staring down the decoy for a few minutes the doe decided they had enough and bolted. All that was left were the two small bucks. They seemed to have an immense curiosity about the decoy, constantly staring and inching ever closer, When it looked as though the bucks were about to give up and take off, I decided to whip out my epic antelope growl once again, and BAM! They started darting right at me, full steam ahead. After sprinting about 50 yards they came to a halt and proceeded to bark at me. I barked right back. They would run closer still. This back and forth continued for about 5 minutes until I ranged the antelope at 120 yards. I had my release on, bow up, and I was ready to draw back at a moments notice. All they needed to do was move another 20 yards closer and I would let one fly. Unfortunately, they decided they had enough and took off. No barking in the world would make them turn back around. So close, yet so far.
I still had the large herd behind me, so I started back on the original hike I had in mind to try and sneak up behind them. I didn't make it 200 yards before a doe popped up right in front of me. Not sure if she was originally with the big herd or what, but I spooked her and the rest of the herd saw her running and decided they better run for the hills as well. There was still about two hours until sunset, so I decided that I would try to chase down this herd and see what happened. Well, all that happened is I ended up walking another four miles for nothing. As for Anthony, he hiked about as much as I did this day (~12 miles) and came back empty handed as well.
Day 4 Stats: 23,408 steps | 12.23 miles | 2,870 calories burned
Bows were drawn on antelope three times on this day, and one shot was taken. It was another scorcher with the temperature near 90 degrees in the afternoon, but thunderstorms moved into the general area for the evening. Sasparilla Floats were had.
Anthony and I had each already hiked around 45 miles with all our gear through the first four days, but once again we were up before dawn and set out for another day in the Ogalla National Grasslands. I went to the same bluff we went to on Day 2, Anthony went a few miles farther down the road, and Mike was on patrol in the truck. I did offer Mike the awesome task of being my spotter for the morning, but he decided he liked the idea of being in the truck better. The gracious offer was obviously turned down because he wanted to save his legs to help Anthony or myself when we got our antelope, and not because he didn't want to hike the two miles out to my glassing location...
Once I arrived on top of the large bluff I found a cozy spot and began glassing. For the first 30 minutes or so after sunrise I didn't see a thing, though this could have been attributed to my outdated, somewhat out of focus binoculars. Eventually I spotted two groups of antelope. The closer group bedded down in the wide open, so I had no chance at stalking them. The second group was about 1.5 miles out and were in nearly the same location as where the buck on Day 3 charged Anthony. There were a couple of good hills between us, so I decided to set off after this group.
While setting out on this venture I still had to make sure I didn't spook the other group of antelope, because they were my backup plan. This meant I had to tack on an extra mile or so to the hike in order to make sure I stayed out of sight. Eventually I made it to near the top of the hill where the antelope were just on the other side. I was able to get a glimpse of a nice buck and a couple of his doe, all about 300 yards away. They were feeding and playing around for a bit before they all bedded down right smack-dab in the middle of the field. All they had to do was bed down 50 yards farther to the right and they would have been down in a ravine far enough that I would have been able to get close enough for a shot. Instead, I was forced to belly crawl right up to the fence located on the very top of this hill. There was a tin water bin resting against the fence, so I used this to hide myself from the antelope as I crawled through cacti, cow patties, and fire ants. A solid 20 minutes later I was finally as close as I could get without spooking the goats. Now all I could do was sit and wait.
I was only about 20 yards away from a hole in the fence, the very same hole that several antelope used back on Day 3 when Anthony was putting on his stalk. I figured once they got up they might head this way and present themselves for a perfect 20 yard shot as they crossed under the fence. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, antelope have no rhyme or reason to their movement, so this was all wishful thinking.
A solid hour passed and the antelope still hadn't moved. I was burning up in the sun in my long pants and long sleeve shirt -- the temperature was around 94 degrees. I didn't dare move as even the slightest movement could give my position away to the antelope. Instead, I decided to text Mike since he was on patrol in the truck. He was about 20 minutes away at the time, but I asked him to head over to my location - I had a plan in mind. The antelope were bedded down about 500 yards away from the road, so when Mike arrived I had him stop the truck directly across the field from me so that the antelope were right in the middle of us. I then had Mike get out of the truck and start walking directly towards the antelope through the open field.
The plan was for Mike to continue walking at them until they saw him. Once they did, they would get up and head right to me, thus presenting me with a nice and easy 20 yard shot. Pretty much the perfect plan. There was just one problem. Once the antelope arose from their bedding area, they took off a full 90 degrees away from the line I was hoping they would take. That meant I had one last option. It was time to see if I was really in as good of shape as I thought. I took off at a full sprint along the back fence line as soon as the disappeared below a small hill in the field. I thought the fence line ran perpendicular to the one I was running along, so this meant they would be forced to head up the fence (away from Mike) and right to me.
After a solid 100 yards of full out sprinting with all my gear I made it to the intersection of the fence, completely out of breath. After stopping for a few seconds to attempt to catch my breath I took off my pack and turned around to set it down. As I looked up, there was a goat just staring at me. Completely broadside and not too far away. I have no clue where it came from, but that isn't what I was worried about at the time. Instead, I slowly went for my range finder on my belt and attempted to range this buck. I was still so out of breath, I couldn't keep it still for the life of me. I tried and tried and tried again before I was finally able to get a reading. It must have been 15 seconds before I was able to range him at 112 yards - and he still hadn't moved an inch. I decided I was going to take the shot. I had comfortably shot my bow out to 75 yards, but never imagined I would be taking a shot at 112 yards! It had already been a long week with no success, so I didn't know if I was ever going to get this opportunity again.
I raised my bow, put my 70 pin on his heart, then his back (80 yards), then a little higher (90 yards), even higher (100 yards), and higher yet (110 yards). More than anything I relied on my years of experience shooting instinctive, though I didn't know how much help that would be at this distance. I released. The arrow took off looking like it was going to pass well over the back of this buck. Before I could even begin lowering my bow, the buck jumped forward about three or four steps. He had heard my old, relatively loud bow and the noise scared him, but only just enough for him to jump forward a few feet before coming to a stop again. At this distance it takes your arrow a good second or more to get there. By the time the arrow reached the distance of 112 yards, it had missed just inches behind the butt of the antelope, and right at the perfect height. He was gone.
Had the buck not jumped at the sound of my bow, who knows, it may have been a pretty perfect shot. But unfortunately, we'll never know. I attempted to find my arrow, but that was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I then headed down to the truck to pack it in for the morning hunt. It was then that I realized the fence did not run perpendicular to the fence line I was along. Rather, it ran at an angle and the initial group of antelope I was after had seemingly endless field to run through before running into that fence line. The plan didn't work out in the slightest, but I somehow still managed to get a shot off at a completely different antelope. I assume it was one from the group I saw bed down in the middle of a field earlier that morning, but there is no way to know for sure. All in all, a pretty fun morning.
Day 5 Evening Hunt
For the evening hunt I headed into the hills where Mike shot his buck. There was a group of 17 antelope just 100 yards or so off the highway. I initially set out to go after these, but shortly after I was dropped off a van full of Asian tourists saw the herd, got out of their van, and all started talking loudly and taking pictures. These antelope weren't about to stick around for a photoshoot. They were gone. I knew there was another group at the bottom of the hills (we spotted them earlier from several miles off), so I decided to head down after them. A couple miles later I finally arrived at the water hole they were hanging around. No antelope in sight. There was a massive field out ahead of me, so I decided to just start walking and see what I could find. Now when I say massive, I am talking a solid 7 or 8 miles until you reach the next dirt road massive. I walked perhaps half a mile before I came upon a pretty cool oasis, complete with a nice watering hole. I even found a garter snake enjoying an evening swim.
There was a small hill on the far side of this oasis, so I slowly crept over, and sure enough, there were several antelope. The original herd of 17 was a little ways off to my left, maybe half a mile, but there were a few more just a couple hundred yards in front of me. As was typical, I had to go well out of the way to approach from an angle where the antelope would not be able to see me. Once I got within 200 yards I set down my pack and crawled the rest of the way. I made it to near the top of a rolling hill before I could see the herd again. I had come up over the hill a little too far to the right, so I slowly back tracked and started to head another 50 yards to the left in order to get in the right position. As I was walking farther to the left I noticed a doe just staring at me about 150 yards in front of me. I immediately dropped to the ground and froze thinking this stalk was over for sure. After about 10 minutes the doe quit staring at me and just walked back around the edge of the hill and joined the others as if she had completely forgotten about me. Talk about getting lucky.
Now that I was in the clear I crept back up to near the top of the hill, as close as I could get without spooking the herd, and just had to play the waiting game. They were only 142 yards away according to my range finder and there was about an hour until sunset. If they weren't going to walk in my direction, I would just wait until dusk and attempt to walk straight at them. As I was sitting there, waiting, more and more antelope kept coming into sight. At first it was just a group of four doe and one nice buck. After 30 minutes, I was looking at 9 more, including 4 smaller bucks. Before I knew it I had 14 antelope all around my location. A few were off to my left, the original group was still 140 yards in front of me, and several more were off to my right. To top it all off, I could count 20 doe and 1 monster buck well off to my left (maybe a mile or so).
Any movement at all at this point would give away my position. There were simply too many eyes. Next thing I know, I hear barking, but it wasn't coming from any of the antelope I saw. Rather, it was coming from yet another group of doe that had come up behind me and were just 125 yards away. I just tried to wait them out and hope they would forget about me, but it was too late. All the other antelope nearby began to bark and I decided it was now or never. It was time to make a run at the herd over the hill in front of me and see if I could get close enough for a shot. I stood up, bolted forward a few steps, and they were all taking off in the opposite direction. So many antelope. I could see several more at this point that I was not able to see previously. Three antelope stopped a couple hundred yards away on a hill looking back at me. Right behind them was an incredible sunset. My camera was back in my pack, so all I had was my phone. I was able to capture the picture you see above, but boy what I wouldn't give to have my DSLR camera at that moment in time.
I called it an evening and began my trek back to the highway, which was a solid 2 miles away and 400 or so feet higher in elevation. Once I arrived at the road I took my gear off and waited for Mike and Anthony to come pick me up. As it turns out it would be about an hour until they arrived. That meant I had plenty of time to experiment with my DSLR camera with a thunderstorm that was several miles away. Using a post I found as a "tripod" I was able to capture the lightning picture you see at the start of the Day 5 hunt (also can be seen in large format in the gallery at the end of this post).
Day 5 Stats: 19,723 steps | 9.97 miles | 2,782 calories burned
Another day where bows were drawn three times and one shot was taken! We saw a ton of antelope, had some great encounters, and discovered private land is like a sanctuary for antelope.
Day six started off just like any other day. We woke up well before sunrise and headed out to our locations to glass for the morning hunt. We dropped Anthony off at his location of choice and Mike decided to take me to a spot he had seen earlier in the trip, one of which he was quite fond. We weren't really sure where would be the best location for me to head out and glass from, so we decided to wait in the truck until it was light enough to where we could see a mile or so out into the vast surrounding fields. It was a bit foggy that morning, so it took nearly an hour before we could see much. There was no single location that looked ideal to hike out to, so instead we decided we would drive down the road slowly, stopping often to glass from the truck. For the first time this trip, I didn't set out on a multiple mile hike in the morning to reach my desired glassing location. It was a nice break for my legs!
It didn't take long before we spotted a lone buck just a short distance off the dirt road. We drove until we were out of sight, blocked by a small hill between us and the buck. I made a slow but steady stalk up the back side of the hill. As soon as I crested the hill I could see the buck about 150 yards away, facing the opposite direction. There was nothing between us at this point, so it would be too much of a risk to move any closer. I wanted to get down on my knees to try and get below the horizon line, but I feared that amount of movement would give away my position. Instead, I stood there with my bow in my left hand and my range finder in my right. He turned toward me and slowly walked closer. I ranged several fence posts and was just going to wait for him to get within 100 yards. I had my bow up, ready to draw at a moments notice. He had closed to within 125 yards, so I drew back and all I could do was wait until he got a little closer. Unfortunately, as he was around 120 yards away he spotted me and began to trot away. As he disappeared behind a hill I took off in a sprint hoping to catch him just on the other side of the hill, but he was too far away by the time I could see him again. I walked back to the truck and we continued to drive down the road to glass for more antelope.
As we were driving through some badlands we spotted a buck only 20 or 30 yards off the dirt road. Once again, it was another lone buck! This was probably only the fourth lone buck we had seen all trip. There was a small hill just a few feet off the road, so the plan was to sneak back up the road using this hill to hide me from the buck, who was facing directly toward the road. As I arrived at the location where we saw the buck from the road I crept up over the hill. I only took one or two steps up the hill when I saw the buck, just 40 yards away and staring right at me. We stared at each other for a couple seconds before he bolted in the opposite direction. All I could see was his head, so there was no way I could get a shot off. This was by far my closest encounter with any antelope so far this trip, but there really wasn't anything I could have done any differently. Back to the truck it was.
We continued driving around and saw quite a few antelope. One of the more interesting stalks I went on later that morning was when there were four antelope within a large group of cows. I decided to whip out the decoy and attempt to walk right through the middle of all the cows. Turns out cows aren't quite as dumb as they appear. They didn't fall for the 2-dimensional decoy gently gliding across the field. They all started mooing like crazy and running away. The antelope weren't sure what was going on, but they weren't about to stick around to find out what was spooking the cows. In another stalk it looked like the group of antelope we saw from the road were in a perfect hole in the middle of a field. By the time I got to that hole there was nothing there. I continued walking until I was perched on top of hill. It was then that I could see the group of antelope a good mile away. I wasn't about to try to stalk them since they were on the move and showed no signs of stopping.
While all that was happening during the morning hours Anthony was putting on a stalk on a young buck. That stalk came to and end when a rancher came flying onto the property on an ATV rounding up cows. The buck ended up running by Anthony at 100 yards, but he was on a full out sprint. Once we all joined back up we had a nice lunch and headed back to the bunkhouse for an afternoon siesta.
DAY 6 EVENING HUNT
We decided to head to a new area during our second to last evening hunt of the trip. It was a little longer drive, around 20-25 minutes, but it was time for a change of pace. As we were driving around we saw quite a few antelope, but they just weren't stalkable. What we did discover is that private land is like a sanctuary for antelope. We saw antelope galore on every single piece of private land we passed. They were even within a hundred yards of the road and couldn't have cared less about us. Try slowing the vehicle down when antelope are on public land reasonably close to the road and they are gone like a fart in the wind - but on private land, they just lay there and laugh in your face.
All the driving around looking for new locations and I end up right back in a location I have been several times before - the large bluff we first hiked to during the morning of our Day 2 hunt. We saw several antelope on top of the bluff from the road, and once they disappeared behind the ledge, I set off after them. Anthony headed down the road a ways farther before he set off on an adventure to get his first shot at an antelope.
It's about a 2 mile hike from the road just to the base of this huge bluff. Then, once you arrive, you hike up the steep hillside a few hundred yards to reach the top. So what's beyond the ridge, you ask? Much to no one's surprise, it was more open fields. As far as you can see, nothing but fields of golden grass gently wafting in the afternoon breeze. A rolling hill could be found here and there, which helped to break up the insipid landscape, but in the end, it was just miles upon miles of open country for the antelope to roam. There was only one problem - I didn't see any antelope. I had no idea what happened to the ones we saw from the road. After all, I had just spent 30 minutes hiking to this location, and in that amount of time, they could have gone anywhere. With a few hours until sunset, I continued to hike through the open fields, heading for one of the rolling hills.
As I approached the top of this hill I dropped my pack and army crawled to the top, bow in hand, just in case there was an antelope immediately on the other side. As I peaked over the crest I saw a lone buck about 150 yards away with his butt facing me. He was dead upwind and had no clue I was there - perfect! Through my binoculars I could see a dip in the landscape right in front of him. I waited until he disappeared into this dip and then took off at a brisk walk, trying to remain as quiet as possible. Winds on the top of this bluff were pretty strong and drowned out almost all the noise I was making. As I approached I began to crouch over slightly and was ready to pull back my bow. As I pop my head over the dip I was instantly startled to see two hunters a few hundred yards away, chatting loudly and just walking right through the open field, clueless as to my existence. The buck had of course spotted them long before I had and was no where to be found. It would take me an hour or so to get back to the road, so my hunt for the evening was over and the hike out began.
While all this was going on, Anthony had found a massive buck and was able to sneak up to 96 yards! He drew back and let it fly, but missed just over his back. At this point, all three of us had at least gotten a shot off, something we never thought would happen.
Day 6 Stats: 21,288 steps | 11.13 miles | 2,924 calories burned
The final day has arrived - and so has the rain. It was an incredibly wet and cold morning, much different than the first six days of hunting. I took no images this day, so a random photo of the landscape will have to suffice.
Our final day of hunting had arrived. One last chance to bag an antelope. We woke up to light rain, but the radar showed a bleak future. Rain, rain, and more rain was on the way. Mike stayed back while Anthony and I headed out to brave the chilly, wet conditions. Temperatures were in the lower 50s with a wind chill in the 30s. A far cry from the 100 degree heat indices we were facing earlier in the trip.
Anthony set off to the first location we ever scouted, not far from camp. I decided to head to where Mike and I saw a couple lone bucks just off the road the previous day. As the morning wore on, the rain intensified and the fog grew thicker. As I arrived at one of the locations I had seen a buck the other day, I prepared to brave the elements. Bow in hand, I hiked out a short distance into the field to see if I dropped down below the ridge line if the visibility would improve. It did not. I couldn't see much more than a couple hundred yards in front of me at best, and I saw no signs of any creatures of the flat land. There wasn't much else to do besides head back to the truck and try to find a new location with better visibility.
As I arrived back at the truck, I noticed the dirt road was quickly becoming a mess and I had a fairly steep hill to drive up in order to get back on the main gravel road. I quickly got in the truck and attempted to drive up this hill, but almost immediately began sliding back down the hill. I let the two-wheel drive SUV roll back down the hill, but as it was doing so I steered it to where my right tires were off the road and more on the grass, something I was hoping would give me a little more traction.
I attempted to scale the hill for the second time, using the grass as an aid for my right tires. After much swerving and revving of the engine, I made it to the top! I still had a few more miles to go to get back to the gravel road, but I was fortunate to not have to drive up any more hills. By the time I arrived at the gravel road I had a text from Anthony to come pick him up from where I dropped him off. I made my way back to Anthony and we headed back to the bunkhouse for some breakfast and hot coffee.
DAY 7 EVENING HUNT
The final evening hunt of the trip was here and the sun was breaking out! After a miserable morning, the clouds started to clear out by late afternoon and the temperature began to rapidly warm with high humidity. Mike was driving Anthony and I to our evening hunting locations and Anthony was dropped off first. As we began to head to my location of choice, we spotted what appeared to be a lone buck in a field. We decided I could set up by a fence line near an opening where he would be most likely to cross if he came my way. I built up a wall of tumbleweed in front of me to create a makeshift blind.
As I hunkered down and waited, Mike drove the truck up to the top of a hill to get a better vantage point. After a good 30 minutes, we both lost site of the antelope and decided to drive around some more and look for one that was stalkable. After driving around for another hour we didn't come across any antelope that were positioned well, so we headed back to where we saw the antelope a short while ago. As we arrived back at that location, we saw a buck and three doe out in a field on the other side of the road. There were in a decent location where I could attempt to sneak up on them, so off I went. Aside from the field they were in, this was much different terrain. There were sand/dirt hills everywhere like you see throughout the Badlands.
This made it easy to perform a quiet stalk, but it also made it easy to lose track of exactly where the antelope were. There were bluffs everywhere and they all looked the same. After a good hour hike I thought I was behind the right bluff and snuck around it only to realize I wasn't even close to where I thought I was. By the time I was able to make it to the proper location, it was getting close to dark. I saw the buck and two doe, but did not have eyes on the third doe. They were right below a bluff and in perfect position. All I had to do was sneak up the back side of the bluff and pop out right above them to give myself a 60-80 yard shot.
I was able to very quietly sneak up to the top of the bluff without spooking any antelope. I began to belly crawl to the edge, and was nearly there when I heard something behind me to my left. I slowly turned and looked over my shoulder and there was the third doe, standing atop an adjacent bluff performing the lookout duties. She spotted me and began barking. The other two doe and buck were indeed right below me and all took off once the lookout queen alerted them to the imminent danger. So close once again, but for one last time on this trip, I was outsmarted by the kings and queens of the open prairie.
Day 7 Stats: 12,452 steps | 6.45 miles | 2,586 calories burned
Our trip had come to an end, but the memories will last a lifetime. Now I have revenge on the mind and it won't be long before I successfully kill my first antelope with a bow. Without a doubt it was the most challenging hunt I have ever done and quite the workout! We all had a great time and I have no doubt we'll be back in the Northern Plains hunting the mystic antelope once again. A big congrats to Mike for bagging the one and only antelope of the trip with a perfect shot from 60 yards!!