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Return to the Sage: Wyoming Antelope

Getting so close a few weeks ago and coming home empty handed changed our plans for the rifle opener. Initially we were planning on scouting for 2 days, and rifle hunting the rest of the week. But after tasting the challenge that spot and stalk archery hunting provided, we modified our plans and headed over 4 days earlier, hoping to get the job done with archery tackle. We’d then have a day or two to pick up our rifles if needed.

Wyoming Desert Sunrise
In this sage country, cover is very scarce. Our tactic consisted of driving and hiking into canyons and draws, looking for bucks that were in stalk-able locations. We each had multiple stalks every day — some better than others. It wasn’t an issue of getting within range, but being close enough, and letting an arrow fly are much different things in the bowhunting world.

Buck through the brush

Dad came and met us after a couple of days, and a good friend, Jewkes, also showed up the Saturday before the rifle hunt opened. We spent a lot of time driving, walking, and glassing bucks to stalk.  Cole showed up Sunday afternoon. He would only be rifle hunting, but came out a couple of days early to get familiar with the unit and look at some bucks.

Jewkes came about 3 inches shy of killing a buck on Sunday, but the buck had moved a few steps farther than he had though and he shot just under its belly. The young buck dashed off and quickly learned to keep his distance from Jewkes-sized predators.

Running Pronghorn Buck

Monday morning we headed out to check on a few of the bigger bucks we’d seen. We were hoping to find them in their usual haunts, so we could be there at first light on opening morning. But we couldn’t locate any of them. We checked a half dozen different areas, and none of our bigger bucks were to be found. Disheartened we decided to head to another part of the unit that we had visited just once over the past 4 days.


Glassing for Bucks

I’d like to say that we put on a difficult stalk, but that wasn’t the case. As we were arriving in the other area and had barely driven onto a strip of public land, we spotted 8 bucks feeding from the truck.  We managed to get the truck pulled off the road without spooking them too much, and Jewkes made a short and effective stalk to within range.

I was sizing the bucks up, trying to pick the largest one. They all looked to be about 2.5 year old bucks — none significantly bigger than the others. They all lined up in a row and looked our way as they had caught our movement. The third from the left, however, did have a pretty hook and was a bit more appealing to my eye. I was looking through the camera eyepiece whispering “Third one from the left…third one from the left.”

The arrow flew, the herd jumped and scattered, and the third buck from the left ran off untouched. The second buck from the left, however, had taken an arrow to the spine and dropped on the spot. The shot was a little high, but the buck was down and expired quickly. It was done. We had a pronghorn buck down — spot and stalk style with archery tackle. We were all on cloud nine as we took a few moments to let it all sink in, snap some photos, and then headed back to camp. Tag 1 of 5 was notched. Rifle season started in the morning.


Jewkes' Archery AntelopeJewkes' Archery Buck Closeup

With pronghorn, an inch makes a big difference. In this sense, antelope hunting differs quite a bit from most other hunts as we looked over dozens of different bucks every day, trying to judge an inch here, and an inch there.  The majority of the bucks we would see were around 13 inches tall or smaller with small to average prongs and not much mass.  As the day wears on and the desert warms, heat waves make discerning inches at distances over 300 yards nearly impossible, even with good optics. We made the decision to split up opening morning. Cole and Jewkes went one way, while Ben, Dad and I took the other truck down into the canyons where we had seen several good bucks on multiple occasions, hoping that they would be back for the rifle opener.

Pronhorn Buck on Skyline

They weren’t. We drove through the usual haunts of several different bucks, only to find them empty. We did find several 14+ inch bucks early in the morning, one in particular had sweeping horns, but we decided that only 10 minutes into the rifle season, he could live a little longer.

We covered a lot of ground, and finally found a solid buck that warranted a stalk, but he was a mile away and two draws over. We consulted the GPS (thanks to GPS Hunting Maps) and found a road that would bring us close. After a bumpy drive and a stalk of a few hundred yards, we eased our way over the edge of the ridge. The herd had moved several hundred yards west and had us pegged. I rushed to find the buck, rested over a large sagebrush, checked the range, and took the shot. I hit low and the buck trailed his fast moving girlfriends across the draw and up the canyon. I had an incorrect range, and must have picked up some brush somewhere between myself and the buck and missed low because of it.

We made our way back out of the canyons and onto a big flat that always holds good amounts of antelope — they lived there because they could see for long distance so getting close to them was tough. We found several herds, and Ben and I were able to stalk up a draw, passing several bucks on the way, but ultimately not getting the bucks we were after.

Ben Watching Buck through Scope

We returned to camp to find Cole had killed the first buck he saw that morning. His luck paid off big time as his buck was big and had character. We exchanged high fives and stories of the morning, grabbed some lunch, and headed out to find some more bucks.

Cole's Big Character Buck

Trek Tent Camp

We found another nice buck, who managed to elude us and were driving back past camp, when we spotted a herd on backside of the ridge above camp, close to where I had one of my closest archery stalks several days prior. This looked to be the same buck and I decided I’d make a stalk. Ben took Dad south to try and find another buck, while Jewkes followed me with the camera as we made our way back to camp and up the draw. Hoping we could sneak around the ridge and find the herd within range.

I left Jewkes when I thought we were close and he stayed back with the camera, as there was very little cover. I had to use the topography of the gradual ridge to make my way towards the herd. I crawled forward and saw a doe, she was moving up the hill so I backed off, looped uphill and crawled forward again. The buck was standing next to a doe at about 200 yards, and for a long time either she was in front of him or he was in front of her so no shot was offered. I studied the buck, trying to decide whether I wanted to fill my tag. The doe cleared and he turned his head to look up the draw, his ivory tips glinted in the sunlight and he made up my mind. I grabbed my pack (which I had set behind me) and laid on my back as I pulled it across my chest to use as a rest. The buck caught my movement and looked my way. He stared me down, as I lay flat on my back in some very short grass. After what felt like an hour (more like a minute) he turned and fed. His lead doe was getting nervous and turned, looking to go around the ridge from me where I wouldn’t be able to see them. The buck was following but turned back. I abruptly sat up and shot. His does raced uphill, quartering towards me as they hurried to the top of the ridge. The buck turned downhill at first, then whirled back and I shot again, but the first shot had found its mark.

Brad's Pronghorn Buck

Brad's Buck side view

Brad's Wyoming Buck


Dad and Ben were coming back past camp, so we called and they came up to take a few more photos. They then headed back south of camp to look for a couple more good bucks. Ben found a buck that evening that had a pretty curl, great mass, and good prongs. He put on a very long stalk to within 70 yards in tall sage brush, capping it off with a short shot and tagged out. His buck is 13″ but will likely score the best of all the bucks due to his mass and strong cutters.

Ben's massive hooked pronghorn buck

We capped the night off with some rice and fresh backstraps, enjoying good company, tired companions, and reliving memories of the day. The next morning Dad, Ben and I headed out to try to find a buck for Dad. We drove down onto a large flat where we had gone the morning prior. The bucks make their way across this flat as they move from water each morning. We spotted the sweeping 14″ from the morning before and Dad decided he wouldn’t pass on him twice. With a short stalk his tag was punched and we had tagged 5 bucks in 36 hours.

Dad's sweeping antelope buckDad's Buck Closeup

I’ve long believed that antelope hunting is a great first hunt — but ultimately, it just makes a great hunt whether you’re new to the sport, or a seasoned veteran. The North American Pronghorn truly is a unique and amazing animal, hunting them in the sage deserts of Wyoming is hard to beat.


Morning Glassing for Antelope

Wyoming Horned Toad

Sometimes it ends too soon.

All that anticipation for about 3 hours of hunting. I’m not complaining, but sometimes it is funny how things work out. This year’s general muzzleloader hunt in Utah was short, but very cool.

Hunting rarely turns out as expected…

After planning this hunt with my brother and long time hunting partner, Ben, I expected to spend opening day hunting alone, that evening he would come down after work and hunt with me the rest of the week. I enjoy hunting with Ben because he hunts hard, and his hunting style is very similar to mine. So I was glad when he said he got the opener off and would meet me at camp the night before the season opened after dark.

Ben had been watching a great buck early in the season in a particular area, and I hoped to locate this deer (along with a few of his big buddies) the night before the season started so we could position ourselves accordingly before light the following morning. We knew, that along with the light, there would be other hunters – as can be expected on a general OTC hunt, especially in Utah.

This area isn’t a long hike from the road, it is rather steep however, and I barely made the top before dark. I spend about 15 minutes as the light was fading searching for any sign of the big buck. Nothing. I returned to camp, set up the tent in the dark (which was more difficult than it should have been with this particular tent), and waited to Ben’s arrival. He showed up as I was hammering the final tent stakes in with a big rock, trying not to injure a finger or toe. We talked about what I had seen that evening, which didn’t take very long, had some dinner, and hit the hay–in anticipation of what we might find the next morning.

4:30 came pretty early that morning. We wanted to be in position before anyone else so we made our way up the mountain plenty early. We set up on a ridge between two basins, each glassing one. As it was just getting light enough to see, I spotted a buck in the bottom the basin I was watching. I watched him for several minutes, waiting for the light to get a little brighter so I could judge him a little better. He looked like a heavy buck, but I couldn’t put him past his ears. I would expect that he was a 18-22 inch buck, I never did get points counted, as it was too dark and he fed into the timber. I continued to glass, checking in every now and then with Ben. He was not seeing any deer, just the lights from flashlights and headlamps of hunters moving around and across the basin he was watching.

I had a hunter move in from below, check the wind and move on. I’m pretty sure he never saw me, as he was quite intent on sneaking, even though I was only about 20 yards away. I watched a group of does and a small velvet covered spike feed out into the bottom of the basin. I set up the spotter to try and put some big antlers on one of those deer. They suddenly spooked, I turned around to see another hunter just above and behind me. I waved and walked up to talk to him. He told me there were at least 4 hunters on the top of the basin, I had seen one below and Ben had seen a lot of guys moving in from the other basin.

Ben and I decided to move. With all the surrounding pressure, we figured some deer would eventually get bumped. So we elected to move down the ridge, and work through the bottom of the basin I had been watching, up through the timber where I had seen the buck go at first light, and hopefully we could jump some bucks, have some pushed to us, or find some up and feeding in one of the secluded meadows, hidden from the view of hunters on the high ridges.

Let me go backwards just a little bit now. At least 2 of the hunters on the ridge, we had expected to be there. A good friend of mine had told me about this area several years ago, and his sister was planning on hunting the top of the basin. This played into our original plan, as I didn’t want to disrupt her hunt and was hoping she might knock a buck down first thing that morning.

Now back to the story…as we reached the bottom of the basin, we heard several shots above us near the top of the basin. We stalled, watching and listening for spooked deer to flash through the trees ahead of us…Nothing. We moved silently, listening, through a few open meadows in the bottom of the basin. We heard another shot above us (this totals 3 shots). But still no animals were spooked our way.

We continued moving forward, when suddenly I heard something ahead, and saw the flash of antlers come from around a tree about 30 yards ahead of me. The big buck was startled and hit the brakes when he saw us, turning and crossing to my left as he dodged a large deadfall. I was fumbling with the hammer on my muzzleloader as I raised the gun to my shoulder. The deer was picking up speed, I remembered thinking, “don’t hit him too far back.” My iron sights caught up with him and I swung to the front of his shoulder and let one fly. It rocked him hard, he turned towards me and stumbled back. He was dead within 10 steps. I had hit him perfectly through the front shoulder.

Ben had been a few steps behind me watching the excitement. “More bucks!” he yelled, and took off on a “Lance Merrell Run” towards them. They were moving to our right about 80 yards from me. After his heroic sprint, the deer passed Ben at fewer than 20 yards, all broadside and moving past in single file…3 point, 3 point, 2 point. He let them run and the forest quieted down again.

I walked up to the downed deer.

I would not have thought that I would have killed my biggest buck to date with a Muzzleloader on Utah’s General hunt. The buck is 27.5 inches wide and gross scores just shy of 184 inches.