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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

Best Backpack for Hunting – under $250

Western hunting often demands long hikes, especially when day hunting. For hunts where leaving camp well before light and arriving back after the sun has set, you may want to look for a backpack that could work as a daypack, carrying  essential,s plus enough to stay overnight if need be, and also had the capability to carry a first load of meat if an animal is harvested. You’ll want a pack that is lightweight, small, and has the ability to carry heavy loads.

There are many great backpack companies who cater specifically to hunters. I found specifically what I was looking for in three packs, all from different manufacturers. I would consider the three packs listed below to be the best in their price range for their ability to carry heavy loads without being over-sized for day to day hunts:

Badlands 2200

The badlands 2200 is a do it all pack. At around 2200 cubic inches, it fits the bill of being a large day pack with the ability to pack heavy loads. I’ve had the opportunity to harvest several mule deer with this pack in tow. One of which was in a nasty timber basin. I was grateful to have a pack that could take out a load on the first hike back to camp. Between two of us, we boned out the buck, threw the meat in the packs along with all of our gear and had the whole deer packed home in one relatively easy trip. I’ve done this on several occasions since.

The Badlands 2200 has a fold out wing design, which is nice and makes the pack quite expandable. Badlands shoulder straps have always been very comfortable, and one feature that I really like about this particular pack is a zipper on the back of the pack (rests against your back) allowing you to get into your gear by either swinging the pack around while still wearing the waist belt, or accessing items in your pack when you have a load strapped on the other side. The 2200 also has the capability to be carry a rifle or a bow.

The Badlands 2200 was re-designed in 2014 and is the most expensive of the listed packs (the new price is actually more than $250). The 2200 is a very popular pack among western hunters and has been reliable with a great warranty.

For more information about the Badlands 2200 CLICK HERE

Eberlestock X2

The Eberlestock X2 is one of my favorites because it’s compact size. It is the smallest of the packs featured on this article, coming in at 1800 cubic inches. Don’t let the size fool you, this pack is solid. The only reason I would hesitate to throw a elk quarter in this pack and hike for miles, is because I’d wear out long before the pack ever did.  It’s compactness is what really sets it apart from it’s counterparts.  It has a lightweight aluminum  frame, with great organization pockets for your spotting scope, water, calls, and other items you might need quick access to. Most Eberlestock packs are compatible with a rifle scabbard, and the X2 is no exception. Or, if you’re an archery hunter who likes carrying your bow on your pack, it has the ability to do that as well with the added “ButtBucket.”

As far as size, design, and functionality goes, this pack is one of my favorite and is high on my personal wish list.

For more information about the Eberlestock X2 CLICK HERE

Links for Purchase: (View these links as prices change often)
Eberlestock X2 Pack @ Amazon.com: $189
Eberlestock X2 Pack @ Cabelas.com: $189

Horn Hunter Main Beam

I’ve personally been using the Main Beam as my day pack for the past 3 or 4 seasons. While I’d love to have all of these packs and truly believe any of them would fit the bill perfectly — I chose the Horn Hunter for a couple of reasons. First, cost was a bit lower than the other two, and I was on a budget when choosing this pack. Second, I liked the design of this pack a lot. It has a wing type design, (smaller wings than the 2200) which allows me to access my spotter, tripod, bugle or any somewhat larger item quickly, without a zipper — while still protecting it from getting beat up as I hike. The Main Beam also has over 20 different storage pockets, so I can keep all of my gear organized. It has a fold out orange meat carrier that tucks away in a pocket on the bottom of the bag which is great for packing out a cape and antlers or stuffing your extra clothing, sleeping bag, or whatever else you may be carrying.

The Main beam is listed at 2800 cubic inches, but when carrying it alongside the badlands 2200, it actually  seems a bit smaller. It has more straps for compressing loads than either of the other packs listed in this article, which may be why. Regardless, the pack feels much smaller than the advertised size.

I’ve used my Main beam to pack out a lot of critters over the past few years and have been able to depend on this pack in every situation I’ve been in. I never really weigh my packs when loaded, but it has carried everything I could ever fit in it and has been a great pack for my needs.

For more information about the Horn Hunter “Main Beam,” CLICK HERE

Links for Purchase: (View these links as prices change often)
Horn Hunter “Main Beam” @ Amazon.com: $147 – $179 (price varies)

If you’re looking for the best packs for the DIY hunter for under $250 and are wanting the ability to hunt light and still be able to carry out a heavy load, then take a closer look at the Badlands “2200,” the Eberlestock “X2”, and the Horn Hunter “Main beam.” I highly recommend all of them – each company has fantastic warranties, and they are all durable, dependable, and made especially for hunters.

Other packs you might want to check out that are under $250 include the Badlands Diablo, Eberlestock X1, and the Tenzing TZ 2200.

A few packs to check out that cost more than $250: NEW Eberlestock War Hammer, Horn Hunter Full Curl System, Horn Hunter Curl ComboBadlands Sacrifice, Eberlestock Just One (J34), Mystery Ranch Crew Cab, NEW Mystery Ranch Metcalf.

Radio Time!

Earlier this week I was a guest on “The Revolution with Jim and Trav.” They run a popular outdoor related podcast/radio show that is aired on over 400 radio stations nationwide. This week they are talking about whitetail hunting, and they had me run them through our famous “DIY European Mount” article. Be sure to check their show out this week.

To find out when and where it will be aired in your area, CLICK HERE.

Or you can download their podcast every week from Itunes.

For more information on this week’s program you can view the release on Outdoor Hub:
http://www.outdoorhub.com/news/this-week-on-the-revolution-with-jim-and-trav-late-season-whitetails/

2012 Photo Contest

It’s that time of year again. We’re excited to get our annual photo contest rolling again this year. This year’s prizes will be bigger than ever. A special thanks to our sponsors: Nielson Productions Taxidermy, Wac’em Broadheads, and Quick Draw Decals.

Last year we had a great contest was a great success, so we’re ramping things up a bit this year. We have some great prizes to give away like Wac’em broadheads from Wac’em Archery Products, some awesome decals from Quick Draw Decals, and a free shoulder mount from NpTaxidermy.com! We’re adding more prizes over the next few weeks, so keep checking back.

In the meantime, we’d appreciate you sharing our contest with your buddies, and if you have some photos to share — send them in!

For more information about our contest, entry info, and contest details visit our Contest Page.

Here’s a few photos from previous contests. Good luck this season!

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2012 Photo Contest is a go!

Last year’s photo contest was a big success, so of course we’re putting it on again this season. Be sure to send in your photos from 2012. We aren’t judging inches, but rather our favorites — whether its wildlife in the wild, scenery pics, or a trophy shot with your buck, bull, doe, cow, ram, etc.

Here’s a few entries from 2011! We’re looking forward to seeing your pics – Good Luck out there!t the official rules posted up within the next few days, along with the prizes for the winners. I can tell you that we are giving away another free shoulder mount from Nielson Productions Taxidermy!

 

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2011 Photo Contest Winners

[singlepic id=225 w=320 h=240 float=right]Thanks to two of our great sponsors (Nielson Productions Taxidermy and Golden Valley Meat Snacks) our contest for 2011 was a huge success. We had a lot of great entries — here are the winners: (The winners were chosen by a panel of judges in early February):

Travis long went home with the grand prize – a free shoulder mount from NP Taxidermy, some jerky, and some huntaddicts swag. We felt this photo really portrayed the DIY hunter as many of us have been in similar situations. Thanks Travis! (Photo on right)

Initially we were only going to pick a couple of runner ups, but because we had so many great entries we picked six. Each of our runner ups get some Golden Valley Meat Snacks Jerky and HuntAddicts premium window decals. Thanks for all of your entries. Almost every judge commented on how difficult it was to judge this contest.

Keep in mind that we are doing this again for 2012. Nielson Productions Taxidermy is gracious enough to donate another mount, and we’ll be adding a few additional prizes this year as well! So keep your cameras handy this season. Happy Hunting!

Here are all of the winning photos:
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Hunting with Spotting Scopes

This article by John Barsness originally appeared on the website www.opticstalk.com, where he writes a monthly column on some aspect of optics. John and his wife Eileen Clarke also publish their own on-line magazine, RIFLE LOONY NEWS, available through their website www.riflesandrecipes.com.

A spotting scope’s use in hunting often begins before the season actually opens. A spotting scope allows the hunter to “scout” big game animals without disturbing them. This works not just in the wide-open West but anywhere some distance can be found, whether across a Midwestern farm field or from ridge to ridge in the Appalachians.

Americans hunt deer more than any other big game, and a spotting scope is particularly useful when scouting for either mule deer or whitetails in late summer before they shed the velvet on their new antlers. At this time of year the antlers are soft and tender, and even big whitetail bucks will spend more time in the open. Also, the coats of summer deer are reddish, so they stand out at long distances.

Bucks also tend to hang out together before their antlers harden. They’re not producing as much testosterone as they will later in the fall, so are a lot more mellow around their potential rivals. During the last days of August I’ve seen as many as 14 branch-antlered whitetail bucks in one small field, and as many as six mule deer bucks bedded on a mountainside. In the West you’ll often see several bull elk together, and in the Rockies and the North several moose. Such sightings encourage hope and persistence during the upcoming season!
These bachelor herds break up during the rut, but their members will still be somewhere around. Whitetails, especially, tend to stay in the same general area. Mule deer and moose may wander further, but will generally be within a mile or two of their late-summer hangouts. Elk will wander the farthest.

One thing quickly discovered during such scouting is that really high-powered spotting scopes aren’t quite as useful as many hunters would imagine. Two things interfere with a clear view when a scope is cranked much above 40x: a small exit pupil and heat waves.
The first is most important during dawn and dusk, when game animals are most active. A 2mm exit pupil is marginal but OK in dim light; anything less results in a view with almost no contrast and detail. A spotting scope with a 60mm objective has a 1.5mm exit pupil at 40x. Crank the same scope up to 60x and the exit pupil shrinks to 1mm. This just doesn’t get it done in anything except bright sunlight, the reason that serious hunters often invest in yet another spotting scope with a 75-80mm objective lens. These can be turned up to 40x and still have an exit pupil of 2mm.

The other problem occurs as the sun rises higher, when heat waves begin to rise as well. The image may be bright at 60x, but you won’t be able to see much detail because heat waves interfere. On the high plains in early autumn I’ve seen heat waves interfere so much with the view that by 9:00 in the morning that it’s impossible to see horns on any pronghorn much more than half a mile away. You can tell that their head is black, both because of the black horns and the dark throat patch, but you can’t actually see the horns.

This is why most of my hunting scopes have eyepieces that don’t go above 40x or 45x. There’s just too little practical use for higher magnifications. However, if you like to use a spotting scope for, say, star gazing, then higher magnifications can be useful. At night there’s no problem with heat waves, both because of cooler temperatures and because the scope is pointed upward, away from heat rising from the ground. It’s pretty cool to be able to see the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn.

Some spotting scope purists insist on fixed-magnification eyepieces, since these usually provide a slightly sharper view than variable eyepieces. This may be true in an absolute sense, but hunting involves a wide range of light and terrain. You’ll actually be able to see much better with a slightly less-sharp variable eyepiece, because the magnification can be “tuned” to the light and atmospheric conditions.

Something in the 12-40x or 15-45x range is just about perfect, partly because the lowest magnification provides a wide field of view. When hunting, spotting scopes are often used along with a binocular. The game is often spotted with the binocular, and then the scope is used to zoom in for a better view, allowing us to evaluate the animal itself and, sometimes, details in the terrain in preparation for a stalk.

It also saves us time and effort. Both are often at a premium. A spotting scope allows us to get a good look at the horns or antlers of animal before making a long cross-canyon hike. This isn’t only a matter of trophy evaluation, but often of making sure the animal is legal. Many areas require a certain number of tines for antlered game to be legal, and in at least parts of British Columbia a mountain ram must have a certain number of “growth rings” on his horns. This really requires good glass. Even bears require evaluation. Bigger, mature bears have certain characteristics, such as wide-set ears, that set them apart from younger bears. Often these are only visible through a good spotting scope.

Spotting scopes can be purchased with both straight and angled eyepieces. Both styles have their adherents. An angled eyepiece allows glassing both above and below us more comfortably, especially when we’re lying down (a frequent position in open-country hunting). An angled eyepiece can also be used on the level, by turning the scope so that the eyepiece is level with the body, but some people find it really hard to locate anything in the scope with this set-up, much preferring a straight eyepiece.

I am of two minds here. I find an angled eyepiece much more comfortable when looking both above and below me, but often get frustrated when trying to find something I just saw through binoculars—especially if there are only a few minutes of light left, or the animal is moving. I also find that when sitting up to glass a straight eyepiece is more comfortable, and sitting is also a frequent glassing position in some hunting country. I also prefer a straight eyepiece when glassing from a vehicle, with the scope on a window mount—though that can vary with the angle too.

What a hunter really needs is an eyepiece that can be tilted anywhere from straight to a 45-degree angle. This feature is rarely found, however—and to my knowledge never found in a really top-notch scope. So my advice would be to borrow spotting scopes with both straight and angled eyepieces and really give them a workout before making your final decision. I own both types, an indication of how ambivalent I am on the subject.

To be truly useful a spotting scope much be mounted on something to keep it steady. I have seen people place them on the crown on a cowboy hat that’s sitting on a rock or log, and some hunters who mostly glass from vehicles keep a spotter on a shoulder stock. These will work, but aren’t nearly as good as a window mount or a good tripod.

Part of the reason for using a window-mount or tripod is scanning. We do this not only to find an animal we’ve already glassed through binoculars, but when actually looking for game. Yes, a spotting scope can be used to find animals, and at really long distances is more useful than conventional binoculars of 8-10x. The trick is to examine each piece of the country in an organized way, and turning the head of a tripod is perfect for this purpose.
(Another trick when using a spotting scope for actually finding game is to place a piece of tape over the “off” lens of your shooting glasses—or, if you’re like me, your everyday glasses. We feel eyestrain when looking for long periods through a spotting scope either because of muscle fatigue in our off eyelids, due to keeping the off eye closed, or the off eye trying to focus along with your primary eye. Placing a piece of tape across one lens of your glasses allows glassing with both eyes open, and is a LOT more comfortable during long periods of looking, believe me. I normally keep a couple strips of tape on the scope itself, just for this purpose. Electrical tape works fine.)

The rule of thumb with tripods is that the bigger the scope, and the higher off the ground it will be, the bigger and heavier the tripod. The heavier and higher the scope, the harder it is to keep steady, and if the scope isn’t steady we won’t see distant detail—the reason for a spotting scope in the first place.

Unfortunately this conflicts with a lot of hunting. Ideally we’d pick a scope with an objective in the 80mm class, in order to see better in dim light. We’d like to pair this with a tall, heavy tripod. But just try to carry both a big, heavy tripod and a big, heavy 80mm spotting scope in the field.

This is why many serious hunters have both an 80mm scope, used almost entirely from or near a vehicle (whether on window mount or a full-size tripod) and a smaller 60mm scope, used with a small tripod, for carrying in the field. If you choose carefully, a 60mm scope and short tripod (used for no more than sitting height) can fit into a daypack for carrying into the field. This is impossible with a really big scope and full-size tripod.

One trick that can be used to steady any tripod-mounted scope, especially in the wind, is to drape something relatively heavy over the scope itself. I’ve placed a hunting jacket, for instance, over a scope to tame wind vibrations.

Some hunters also find a truly compact spotting scope useful. If glassing isn’t going to be for extended periods, a small spotter can even be substituted for both binoculars and a spotting scope. On a caribou hunt in the Northwest Territories a few years ago I decided to test a then-new 10-20x compact spotting scope, a nifty little thing about 10” long and weighing less than an average 8×40 binocular.

After one day of carrying both a full-size binocular and the little spotter, I left the binocular back in camp. When set on 10x the little scope worked fine for the minimal amount of glassing needed to find caribou on the tundra (if there, caribou are pretty obvious!), and when cranked up to 20x and placed on my shooting sticks the scope worked fine for evaluating antlers up to a mile away.

As with other optics, I have too darn many spotting scopes, though I use them all at one time or another. But for the average hunter I’d suggest starting with a good 60mm-objective scope, with a variable eyepiece topping out at around 40x to 45x, combined with a compact tripod that can be used either while sitting or lying down, and a window mount. Such an outfit will take care of 90% of the glassing any hunter requires from a spotting scope.