This time last year, I was eagerly checking the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website to see if I had captured a bit of luck with drawing tags. Religiously, I put in every year for the coveted “Big Three” Montana game animals that are usually on all hunters bucket lists: Moose, Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat.
As I clicked on the drawing results with the expectant hopes of a lottery winner, I came up blank. Zero for three. Again. For the twelfth year in a row. Ouch. My odds were terrible to begin with (less than one half of one percent for the sheep) but I always think “this is the year”. 2015…now THAT will be the year…
As I sit here, watching hazy smoke drift in from forest fires in Oregon blot out the mountain ranges around me and the summer heat in full effect, I start thinking of one thing: bowhunting antelope. Last year was a stellar hunt, as I was lucky enough to take a large buck during a spot-and-stalk hunt by myself one fine August day. That hunt ranks as one of my all-time favorites, where everything came together like a well-rehearsed script. The season opens in about a month, and I will soon be piecing together long day hunts chasing one of North America’s most unique game animals.
Gear-wise, my “kit” is more or less the same as last year, my trusty Hoyt Maxxis is ready to roll, but I did upgrade my release. I switched over to a single sear style, the Scott Archery Rhino XT Release, which is quick to hook on the D-loop, and provides a very crisp trigger pull and smooth string release. After several practice sessions, it is quickly becoming a new favorite piece of gear, and has tightened up my groups nicely. As always, my Havalon Piranta Knife will be ready to go, hopefully coming out to break down another antelope buck; with an opening date of August 15th, speed is a necessity as daytime temps can climb easily into the 80’s or even 90’s and I do not want to waste any time fielding dressing and quartering an antelope. One big plus with antelope is they are relatively small, so if need be, I can quarter and pack out an entire buck by myself. I am crossing my fingers for a cloudy, relatively cool opening day.
One of the best parts about bowhunting antelope is one can hunt them all day. Frequently, a glassing session rewards the patient hunter with several antelope sightings, and allows for a game plan to be devised and a stalk executed. If one stalk fails, repeat the recipe: break out the binoculars or spotting scope, starting scanning, find a buck and get after him. Additionally, hunters should always try to take advantage of the early season attitudes of antelope, as they are typically less skittish than they will be come rifle season; they are nearly a different animal altogether.
This more relaxed early-season “antelope attitude” was put to good use last year. On a scorching hot day I hunted with a friend and we were busted sneaking in on a small buck. The buck was about 200 yards away, staring straight at us. To our left was an open, flat, rocky prairie. To our right, the field dropped away very steeply and allowed me to slowly ease away, and cut straight down and across. I told my buddy to stay right where he was, and keep the antelope in sight. The buck initially looked from me, to my friend, and back again, trying to figure out who was more of a threat: the one standing there totally still or the one slowly disappearing from sight.
Right before I lost track of him visually, I referenced a large boulder, and started the sneak. The buck was so focused on my friend that it appeared he “forgot” about me. I side-hilled it as quickly as I could, and guessed a bit on my proximity to the buck. Starting uphill, I knocked an arrow, and prepared to either come up right on top of the antelope, or see an empty piece of prairie where he once stood. Neither happened. Instead, the buck had started to walk forward, and apparently his memory and curiosity got the best of him, and he was heading over to the edge to see where I had gone. He was heading down and towards me, and I was heading up right at him. At the crest of the hill, we met — both very surprised. I only had a split second to guess the range on the steep uphill angle, and drew back, settled my pin on his chest, and released. With the buck squarely eyeballing me, and me mis-judging the distance a bit too high, the buck jumped the string, and I watched as my arrow arced over his back, landing somewhere in Canada.
While the miss was a bit of a disappointment, I learned several valuable lessons: change plans quickly when you need to, use the early season attitude of antelope to your advantage, and practice more on steep uphill and downhill shots. In the end, it was a successful day, punched tag or not. I can’t wait for August 15th…