Like sons for many generations before me, few things excite me quite like the prospect of going hunting with my Father.
Growing up in a town that few would consider to be a hunting town, our opportunities to go afield have been relatively limited. In fact, town isn't even a fair description- we live in a city. A city surrounded by other cities.
Heading to Wyoming in pursuit of Pronghorn was the result of many years of us reading, scheming, dreaming and planning our eventual pursuit. (More on that in Part 1 of my Pronghorn Hunt story)
October 1, 2016
I tagged out fairly early in the morning, and we made the hour-long return trip to camp to hang my antelope buck to cool. I was so thankful to have my first big game animal on the ground, but to be honest, there is so much adrenaline, that the proceedings of my portion of the hunt are somewhat hazy. Time goes by rather quickly during those final moments leading up to the harvesting of an incredible game animal.
By the afternoon, when we returned to the 60,000 acre ranch to glass for antelope bucks. This time, it was my Dad under pressure, and I was relieved to assist and observe from the back seat.
The morning had been a steady stream of Pronghorn herds. It seemed like there was another mini herd behind every third hill. The afternoon, however, was a different story. We were seeing far fewer antelope, and the ones we were seeing were far more skittish. We were having a tough time getting close enough to glass with binoculars, relying more heavily on the window-mounted spotting scope. At first, the slower pace doesn't really bother you too much, but as the hours roll by and your eyes tire, your mind begins to wander and the lack of game starts to brew questions and fears in the little dark corner of your mind. "What if we got lucky this morning?"
After several hours of bumping around weathered dirt tracks, we started back toward camp, knowing we had two more full days to hunt, if we needed them. We weren't overtly worried, but just to be safe, I didn't say anything out loud about the lack of game in the afternoon.
Every so often, as we worked our way back toward the gate, we would see a small herd gathered, so we would stop to give them a once-over with the glass, (Glass is hunter-speak for binoculars) although nothing we saw was worth more than a passing glance.
We did stop one time, to get out of the truck taking a long look at one particular buck who was maybe a third day of the hunt buck, but not a first day of the hunt buck.
The sun was starting its rapid decent toward the horizon, as we bumped along another arm of the weathered dirt track, parallel to a long barbed-wire fence.
A figure broke the horizon, way out to the left, front, which happened to be East, because the sun was setting directly to our right, behind. When you look at as many pronghorn as we did that day, it doesn't take long to recognize which ones are marginal, and which ones stand out from the crowd.
Even from 780 yards away, as Jason would range, this guy was substantially better than anything we had seen all day. The trouble was, there was very little topography to use to close the distance. Our best bet was to hope that this old boy would continue his trajectory, from left to right, and eventually end up directly in front of our current position, just further down the weathered track.
Jason and my Dad decided to start stalking the position they thought he might end up, rather than where he stood currently.
I elected to hang back as far as I could (without totally missing out on the action) because I was excited that it was my Dad's turn, and I did not want to risk busting his stalk. Planning a stalk without the pressure of being the shooter is rather exciting. I can see why hunting guides get so much enjoyment out of their occupation. The thrill of the chase, without the fear of coming up short in the shooting mechanics department.
Waiting for the buck to pass over the ridge line, and therefore temporarily out of sight, Dad and Jason headed off, with just the essentials, to attempt to cut the distance to a more comfortable and humane range for my Dad's .308. I kept an eye on them through the binoculars, trying to walk the fine line between keeping a safe distance and keeping up with the unfolding events. (Occasionally stopping to snap an iPhone photo through the lens of my binoculars.)
Dad and Jason went over a small hill, and down the opposite side, so they were now completely out of sight from my position. I continued my casual pursuit of my antelope-pursuing hunting partners.
The next thing I saw was their antelope running from left to right, and angling away, towards a large patch of taller grass. I still couldn't see the guys, but I knew they were busted.
To my surprise, the antelope buck stopped once he reached the relative safety of the taller grass, and turned around to inspect whatever it was that had started him in the first place. All I could see of the buck at this point was his head and face above the grass.
Antelope are curious fellows, and had it not been for their propensity for repeated glances over the shoulder, I may have never gotten a clean shot at my buck that morning.
I was vaguely familiar with the curiosity of pronghorns, but what happened in the next two minutes was more than I could have imagined.
Apparently, when the buck came back into view of Dad and Jason, they got flat to the earth. The buck got spooked and accelerated his exit (which is when I saw him running left to right).
Unsure of where Dad and Jason were, I just stood frozen in the middle of the prairie, eyes glued to my binoculars as the pronghorn evaluated his situation in the tall grass. It seems he was unsure about the oddly shaped, oddly colored forms that lay in the grass about 200 yards behind him. His eyes were locked on their position, but the buck started to very cautiously come back around, to get a better look. He took a couple hesitant steps back towards Jason and Dad's position, and then a few more.
He stood at the edge of the tall grass, eyes still locked on his pursuers.
Then, my heart sank as I saw the buck jump, turn 180 degrees, and begin to run; right then the sound of the rifle barked. Immediately following the boom of the rifle was an equally loud report of the bullet striking.
It took my brain a few moments to register the fact that the sound was delayed in arriving to me, what I first perceived as my Dad shooting right as the buck started to run, was actually my Dad striking home on a quartering shot, as the buck initiated his turn.
At the sound of the gunshot, I started running up the track to figure out what was going on. The sun was really starting to get low now, and only partially casting direct light on the prairie. By the time I caught up to them, they were searching the tall grass for the downed buck. He hadn't run but a few yards, where Jason spotted him, fully expired.
We were now stood a good half-mile from the truck, and about a mile from the buck's original position. Their stalk approach had been well-calculated, because they were able to close the distance to just a hair under 200 yards, and allow my dad a chance to make a clean kill on a magnificent antelope buck.
I think I was more excited about my Dad punching his tag, than I was about my own. My Dad had belly-crawled for about 100 yards to complete his lengthy stalk, right at sunset, with a backdrop so beautiful it looked like a painting. Just look at the hooks on that thing. It was a remarkable ending to a day that I will cherish forever.
We were able to harvest the two most impressive bucks that we saw that entire weekend. What more could we ask for than that?
This trip lived up to every hope and expectation that we could have put on it. We each wanted to harvest beautiful representations of the Pronghorn Antelope, and we wanted to do so respectfully and purposefully. The experience was well worth the wait, and was the conclusion of countless hours of discussion.