Vigilant, I Remain By Tony Pannkuk
May 29, 2010 - 10:49:38 AM
We saw antelope out in front of us around ¼ mile away, I thought we could just pull over to get a better look with our binoculars. As soon as we stopped, the antelope were off and running. "They look a little jittery," my brother (Hobe) and hunting partner, said. As we followed them with our binoculars, they ran through the sage covered desert, we counted 14, two of them being bucks. I told Hobe that there were plenty of antelope in unit 106 and we shouldn't have a problem tagging two.
Driving from Washington State the day before, we set up camp on the southern end of our hunting unit about 30 miles south of Lander, Wyoming. We would spend three days looking for antelope, hoping to find a couple of nice bucks for the opening day of the season. This is a pristine area with its own wildlife habitat of mostly antelope, coyotes and mule deer. We would be hunting in an area that is mostly flat, covered in areas of sagebrush that grows one to two feet high. Not giving us much cover to stalk, we would need to find a place where we could lay in wait.
Our plan was to drive as much of the unit as possible in our pre-season scouting, learning the boundaries and marking the locations of nice bucks on our map.
The second group of antelope we saw did the same as the first, we stop, and they run.
By the end of the first day, we saw several small herds and plenty of bucks feeding by themselves. But in every case, they would run as soon as we stopped. I was starting to get a little worried; I only brought a pistol on this hunt. I will be using a Thompson/Center Encore pistol in 30-30 caliber. The pistol has a 14" barrel and is mounted with a scope. It is sighted in for 200 yards. Having taken several animals over the years and shooting over 100 yards would not be a problem, but I was getting a little worried these antelope were used to being hunted.
The last time I hunted antelope in Wyoming, I was hunting with Dan Thompson. Dan is the maker of Dan Thompson Game Calls located in Rawlins, Wyoming. At that time, I drew both deer and antelope tags and spent two weeks hunting with Dan. We had spent most of the time predator hunting. In the two weeks of hunting, we took 36 coyotes plus a mule deer and an antelope. The antelope I took was at 75 yards, and we saw plenty of nice bucks. I told Dan I will use a pistol on the next hunt. But, that hunt was in a different unit. Unit 106 seems to have less game and Hobe and myself had a hard time getting close enough to make a shot with a pistol.
Hobe said we needed to find a water source and get them when they came in to drink. In the three days of scouting we only located one water source; it was a small creek flowing through unit 106. We checked out several spots where we thought they would come in to drink and marked them on our map.
Before daylight on opening day, we headed out to our ground blinds that we had made during the three days of scouting. The blinds consisted of sagebrush put in a half circle less then 24 inches high. This would put us low to the ground in a lying or sitting position.
Making our way across the desert floor without headlights on the first morning of the hunt was a challenge. The day before, we placed a small pile of rocks at each turn in the road where we needed to turn. But at O-dark thirty and no moon, the rocks blended in with the sagebrush. We had several turns to make and as we approached what we thought was a road, Hobe would get out and look for the rocks. Finally arriving at our destination in plenty of time, we got out and grabbed our gear. Hobe would hunt to my right about 400 yards and I would walk about ¼ of a mile before reaching my blind.
As I headed out into the darkness, I thought to myself, "What a life", most people are still in bed and when they get up, it would be off to work. We had seven more days we could spend in the desert. Each area that I have hunted over the years has its own beauty; this area of the desert is bathed in shades of dull green and brown with shallow valleys and low hills off in the distance. The golden short grass would glisten in the Wyoming wind that seems to always blow. The hills did have some trees but we both knew the chances of seeing antelope on them would be slim at the least. The small rolling hills were just bumps in the landscape compared to the Cascades back home.
As I found where I needed to turn, I paused for a few minutes looking up into the clear night, staring at the billions and billions of stars overhead, I felt like the late Carl Sagan. With no man-made lights in sight, the Milky Way stood out like a big florescent light across the vast dark sky above. I wondered if there was another planet where hunters carry on the tradition passed down to them over the generations from when man first hunted to feed himself and his family. In the politically correct society we live in today, there are people that want to take our guns away and others that want to end hunting of all animals. I felt like one of the lucky ones out in this desolate area with no hustle and bustle of city life. This is Gods country, a place with a vast and unforgiving dry desert.
Following a ravine, I slowly made my way in the dark. Close to 200 yards out in front of me was a shallow defaulted valley with a small creek flowing from my left to right, I would stop about 25 yards before reaching the creek and position myself on the hillside to where I could comfortably shoot if an animal were to come in. This put me above the small scrub trees that grew along the waters edge. I found the ground blind and got into position.
At daylight I could see to my right where Hobe was waiting for his prey. Out in front was a small rise in the landscape that was covered with sagebrush. I used my Brunton binoculars to trace all the trails that were leading to the small creek below me. I ranged the top of the rise with my Leupold RX-IV rangefinder getting a reading of 435 yards. To my left I could see close to ½ mile. Now it was a waiting game, I took out a book and started reading. Every ten minutes or so, I would look up to check the area for antelope.
After about two hours, I heard a gunshot to my right; I picked up my binoculars to get a closer look. I could see several antelope running, I studied the area closely, and I couldn't make out any animals lying on the ground. I swung back to the running antelope, there were four and they all appeared to be running with no problems. Did Hobe miss with the shot? I brought the binoculars back to my right, by this time Hobe was slowly making his way through the small creek. At about another 25 yards he stopped, I could see him looking down, I knew he had connected. I grabbed my gear and headed his way.
Hobe took a nice buck that measured 14 inches. Hobe field dressed the antelope while I went back to get our vehicle. As I reached the crest of the ravine I looked up to see a herd of antelope about 75 yards away. I quickly got down, but it was too late, as they were watching me when walking to the crest of the hill. As I slowly raise myself with pistol in hand I could see the antelope were now out to 150 yards and weren't wasting any time putting as much distance between myself and them. It's amazing how far they can run in a short time. I re-holstered my firearm and watched them run off in the distance.
With their monocular vision; their eyes are located on the sides of their head. This helps the animal look for food with one eye and at the same time it can watch for danger with the other eye. Their vision is exceptional, when you are looking at them with 8X power binoculars; they are looking at you with the same 8X power. This puts them at a heavy advantage in the open desert.
Author with prized antelope.
After getting to my vehicle and following old roads in the desert, I drove within 100 yards to where Hobe's antelope lay. I grabbed my backpack and some game bags and headed to Hobe's location to help carry the meat.
That afternoon I was setting in my blind again while Hobe took his antelope into Lander to get it processed. The desert was bathed in radiant softness as the afternoon sun glistened on the sagebrush and desert floor that surrounded my location. I knew that patience and persistence would pay off in the end. An afternoon breeze was gently blowing through the desert sagebrush. Again, I took out my book and started to read. After about 90 minutes the sun was sapping my energy with no shade in sight. I think I drank three bottles of water in that time. I knew if I remained vigilant I could possibly take a nice buck home. Having looked up several times, I looked again and caught movement as a gray shadow was making its way through the sagebrush. It was a buck and two doe antelope. They stopped to survey the area for danger before coming in to get the water they so thirsted for. It reminded me of a silent tableau as they stood still in the vast desert.
They were out about 300 yards. I slowly put my book down and started getting ready for a shot, hoping they would come in to about 100 to 200 yards.
Lying back I used my Bunsaver seat as a headrest; I put my earplugs in place and took out my contender. The pistol was mounted with a set of Harris bipods. I extended both sides and laid it on my right knee which was bent to about 90 degrees. The bipod held the contender still as if it were in a vise. I found the buck in the scope and followed it for a couple of minutes.
It now appeared the antelope were within range for a shot. I took out my Leupold RX-IV rangefinder to check the distance. "Good" I thought, the buck was at 148 yards and standing broadside. I placed the crosshairs just behind his front shoulder and slowly squeezed the trigger. I didn't feel the recoil as the shot shattered the silence in the desert. The antelope leaped into the air and bolted ahead about 10 feet and stopped. In just 3 or 4 seconds it fell to the ground as the two doe's stood watching and probably wondering what had just happened.
Slowly, I ejected the empty cartridge and placed another round in the chamber. Bringing up my Brunton binoculars, I thought to myself, "this is fitting, because the Brunton factory was only a few miles north of my location located in Riverton, Wyoming." I watched the antelope for a few minutes to make sure it wasn't going to get up and bolt off. I knew the hunt was over, I made my way to the downed buck; the two doe's promptly headed for the open desert.
The buck measured at 15 inches. What a great hunt and a successful one at that. This was a unique hunting experience in a challenging habitat with the sun shining down on you with no shade to cool yourself while you sat or lay back on the sandy desert floor. This is my first antelope with a pistol and I suddenly had an insatiable desire for more but will have to wait until next year if I am lucky enough to get drawn. The lore behind this hunt was with no disappointment.
I shall return. Hunting in Wyoming for deer, antelope and coyotes is beyond excitement as you can watch them at a distance before taking your shot.