In 2010 I began applying for Antelope in Nevada, mostly because I wanted to get more ‘bang for my buck’ in a state where you must buy a non-refundable license to build points. Naturally my desire and interest to hunt these animals became stronger with each passing “UNSUCCESSFUL” draw result. Of course I could have gone somewhere like Wyoming and hunted them OTC on any given year, but the terrain, low hunting pressure, relatively close proximity to home, and trophy potential of northern Nevada were all factors that I thought would be worth the wait for my first attempt at archery hunting for Pronghorn.
While 6 years really isn’t all that long to wait for a tag when compared to the high number of bonus points that many sit on for various western hunts, it was the longest I’ve applied for a specific tag. At 26 years old I was way behind the curve for getting into the long-haul points game by the time I was old enough to begin applying for hunts in the early-2000’s; so instead I build points in multiple states with a goal of hunting within 4-5 years for each respective state/species. For the number of states and species I apply for, I have somewhat of a predictable rotation where I can go on a decent hunt or two just about every year. Of course there are always a few Hail Mary applications in the hat each season, but I try to be pretty realistic.
So while finally drawing this Antelope tag didn’t necessarily come as a surprise, that didn’t take away from the excitement to get out and learn about this species. What did come as a surprise, however, was how unfortunate my luck would be as I began scouting the unit in the months leading up to the opener. This Do-It-Yourself, neighboring state tag would soon be referred to by my co-workers as “The most expensive DIY antelope hunt ever”.
Scouting Trip #1
I made my first scouting trip in mid-June, leaving home in Sacramento, California at 2:00 am with hopes of reaching the southern end of the unit by daylight. I would then drive and glass a 70-mile stretch of dirt road for two days to get a feel for the area before returning home. Around 7:00 am I hit the dirt road, and at 7:05 am I was stopped with my first flat tire. After changing to the spare I made it back to town to get a new tire put on, and then returned to the dirt road to continue north. 40 miles later I got my second flat. Then after an additional 20 miles, my spare went flat and I was out of tires around 5pm. The only thing I could do was drive on my spare rim to the nearest highway and cell reception roughly 25 miles to the east. Once there I had AAA set up a 70-mile tow to Winnemucca, where I would spend the night and get a new set of tires the next day. Of course this required an overtime fee for the shop to open on a Sunday, not to mention I was at the mercy of whatever All-Terrain tires the shop had for my wheel size. By mid-afternoon I was headed home. I did find a few pockets of antelope on the unit, but nothing to write home about.
Later that evening…
Scouting Trip #2
The second scouting trip took place over the 4th of July weekend. Accompanying me this time was Patrick Mayer and his son Colby. Leaving Friday after work we got to the unit around 3am, with enough time to take an hour nap before getting back up to glass at daylight. Within 30 minutes I spotted the first two shooter bucks I’d laid eyes on in the area- both being ~14″ in length with good mass and decent prongs. I watched them get a drink from one of the only two water holes around, so I was confident that they would remain in the area in the weeks leading up to the hunt.
From there we proceeded to cover lots of miles on rough roads, pushing my new tires to the limit. Thankfully they held up. While we didn’t see another shooter antelope buck on the trip, we escaped the desert without disaster which felt like a victory in itself after the previous rendezvous.
Scouting Trip #3
By mid-July I was feeling the pressure of not having a great plan in place for the opener. Since the two bucks we saw on the previous trip were the best bucks I’d seen and I knew where they watered, they were obviously my best option to focus on. I was worried about competition from other hunters for that water hole so I decided I’d better get over there one more time to set my blind.
Daylight broke as I neared the dirt road into my area after another night of driving. I glanced to my left at an alfalfa field while passing, and just as I looked forward again a muley doe came bolting into the highway, meeting the front end of my truck at 70 mph. To say I was furious would be an understatement.
Once the wreckage was picked up and my bumper was strapped back into place, it was onward and upward to the area I’d seen the bucks. To my delight the water hole was still void of anyone else’s blind, and I once again laid eyes on my target animals. As a matter of fact, one of them came running in to drink (until he spotted me) while I was setting up my blind. Since a herd of cattle had been moved into the area I spent some extra time brushing in the blind and building a makeshift fence around it using T-Posts and rope.
After setup I decided to head home to begin the insurance and repair process for my truck. My radiator had a small crack and this was no place to be stranded if I could help it.
Finally, Opening Weekend
Friday, July 31st rolled around and my truck was still not finished yet, so I loaded up my rental F-150, maxed out the daily rental insurance, and hit the road after work. All week I had been thinking about my target bucks, my blind, and the water hole. In my mind the worst case scenario was that the blind and cameras had been stolen or destroyed by cattle- which would have been par for the course based on the mishaps leading up to the hunt. Best case scenario was that the blind was fine and I had daily photos of bucks coming to water. These polarizing scenarios were all I could think about during the 7-hour drive.
Around midnight I slowly approached my hunt area, driving by light cast from the Blue Moon to avoid spooking any nearby game with the headlights. A quick hike to the waterhole initially had me optimistic as the blind was still standing just as I’d left it, but I was concerned about the smell of the air around it.
When I got back to the truck and began scrolling through the week’s trail camera photos, it was immediately obvious where the smell was coming from. There, stuck in the mud surrounding the water hole, were two dead and decaying calves. Even worse was the fact that not a single antelope had been caught on camera hitting the hole during the entire week. The presence of coyotes, buzzards, and the smell of death had to have forced them to do their drinking at the one other hole in the vicinity. Looking back this was obvious, but my stubbornness and late-night clouded judgement allowed me to convince myself that my trail cameras were just not pointed in the right direction, or were too far from the water to capture photos of the antelope coming in. And so I napped for a couple hours, organized my gear, and headed to the blind anyway just before daylight.
10 hours into my sit I was beginning to decide I’d had enough. And do I really need to tell you that nothing came in during that time? Around 3pm I heard some yelling and celebrating in the distance along the road at the top of the ridge. I got out and hiked up to see what was going on. Sure enough, another tag holder had been driving through and spotted my number one target buck and was able to stop, get out, put on a short sneak and get an arrow in him. It was a little disappointing but that’s public land hunting. He told me he was novice hunter so I helped him get it skinned and loaded in his truck, and then he told me about a couple other bucks he’d seen at a distance on the way in.
With a complete loss of confidence in the water hole paired with the fact that I simply didn’t feel like sitting any longer, I decided I’d switch gears to spot and stalk. I never saw another antelope the rest of the afternoon and evening but I still had hope in the area. The next morning I started glassing from a ridge and immediately spotted a good buck about 1/2 mile away. The country provided plenty of stalking relief; in fact with elevations ranging from 5,500-7,000 feet this area felt a lot more like deer country than classic antelope territory. I played cat and mouse with this buck for a couple hours, closing the distance to 80 yards at one point. Eventually he picked me off and 80 yards quickly turned into what seemed like 8,000. It’s amazing how quickly these animals can cover ground.
Fast forward eleven uneventful hours of hiking and glassing, to when I spotted my second buck of the day. He was a few hundred yards out on the same ridge as I and headed toward me on a well-defined cattle trail which side hilled through number of tight, deep runoff gullies. If he was going to stay on that trail and keep walking, I thought, I can ambush him somewhere in the middle. When he disappeared out of sight I quickly got on the trail and headed his way to wait in one of the gullies. Like clockwork he appeared at 70 yards just as I was set up with some ranges lazered for reference. He moved steeply down into a deep wash between us, still headed toward at me. The angle exposed his entire back at 60 yards, then 50, then 40, until he stopped to look around at 30. By now he was nearly straight below me, boxed in with nearly nowhere to go but out the way he went in, or straight up at me. To remain in a shooting position I had to be slightly skylined to him, which caught his eye as he surveyed his surroundings deciding where to go. His immediate change in alertness caused me to draw and wait.
Within seconds he decided to split, whirling around to leave the way he came in. The steepness of the gully both slowed his jog, and put him at an angle that offered access to his vitals through his back. Still at full draw, tracking his movement with my pins as he continued on, it registered that he was coming up on a dark bush I had ranged at 70 yards before he originally appeared. At this point I was running on pure instinct. I remember watching my 60 pin move up his back, ahead of his shoulder blades, leading his vitals as I released the arrow. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, down to watching the arrow fly and seeing the vanes rotate during the first 20 yards of flight.
The arrow hit its mark entering the back between the shoulder blades before traveling through his torso and out the lower portion of his chest. He didn’t go far from there.
After watching him go down I wasn’t overcome with pure excitement, but rather a deep sense of relief, disbelief, and calmness. After so much time, effort, and misfortune dating back to that first scouting trip, this was the light at the end of the tunnel that I wanted so badly, yet doubted I’d experience time after time throughout the process. Of course I had that hint of sadness for the animal to top it off.
I slowly and quietly made my way over to him, knowing that it was a moment that I wanted to enjoy for as long as possible. After brushing him off, grabbing some photos, and getting to work on skinning and quartering for the short pack out, the Nevada high desert had one last curve ball to throw my way. A dark cloud moved over head and began pouring rain before letting out a lightning bolt that struck the top of the hill the buck and I were on. Soaking wet and with my ears ringing from the intense crack of thunder, I couldn’t help but smile.
My buck green scores 72 4/8 with above average mass, 4 3/8″ prongs, and length right at 13″.
With plenty of Western seasons now open, we’d like to remind everyone to please send us your field photos in KUIU. Photos to be shared on our In The Field page may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best of luck to all.