It was the third weekend in August and I was once again in New Mexico guiding an Antelope hunt for Bucks & Bulls (email@example.com). This year the ranch was a green as Ireland due to three weeks of monsoon rains. The thunder heads began to stack up in mid afternoon and by 5pm all hell would break loose. The land of enchantment was living up to its namesake. I for one enjoy these storms but the water can make travel interesting at times.
Jill, my hunter arrived the afternoon before the season was to start and in a let up between two storm cells we checked the zero on her 300 Winchester Magnum. The rifle, a left hand Legend has already served her well on a variety of hunts around the globe and with a few shots we confirmed that both she and the rifle were spot on and good to go.
With all the hunters and guides finally assembled in the ranch house, Introductions were made as the cooks began to pull out all the stops, a low calorie menu was apparently not available. I seemed to recall an adult beverage or two was consumed as lightning lit up the sky. It is always a pleasure to return to this ranch as its expanse and vistas are memorable.
The next morning we concentrated our hunt on one of the many plateaus above the valley floor playing hide and seek with a number of mature bucks. I had a brief glimpse of a buck with very distinctive heavy horns that hooked way over during a scouting trip and then again shortly after first light as Jill and I nosed the truck along to top of a pasture the first morning. I wanted to put the spotting scope him on but the buck never let me get set up fast enough in either encounter. All we got was departing heel dust. Behavior like this leads one to believe that this antelope was a veteran of many seasons. The image of him running away kept nagging at me ever since I'd first seen him scouting.
We spent the rest of the first day looking at buck after buck, Jill would comment "that one looks great, Boy look at that one over there, what do you think of him ?", I would grunt, Scratch my head in a noncommittal way and keep glassing. At sundown we tried to close the distance on a wide flaring buck that looked interesting hoping to have him stand long enough to judge him. He never stopped of course and as we headed back to the ranch house at dusk Jill asked "do we ever get to shoot one , " I replied "sometimes," "that's good to know" she answered.
About 9am on the second morning we saw another very tall buck I had cataloged in this pasture that also showed promise but try as we might we just couldn't close the distance even with the old tried and true Cow Decoy. The doe's didn't like the looks of Betsy and gapped it when we were still 450 yards out and closing. That buck followed the doe's and fawns and ran over the rise a mile away to the East. You don't leave fish to find fish so we took up the pursuit with the herd now out of sight, dropped into a rocky draw hidden from view to close some distance. Jill later told me she had felt like she was walking into a rattlesnake mine field as we contoured the bolder filled draw for the better part of an hour. Jill I found out later is not at all fond of snakes, I just look at them as legless lizards.
For the next couple hours I tried to find the tall buck but to no avail. We saw plenty of antelope to be sure but not that particular buck nor the heavy hooked apparition that had been in this same pasture. The sun and temperature rose. I looked back from where we had started and there was yet another great looking buck now between us and the truck. We were surrounded.
I had asked another guide who's hunter had early success to drive over the crest of the ridge line way above the pasture we were hiding in with hopes of bouncing the heavy hooked buck out of his bed if he was indeed in that area of the pasture where he preferred to hang out. Having hunted this ranch for a very long time I knew any approach from that upper end on foot would be very tough to pull off. Often a buck will chose a particular escape route and so it was with the heavy hooked buck. At least that's what it seemed the two times I had spooked him. When he spotted something he didn't like he beat feet for the center of this immense pasture. We were now in the approximate center of his escape route.
I call this tactic "the nudge"and liberated the title from Gene and Barry Wensel years ago. Whether initiated by recurve masters or riflemen the principle is still the same. It is done to induce a cautious retreat. While not a mechanized or manual drive in the purist form it can put a crafty buck at attention for up to a 1000 yards and give that buck the incentive to move. If you know that buck has a patterned route for evasion you just never know what will happen next when you nudge a buck. It was an idea to try and we had nothing to loose. I finally spotted the truck stopped way above us, the sun beat down as the mirage began to boil up out of the grass as a mosquito flew in one of my ears and out the other. If either buck was above us something might happen soon.
I just saw the tips of his horns over the horizon at first. All by himself and loping along almost directly at us he came. The buck was still well beyond rifle range but was loping along steadily shaking his head at annoying flies as he headed deeper into the center of his home ground. The shape of his horns identified him to me immediately. This was the first chance I'd really had to look him over from the front. The heavy hook had just made an appearance.
I now tried to get a better look at his prongs, his height and mass were great but he was closing fast. It was time to either fish or cut bait. I removed my spotting scope from the tripod and Jill wrapped up in her sling and rested her fore-end over the tripod top in a sitting position as I eased my knee under her left elbow. We had taken the time to practice this move a couple of times in the last 24 hours. These dry runs have always proved to be an asset when it is no longer a drill. The buck was covering ground annoyed by the ever persistent bugs, He never stopped, but veered off to out right and dropped into a shallow fold. While he was now under 150 yards away all we saw was the very top of his back, head and horns. Jill and I pivoted around the tripod to our left, I whistled and blew like an alert antelope but he never stopped for more than a second and as quickly as he had appeared he was gone, Damn it.
Jill unruffled got to her feet.
Out came the knees pad and gloves and the stalk began. I knew there was draw in that direction and if we hot footed it over there we might catch him in the bottom of the draw. 500 yards later we spotted the buck now on the other side of the draw but 600 yards away. We began to crawl slowly on our hands and knee's.
Satisfied he was now alone the buck bedded up. At 400 yards we considered our options then kept crawling. At 350 yards the buck saw us and stood up. We had just hit the end of the road. Jill wrapped into the sling and eased onto the tripod base again as the buck broke into a trot. He ran in an arc that was bringing him closer to try and identify what we were. At 260 yards he slammed on the brakes and stood facing us a steep quartering angle, Jill's 300 woke up the pasture.
I heard the bullet strike and the buck wheeled around made a short dash then folded into the grass. All smiles we rose to our feet, I was ecstatic but being the trained professional that I am refrained from doing a hand stand or even the moon walk. As Jill began striding towards the buck I began to gather up gear that seemed to be scattered from here to Santa Fe and soon both of us were kneeling by buck. He was everything I had hope for and little extra. Jill seemed very pleased as we took some pictures, discussed the stalk and all the things that come to mind at the end of a successful hunt. He was mature in every respect and an excellent buck to take. Once again skill and daring had overcome fear and uncertainty. Dinner that night may have tasted a little bit better, the G&T's may have been a little bit stiffer as the success of the other hunters weaved its way into the nights conversation. It was happy camp but this is always a happy camp.
For the last 5 years during the long 900 mile journey home I've said to myself over and over again "this is my last guided hunt, period " but inwardly I'm already looking forward to next August and crawling through the short grass prairie in this land of enchantment. This is one hunt I never can really get enough of.