My "Oh-no!" Antelope at Table Mountain
My guide slowly opened the window flap of our ground blind to check for antelope. "Oh-no!" wasn't exactly what I expected to hear him say.
I was on an early season bowhunt for antelope in Wyoming with Table Mountain Outfitters. It was my first experience hunting antelope from a ground blind on a waterhole with my Mathews bow. Everything went as I expected for the first 2 hours, then my hunt took an odd turn.
We had arrived the day before at Table Mountain Outfitters in time to check the bows after a long plane flight. Our hosts, Angie and Scott Denny greeted us and showed us where to put our gear. They have a roomy lodge with different wings that give you plenty of space. Vicki Cianciarulo and I settled in to our assigned room and proceeded to organize our gear for the next morning's hunt.
Vicki and I were filming our hunts for SHE's Beyond the Lodge TV. We decided that our cameraman would go with Vicki and Angie. Scott would be filming me, so we piled into the trucks shortly after daylight and headed to a separate blind. Scott and I were hunting on a waterhole supplied by a spring. A solar powered pump assured that the waterhole was always full of fresh water making this spot very attractive to thirsty animals on hot days. And it was predicted to be a very hot sunny day, with temps in the 80s by late morning and heading into the 90s in the afternoon. Just the right conditions for our chosen method of hunting.
Scott told me that the antelope usually don't begin coming to the waterholes until mid-morning when the temps rise, so we didn't have to be in position before daybreak. This would be positive-point-number-1 on my list of why I like bowhunting antelope from a ground blind over waterholes. Positive point number 2 (PPN#2) = comfort. We were in a big pop-up blind with a nice breeze coming in the front window, sitting in comfortable chairs with a beautiful view. I could get used to this. PPN #3 = close range set ups. If everything went as planned my furthest shot would be to the opposite side of the waterhole, a mere 20 yards, down wind. It appears that Scott and Angie certainly know how to set up locations for bowhunters. Hunting well managed private property makes it on my list as PPN #4. The folks at Table Mountain Outfitters have long term leases and know their properties well. My opportunity at a speed goat should good.
PPN #5 = preparation. I am not talking about practicing with your bow, which is a given. I am talking about the bag of books, videos, magazines, playing cards, or whatever else you may need to occupy your mind to pass the time, along with the big cooler filled with plenty of cold water, lunch and snacks. If you didn't bring your own, the folks at Table Mountain have a pantry full of food, and a shelf full of books etc. ready to go with you to the blind. Sometimes your hunt goes quickly, and other times, not so quickly. They recommend staying in your blind all day as the animals may suddenly appear on the horizon coming for a drink, at any point during the heat of the day. Vicki's hunt lasted about 2-3 hours. Her antelope arrived at mid-morning and she was tagged out quickly. Mine took a bit longer.
The first to arrive, were sheep. Scott said this was a good thing, as the antelope considered the sheep sentinels that all was well at the well. A few antelope filtered in from across the vast terrain from all directions throughout the morning. Some approached quickly and deliberately. Others stood like statues, staring at us from a safe distance, before finally deciding to come closer. They did not make a bee-line for the water as I expected, instead they meandered around, bedding behind us, mixed in with the sheep. Apparently they were not thirsty yet, but wanted to be in close range the second they got thirsty.
We spent a couple hours carefully peering through 1/4 inch cracks, slowly moving the window flaps just enough to get a visual on the antelope, but not enough to spook them. Scott said they would bolt if they saw any unusual movement from the blind. And with their excellent eyesight, could easily see through a window opening that exposed movement inside the blind. As long as we stayed back in the darkness of the blind we were fine when the antelope looked into the open windows in front, but any light that filtered in through a crack could give us away.
Scott was looking for antelope through a small crack in the window on his side of the blind, as he had done dozens of times. This time, he uttered a quiet moan and said "Oh-no" quietly, almost under his breath. I waited, wondering what might be the problem. He turned and said, "It's a Great Pyrenees, and he is coming our way." "Huh?," was my intelligent response.
Scott moved the window covering just enough for me to get a look. I was surprised to see a giant white dog walking across the prairie, his eyes glued to our blind as he closed the distance. The dog was huge, and his demeanor was that of a predator, with a wildness about him that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Now, I am not afraid of dogs, I like dogs, but something about this dog was different. Scott told me this breed of dog is used to protect the sheep from coyotes. They will attack anything that they perceive might harm the sheep. Scott said one of these dogs had chased him on a4-wheeler once, nearly biting his leg. I immediately began trying to think nice thoughts about all the sheep surrounding us, lest this giant long-legged, half lion-like creature decided we were not good for the sheep population. Scott was sure this particular landowner did not have these dogs on his property, so this one must have been a wanderer. He certainly looked unkept and homeless.
The dog came to the water, giving us a closer look. He appeared half-starved and dirty. Between drinks he would look carefully at our blind, assessing us. When he finished drinking the dog came to the blind, creeping slowly like a feline predator. He moved to the front of the blind and had no trouble peering inside as his head was eye level with the windows. His nose was an inch or two from Scotts camera lens. We held our breath and didn't move. I had my Nikon camera focused on the dog's face less than a foot away but was afraid to press the shutter in case the smallest of noise might startle him. After several tense minutes the dog decided we were no immediate threat to his sheep. He circled behind us, walking through his herd, looking for trouble. We breathed a sigh of relief as the dog continued on his way, presumably looking for coyotes, doing his job.
It wasn't long before I began to notice a sort of "thermocline" in the blind. The temps in the bottom half were comfortable. The temps in the top half were getting hotter by the minute. A thermal stratification was taking place where an invisible line separated the lower section of the blind identified as, "Ok, I can survive in this area," from the upper half known as, "Wow, I just stuck my head in the oven." My phone told me the outside temperature was in the upper 80s. Thankfully we did not have a thermometer because I did not want to know how hot it was getting inside the blind. It was approaching the noon hour, and it occurred to me that another 6 or 7 hours in the blind with rising temps might not offer anything to add to my positive points list.
Super hot, sunny days offer excellent conditions for hunting waterholes. The animals have to drink in these conditions. But, the same weather can be tough on humans, both physically and mentally.
Finally, I spotted antelope bucks headed our way. They were behind the blind and walking fast toward the waterhole in front of us. Scott noticed one antelope would appear on his right so he moved the camera in preparation. Just as he did, another goat came in from our left. He was at the waterhole and stood broadside, head down, drinking at 20 yards. Staying far back in the darkness of the blind enabled me to draw my bow unseen. When Scott gave me the ok, I released the arrow and sent it through the antelope in the perfect spot. He ran less than 100 yards and went down just out of the camera's view, disappearing over a slight rise in the terrain. The Great Pyrenees was within sight as we recovered the antelope but fortunately he did not feel the need to chase us. It was an easy recovery, and a great ending to my first bowhunt for antelope.