Everywhere you turn, in whatever media form you frequent, there abounds story after story about the successful hunts where outstanding trophy animals are taken by outstanding hunters who manage to put it all together to bring home the bacon, so to speak. These are entertaining tales that are filled with the thrills of victory and success… but what about those unsung hunts that are all too frequent? The ones where the hunter comes home from the field with nothing but an empty cooler and sad misadventures to share with those that will listen to such telling. Truth be known, those hapless adventures are far more common place than the ones where everyone scores a memorable trophy to hang on their wall.
Some dear friends and I had such an adventure recently and I would enjoy sharing the details of our trials and tribulations while in pursuit of the wily antelope in the beautiful state of Wyoming. Now please bear in mind, this was what I respectfully refer to as a “recon mission” as our group searched to discover a new place to hunt speed goats.
Now hunting antelope with a bow and arrow is quite challenging in its own right. And hunting with an established outfitter most often is an easy shortcut to success. A self-hunt on uncharted and strange property, however, provides many more challenges for a bowhunter. With no previous knowledge of the lay of land, the number of animals it contains and where those animals are moving, one must use precious hunting time to gather this information with the only source of information most often being patient observation. There is no way to short cut the learning process under these circumstances and extra days should always be allowed to provide and honest shot at filling your tags.
We got a lead from Wyoming resident and friend, Mike Judd, on a ranch in the Douglas area that is owned by a delightful and very colorful gal by the name of Ms. Ann Smathers. Ms. Ann owns two tracts of land that total approximately 30 square miles of dusty prairie in southeast Wyoming that she agreed to allow our small group of merry men to chase pronghorns about.
We applied for our tags and where all were drawn for the 2015 hunt. Dates for our expedition were scheduled, plans were made and followed through on, bringing us to the front door of Ms. Ann’s ranch house on the 26th of August. This allowed us only four days to figure things out and to take our goats. That was mistake number one… we should have allowed more time. At the end of our four days we were just getting things figured out and sadly, it was time to go home.
Mistake number two was learning that her properties were in two separate tracts… each in a different zone; and the one that appeared to have a larger goat population was not the one that we had applied for. Still, after learning the location of the waterholes in our chosen area, we forged forward eager to best the beasts that inhabited that particular 9000 acres of real estate. We were told that the antelope were moving back into that area; and as the four days quickly passed, we witnessed the bucks in groups of one, two and three moving back into the area that contained the does as the rut rapidly approached.
There was a series of bad breaks that affected our mission… such as a missed opportunity on a nice Billy because a crossbow had been improperly cocked. Another error was made because of a late arrival at a blind, which was covered up with a small herd of Lopers… a herd that contained a very nice, mature buck. Yet another mistake was made when a vehicle arrived at a waterhole just as a Billy was coming in to drink, boogering it into the next county or country for all we know. It was a comedy of humorous errors which only added to the fun we were all having.
One of our hunters finally figured out the proper placement for his blind at a very large waterhole by the last day of the hunt. He had several chances at Billys, but they were not mature enough for his serious consideration. In this case, it was just a matter of time before a mature buck came to refresh itself, but the time was too short.
On the bright side of the equation, the prairie dog hunting was most excellent and the team members that took a little time away from their blinds at the edge of the water holes were rewarded with some good shooting as well as a respectable body count on the vermin infested little varmints. It was a welcome change of pace and both the shooters and the landowners were happy with the results. The only losers for those segments of the hunt were the little rodents that died suddenly of terminal lead poisoning.
It was a very successful hunt considering all that was learned about both locations and the movement of the animals at those locations. Most importantly, there was a great deal of warm camaraderie shared among the group during the trip. Perhaps the highlight of which, occurred on the way home when we took a couple of hours to visit the Mount Rushmore Monument.
Coming home with a cooler full of fresh antelope meat would have been a definite plus, especially since Karen and I enjoy antelope flesh so much, but admittedly, sharing the hunt with my 18-year old God-son, Travis Tank was by far even more satisfying than killing a goat would have been. There were countless tales from each team member of their daily events that were shared over the evening meals. Travis and I were able to solve a great many of the world’s deepest problems during the long hours we spent in the blind together. And the photos that were added to my photo morgue of the lonely landscapes, smoky sun rises and sun sets, as well as the continuous flow of wild things that visited our waterhole constitute a bevy of wall-hanging trophies that will serve as mementos of our time spent in that wonderful and beautiful place.
Historically, I have experienced more than my fair share of successful hunts where the sought after game ended up in my cooler for the trip home. Having a trip like the trek we made to Wyoming this year was long overdue and the humble pie since consumed has been good for my soul. It was also nice to be reminded that an adventure such as this is not about taking the game that is being pursued, but more about enjoying the overall experience and sharing good company with special folks in a beautiful land.
Thanks to each of the men for helping to make this adventure such a special experience, and remember boys… it’s not always about the killing. That’s why it’s called hunting.