My First Antelope and Favorite Hunt

jodorouse

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Jul 9, 2020
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46
Wyoming Hunt with Aliyah (Oct 1 & 2)

My daughter, Aliyah (9 y.o. girl), and I left Minnesota for Wyoming on Wednesday, September 29, right after she got off the school bus. The plan was to drive to Wyoming by Thursday with enough time to check out a few spots, hunt the Opener on Friday and the first half of Saturday, harvest any antelope we could before driving back to Minnesota. We stayed the night in Mitchell, SD. Aliyah seemed to be coming down with a cold but seemed ready for the hunt. We got going the next day and made a quick stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell and snapped a couple of photos. Aliyah enjoyed seeing it.

We saw our first couple groups of antelope near the Badlands as we drove on I 90. We stopped in Rapid City, SD for lunch and then headed on a route that would allow us to see some of the public land before our destination for the night in Wyoming. I was nervous as we were driving because we were not seeing any antelope in Wyoming.

Once we got off the major highway, we started seeing groups of antelope and the pressure was off. Aliyah seemed to like looking for the groups (for a while).

I still have a hard time figuring out why Antelope are in one spot or another. They seem to center around watering holes, and you may see a couple groups milling around within a couple miles of the hole. Other times they might be at the top of a large hill seemingly far away from water. This year, water seemed to be the key to finding the highest densities of antelope.

We finally got to our unit. Much of the initial area was private land with a couple spots of public. There were large spots of BLM land but it looked like they were doing a bunch of gas or oil drilling in those sections so we stayed away from those. There we warning signs stating hazards in those areas. However, we did see a huntable antelope on a couple tracks. Aliyah and I were really excited and marked the spots. We checked a few other spots and saw two or three other groups of antelope we could have hunted the next day. Sure, we were seeing antelope on a few small tracts of public land but I was worried about it being overrun with hunters the next day. A major issue I was starting to see was that access to public land was going to be a problem. All the roads around there were marked private/no trespassing. Private land blocked in many of the major BLM or WY State land except for a few spots.

We got to our destination in Wyoming and got our luggage and hunting supplies in the hotel, and went to dinner. Aliyah’s cold seemed to be getting worse. We talked at dinner about how exciting it would be to get a couple antelope the next day. I learned that Aliyah had some close contact with another student that had COVID at her volleyball practice a few days before on Tuesday. She seemed like she had a mild cold at this point and I wasn’t concerned (FYI I don’t think she had COVID because it quickly ran its course and was a typical cold). Aliyah went to sleep early that night.

I spent much of the evening marking county roads on my OnX map so that I knew for sure what roads were private vs public. Many of the roads marked with private signs were actually on county roads and I still don’t understand how one could be denied access on those roads if the county maintains it. Maybe the county gave up control of the road but still had it marked on their website as county.

We got going early the next morning. The plan was to get to one of the spots we marked the day before around sunup and see what we see. I did not want to push Aliyah too early or much because this was her first hunt and I wanted her to feel as comfortable as possible. She seemed to be feeling the effects of the cold and she was dragging. I asked her if she was okay and she said she was and kept going. We made it to the first public land marked on the map but there were a couple hunters already there. This was the same story for the other two spots. I was really worried about getting an opportunity.

At this point, I realized that we only had a half tank of gas and that if we started really driving, we needed more gas. We headed back to town and got some gas and reassessed the plan. We decided to drive deeper into the unit and maybe hunters had not gotten to some of the public land way up on a major road in the unit. This would be a long drive though. We headed up the road and started seeing antelope, but they were all on private land. This was very frustrating. It was like watching our cat, Charlie, stare at birds out the window. Just sad.

For this trip, I had a heavy bull barrel Remington 700 in .308. with an aftermarket stock. I had a 6-9” bipod on it. It was loaded with some Federal 150gr Power Shok soft points. The gun was more set up as a bench gun for me to mess around on. I have a Vortex LRP 3.5-14x scope on it. I don’t shoot a lot, but I intended to do more of that when I originally bought the gun. When I dialed in this gun, I got groups that were under .75” with the Federals without any real work on its. I told myself that my range was 300 yards in a resting position.

I was extremely confident that the gun would do its part. I had originally thought about using my new 7mm Rem Mag in a Savage 110 Long Range Hunter that I got on special at the end of last year but I waited to the last moment to get it sighted in and when I took it to the range it was throwing shots around in a 6” circle at 100 yards after 6-7 shots. I had zero confidence in it. It has a Vortex Razor HD LHT 3-15x50 MRAD scope on top of it. I knew my shooting wasn’t off because my 308 was gnats on so I assumed the barrel heated up and wasn’t going to be accurate until it cooled down. The scope was awesome, so this gun will be pretty sweet when I have time to get it dialed in.

We kept driving and there was a small block of BLM land that I saw a rarely used road went to. As we drove on this road, we spotted a buck antelope, but it was on private. I stopped on the road about a quarter of a mile from the BLM land and got out with my rifle to scout it out. Aliyah stayed in the car because I wanted her to rest as much as possible. On this piece of land, there were some hidden spots that I could peek over and maybe see an antelope on the other side. This was my first opportunity to get a feel for the area. There were clumps of sage everywhere with small low cacti in bunches. It was hard not to step on them. Other than that, it was really easy to walk. There were large mounds that had very rocky features at the top on the NW square and one rocky drumlin on the southwest section. There were no pronghorn there but I did see varying stages of aged pronghorn poop along with hoof prints. The hoofprints looked very similar to whitetail deer. You could see where they recently pawed areas on top of the recent rain sign. If someone had enough patience, you could post up on one of the hills with a good view and wait for a group of pronghorn to walk into range. That seemed like a last resort and probably would not have worked with hunting with Aliyah (what kid wants to sit there for a day at the off chance for a shot?). Driving and spot and stalk was much more exciting.

I got back in the car and turned us around. We saw the same pronghorn on private again as we drove out of the area. We continued driving up the major road in the unit which was surrounded by private until you get pretty far in which had a large chunk of BLM. There was a camper and a wall tent set up on this BLM and it was crawling with trucks and hunters. What appeared to be a continuation of the major road in the unit was actually gated and not conducive to driving on with my Ford Explorer. I saw another road with a couple trucks posted on it and didn’t want to even bother going that way. I was pretty negative at this point.

I passed a Game Warden with a really nice mustache and chatted a couple seconds with him. I wish I had better questions for him but I just made a comment about access being tough. I knew it said that on the website but other folks posted if you keep at it you can find something in this unit. I asked him if it was worth it calling up landowners if I see anything on their property and he said it wasn’t likely worth it. He confirmed one of the other trucks parked near us, the hunter had just gotten an antelope on public land so there was still hope.
 
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jodorouse

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Jul 9, 2020
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I saw on my map that there were a couple of public land spots, a small one and a large one that I could get to by some county roads off of the major road in the unit so we decided to take a drive to them. The first one we came to gave us hope. It was 160 acres with 4 40 acre parcels stack north and south (like the long Tetris piece). There was a watering hole on an adjacent parcel on the southern end to the west. Most of the land around it sloped down towards this property. There were antelope dotting the higher ground around this section. The southern end had a small hill that you could post up on. The rest of it was tabletop flat and if there were any antelope in this section there was about zero chance of sneaking up on one. We parked near the southern end on the east side and I saw there was a well worn path leading from a hole in the fence heading south west to the watering hole and thought the hill might be a good ambush spot for traveling antelope. I marked the location on OnX and thought we might try the spot the next morning.

As we got back in the car, I scanned the surrounding land for antelope and saw there were a couple antelope that looked like they were on the very north edge of the public land on private. When I pulled up my binos, I noticed that they were just in public. I got really excited at this point however, there was no real way to sneak up on them. They were 900 yards out at this point.

Since I wasn’t going to be able to sneak up on them, we decided to drive along the road on the eastern edge of the property and see if there was some sort of dip. We parked at the very northern part of this property on the road in a slight depression however you could still see the antelope. They stared at us nervously, but I was going to try to stalk anyways. They were 350 yards out according to my range finder. I grabbed my gun and dropped down to the ground so the 1-1.5 foot sage might conceal my movements. This group of does wasn’t fooled and after army crawling 20 yards, they busted and ran west about 300 yards on to private land.

I got up and walked back to the car where Aliyah was watching, and she seemed disappointed. As we were chatting about what just happened, I noticed a buck antelope coming down the hill to our southeast, he crossed the road to our south at around 200 yards where I ranged him heading west. I ran about 10 yards to a spot where I could get down with my bipod, I was able to get my scope on him but by this point he was 250 yards and I didn’t have enough practice to know on the fly where I should put the scope. Along with setting my max range for a shot at 300 yards, I told myself that since this was Aliyah’s first time out with me, the shot needed to be almost perfect. I didn’t want her first experience to be of an antelope injured and running a mile away.

The buck kept moving away and would run 50 yards and check us out and then keep trotting off. I think he saw the group of does that I just spooked and wanted to join up with them. Either way, the second opportunity was blown.

Putting things into perspective, I was just happy to have put a stalk in and had a couple opportunities. I was slightly more positive in our opportunity to harvest an antelope and basically thought if we kept driving, we will have other opportunities.

We got back in the car and kept driving. We drove to a large tract of BLM land and glassed a couple different locations but didn’t see anything. Aliyah seemed to be feeling better, so I had her come out and take a look. She seemed to perk up and enjoyed glassing through my range finder and binos. Around 2pm as we drove this tract, Aliyah shouted, “Daddy, stop! I think I see some.” I looked over to where she was pointing and sure enough there were a group of does about 400 yards out. This time we were able to drive behind a slight ridge, out of sight, and park. She stayed in the car as I took my gun and trotted up the back side of the ridge separating the antelope from the car. It would probably get me within 150 yards of the antelope to make a shot. However, by the time I got over the ridge, the antelope had already busted and were 800 yards away to the north running along a fence line. They seemed confused which way to go so we drove back up the hill close to where they were but by the time we got over there, we never saw them again. Either way, I was stoked Aliyah helped to spot these antelope and I made sure she knew how proud of her I was.

We kept driving and made it to another large tract of BLM land with some rough roads that we could get around on. We pulled off to take some pictures of us in front of some neat rock wall facings just before we were about to exit this property. A group of hunters drove by and left. As we get back in the car, I spotted 3 antelope staring at us at about 150 yards to our south, left of the car. I quickly kicked Aliyah out of her seat and went out her door. I grab the gun and could see the antelope starting to nervously parallel the road back up the hill we just came down. I thought about leaning up against the truck and taking a shot, but I wasn’t sure of the legality of that in Wyoming, so I didn’t attempt that. I started trotting up the hill as the road cut into the ground a little and thought I might be able to use the bipod if I found an unobstructed view of the antelope. I quickly paralleled them for 300 yards but I was huffing and puffing pretty bad. I am an ultradistance runner and finished 50 mile race 3 weeks before this hunt but being a mile up in elevation from Minnesota left me gasping for breath. I was able to get to a post and almost brace my gun for a 100 yard shot but they busted up the hill heading south away from the road. They would run 50 yards, check on me, then run 50 yards. I probably could have taken a poke but wanted a better assurance than shooting at a trotting antelope.

I got back to the car, and Aliyah seemed disappointed. It was 4:30pm around this time. We could have hunted another couple of hours but I didn’t want to push Aliyah too much so we decided to have a nice sit down dinner. I had resolved her and me to the possibility that we might not get one and that we should be thankful for sharing the experience with one another and seeing new country.

The plan for the next day was to hit up the public land that we spotted our first bunch of antelope with the water hole near it. Given the number of antelope around there, it seemed like our best shot.
 
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jodorouse

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Jul 9, 2020
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We got up and drove out to the planned spot. I parked on the southern end near the watering hole then glassed the area. It was about 7 AM at this point and the sun had just crested the horizon. There were antelope everywhere! I saw a buck at the bottom of the hill where I originally thought would have been a good spot to post up. It would have been a 50 yard shot if I was already there, like we planned the day before. I got out of the car, grabbed my gun and trotted east up the road on the southern side. It was crowned enough that it would conceal some of my movement. I got to the top of the hill and crested it slowly. When I got to a spot that where I thought I should have seen him, I couldn’t find him. I looked out towards the middle of the tract and saw a buck trotting about 500 yards away and figured I must have spooked him somehow. I was disappointed having busted the antelope but I knew there was still an opportunity given the number of them on the tract still. I made my way back to the car and chatted with Aliyah. I pulled the car up to a spot a little past the hill I was just on but still slightly concealed from the property.

I wasn’t sure what to do. There were still antelope there, but they were all 500+ yards away, most on private, some on public. There was basically no sneaking up on any of them given the way everything slopes down towards this public land. The best idea we had was to drive slowly along the eastern side of the property and maybe get close enough, like the day before, and the antelope might stand there long enough for me to get a shot off.

As I started the car, I looked back to the property and noticed an antelope buck starring at me at about 100 yards! I couldn’t believe it. I think he was the original antelope I saw when we pulled up and I must have missed him when I crested the hill 10 minutes prior to this. I probably should have seen him initially. Either way, I excitedly told Aliyah that I saw one. I had her jump out her side of the car so I could crawl out. I went to open the trunk, but it was locked. I unlocked it quickly and grabbed my gun. I jammed in 4 rounds into my rifle. I told Aliyah to stay by the car and put my shooting earmuffs on.

I looked up and noticed the buck hadn’t moved and was still staring at us, showing me a right quartering toward me shot. Basically I would have to put a shot through his right front shoulder to hit his vitals. I pulled my cross hairs on him but in my excitement, they were dancing all around him and I definitely wasn’t going to make a great freehand shot. I looked towards the fence that separated the road from the property and saw a nice wood post that I could rest the rifle. I started to move with purpose to this fence post. At this point the antelope was getting nervous and he busted. We were on top of the hill and he dropped down below my line of sight about 100 yards away heading eastward around the outside of the hill we were on.

I remembered from previous encounters that they seem to like to move 50 yards and check back with what I was doing. I wondered if he would come back into my line of sight again. I waited at the post with hope that he would give me another chance. He did exactly what I hoped for and pulled up a little over 100 yards away and gave me a perfect broadside shot. I got my cross hairs focused on him but they were dancing around on him. I controlled my breath and the crosshairs started to float over a 12 inch circle on the antelope’s vitals. Amazingly he stood there long enough until I was confident with my shot.

I pulled the trigger and watched as he collapsed to the ground instantly. I chambered another round and saw that he was still kicking. I wasn’t 100% where my shot hit. After a few seconds he slowed his kicking and drifted off and stopped moving. I stood there in disbelief that we were actually going home with an antelope. When I realized this truth, I looked back at Aliyah and shouted, “I got him!” and pumped my fist in the air. Aliyah whooped and was as excited as I was. We couldn’t contain ourselves.

It is extremely hard to explain how happy we were. This was probably my favorite hunting moment, even more than my first Whitetail. It quite literally couldn’t not have been a better situation. We had a short window to hunt. We struggled the first day and learned about antelope. The struggle made the success all the more sweet. We got the antelope down early on our second day with enough time to quarter it out and head home.

After the antelope went down, Aliyah grabbed my pack with my knife and supplies to gut and quarter out the animal. I helped her over the fence, and she was bouncing across the sage country over to the antelope. As we walked over, there was a 4 place ORV that drove by. I gave them a wave and I walked up to the antelope. We got up to the buck and I noticed that he was actually a better buck than I had hoped for. I later measured the horns and they were 12 inches along the outside of the curve of the horn. A better buck than I deserved. I would have been happy with anything.

The shot was high, behind the shoulders, hit the bottom of the spine, and nicked the top of the lungs. It was not my best shot but I was a little overpowered with the .308. There was a lot of trauma from the soft point. Given I have heard antelope are not hard to kill, all of this resulted in a quick kill which is what I plan for when I pull the trigger. This was especially important for this trip with Aliyah.

I started talking with Aliyah about how I was going to gut the buck when the guys from the ORV parked and walked up to us. They were a great group of four locals that owned a few parcels in the area. They said that they had been watching this particular buck since May and he was always hanging out on this hill. I assume that if they took note of him, he was a respectable for that area, but I honestly have no perspective on that and would have been happy with anything. They were giving my daughter a slight ribbing saying they could tell something was up because she was hopping and skipping across sage country over to the antelope. She was a little embarrassed about that but it was a great memory.

They offered to help me take him over to the road while I brought my Explorer over. Aliyah followed them. Long story short, they gave me a couple more pointers about the area and the antelope and went on their way. They were pretty awesome humans considering they were probably 20 minutes late to harvesting an antelope they had been watching since spring and were happy to learn that this was my first antelope and that I was passing the hunting tradition onto my daughter.

I spent the next couple hours gutting the antelope and quartering it out. I had never quartered an animal out (except squirrels) because I had always taken my gutted deer to a processor. Aliyah was slightly grossed out but she got over the smell and blood factor and actually helped hold game bags and pull the hide back so I could get at more of the meat. She did a great job. When I was her age, I probably would have passed out because I wasn’t exposed to this sort of thing until my early 20s. I make it a point to fillet fish, breast out grouse, and skin squirrels around both of my daughters because I don’t want them to have the same reaction I originally had to blood and harvesting animals.

There were no trees for me to hang the antelope so I quartered the best I could while it was on the ground. I watched a couple videos prior to the hunt and got the gist of breaking down an animal. However, without hanging the animal and skinning it, I got hair and some dirt on the meat. Hanging the animal would be a big key in quickly quartering it I could have even deboned in the field all the while keeping it clean.

We got the antelope in the prechilled cooler and started home. We stopped at Mt Rushmore for an hour and finished the day in Mitchell, SD. On Sunday, I got a taxidermist lined up and am having the skull put on a European Mount ($210 +tax). I have never had an animal mounted before (nothing I have shot warranted it before) but I would not call this a trophy by any means but a great memento of one of that happiest memories of me with my oldest daughter on her first big game trip. Aliyah loved this trip and wants to go again and she can’t wait to hunt for one herself. I think the only thing that could beat this memory for me will be when she gets her first antelope or deer.

I got the meat mostly cubed up and turned into about 25lbs into burger (individually packed, 1lb vac sealed), 2 lbs of stew meat, cubed heart, 4 or 5 lbs of lean roast that I plan on making jerky with or roasting, along with a 3 packs of 4 individual seasoned steaks that I can sous vide. I may turn some of the burger into sausage if I get ambitious. I estimate that I got 32-35lbs of meat off of him. Looking back I probably could have gotten some more off of him if I would have cut out the ribs, had a cleaner location to cut out more neck meat, and not destroyed 2-3 lbs of backstraps with my shot placement.

All in all, it was a great experience. As much as I love hunting deer in Minnesota, it is hard to compare with antelope. I really enjoy the moving and glassing. The weather in Wyoming was also great this time of year (high around 70 and lows around freezing). Having multiple opportunities kept you focused on the hunt and helped keep you mentally out of a low spot when you get disappointed. This was a great memory and is the reason why I wrote this, so that I can remember it as vividly as I can.
 

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jodorouse

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Jul 9, 2020
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Other Notes and Lessons

- For Aliyah’s first hunt, I will probably just get doe antelope tags and pick a unit with ample verified public access. Land locked public is extremely frustrating. I am fortunate I got this buck the way we did.

- Game bag the meat and then put into a plastic bag, then cover with ice. I had gallon jugs of ice but it still condensated. The game bags got wet and I was worried about spoiling. I put ice into Ziplock bags. I think the meat is fine.

- Practice shooting more (like months in advance).

- Use shooting sticks that work when you are sitting and standing. I can’t free stand shoot and was always looking for a place to go prone. If I had the sticks, I probably could have taken a quality shot at 3 of my 5 opportunities.

- Really look at the roads on the map and don’t trust OnX on what they mark as a road is actually a road.

- Don’t give up. Keep moving to the next spot. Pronghorn appear randomly and you never know when your next opportunity will show up

- I need to find a better way to store my gun between spots so that it is handy while I am in the front seat so that I don’t need to open the trunk every time. Maybe a cloth case that is within arm’s reach.

- Water was the key this year to high antelope densities.

- Check and double check the area where you think the antelope should be. Take your time. I missed seeing the buck I was after and probably should have seen him if I was patient.

- Bring a saw to cut out the ribs.
 
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