It’s funny how before a fall hunting season ends, you find yourself daydreaming and strategizing about next year. Yet, when you’re “born to hunt” what else is a person to do? In some states you can strategize and plan hunts with the expectation of drawing your desired tag. In other states you can only swing for the fences and hope for the best. It’s the expected as well as the randomness that produce the excitement and disappointment of draw results day. I was expecting a Colorado antelope buck tag in 2018, but instead I received a coveted Colorado bighorn sheep tag, which wasn’t a bad trade. With this change in plans, I knew 2019 would be the year I’d finally burn 10+ points on the antelope unit I’d had my eye on.
Nevada draw results usually come out out a couple weeks prior to Colorado results. To make my 2019 antelope season even more interesting, I drew my first choice Nevada unit. I had contemplated burning my Wyoming antelope points too, but thought better of it, saving them for next year. Once again, strategizing for next year before the draw deadline had even passed for this year.
An Early Start
The third week of August found me making the westward trek to Nevada. It seemed odd packing the rifle in the truck this time of the year when I’m typically hitting the hills every weekend for a scouting trip. Nevada is interesting country to find yourself hunting in. It is a long way to anywhere with a whole lot of nothing in the middle of points A and B. However, if you take the time to evaluate and observe the landscape, there is a lot of life in these seemingly sterile environments. Once you find the first antelope and “train” your eye, they seem to be in almost every direction you look. It doesn’t take long to find a wild horse in Nevada either.
Once I had reached my unit, I met up with Jake Rosevear of Pine Peak Outfitters. Jake, our friend John and I set a goal of finding an antelope in the 80” range. It wouldn’t be easy, but recent reports suggested the rut was in its initial stages. We felt it was a numbers game. The more bucks we looked at, the better our chances of finding our target.
Potential Target Acquired
It didn’t take long to find antelope opening morning. The intel said the further south we went towards the unit boundary, the more antelope we should see, and it was correct. By mid-morning, we had already sorted through 10-15 bucks with one buck showing promise, but he was unfortunately outside of the unit. Just before lunch, we found a single buck cruising back south towards the boundary. It was hard to pass this buck, but his prongs were a bit short and it was still opening morning.
The silver lining in passing this buck was finding a hill with enough elevation to see a couple miles in every direction. We decided to head back to camp for lunch and put together a plan of attack for the afternoon hunt. As soon as we left our newly located perch, we came across a buck that certainly was close to our threshold. He was with another buck and doe but didn’t seem to be the dominant buck of the two. I knew the buck had the longest prongs we had seen all morning, but he was lacking on his lower mass measurements. I was the hesitant one, while Jake and John thought I might have lost my mind letting such a good buck go. In the end, we headed back to camp without getting out of the truck.
Second Guesses and Success
At lunch, we talked it over and after looking at a little video, we thought it might be in our best interest to see if we could locate him again. As we were driving to the top of the vantage point, there he was about 50 yards away. I couldn’t believe it, we had found him, and he was alone. He started moving away slowly, giving more than enough time to make accurate assessments. He had prong length, horn length, was slightly light on lower mass, and most importantly had that classic antelope heart-shaped horn configuration with ivory tips. He was the antelope I had come to Nevada for and I was happy to leave there with a buck of that caliber.
The Second of Two
With the Nevada hunt behind me, it was time to put full concentration on my Colorado antelope hunt. With a portion of my previous year’s sheep unit overlapping the antelope unit, I had taken mental notes of areas where I was seeing antelope while sheep scouting. It was odd seeing antelope in areas around 10,000 feet in elevation. But they were there in those unexpected locations. I felt with a little time and effort, I might be able to find a good buck off the beaten path.
In addition to the antelope tag, I also had a cow elk muzzleloader tag for the unit. I used “elk hunting” as a good reason to spend more time scouting. I found a couple decent bucks in a few areas, and a unique buck with 180ᵒ flaring prongs on a small piece of BLM land, but was still looking for something real special.
A High-Speed Encounter
Then came the Friday afternoon two weeks prior to opening day. I was headed to help my buddy’s daughter with her muzzleloader elk tag. I decided to swing by the flaring buck’s location to keep tabs on him prior to going to elk camp. That’s when everything changed. Amongst the pines, I was trying to spot a mule deer or elk, when suddenly there was an antelope, then two does, heck there was a whole herd. He was the last one I spotted when he lifted his head. I knew immediately at 70 mph, another look was warranted. Somehow without wrecking the truck, I was able to get turned around and pulled over in a not-so-safe location to shoot a little video and get the heck out of there. At camp that evening, I knew this was the buck I was looking for.
The next two weeks were fruitless. As quickly as he had appeared in the pines, he had also disappeared into them. I suspected his general location but was unsure. I had spent hours looking for him and studying the area trying to determine possible water, hidey-holes, etc. The afternoon before opener, I found him with a doe. Putting him to bed and watching him until absolute pitch black, I climbed into my sleeping bag that night thinking he’d be there in the morning.
A Popular Buck
Sleep was lacking and I was up before the alarm went off. I was in my location almost an hour before legal shooting time only to find that he was gone. The hunt would continue. He vanished again into thin air. The wind had come up that night and I guessed he might have moved into some pines offering protection with small grassy lots. My suspicions were correct, and I found antelope, but not the right one. I was certainly in an area I would call “non-traditional” antelope country when another truck drove by me with the driver wearing orange. Panic set in, there was absolutely no reason for another hunter to be in this area unless they knew about this buck. Then, there was another truck with both the driver and passenger wearing orange. No freaking way!!! Maybe this buck isn’t as elusive as I thought.
I was about to circle around an area where I could glass a big open flat, when I decided to make one last swing by his water, which was just a few yards from a major county road. As I came around the corner, there were antelope. Slamming on the brakes, I said, “That’s a doe… …there he is!”. Flying out of the truck, everything was left behind but the rifle. I slipped over to a sliver of pines and started picking my way through them. Ranging the buck at 237 yards and seeing a nice spot to get prone, I hit the ground.
As I was nestling into the rifle stock, I heard a vehicle coming from behind me. I glanced to my left only to see an older Ford Bronco with the passenger donning hunter orange. The Bronco hit the brakes. I thought, “absolutely not!” I’m not letting someone shoot my buck after all the effort I’d put into this. The commotion of the Bronco’s tires skidding along the gravel road had the buck’s attention. He was looking at the vehicle, giving me a severe quartering away shot. Though it was less than ideal, I had to take it, anticipating the crack of the rifle from the road. At the shot he hit the ground and I was relieved. Kneeling and looking around to gather my piece of spent brass, I looked towards the buck’s location only to see him standing again. I belly flopped to the ground, fighting the eye relief, terrified the truck might get the killing shot. I found him back on the ground, slipping another bullet through his chest to make sure he’s finished this time. Indeed, he was, my 2019 antelope season was complete.
Two for Two
You always envision how a hunt/season might unfold. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to take two antelope both measuring over 80” with the Colorado buck expected to make it into the all-time B&C Record Book. 2019 will be a hard year to beat after tallying over 160” of antelope horn.