WHEN IN DOUBT, BACK OUT!
Monday, August 1, was a particularly exciting day for me. Antelope season was a mere two weeks away, and it was time to start all the pre-season prep work. The ground blinds and the trail cameras needed to be set up in good areas to get some shots of antelope bucks at my water holes.
I spent months looking for a landowner who would be willing to allow me hunt private land for antelope. There are antelope everywhere in Campbell County, Wyoming. In fact, Campbell County is the Pope and Young antelope capital of the country. My opportunity would come regardless of whether I hunted public land or private. I wanted to set up my blind and cameras early and private land provided the opportunity to do that without the worry of them being stolen.
After making a few phone calls, I had reached an old family friend, who was more than happy to let me hunt. After work on Monday, staff member Nate Cina and I went out to put up the blind and trail cameras. The property owner had shown me the property the day before, and I knew that the water hole was 50 yards long and 25 yards across. We chose to put the blind to the north side, nestled under four large cottonwoods. This would come in handy for both shade during the mid-day heat and to help break some of the wind. The grass on the west side of the hole was completely trampled down, and it was obvious that the antelope had been watering there. We set up the trail camera there using a trail camera mount that attached to the T-post. It would only be a matter of time before animals began showing up on the trail camera.
As the week went by, I became extremely anxious about what antelope might be walking in to water in front of the camera. Upon checking the cameras, I had 79 photos of antelope. One in particular was a very large buck! He had been practicing his pre-rut tradition of thrashing and raking his horns on piles of brush all while standing in front of the trail camera. In many of his pictures, he had grass twisted into his massive cutters and bases. Appropriately, I named this great buck âScarecrowâ.
Although I usually choose spot and stalk over sitting on a water hole as my preferred means of hunting antelope, my training did not change between the two. Wyoming is wide open, and long shots are always a possibility, even at a water hole. I tried to shoot 30 to 50 arrows a day ranging between 20 and 60 yards. Keep in mind, shooting from a blind chair can be tricky. Always practice exactly how you will be shooting during your hunt, so practice from a chair as well.
Opening day finally arrived. Unfortunately, my first two days (Monday and Tuesday) would be evening hunts only, due to my work schedule. Between the two days, there were many bucks, does, and fawns that came to water. Despite several very close encounters, nothing that I was willing to put my tag on made an appearance just yet. Hunting from the blind enabled me to capture hours of incredible video, and I was more than happy with the footage that I had gotten in two days.
I had taken Wednesday off to spend time with family and was looking forward to my first morning hunt on Thursday. A friend, John Herrmann, offered to film my hunt on Thursday. We set out for our blind Thursday morning at 5:00 a.m., well before daylight. The sun was just beginning to rise from the east and we were already settled in the blind. We were both excited to see what the day would bring. As the darkness began to fade into dim shadows, we began to notice antelope bedded as far as the eye could see.
John and I spent the day getting more acquainted, and by the ninth hour in the blind, I can tell you I had told my life story and he had told his! At 2:52 p.m. a smaller two-year-old buck made his way in to water. As I sat on the right side of the blind, out of nowhere, an awesome buck came into view! The first thing I noticed was his odd shape. Most antelope horns curl in, but this buck's horns curled back. He also had beautifully polished white tops about 1-inch long. The moment had finally come! This buck was what I was after! As John set the camera to record, I patiently waited for the antelope to take his drink. The big buck turned to walk away, and I drew my bow. I had ranged over and over again, and was confident that my rangefinder had given me the right distances. With a loud BLEET from inside the blind, the buck turned on a dime at a steep 1/4 away angle. I held my breath and squeezed my release trigger.
Things happened so fast and I was not able to see right away were the arrow hit, but I definitely heard it. The sound of a broadhead hitting the rib cage of an animal is unmistakable. As the buck ran away, I was shocked to find that I had not gotten the penetration that I had hoped for. I could see the arrow sticking out of the buck as he ran away. I knew that with 25 or so inches of arrow sticking out of the animal, I had only gotten 4 to 6 inches of penetration.
After reviewing the footage in slow motion, we determined that the buck had ducked the arrow. Instead of my arrow hitting right behind the shoulder, it had struck high on the scapula on top of the shoulder. All bow hunters know that this is an inevitable part of the sport. This is not a bullet traveling at 3,000 feet per second; it is a modified version of a prehistoric hunting device. As much as I wanted to jump out of the blind and run up on the skyline where we had last seen the buck, I knew that we HAD to give him time.
This is a very important part of hunting that many people overlook. Knowing when to back out and give the buck time is very important. There are times when a quick follow-up shot is the best option, but in this case, it was best to come back later and recover my trophy. WHEN IN DOUBT, BACK OUT!! We made our way back to the ranch house to let the landowner know what had happened and what our plan was from there. Being the great man that he is, he invited us in for a cheeseburger.
Good conversation made it a little easier to gather my thoughts for what I knew would be happening later that day.
John and I stayed at the house for an hour or so, and then headed back to the ranch hoping to find the buck dead. Getting the wind in our favor and moving cautiously, we were able to get within 30 yards of my buck. That is when the excitement and relief set in! I have shot many antelope over the years, but this was my first trophy over a water hole blind!
That antelope season was a blast! I enjoyed making new friends and sharing my love for the outdoors with them, and I am sure they feel the same!