For the 2010 Colorado Rifle Antelope Season, my friend and I both ended up with buck tags for the area near my father-in-laws house. All summer, I had been keeping an eye on antelope in the area, and I knew there were a few decent-sized bucks in the area. My friend had never hunted antelope, and this would be his first hunt in Colorado. He grew up in Indiana hunting whitetails, so hunting the wide-open plains was going to be a new experience for him.
We agreed to meet in my in-law’s yard about 30 minutes before legal shooting hours on opening day. When we both arrived, it was still dark, so we killed some time in the yard loading his gear into my pickup. We both figured it would not do any good to try to spot antelope in the dark. However, we were both anxious, and we decided to head out and make our way to a few areas I expected to find antelope. As we drove along in the fading darkness, I pointed out some of the sections that we had access to hunt. My friend was use to hunting much smaller acreages, so he was extremely excited by the opportunity to hunt a larger area.
As we drove along a main road in the area, we spotted a few small groups of antelope. Mostly we saw does, but there were a few small bucks mixed in. We pulled into a pasture that we had permission to hunt, and we followed a trail until we came to a spot that provided a nice vantage point to glass the area. It was getting light enough to see better by now, and we spotted a nice buck and about five does about half a mile away. We continued to glass the area before we set out to try to put a stalk on that buck. Unfortunately, we spotted two other pickups in the area. One pickup was parked about 3 miles away with no sign of the hunters in the immediate area. The second pickup was about a half mile past the antelope we were watching, and headed towards us. I thought I recognized the pickup as a pickup belonging to my in-law’s neighbor, but I could not tell for sure. We decided we should wait to see how the situation played out in case this other vehicle spooked the antelope towards us. It did not take that pickup long to close the distance to the antelope, and it was interesting to watch how little the antelope cared about this pickup rolling through their territory. At one point, I would guess that the pickup got within one hundred yards of the buck in the group, and yet the antelope did not spook. The pickup came to a brief stop, and then rolled along to the north and out of the immediate area. We could see hunter orange in the vehicle, so my friend and I were confused as to why these hunters passed on what appeared to be a golden opportunity to fill either a buck or doe tag. The only logical conclusions we could reach were that either these hunters did not deem that buck a shooter, or since the pickup was on the top of a small hill while the antelope laid peacefully in the draw below, that the terrain had somehow concealed the antelope from their view.
We decided that even if that buck was not a shooter for them, it was definitely a shooter for us. I pulled the pickup another quarter mile west, and parked it along the fence line in the bottom of a draw. Before I brought the pickup to a stop, we spotted another group of 7 antelope about 350 yards to the south. There was a buck with that bunch, but he looked a little smaller. We decided we would try to get on the buck we spotted earlier that was to the north, and if we did not have any luck there, we would take a closer look at this group to the south. We planned to hike north along the west side of the hill the pickup had driven along until we were about even with the antelope. Then, we would crest the hill within about 100 yards of the buck, looking for a shot. Even though this was his first antelope hunt, he insisted that I get the first opportunity for a shot since I had invited him along. I caved in both because my will was weak, and I completely believed that we would both get excellent opportunities to fill our respective tags, regardless of who took the first shot.
We walked along as quietly as we could manage till we had to exchange a few whispers to debate if we had hiked far enough or too far to come over the hill even with the antelope. I lead the way up the hill, advancing as slowly as I could up the hill, scanning for any signs of the antelope we knew to be in the area. When I spotted the buck watching me from a distance of about 80 yards, I dropped to the ground, shouldered my .257 Weatherby, and steadied myself on my monopod. From my position, all I could see was the buck’s head and a few inches of his neck. Even at that close of a distance, I was not comfortable taking a neck shot. I held my crosshairs on him, hoping that he would take a step or two forward that would allow me to take a shot. We stared at each other for probably only a minute or two with neither one of us flinching a muscle, but it felt like an eternity. Eventually, he decided he had seen enough of my ugly face, and he vacated the area in speed goat fashion. We quickly moved further along the hill, hoping he might stop for a second and present a shot opportunity, but he had other plans.
After the antelope had vacated the area, my friend questioned why I did not take the shot. When I explained what I saw through my scope, he understood. However, I he told me that he had stopped a few steps behind me and slightly to my right, and from his kneeling position, he could see the entire antelope’s chest through his scope. I was thankful that he did not decide to pull the trigger on his 7mm because I am sure that would have resulted in permanent hearing loss for me.
We made our way back to the pickup, and now it was his turn to try to get an antelope. The antelope we had spotted earlier had stuck around, but they had made their way a little further south. He took the lead as we tried to close the distance to try to get a shot on the buck in that bunch. With no terrain to use to hide our advance, the antelope decided they wanted nothing to do with us and vacated the area shortly after we started our stalk.
We loaded back up in the pickup and continued west along the fence line. We had gone about a quarter of a mile when a decent-sized buck antelope topped the hill in front of us, and stood there broadside, looking at us. I left the pickup running, while my friend grabbed his gun and got out. He chambered a round, and took a shot at this buck off-hand at about 80 yards. Unfortunately, he missed and I did not see where the bullet went. The antelope ran off, and my friend was left scratching his head, trying to figure out how he had missed that shot.
We drove on, stopping frequently to glass for animals. We came across a few groups of does, but nothing to get excited about. As we covered the ground we had permission to hunt, we would discuss which direction we thought we needed to go to find more antelope. As it turned out, these discussions were pointless as we seemed to find antelope around nearly every corner, even if they were does or young bucks. It was exciting to see so much game!
As we made our way east along the north end of the pasture, we came across two decent-sized bucks and one young buck. Unfortunately, as quickly as we spotted these animals, they ran under the fence, and over to the adjacent property that we did not have permission to hunt. We watched these bucks for a while, and even though they were constantly running, they did not get much further away for a while due to their erratic behavior. They seemed to be more interested in each other than in getting further away from us.
We drove on, hitting the eastern edge of the property and headed south along the fence line. After driving a little over a half mile to the south, we spotted about 30 antelope about half a mile further southwest. We saw some bucks in the group, and decided to try to get closer to see if we could get a shot. We backtracked in the pickup to a ditch that had been dug in the Great Depression era with the intention of running irrigation water. However, the developers at the time went to all the work to dig this ditch without ever securing the water rights necessary to complete the project. Now all that is left are these empty irrigation ditches that serve as nice cover to try to get closer to antelope. We parked the pickup in this ditch, and tried to use a tiny hill with some sage brush on it to try to get closer to those antelope. However, at about 400 yards, we ran out of hill and sagebrush to hide in, and the antelope started to get nervous, putting even more distance between us and them. We decided to try to retreat, before we spooked the antelope any more.
Back at the pickup, we formulated our next plan of attack to try to get on this same group of antelope. This time, we decided to drive the pickup to the west far enough to be able to drive around the antelope and try to intercept them at the southern fence line. We hoped that the antelope would continue on their way south, and then get slowed down as they worked their way through the fence.
When we arrived at the fence line, we got out of the pickup, and I lead the way up the little hill that was between us and where we anticipated seeing the antelope. When I crested the hill, the antelope had made better time than we were expecting, and about two-thirds of the group was already in the next pasture. Lucky for me, we also had permission to hunt that pasture, so this fence line offered no security for these antelope. I hurried to a nearby fence post, and used it to stabilize my shot. I quickly found a mature buck, and placed the crosshairs on him, hoping that he would stop running. While I was preparing for the shot, my friend used the rangefinder and informed me that the buck was about 260 yards away. Shortly after he called out the distance to me, the buck came to a stop, nearly perfectly broadside. I steadied myself for the shot and pulled the trigger. Due to the recoil, I lost sight of my buck. With my peripheral vision, I saw several antelope running past where I thought I shot the buck. Before I could panic, my friend let out a triumphant, “You got him!” Through my scope, I found that my buck had dropped exactly where I shot him.
We walked out to the buck to inspect our first filled tag. We took a few pictures and walked back to the pickup. We enjoyed the luxury of being able to pull the pickup right up to the antelope. We took a few more pictures, and loaded it into the back of the pickup to take it back to my father-in-law’s for butchering. It was getting close to noon, and we wanted to get this one processed as quickly as possible to hopefully still give my friend a chance to fill his tag that same day. However, between my father-in-law, my friend, and me, we were all either rookies or rusty when it came to butchering, so it took us longer than necessary to get the job done. Eventually, we did get the job done, and after cleaning up a bit, and a quick bite to eat for lunch, we headed back out to try our luck for the second time that day.
By now, it was about 3:30, so we knew we did not have a lot of time left in the day. We drove around for a while without seeing anything, so we headed to some pastures north of where we had hunted early in the day. We topped a hill, and we spotted a buck and a doe about 75 yards south in a little gulley. I kept driving along till we were out of sight. We got out of the pickup, and crept over the hill. My friend had an opportunity on a very young buck at about 50 yards, but he decided not to pull the trigger.
We loaded back into the pickup, and we were driving south on a trail when I spotted the head of an antelope, silhouetted on the horizon about 450 yards due west. Even though it was a doe, we decided to take a closer look, hoping that there were more antelope in the area. We crept along a trail and up a little hill headed directly to where we had last seen the antelope.
As we made our way along the trail, we started to spot more and more antelope. At first, we just saw does running around, but we also sighted a few bucks. Eventually, we found ourselves sitting on top a small hill mostly hidden in sage brush overlooking a bit of a valley. From our vantage point, we could see at least 50 antelope, including a few young bucks. Eventually, we spotted a mature buck in the group, and he was going crazy! He would chase one young buck off about a mile away before he would come tearing back only to do the same thing to a different buck. We sat there with our hearts pounding like crazy watching this scene for about twenty minutes. I tried to continually update my friend on shooting distances using the range finder, while he tried to keep the buck in his scope in case he got a shooting opportunity. In that entire time, that mature buck never stopped running for even a second, and he never got closer than about 300 yards.
Eventually, one of the does must have spotted us, and the entire group made a rather dramatic and hasty exit from the area. We sat there watching till they were nearly out of sight before heading back to the pickup. We were nearly out of shooting light as we were pulling out of the pasture. As I was closing the gate behind me, the pickup we had watched drive past the first group of antelope we saw that day pulled up to talk. As it turns out, it was my father-in-law’s neighbor. They had seen the antelope we watched them drive right past, but they were holding out for something better. We exchanged our hunting tales of the day, and went on our way. We did spot one more buck that day, but unfortunately he was on property that we did not have permission to hunt. At the end of the day, we had one buck in the freezer and plenty of additional opportunities for a second buck.
The next day, I could not join my friend in the morning due to a prior commitment. By the time I made it out to my father-in-law’s, my friend was nearly done butchering his buck. I helped him finish the task at hand while he told me about his morning. He started the day by re-sighting in his gun, after being perplexed by his miss on the previous day. As it turned out, his scope base was loose, which resulted in the wayward shot. After correcting the situation, he drove in to the pasture in which I had got my antelope the day before. Shortly after entering the pasture, he spotted a young buck at about 50 yards. He decided it was too nice of an opportunity to pass up. He got out of his pickup, laid prone over a nearby sand bank, and finished the game with an easy chip shot before the buck even spooked. Now we both had our bucks and some wonderful memories to go with them!