Antelope are probably the best big game animal for an eastern hunter to experience on their first trip out west, but they are among the least desirable. Everyone wants an elk, but for someone who isn’t used to reading maps, hunting public lands, still hunting dark timber, spotting and stalking, backpacking in rugged terrain, judging tremendous distances and is new to big game applications and preference point systems, antelope are a better first time experience.
For a new western big game hunter, antelope have the advantage of being extremely visible. They do not hide, as their eyesight is their primary defense. Antelope feel secure in the wide open spaces where they can see danger approaching. Finding them is the easy part, determining whether or not the ground you are hunting is public or private and then how to reach those animals is the hard part.
The first and really the only state that needs to come to mind for antelope hunting is Wyoming. Sure, nearly all of the Western and Great Plains states have some degree of antelope hunting (Montana is a not too distant second best for the nonresident), but Wyoming’s abundant public lands and huge antelope populations rightfully put them at the top of the list.
And they’re relatively cheap to hunt. At $48 for doe tags in Wyoming, and the ability to have up to 4 of them, plus one or two buck tags for $286 apiece, that’s a lot of entertainment for your dollar compared to elk hunting. As long as you allow for enough time to blow a few stalks in an area with enough huntable land, you should have no trouble filling as many tags as you can buy. In my group, we’ve only had one hunter go home without filling a tag over the last three years.
For 2011, I’m allowing for 3 full days of hunting for some friends of mine that are coming out from California to fill about 12 tags before we continue on to our deer area. This is in no way unreasonable, as just last year, all four tags (2 guys, 2 tags each) in the truck I was hunting in were filled, with animals deboned and in coolers by noon of the first morning. And that includes me missing one shot after a long stalk. The point is, in abundant antelope country with enough different herds to hunt it’s really no problem to blow a stalk or miss a shot, then regroup and try again. There’s always another opportunity over the next rise. And I’ve only once hunted an antelope opener. To me, I prefer the lower pressure a week or three into the season, even though the antelope tend to be a little spookier.
How do you get an antelope tag in Wyoming? Well, the application deadline is March 15th, so you better get cracking. Because the success rates are so high (there’s something seriously wrong with a unit if the success is less than 80%), all tags are limited. You can have three applications, one for a full price (buck) antelope, two for reduced price (doe/fawn) antelope. Preference points only apply to the buck tags and doe tags are issued in a completely random draw. Additional tags can be picked up as leftovers.
The hardest to draw areas for bucks are in those areas with the most contiguous public land. In many of the hardest to draw buck areas, antelope doe tags are easy to draw, due to the thinking that many hunters do not want to come out to Wyoming just for a doe hunt, and will wait to buy additional licenses only if they draw. That is not the case along the Colorado border where people like me come up just to doe hunt. In some of the areas that Wyoming lists as having difficult access, check to see if there are Walk In Hunting Areas or Hunter Management Areas to facilitate private land access. I have never, and likely will never pay for private land access to hunt antelope (though I do donate to the access programs). There’s just too much good hunting land to be had for free.
And what land are we talking about? Essentially you will almost always be hunting BLM lands. Most National Forest land is too rugged or too timbered for there to be decent numbers of antelope to hunt. State trust lands are open to hunting in Wyoming and are a great source for unwary herds for the hunter who knows how to read a map. National Grasslands are another great source of public lands. Before you apply, pick up a Delorme atlas, and look over the pages showing all the public land in the state and who owns it. Avoid the areas where the public lands do not seem to reach the major roads. Once you’ve found a few spots where the public land is obviously accessible, figure out which unit it’s in, then take a look at your draw odds. Don’t forget to factor in Wyoming’s Hunter Management Areas and Walk-In Hunting Areas. Be careful though, if the BLM lands are particularly rugged, such as those with obvious mountains and deep canyons, it is likely poor antelope country.
With just a modicum of research, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get halfway decent tags. For the most part, eastern Wyoming offers few opportunities for public land hunting outside of the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. Most of the BLM lands begin west of Casper, extending northwest to Cody, straight west to Pinedale and southwest beyond Rock Springs. Every other square mile of the Interstate 80 country between Evanston and Rawlins is BLM land. It can be quite frustrating, so make sure you know how to read your maps and GPS if you decide to hunt these lands.
If you aren’t ready to commit to applying for tags, Wyoming also offers the chance to simply purchase a preference point after the drawings are conducted (last year was due by September 30th). So instead of remitting $286 for a buck tag, you just have to pony up $30 for the preference point. Then, for the following year, you can use your point to get you into areas that you couldn’t draw the year before, or to guarantee a 0 point tag.
As I mentioned before, antelope hunting is one of the better introductions to western hunting you can ask for. It can be as casual or serious as you want to make it. For the serious trophy hunter, Wyoming certainly has areas where you can expect to glass a hundred different bucks in a week. For the complete newby, the relatively forgiving nature of an antelope hunt allows for you to learn from your mistakes, correct the problems and try again. Whether it’s stalking techniques or shooting techniques that you need to refine, you’ll get another chance at them if you allow yourself enough time. So don’t forget, March 15th is coming up quickly, get those applications in.