Ever Run Down a Pronghorn... On Foot?
One evening last October found me sitting in camp in a newly discovered part of Wyoming. I was on my first doe antelope hunt in that wind-swept state and was about to make an important decision. After a half hour of deliberation with my brother, we decided that it was time to spend some points… preference points that is. We decided that we wanted to burn our Colorado pronghorn preference points the following year and hunt bucks in a good unit. We had been collecting points for the six years prior and after putting our first antelope on the ground, we made the decision to start the search for a good unit that we could get into and have a fair chance at a good, representative buck.
Over the next couple months we put in countless hours straining our eyes in map books, craning our necks looking at computer screens and made countless calls to different agencies. We had decided to do our research independently and then compare our results and make an informed decision as to where to apply to chase these unique critters. After all the books had been gone through… after all the maps had been scoured… after every thread had been investigated… we came to the same conclusion. And we knew that we had made the right decision. Both of us couldn’t have been wrong right?
Well the application deadline came and went. As the weeks past we grew anxious for the draw results to get posted. There wasn’t much to be worried about though because we had a very good chance of drawing the tags unless the quota got dropped from the previous year or a large number of new applicants put in for the tag. I was in class one morning last spring when I got a text from my brother. It read, “I got my tag!” “That’s funny”, I thought. “Why did he say ‘I’ instead of ‘we.’” I did not like what I was seeing. After sending him a frantic text, I was not looking forward to the reply. Sure enough, even though we had the same number of preference points, he had drawn the tag and I hadn’t. We each had just enough preference points to be put in the drawing for the remaining tags after all the hunters with more points had received licenses. He got lucky… I did not. I was disappointed but tried to look at the bright side. If the unit ended up being a bust, I wouldn’t have to blow my points the next year. I got over it and we started plans to scout the area that summer.
Due to my internship in Rocky Mountain National Park last summer, I wasn’t able to get out with my brother as much as I wanted to scout. He got out a couple times though and had seen some decent bucks. The plan was to hunt BLM land. That is until he stumbled onto a primo opportunity. My brother in law knew a guy from work that owned 40 sections of land in the unit. You read that right… 40 square miles! That is a lot of land to search for a goat, especially since it is private. The only thing is that he would have to hunt with the caretaker of the property who also had drawn a tag. “No problem”, he thought. It would just give him a hunting partner in case I couldn’t take off school. It turned out to be much more of a hindrance than we could have imagined.
As the days got shorter and the X on the calendar got closer and closer, my brother didn’t seem to get very anxious. After talking to the caretaker, he was confident that it would take just a couple hours and they would have two big bucks down. After all, the caretaker said that he wouldn’t be shooting anything less than 18 inches! Well opening morning rolled around and I wondered why my brother wasn’t out there hunting. “I haven’t heard back from the guy”, he told me. Apparently he was so confident in this guy that he didn’t even feel the need to get and hunt the first couple days. There are a ton of doe hunters out there that first weekend though and he wanted to avoid them as well.
Half way through the week I asked him if he had heard back yet. The guy had set up a time to meet on both Monday and Tuesday and had been a “no show” on both occasions. He was nearly impossible to get a hold of and my brother was starting to worry. Finally on Wednesday, he decided that it was time to crawl through some prickly pear. He went out to a large chunk of BLM land that he had scouted in the offseason and immediately saw a group of two does and a good buck. They were running across the road at full speed and there was nothing he could do. He ventured into another area to glass. He remembered a big sheltered bowl that he had found while scouting and decided that it would be worth a look. He crawled the last ten yards to the top of the hill overlooking it so that he wouldn’t skyline himself. Sure enough, there was a buck and a few does down in the bottom. He slowly started to deploy his bipod when the bucks head jerked to full attention. He had been busted. The does took off, using their large-for-body-size respiratory system to fuel their speedy get away. The buck was not far behind. My brother was able to watch them tear up dirt for over a mile before they slowed and dropped out of sight over a ridge. Those antelope made the wrong decision. Humans are predators… plain and simple. We didn’t get those pointy teeth up front by tracking wild berries. When these sleek prey animals took off, the chase mode was triggered deep in the primal caverns of my brother’s brain. Using a hunting technique harkening back to the Pleistocene, my brother took off in pursuit as soon as they got out of sight. Now I know what you are thinking… “Yeah right!” Well let me tell you something, this kid is in ridiculous shape. I hunt, backpack, snowboard and play hockey with him. He is the real deal. Yes, if the antelope hadn’t slowed to a walk before disappearing out of sight, he wouldn’t have had an ice cube’s chance in hell. But they did slow down… and he saw that as his opportunity. He took it.
Less than ten minutes later he was crawling to the top of another hill. But this one had pronghorn on the other side; pronghorn that wouldn’t have thought in a million years (or more like hundreds of thousands to be more exact) that a hunter would give pursuit given the circumstances. He learned his lesson and decided that he would peer over the top and shoot prone instead of trying to get on the bipod. He inched his head above the top of the hill and laid eyes on his quarry. He wasted no time in settling the 400 yard hatch on his scope on top of the bucks back. He took a deep breath, let half of it out and added pressure to the trigger. The rifle went bang and the buck took off like his life depended on it. And it did. The bullet crushed the heart and both lungs. The buck was able to cover about a hundred yards before everything gave out and he did a full front flip and slid to his final resting place. The buck had picked up so much speed, and had pumped out so much blood that you could see the blood streaks stained horizontally into his coat.
He was just a two year old buck… not the 18 inch antelope that my brother had dreamed about after getting news of the private property opportunity that ended up falling through. But he couldn’t have been happier. It was his first Colorado pronghorn buck and he knew that the feat that he had just accomplished – chasing down a prey animal that evolved with North American cheetahs—was something to behold. I am proud of that kid and am only disappointed in the fact that I couldn’t have been there with him. But if I was… I would probably still be out of breath!