Wyoming Antelope Hunt
After months of research on the Internet and talking with several Outfitters and Services, I contacted Keith Hartman at Adventures West Recreation. Keith told me about a smoker deal he was offering on a trophy antelope hunt out of Gillette Wyoming. In this instance, the hunter would be responsible for room and board. Knowing that Gillette had the reputation of being the Antelope Capital of the United States, I booked the hunt and applied for a leftover antelope license (this is a 100% draw in the area I would be hunting as most of the area is private land).
Excitement mounted as the hunt neared. I had planned to fly into Rapid City, arriving the afternoon of the day before hunt and drive to Gillette. I felt this would give me some time to settle in. Well, so much for plans, after hours of fight delays I arrived in Rapid City at 9:30 at night only to find my hunting gear and rifle were no where to be found. Going into panic mode, I spoke with the local airline representative and explained the direness of the situation. The representative was sympathetic to my plight and began searching through the baggage system in an effort to locate the items. My baggage had somehow been routed though Denver and would be arriving later that night.
The airline representative offered to have my bags delivered to my hotel when they arrived. So I gave him the contact information and began the 2-hour drive to Gillette. While in route I called my guide, Dennis Edwards, to make him aware of the situation. We agreed to make contact at 6:00 am the following morning. While checking in at the hotel, I shared my equipment loss story with the clerk. She said that she would ring my room when the bags arrived. Sometime around 2:30 am the telephone rang; it was the front desk with news that my gear had arrived. Once everything was secured in my room, I drifted to sleep dreaming of Boone & Crockett antelope.
After breakfast, Dennis and I met at the hotel for a short briefing on the days hunt. I was impressed by his professionalism knowledge of hunting (Keith had already told me that Dennis was one of the best in the business at judging trophy antelope). I was pleased to find that Dennis was willing to pass on his knowledge to a novice antelope hunter like myself. I remember Dennis mentioning that he liked to wait until well after sunrise to start hunting as the additional light made the antelope easier to spot and judge.
After a few minutes of driving, and a stop at the rifle range, we arrived at one of the ranches Dennis has access to in Unit 24. Almost immediately antelope were everywhere. I was trying frantically to look at all of them through the binoculars when a voice said, "no need to look too hard, there are no big ones there." We continued to drive to a good vantage point to do some glassing, while I continued to look at every thing in sight. During the first couple of hours of the hunt we had seen over one hundred antelope, several small mule deer, two coyotes, and more jackrabbits than you could shake a stick at. All the while, Dennis explained what he was looked for in a identifying a trophy antelope; I tried my best to put this to practice. We spotted several bucks that warranted a second look and one possible shooter who headed to parts unknown while we were trying to get into position for a good look. By lunchtime, Dennis's teaching was taking affect and I found no need to raise the binoculars to look at every antelope buck for trophy potential (though seeing these animal in there natural habitat was very rewarding and something I remember to this day).
After lunch, we made a short drive to another ranch Dennis leases. This ranch also had a good antelope population. I spotted one buck that looked great given my recent training. After taking a closer look, Dennis said we should pass on him, as he was only a 13-inch buck. (I found out when talking with Dennis later in the year that another of his hunters took that buck. He was indeed 13-inches but scored 80 B&C points. So, I guess some of the training did rub off on me.)
After looking at another hundred or so antelope. Dennis had told me about a nice buck hung out at one of the ranches boundaries. If he were in position, we would attempt a stalk. Sure enough, the buck was where he needed to be. We parked the truck and walked through some drainage to get to the crest of a hill. There were three bucks in this group and it was easy to tell who the big-boy was. I kneeled to place my shooting sticks and found the buck in the scope. Dennis called out a range and I hesitated; the buck had broken off part of his left prong. I told Dennis who said, "you should really think about shooting this buck." I declined. I found out later that though Dennis did not force the issue (he never tells a hunter they must shoot), he had been scouting this buck for several weeks. I had just passed on an ivory-tipped buck, close to 16-inches in length. Had he not had the broken prong, the buck would have possibly made Boone & Crockett. (Maybe I didn't learn as much I as I though I had.)
After another hour of glassing we spotted another buck that warranted a closer look. To my eye this buck had all the qualities you would expect for a true trophy antelope. After looking at him through the spotting scope. Dennis agreed this buck had potential and we move in for a closer look. After a couple minutes of closer observation at 400-yards, Dennis said, "that's a 15-inch antelope." I asked what he though he would score and the reply was "mid-seventies." Needless to say, the stalk was on. Dennis suggested we use the cover of a creek bed to get within effective shooting range. About a hundred yards into the stalk Dennis came to a quick stop. Several mule deer were bedded in the shade just ahead of us along the creek bank. If we bumped them, they would spook the antelope. We backtracked and drove to another vantage point to rethink the approach.
Dennis suggested that we use the hill behind the antelope for cover and seek in from above. This worked out well in an a few minutes we were in position. I as inched toward the edge of the hill I could see several does bedded near by. The angle was such that I could not get a clear look at the buck without exposing my self to all those extra sets of eyes. I backed up and worked myself to another spot. I could see the buck but still could not get a clear shooting angle. Keep in mind the route Dennis had suggested put us within 60-yards of the antelope. I inched a little closer to the crest of he hill. The buck was still only partially visible as I sat up, placed my shooting sticks and prepared for a shot. Dennis, who was directly behind me, slowly stood up and ever so slightly, waved his right- hand. The bedded does stood up and trotted off with the buck close behind. I followed him in the scope. At what I estimated to be 150-yards the group stopped and the buck gave me a straight on shot. I eased the safety off and began concentrating for the shot. I remember in the back of my mind hearing Dennis asking if I needed the range, just about the time the shot broke. The buck dropped in his tracks. I looked at Dennis who smiled and said, "he's at 147." I walked down to my trophy while Dennis went back to get the truck. We took several pictures and I felt truly blessed to be able to have this experience. Remembering that Dennis had judged the buck to be 15-inches and in the mid-seventies, we did some scoring. The buck's was indeed 15-inches with a gross green score of 74 5/8 B&C.