"Doubt Year Antelope"
Written by Steve Schultz
76-4/8 Inch Net Pope and Young Buck
With little to no rain and high temps throughout the summer, water would be as good as gold in the hands of a bow hunter wishing to utilize a ground blind in an attempt to capitalize on water craving bucks.
August 15th rounded around the corner faster than a thirsty antelope heading in for water. With higher than average hopes this year, I went out five days early to scout the best possible ambush site for my blind.
I had a perfect place in mind. The previous year I'd been set to go and, well even though it was a drought year we experienced a monsoon rain two days before my departure which turned the entire prairie into a marsh. That made it impossible to pin down where the big guy was going to water. I ended up not even going.
My perfect ambush site was set with a windmill, a stock tank with an overflow, and of course the tank had holes which only added to the fresh flow of succulent fresh water making its way to the pond. To my surprise, the rancher had replaced the tank with a new one that was void of holes. The tank was no longer keeping the pond vibrant and full of fresh water. It was dry! My heart and hopes dried up faster than the pond. I had another plan though, the pond straight to the south of this location a mile and a hill away.
Rounding the hill I spooked a great buck off of the pond, one that makes you stop and gaze in amazement. Inspecting the pond I found numerous antelope tracks every where around the entire pond area. The only bad thing, well there was a few, was that the pond was very low and only about 23 yards across and not very deep. The other horrible thing was the level would put the blind low and below the surrounding ground, making it impossible to detect any speeders on their way in for a drink. It would be ZERO to adrenaline in seconds.
I set the blind up on the south side of the pond opening morning, and it wasn't long until I had critters moving in for an early morning drink. First were the sage grouse flying in from every direction, then the deer, rabbits and at about 9:00 am a badger ambled in ever so cautiously for a drink. I had a few nice bucks come in, none of which were of the caliber I was looking to take. I had seen two bucks around 80 P&Y five days earlier that I was really looking for, or better yet hoping would make an appearance.
Day two started the same with the same visitors, but less antelope. I was now sure there was water elsewhere that I did not know of. Of course, day three was the same with even fewer antelope.
On August 22nd, I found the pond almost nonexistent, simply a little bitty mud puddle.
I was forced to set up at the stock tank which was now brimming with fresh water, with an overcast day I was hoping the speeders would drink from the tank, and there were quite a few in view all around the windmill. Around noon, I still did not have any visitors and the clouds were rolling in, bringing lightning with them. "Great!", I thought. That's all I needed….water all over! Yes it rained. Not only did it rain, but it was another monsoon rain washing out roads and filling all the gullies and little depressions to the brim with water, another marsh land. Ponds were now filled to the top everywhere; the antelope could drink anywhere and at any time. I ended up pulling my rain soaked blind with high hopes all but completely washed away and soaked to the bone.
When September rolled around, my attention was now turned to deer, but I still checked the area to see if any of the water had evaporated…no such luck. I guess I'd rather have luck most days than skill.
I did make it back out with a friend (Butch Aultman), and we setup a blind at the windmill. We placed the blind between the windmill and the western edge of the pond. At around 10:00 am, we had two bucks come in…the closest one was 50 yards. Butch attempted a shot and missed. There were goats all over on every hill with a few real nice ones. We had a plan, and it was time to pull the secret weapon out, a cow decoy.
We made our way up a draw closing the gap on a good buck that apparently couldn't have cared less that there was a six legged cow inching ever so close to him until we ended up 40 yards away. At that point he got real antsy and bugged out. It was a learning experience and kind of funny. Most of the antelope paid us no mind at a distance, but as we closed the distance they would clear out. I think we were moving a little too fast for a cow. So, the expedition was a wash, no antelope with the blind and the secret weapon was not as good as I had hoped it would have been.
September 27th, while working all night the desire to go out and try my hand once more at taking an antelope burned ever so bright. Leaving town at around 4:00 am, I rushed home throwing my gear aboard and racing out. I setup my blind at the windmill again and placed an antelope decoy out in front of the blind. As the sun started to crest the eastern ridges I could hear bucks wheezing on every hilltop. Once it was light enough to see, I could see bucks running from ridge to ridge, chasing other bucks and challenging others. During this time Mr. Sleep was creeping up on me hard. It was a chore to stay awake.
I knew my chances were slim, because of all the water, but it was better than sitting at home wondering if I'd of had a chance. I had a doe and two fawns slip in, once the doe saw the decoy she snorted turning tail and running for the hills. I crawled out of the blind and took the decoy down, couldn't have that happening again!
Between my short eye closing episodes, I'd scan the surroundings for any intruders. I spotted a few bucks to the northeast making their way my direction. After putting the spotting scope on them, I determined they were small guys. They did however make it all the way to the water, with only one coming in for a drink. Looking back from where they came I spotted another buck making his way in.
This one was much taller and heavier than the last three. He'd walk a bit then stop and watch the area. After repeating this four times he was within about 110 yards. I figured if he made it to the water or close, I'd try a shot.
Finally he committed and started in, coming into the shallow end to the west of the blind. Once he got to the edge he lowered his head, and then jerked it up quickly to look around. His head started back for the water at which point I ranged him at 32 yards. As his head made it half way to the water I drew my bow hitting my anchor point, placing the 30 yard pin on his left shoulder, and touch off the release. In a flash the buck jumped, running to the west through the sagebrush for about 10 yards and stopped. I watched as he swayed side to side, and could see a red spot on his side just behind the shoulder. The buck then collapsed into the sagebrush.
I calmly gathered up my things, drove around to the other side of the pond and inspected my trophy. Heavy 14 inch horns with good prongs, what a great antelope! Officially, he grosses over 78 P&Y and nets 76 4/8 P&Y. This is my first Pope and Young antelope, proving that even with all the water and some persistence it can be done.
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