Gerald Almy: Antelope hunting yields lots of action
Deer are on every one’s mind with major seasons now opening or set to open. But if you feel oversaturated with hunting deer, talking about deer, and reading about deer, it may be time to step back and think about hunts for other species for a change. In this regard, while I was waiting for a big buck to show recently (he never did), it occurred to me readers might like to hear about one of the most exciting antelope hunts I’ve ever been on.
The hunt took place in New Mexico a few years ago. And rather than waiting for one nice specimen to walk by, like we do while hunting whitetails, my companions and I literally saw dozens of legal animals every day on that hunt.
During the trip I think I saw more of the “targeted” quarry than on any other big game adventure I’ve been on. Here is the story of that particular hunt.
It was a strange sensation. Hunter Russell Lopp, guide Mike Chain, and I were literally surrounded by our quarry as we lay in the lush green grass of the New Mexico ranch in the warm early morning sunlight. There was a herd of antelope to our right 800 or so yards out, another to our left at 600 yards, and four buck pronghorns just 300 yards out in front of us.
Those were the ones Lopp was focusing on through the scope of his .280 bolt action rifle. When Chain scrutinized the largest animal carefully through his Leupold spotting scope and said it was indeed a trophy antelope, Lopp squeezed his trigger. The buck went down on the spot. It was a superb animal with nearly 15 inch horns and good prongs.
For Lopp, the antelope was especially sweet because it was his first ever. He had hunted these animals before one time in Montana with a guide, but he had not seen a single “goat” on that trip. What a contrast with this hunt in New Mexico. Already on the first morning our guide had shown us over 35 bucks in just two hours of hunting. Many of them were fine specimens in the 13-14 1/2-inch class.
Some had been too far away with no cover available for a stalk, but we had easily turned down several dozen bucks in hopes of finding a truly outstanding one. Lopp had first tried for another ever larger animal and missed, but now his quarry was down and it was time to look for my pronghorn. We knew there would be plenty more just over the next hill.
Sometimes you didn’t even have to go looking for them. As we shot pictures and prepared to field dress Lopp’s antelope, another one sauntered over a ridge parallel to us, 250 yards away. He was a stunning animal. Laying prone, I tried to relax, and then squeezed off the shot. Unfortunately, “pronghorn fever” hit. My bullet flew high.
There were plenty of other animals to go after, though, so I tried not to let the missed opportunity rattle me. After all, there were only 25 hunters on the entire ranch, which spread over 117,000 acres. And the population of pronghorns was clearly exceptional – Chain estimated well over 1,000.
We saw several more bucks that weren’t quite as tall-horned as we were looking for, as well as many herds that contained mostly does. Then late in the morning we found the mature buck I had been looking for. He was alone in a grass flat easing up toward a cedar-dotted hill. We looked him over carefully and Chain called him as a 15-incher (the length of the main horn) with good prongs and mass.
The first shot I tried missed cleanly, but we were able to stalk parallel to the buck until I could try again. This time the boattail bullet found its mark and my hunt was finished. He was a pronghorn of a lifetime, with horns measuring over 15 inches and outstanding mass. It was just 11 a.m., on the first day of the three-day hunt, and Chain had put both Lopp and me onto 15-inch trophies.
The other hunters in camp had also done well. When we returned to hang our antelope in the refrigerated truck, they joined 13 others. By the time the sun set on the first day, 19 out of 25 hunters had filled out. All the others also had numerous opportunities on good bucks. On the second day, all hunters would tag out. The average horn size was outstanding for these bucks, at 14 inches.
Of course not all pronghorn hunts are that exciting with as much game present. That was a particularly good ranch with the most antelope I have ever seen. But on any good pronghorn area you’ll definitely see game every day afield, creating rich memories to bring back home.
So if the scarcity of big whitetail bucks is getting you down, consider your options for next year. A western antelope hunt may be just what you need.
But for now, good luck in the deer woods, and always remember to keep safety first and foremost in mind.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.