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September 2023
Story by Brian Watkins
Hunters: Brian Watkins and Trevor Embry
State: Montana
Species: Antelope - Pronghorn

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I would never have expected to have the experiences I have had hunting North America. I grew up hunting whitetails out of a tree stand in little three-acre plots in the middle of the suburbs. In 2010, I moved to Alaska in pursuit of hunting adventure. I have been absolutely blessed being able to take all of Alaska’s big game except bison. Those draw tag chances are slim. Having moved to chase my dream, I have been able to add to it. I realized I’d be able to hunt for the Super 10 after harvesting a muskox. That hunt was a gift to myself for my 30th birthday. The Super 10 is one of each species of big game in North America – deer, bear, goat, sheep, moose, muskox (or bison), caribou, elk, antelope, and mountain lion. Having moved to Alaska, I was able to harvest 8 of the Super 10 species, excluding antelope and mountain lion. Without the move, I wouldn’t have been able to afford such a feat.

In 2017, I joined the Alaska Bowhunters Association and met a group of avid bowhunters who drew me closer to bowhunting. I am not one of the bowhunting elitists who believes bowhunting is life. I will definitely grab a rifle and hunt. Sometimes I prefer a rifle. It’s just fun to be able to hunt and be confident in taking an animal. Since I hunt with a bow most of the time, I enjoy it a lot more than a rifle. I met one of my best friends, Trevor Embry, who is one of those avid bowhunters. Together, we are relatively successful on bowhunting terms. His patience mixes well with my quick decisiveness. Without both of our skillsets together, we agree neither of us would have the success we do.

As of last fall, I was 8 out of 10 on the Super Slam and 7 out of 10 with a bow. My plan was to have the Super Slam by 35. That age is drawing ever closer, and I am at the end of the leash. Therefore, last year, we decided to leave Alaska for part of hunting season and hunt for antelope in the lower 48. Trevor had hunted antelope successfully in the past, but I had no experience. I’ve come to realize the hunting industry is very supportive of like-minded individuals. We touched base with Trevor’s friend, Hunter, down in Montana and asked how the numbers were doing for antelope. With encouraging news, we put in for Montana’s 900 tag which allows bowhunters to draw a bow only tag throughout most of the state. The odds weren’t great on drawing, but we got lucky!

Hunter gave us intel on an area he used to hunt. With onXmaps, he was able to drop pins on areas he hunted. It was relatively dry this year in Montana, so Hunter dropped spots for a couple of watering holes. He hadn’t hunted there in a few years but was able to give us enough intel to try and figure it out. Old info does come with a price. We woke up the first morning and took a ground blind into a pin-dropped waterhole. When daylight hit, the waterhole was bone dry. Rather comically, we hiked in half a mile to this spot and got to see antelope on an adjacent waterhole, but it was on private land.

Hunter’s other pins proved valuable as we were able to get a couple stalks in one day. Having hunted other species, I was expecting antelope to be rather easy. Boy was I wrong. These public land antelope sprint away as soon as you let your foot off the gas. I was humbled many times on this trip. I learned after spotting an antelope that you just keep driving until you’re out of sight. These animals were a mile off the road and still full sprint at any sign of a vehicle changing speeds.

Antelope eyesight is the best I have ever come across. We were on one stalk at 75 yards in a riverbank and popped the very tops of our foreheads up to see where he was and were spotted. The area we hunted was much like the northern slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska. We’ve chased caribou up there plenty of times. The terrain is flat with slight depressions to crawl through. At the time, we figured we needed to find a decent spot to sit water and get lucky. We had quite a few close encounters on stalks every day, but everyone says water is the easiest way to get a buck. We were losing time. Our plan through day three was to drive, glass, drive, glass, etc. We would find a group and put the stalk on. We were each able to close the distance down to bow range multiple times. These public land bucks are very weary. Twice I was within 50 yards and drew behind a bank. I stood to shoot, and it was an immediate sprint.

We noticed a group of 23 antelope hung around a waterhole every day. The temperature was over 100 degrees, and we knew they needed water. Surprisingly, there were waterholes all over the place. We were under the impression that there would be water every mile, but it seemed like there was water every 200 yards. We brought a ground blind with us and decided that was our best option. It was my first time sitting for any animal over water. Our blind was up before sunrise, and as the sun crested the prairie, we had antelope within 300 yards. Having lived in Alaska for over a decade, we were melting in that blind.

About four hours into our sit, the antelope started our way! The does lead the pack all the way in to about 100 yards. Then the lone buck in the group circled his harem of does up and made his way solo into our watering hole. The entire time, they were on edge, but he was coming straight in. As we watched the buck close in, Trevor asked if my heart was pounding. He had thought he could hear his heart as happens when the adrenaline pumps. However, he noticed his heart wasn’t beating out of normal. It was mine. We could hear as my heart thumped and see my heart through my shirt. Trevor asked if I was having a heart attack. Probably close, but what a way to go! The buck came into 70 yards and hung up. I was a hot mess. Shaking, heart pounding, I drew, waiting for him to come in. Suddenly, the wind swirled. He took off with his does in tow and hung up about 400 yards out. We waited again. Two hours later, they made the move back in. Again, the wind swirled and it felt like those antelope left the state.

Dejected, we went back to the truck and did our normal driving and stalking. We didn’t think we stood a chance, but that’s bowhunting. The lowest of lows followed by the highest of highs! We drove to a spot we had seen a lot of antelope and found a buck chasing a doe.

I jumped out of the truck and ran down a little creek bottom. I was positioned well, and the buck stopped 22 yards broadside. I made no mistake in the shot, and he only went 40 yards. That’s bowhunting. We had spent five days with blown stalks and frustration and suddenly it was over for me in about three minutes. The next day it was back to the races and hunting the same way. By this time, we had figured out where the areas were where we would have better success. There was a lot more terrain in a certain area, making it a little easier to stalk. Trevor spotted a few antelope about a mile out. The wind was decent, and he had a lot of cover. He made a beautiful stalk, keeping high grass between him and the herd. He snuck into 60 yards and made a double lung shot.

With the success we had, we were extremely happy. I have an absolute respect for antelope. I expected them to be one of the easier species to take. On the contrary, they were the hardest I had hunted. One promise I made to Trevor was that I would book a mountain lion hunt if we were successful. I came home and spent the money on a mountain lion hunt. Hopefully it will work out before I’m 36!