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April 2024
Story by Chase Boggs
State: Montana
Species: Antelope - Pronghorn

I was soon just a speck under the Big Sky that gave Montana its slogan. My little red pickup couldn’t quite outrun the pursuant plume of dust as it bounced down the dirt road en route to the hole where Eric Bachofner expected some antelope to water. Despite the water being in the middle of a wheat-stubble field, I was only a couple hundred yards away by the time it revealed itself as it was tucked amongst the subtle contours that we would use to our advantage throughout the hunt. I got the blind set up on the water early in the day and had a few hours to burn before Eric would roll into camp. The time flew by as I covered every road within a 10-mile radius of camp looking for antelope bucks.

With a couple hours of light left, I set up a target in camp and took a handful of focused shots with my 50-yard pin. I knew that would be the furthest shot I would take on an antelope, and it was also nearly the exact distance to the furthest edge of water from our blind. The arrows hit their marks and I put my bow up for the evening, confident in my lethality if a buck was to decide he was thirsty. I saw a truck bouncing down the road, and soon, Eric and I were catching up on years of missed conversation. It had been since 2018 that we had shared a hunting camp, and a lot of “life” can happen in five years. He brought Subway from the nearest town, and we couldn’t help but laugh at what a rancher would think if they drove by at that moment, witnessing two fellas eating Subway under the glow of headlights on the side of a gravel road about 50 miles from anywhere on a fold-out table and lawn chairs.

I crawled out of my camper shell the next morning just as the sun was brushing orange across the eastern sky. We headed for some land west of camp in hopes of turning up a buck and were optimistic as we hiked up to the top of the plateau to gain vantage into the bowls on the backside. At the top, Eric spotted a buck in the perfect place for a stalk feeding through the tall prairie grass on the side of a hill about 40 yards from the top of a plateau. Unfortunately, the buck was a few hundred yards across a private boundary that we didn’t have access on. We shrugged that buck off and continued on back to the truck as a covey of huns flushed along the field edge and some whitetails fed their way along the grassy drainage below us.

We drove by some land that I hadn’t explored the day before and were almost speechless as atop of the coulee were the distinct orange and white blazes of an antelope with two apparent jet-black horns jutting up to the sky. In no time, we found ourselves sidehilling the coulee below the buck. We inched up the coulee, looking for the unwavering horn tips through a sea of waving prairie grass. Before long, Eric froze like a llewelin hitting the scent of a bobwhite covey, and I honored his point as he evaluated the buck. “All you, bud,” he said, giving me the go-ahead to nock an arrow and make the approach. The grass around the coulee edge made it difficult to range the buck. I eased myself upright in hopes that my range laser would hit the raven horns, and in a flash of unintelligence I did so without waiting for him to turn away, an inexcusable rookie mistake that I knew I would regret for days to come. True opportunities would be rare. He snapped his head our direction and bounded away with a huff.

We met at the top of the coulee for a recap, and I noticed the antelope watching us from afar, still within range of the coulee’s edge. I quickly came up with the idea for Eric to stay in view to keep the antelope’s attention while I dropped off into the coulee to hopefully get another opportunity. I’m not sure who designed the Marine Corps combat boots, but shortly after dropping into the coulee, I concluded that they hadn’t experienced prickly pear or they would have made some major alterations. With ankles full of cactus spines, I was in position to range the buck. The laser found its mark, and I had a buck at 47 yards with his attention elsewhere. I ducked back behind the edge and eased to full draw after a quick prayer. I slowly rose as my 50-yard pin settled just below his vitals. As I started to put pressure on the release, he bolted. Along the coulee he ran with no arrow sent. I shuffled down the bank of the coulee to try to get another opportunity, but each time I rose to spy his horn tips further and further from the edge.

We walked back to the truck, and I dug cactus spines out of my ankles as the dust-covered red pickup was bound for water. We saw a lone antelope and a pair close to our waterhole and hoped we could get there before them as we knew they would eventually be taking a drink from our water. With temps already touching 100 degrees, the blind was a preheated oven by the time we got comfy at 11:30.

After an uneventful few hours, Eric peeked out the back window and whispered, “There’s an antelope right behind us.” I looked left to see a doe running around the north end of the blind. Assuming it was half of the pair we had spotted on our way to the blind, we anxiously waited for the buck to make an appearance as the doe circled the water directly across from us. The doe came to a halt and began staring down the blind as Eric and I turned to statues.

The doe stomped her front right foot out of aggravation, then immediately stomped her front left foot, and then her back feet. Before we knew it, this doe was stomping all four feet seemingly at once. Eventually, she calmed down enough to come to water and I noted what Eric had called the fake-drink as she slowly lowered her head to the water before jerking it up abruptly to scan for predators.

She bounded off after drinking only a few gulps, and we were on edge expecting the buck to approach after she deemed the water “safe,” but he never appeared. Nevertheless, seeing an antelope was a huge boost to morale and nearly made us forget that we were sitting in an oven.

Her approach from our rear confused us a bit due to the setup of the blind and definitely put us on alert for antelope to take a similar unexpected approach. At 3:30, I glanced to the south. I had been imagining that one of these times I glanced that direction I would see a giant buck in the far corner of the blind’s window. As I glanced to the right, I saw that distinct blaze of orange and white standing tall near the edge of the water with prominent black stovepipes stretching high above his ears. I told Eric that there was a big buck just as it spun back to the right and ran out of sight. I assumed he had already drunk and had just wanted to take a more squared-up look at our blind before leaving. I noticed Eric peeking through the side window with his rangefinder up and thought he likely hadn’t seen the buck at all since it had bolted right after I notified him. Just as my faith in ever seeing the buck again was fading, I heard Eric ask,

“Can you shoot him right there?” I replied with a shocked, “Right where?” Eric said, “At 52 yards, he’s drinking. Shoot him!”

The buck had circled and was drinking just out of my field of view in the furthest corner of the water. I quickly got centered in the floor of the blind and came to full draw. Slowly leaning to the left, the buck soon settled into the middle of my sight housing. My 50-yard pin settled on an antelope’s vitals for the second time that day, and this one didn’t bolt.

Everyone dreams of spending the evening of opening day caping and quartering a beautiful buck under a sunset that throws a bronze hue across the wheat fields and barns that have witnessed over a century of antelope seasons. We got to experience it.