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Chasing Number 3

January 2020
Story by Aspen Mathis
State: Arizona
Species: Antelope - Pronghorn

The year I could finally start putting in for big game hunts in Arizona, I was 10 years old. Obviously, my expectations were very low. However, after two years of not getting drawn, I was having a hard time understanding why I couldn’t get a tag. My dad was starting to feel my frustrations with the system and decided to take matters into his own hands and stand in line for one of the few leftover tags Arizona had to offer. He came home with my first deer tag, letting me know I was in for a tough hunt. Going hunting with my family and friends sounded pretty fun and easy to me. I was very excited.

I didn’t really know we were driving to the Mexico border for the hunt, but I was ready to go. Pulling up to camp with plenty of trucks around should have been my first hint that this hunt wouldn’t be easy. I remember Dad saying his goal was to find the biggest canyon, hike into it as far as we could in the dark, and climb out when the sun rose. This should have been an indication of what I was getting myself into. With no complaints, we did just that. It was easily the hardest day of my life and definitely tested my climbing skills and endurance. It didn’t take long to find him, and one 550-yard shot later, my first Coues deer was in the book. He measured 115". I remember thinking how small he was, only comparing it to my parents’ elk mounts hanging in the house, but it turned out I was very wrong.

My first actual drawn tag was when I was 12 years old. It was an Arizona youth deer tag in the desert. A two-week hunt in December is as close as you can get to a rut hunt for Arizona mule deer in the desert. I ended up with a great desert buck and couldn’t have been more excited about the trophy and great memories coming with it in the end.

I drew my second tag with only 1 bonus point at the age of 13. It was for the Arizona Strip. Everybody knows how special the bucks can be in that area. It was a once-in-a-lifetime hunt that I was so fortunate to draw. You may remember reading about Flames in the June 2018 issue of Huntin’ Fool. Flames was on display in Bass Pro Shops in Missouri where I received a Boone and Crockett award. The banquet with the trophy display was one of the most amazing things I have ever been a part of, and I was so lucky to have that opportunity.

In 2019, we were putting in for tags, not expecting much considering my lucky draws in past years. My dad was mostly putting the family in for tough to draw hunts, and it seemed like he just wanted us to get bonus points. He let us know so nobody would be disappointed if we didn’t draw. When the credit cards got hit, we knew one member of the family was drawn for an antelope tag. That was as much information as we could get until the actual tag came through. Everyone already knew it was mine. All of the assumptions were correct. I had been drawn for an Arizona antelope tag. I was lucky number five out of five drawn. Around the same time I got drawn, I also made my high school varsity volleyball team as a sophomore. When we received our schedule, I saw we had a two-day Nike tournament the same weekend as opening day. With school the next Monday, I could only hunt for one day.

We got plenty of time beforehand to go up and scout because my goal was a Boone and Crockett antelope. It would be difficult with the archery and muzzleloader hunts that got to go before mine and the one short day we had to get the job done. My dad was talking to our good friend, Brian Rimsza, letting him know about the short amount of time we had for this hunt and he recommended calling Bobby Priest with Priest Brothers Guide Service. We talked to Bobby, and he said he would be happy to help us with our one-day hunt. He had already been up in that unit this year and knew what was going on.

My dad, Bryce Batten, and I met up with Bobby and headed out. Bobby had previously seen a goat and named him “Hoops.” He was hoping there was a chance that this buck was alive because he hung out in the trees. We pulled off the highway onto the dirt road and began our drive in. In the first half-mile, we spotted our first antelope. Could it really be Hoops, the buck of the day? Yes, it was Hoops 200 yards away. Everyone was very excited and ready to get set up. We got out the BTX to get a good look at him. I stared through the glass for five minutes without saying a word. I was very indecisive about shooting him or not because it didn’t really seem like a hunt. I didn’t like the idea of putting in little work for this amazing buck. Time passed very fast while all of these thoughts rushed through my head, but Hoops made the choice for me when he decided to run. The hunt was officially on.

We spent the next few hours and a rough five miles tracking him down. Finally, he bedded down and we were 600 yards away in the shade of a huge juniper tree. We waited patiently before realizing he was going to be down for a while, which gave me plenty of time to set up and think through this 600-yard shot I would soon be making. During this waiting period, we?had time to set up the Cardinals?game on Bobby’s phone, grab?some old pack food, and peek?back and forth between the?glass and the game, waiting?for movement. A couple hours?passed, and Hoops stood up.?Waiting for the perfect angle, I?stared through the scope, held?everything still, and barely took?a breath. Hoops turned, and I could hear my dad’s famous line, “Shoot straight.” Hoops went down. After the shot, we saw another buck go over to investigate. We witnessed him pick up Hoops’ head and let it fall back to the ground. We thought Hoops had expired and started packing our stuff, only to look back and see Hoops sitting up. I couldn’t believe it! We thought it was over. The way he was positioned, there was no way for a clean shot, so we had to relocate.

Heading down the hill to get a better angle took what felt like forever. However, we could only get within 500 yards and set up again. Knowing he probably wouldn’t get up, I was in the scope while Bobby walked closer, trying to get him to stand. Not only did he stand, but he also ran another 100 yards. Let me tell you, trying to keep a running antelope in your scope is not an easy task. Hoops finally stopped at 600 yards, and I was able to get off a second shot. I found my mark, and again, Hoops went down.

Walking up to this animal was awesome. I was so proud and in disbelief of how tough and incredible he was. I couldn’t be happier with how my first?antelope hunt turned out. Who knew that Hoops taking off and me not getting my shot in the first 20 minutes would make for such a memorable hunt. Thank you to everyone who helped me on this amazing one-day adventure!