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There Are All Kinds of Luck

February 2020
Story by Jeff Wucherer
State: New Mexico
Species: Exotic - Gemsbok Oryx

Coming from a family of non-hunters, I have come to the realization that one can control their “luck” in the field through preparation, continued practice, a never-give-up attitude, a hard work ethic, and surrounding yourself with friends who share the same passion as you. Gaining as much knowledge as you can from podcasts, the Internet, and valuable published resources, like the Huntin’ Fool magazine, also gives you the added information you need to accomplish your specific goals.

I can remember 12 years ago when my friend, Reed Whiting, turned me on to the Huntin’ Fool magazine and the crazy preference point system out west. Knowing that I am not a lucky person, I prepared myself for the long haul of building points for dream hunts that can only be obtained through luck or deep pockets.

A lot has changed out west over the years. Prices for applying for points has continued to rise while my odds of drawing coveted tags have gone down. Like most hunts we go on, this game has been mentally grueling. As the years have flown by, I continue to live my dreams through the lucky Huntin’ Fool members who have seen the word “successful” pop up on their computer screens.

Craving to experience one of those adventures that a Midwest whitetail hunter only reads about, I decided three years ago to try and make a little luck of my own. Seeing that New Mexico offered slightly better chances of drawing a coveted tag through an outfitter, I decided to change my strategy and apply with New Mexico Professional Big Game Hunting. As luck would have it, I heard of Mick Chapel over 20 years ago while at an airport. A successful hunter and I were talking in passing and he swore up and down about how Mick ran an honest and hardworking operation if I ever decided to do a guided hunt. Hoping Lady Luck would finally smile down on me, I decided to have Mick start applying for me.

Fast forward three years. With the craziness of work and life with three young boys who love sports, you can imagine my surprise when I picked up the phone and heard John Chapel say, “We are finally going hunting, buddy!” With a limited number of days to hunt in August, the dates were set and the planning started. This hunt was going to be a team effort that evolved around hockey tournaments and family camping and fishing trips. My dad would join me to help with the 24-hour drive, my oldest son, Jace, was my hunting partner, and my mom and my wife would hold down the fort of running the other boys to their scheduled sporting events.

The morning of the hunt finally came, and my alarm was set for 4:15 a.m. John Chapel was right on time, paperwork was signed, and we were ready to roll. Sitting in the truck well before daylight gave us a chance to go over a game plan and time for John to share stories and photos of successful past clients. A gorgeous sunrise was our alarm clock to start the truck and get our oryx adventure started. Miles were covered as we followed the vast fence lines bordering the White Sands Missile Range, looking for fresh tracks on heavily used game trails to follow.

It didn’t take long before John spotted our first set of oryx tracks. The pointy nature of the track was unmistakable and easy to identify amongst the cattle tracks that littered the land. Glassing the open desert didn’t turn up the animal that left the tracks, but John was confident we could track the animal down later in the morning to his bed or to the safety of the missile range.

With everyone on the team knowing what we were looking for, a second crossing was quickly spotted and another two sets of oryx tracks were found. With one of the sets being heavily rounded, John felt this would be a very old and broken bull. Once again, these tracks would be revisited later in the day if we couldn’t find an oryx on his feet during the prime, cool morning’s hunt.

Vantage spots were glassed, and John explained how this flat, desolate landscape was misleading and there were plenty of 10-12 foot rolling sand dunes to give the animals safety from our optics. Just shy of two hours into our hunt and with the sun starting to burn off the morning’s cool temperatures, John decided to head directly to an area where his July hunter killed a beautiful oryx bull. He was amazed with how much sign was in this area when his last hunter punched his tag and hoped we could also glass something up to hunt.

With a 90-degree turn in the upcoming fence line, I spotted a white spec. John put glass to it and said it was a beautiful antelope buck. As we all looked him over through our binos, Jace shouted, “There are some oryx right over there!”

Looking about 100 yards to our left, we couldn’t believe we all missed 17 oryx looking at us from the brush. As luck would have it, John broke the news to us that they were all on the wrong side of the missile range fence and safe from hunting. Excitement was high with all the sign in the area and the amount of animals we were seeing.

Even though we all were enjoying watching the large group of oryx cows and calves, John insisted we get going as the sun was heating up and the animals would be taking cover shortly. Minutes from where the fence turned, a pounded trail of fresh tracks littered our two- track road. Everyone was on high alert with all the fresh sign, scanning the horizon for the animals that had left it. The truck sped down the sandy path to cover ground quickly. Before we knew it, we were up and over two large ridges. A third ridge was crossed, and we could see the tracks continuing down the two-track up and over the fourth ridge with our binoculars. Cresting that ridge slowly, John hit the brakes and yelled, “Oryx!” As quickly as we spotted the 400-pound animal at 700 yards, it slipped under the fence onto safe ground. A second oryx followed and made it to safety.

In seconds, we covered another 400 yards, and like John expected, two more oryx were standing just off the two- track on public land. John yelled, “Good bulls! Shoot one.” Seeing the movement from the truck, the oryx ran about 50 yards further onto the public ground and looked back to see what was going on. Resting my gun on the tripod with both animals looking at us broadside, John confirmed the longer horned bull was on the left. With everything happening so quickly, I hit the panic button and jerked the trigger like a novice hunter. Luckily, I forgot to take the safety off and was able to remind myself to slow down, breathe, and lightly pull the trigger. This second opportunity proved to be the break I needed, and at 264 yards, the .300 Weatherby found its mark, hitting the animal square in the front shoulder and taking out his heart. The lapse in time between the gunshot and the thud of the bullet hitting the animal was something every hunter dreams of. With the animal falling out of sight, the celebration began. John was pumped up and gave me a hug, saying, “You are one lucky guy. I have only had one other hunter get an animal quicker.”

Walking up to an African animal on public land in one of America’s 50 states was surreal. Having my dad and my oldest son with me was worth the long wait. That night, after we had the animal on ice, I broke out my small grill and we all celebrated with fresh backstraps and memorable moments of the hunt.

As I sit here reflecting about my hunt, I realize how lucky I really am for having a wife and parents who support my outdoor passion and great friends to share these adventures with. Thanks to my good friend Justin Mueller of Elevated Alpine LLC for capturing the entire adventure on film, the lucky elk hunter I met 20 years ago at the airport for introducing me to the Chapel family and New Mexico Professional Big Game Hunting, Inc., and Huntin’ Fool for giving me the information and motivation to apply, apply, apply because you never know when your luck might be changing!

New Mexico Exotic Hunts