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May 2021
Story by Stoney Searle
Hunters: Dawson and Stoney Searle
State: Wyoming
Species: Antelope

Living in Wyoming, we are lucky to have the opportunity to hunt antelope often. Every year, someone in our family or close group of friends draws some quality antelope tags. Throughout the summer, we spend a lot of time dialing in our long-range rifles to perform well in the windy, wide open Wyoming desert. Later, during the fall, we log endless hours and miles looking for a special buck that we deem a “shooter.” Most of the time, a “shooter” is one that has a pretty symmetrical heart shape, a lot of mass, long prongs, and is at least 15" tall. However, antelope bucks come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes we see bucks with wild and crazy horn configurations, but rarely are these crazy-horned bucks also big and impressive and possess the other important characteristics of a “shooter.” Therefore, we rarely consider these goofy bucks as “shooters.” However, there are always exceptions.

In 2019, three of us in the family drew the same great antelope tag in one of Wyoming’s premier trophy areas. This was nice because it allowed us to concentrate all of our scouting efforts in the same hunt area. During archery season, we glassed up a really cool looking buck. His right horn tilted forward and dropped down in front of his face. Upon closer inspection and even though the buck had a cool and unique look, he didn’t have the mass or height that we were looking for, so we decided to give him a pass that day. However, after that, my younger son, Dawson, couldn’t let the idea of shooting that buck go. He loved how unique he was and constantly talked about him. Eventually, we put a plan together and decided to back to the area and see if we could find him again.

It was now rifle season. Since we had three tags, we decided that we were going to divide and conquer by covering as much ground and looking at as many antelope as possible. Dawson, my wife, Tiffany, and I would be in one truck while my daughter, Hayden, and her husband would be in another truck. Between the two vehicles, hopefully someone would lay eyes on Dawson’s freak buck. There are many different strategies to hunting trophy antelope, but we like to check out every single antelope, no matter how small it may look at first. Judging antelope can be tough and can take a while. Many hunters pass shooter bucks because they don’t spend adequate time looking them over.

As we were looking over a group of antelope, suddenly, my phone rang. My daughter had found the “freak buck,” and they were watching him. She told us that she was all set up to shoot but remembered that she had made a promise to Dawson. If they found the “freak buck” again, she would let him shoot it, no matter what. At first, we almost didn’t believe her story and thought they might be playing a joke on us, but we went over to take a look anyways. She told us to hurry and get there fast before she changed her mind and shot the buck. It took Hayden everything she had to not shoot the buck before we arrived. As soon as we rolled up to the spot, Dawson was out of the truck and getting set up on the buck. I wasn’t able to get a good look at the buck, but I was able to quickly see his weird right horn and we were confident that it was him.

Dawson missed his first shot because he was shaking from excitement. After reloading and taking a breath, he dropped the goat where it stood. Typically, antelope suffer from ground shrinkage, but this buck was different. With every step that we took, he seemed to get bigger and more impressive. When we picked the head out of the sagebrush, we were all in disbelief. It was not the same buck that we had initially seen. He was much bigger! We were beyond excited and knew that this buck and experience were probably a once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity, or so we thought.

Rewind about eight years ago when I got a call from a couple of college kids I did not know. One of them had drawn a really good elk tag close to my hometown. They were looking for some local knowledge. Sensing that these kids needed some help, I agreed to take them out and show them a few of my spots where good bulls like to hang out. We spent a few days chasing elk together. They ended up having a successful hunt, and we stayed in touch over the years. We continued to swap hunting stories and pictures every year. One of those guys now has an outfitting business in Wyoming. His name is Chance Marshall with Extreme Outfitters.

In 2020, I was excited to see the draw results and the word “Successful” on my antelope application. However, this year we all applied in separate units and I had a tag in a different unit than I did in 2019. Throughout the summer and early fall, we scoured the country, looking for the perfect buck. One day, a video popped up on social media of a buck that Chance had videoed on a hunt with one of his clients. The video showed an unbelievable buck that looked almost exactly like Dawson’s 2019 buck! He was long and heavy with his right horn dropping down below his jaw. In the post, Chance said that he had a client pass the buck on opening day. We were all blown away that someone would pass a buck up like that. I told Chance that my son had killed a buck almost identical to that buck the year before. I also let him know that I had a tag in my pocket and would be happy to tag a buck like him.

A month went by and I still had not filled my tag. One day, I got a call from Chance asking if I still had my tag and that he had located the same goofy buck from before. We were both free the next day and agreed to meet up the following morning. We all had high hopes that the buck wouldn’t be far away. The hunt was on!

That next morning, my sons and I met up with Chance, his dad, Kevin, and one of their good friends/guide Kenneth. We went directly to the spot where Chance had watched him the day before. There were antelope but no sign of our goofy buck. We carefully glassed over all possible places that we could think of, but no luck. We continued to make circles, looking on every ridge and into every draw, but we found no sign. Then, out of nowhere at midday, the buck reappeared. He was all by himself and crossing the main road in front of us and very close to where Chance had watched him the day before. He was on a mission and headed back to his normal hangout spot. We scrambled to get out of the truck and set up in time for a shot. Luckily, my older son, Miles, was able to quickly get a good range on him. I dialed my scope and managed to squeeze off a shot just as he stopped and looked at us. We could tell that the buck was hit, but we weren’t able to confirm how hard before he quickly disappeared over the horizon and out of sight. We ran to catch up to him, not knowing which direction he would go after he was out of sight. Soon after we crested the hill and spread out, Kevin waved his arms and found him bedded in a draw a couple hundred yards away. I was able to finish the job with one more shot. He was down! Dawson was able to capture it all on video.

We hollered, high fived, and stood there admiring the buck for a long time, reliving the whole experience. We took our time taking pictures and packed him back to the truck. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to put my tag on this special buck. It was even more incredible that a father/son duo had made it happen on two giant goofy bucks in two different areas during back-to- back years. Wyoming is a special place. You never know where a “shooter” will pop up!