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My first antelope adventure (Final)

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Rockydog View Drop Down
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    Posted: 26 October 2008 at 03:37

Most of you know I was preparing for an antelope hunt in NW South Dakota. I'd never hunted antelope before and decided I wasn't getting any younger. Earlier this year I'd met a SD resisent through work who invited me along for a hunt. His party had applied for tags in NW SD and we did the same with our second choice being west Central SD, as was their's. Wouldn't you know it my buddy Dave and I drew NW SD, the other guys drew West Central SD. So we were pretty much on our own although they did give us a lot of advice and called ahead to some ranchers they knew to secure permissions for us. At any rate I spent the weekend of 10/11 and 12 building a 4'X8'x2' box for the back of my truck while listening to radio reports of 4-8 inches of snow in the area we were to be hunting. After work Monday I packed the truck. I checked in at work Tuesday for a couple of hours for a required meeting and hit the road from Central WI. I stopped at my buddies in SW WI, loaded his stuff and took off again crossing the Mississippi River into IA at about 3PM. We drove I90 to Chamberlain SD that night.

Wed 10/15: Headed west and decided on a little detour through the Badlands NP loop. Whenever I go that way I plan to take the trip through there. It never ceases to amaze me. If you've never been there it's worth the trip. We saw a herd of about 10 Bighorn Sheep and couldn't resist taking a closer look. We parked the truck and walked back down the road and glassed them with Binocs. Also put the laser range finder on a 3/4 curl ram at just over 200 yds. All were radio collared but impressive just the same.

We arrived in our general hunting area about 1:30 and stopped for a look at the SD State University Antelope research station. They allow one hunting party per day and no one had checked in for Wednesday. We signed in and in about 10 minutes we had our hunting boots on and headed out. We had glassed several Antelope from the ranch buildings and headed out across the prairie to try and figure out a stalking route. I was carrying my Savage 270 looking a bit ridiculous with my Varmint scope on it (the Simmons package scope was junk) and my buddy was carrying his 30-06 Rem. pump gun. He has killed tons of WT with it and shoots it like a ray of death. We were circling around and coming up a small draw near where we had seen a doe and fawn bedded when all of a sudden there were antelope right in front of us. They must have been bedded in some tall grass because they came from nowhere. Five bucks and a doe were trotting across in front of us at about 75 yards. One buck was exceptional. My buddy dropped to his knee and attempted to lay his rifle over a shooting stick he was carrying but it was set too tall. I was in a panic attempting to get my rifle off my shoulder and get a round chambered. By the time he dropped the stick and I got a round chambered they were in Antelope overdrive and we decided that we couldn't get a clean shot. We were just plain caught flat footed. We hunted and glassed until 5:30. There were antelope plainly in sight but just too far away to complete a stalk before dark. We decided we'd be at the gate the next morning about 5:15 to try and be the first one's there and went to check into our motel. On the way a nice Muley buck crossed the highway in front of us and we saw several muley does feeding along the highway.

Thur. 10/16 On day two we got up at 4:30AM and drove out to the research station. We parked in the ranch gate as the manager had told us the day before that he didn't appreciate hunters prior to 6:15. A couple of cars slowed down at the end of the driveway but drove on when they saw us in the gate. At 6:15 we drove down to the ranch house only to find a couple of guys who had driven all night to hunt there and had arrived at 4:00 AM and slept in the truck. We had planned to scout the day before but ended up hunting instead. Now we were up against the wall. We decided to drive the 15 miles or so back to town, eat breakfast at the local cafe and ask the locals where our best bet was. They cheerfully gave us some ranchers names so we headed out to find them. One was nearly on top of where we just came from.

On our way out there we drove past the research station and saw a herd of 21 'lopes on the station property just off the road. Frustrating! The rancher we were looking for was not home so we drove about 20 miles in the other direction and secured permission to hunt.

 We parked the truck and hunted that ranch for the rest of the afternoon. We could glass antelope on property across the fence where we couldn't hunt but failed to see any where we could hunt. About 4:30 we were walking along a fence line when we came to a cattle windbreak of boards about 6' high and 100' long built in the fence line. Dave suddenly dropped to one knee and was intently glassing something to his left. There was a gate in the middle of the board section and he was apparently glassing through the horizontal spaces in the boards of the gate. After about 5 minutes of this he came towards me ducking low and asked if I had seen the mountain lion! He had been watching it on the other side of the boards all that time. Then it had moved to the east behind the boards. I moved about 20 yds west of the gate and then slid over to the fence and peeked over the boards. There was no lion in sight but the draw behind the fence was full of tall grasses. I pitched a short chunk of board into the grass and he came out and walked, pretty unconcerned, up over the hill. I expected him to be a tawny color but he was very dark gray and about 3/4 grown in my estimation. My only experience of course from zoos and pictures. It was definitely a cool experience. Unfortunately that was all we saw all day. When we got back to the truck at 4:30 there were probably 100 antelope on the other side of the road that split the management units. Talk about frustrating again. We then drove back to the other ranch to ask permission to hunt. The rancher greeted us cordially but, confided that he had decided not to let any more hunters on for the year but that one of the locals from town had called him and said we appeared to be pretty nice fellows and inform him that we were headed his way. So he relented and gave us permission to hunt one large pasture but stressed that we needed to stay off the rest of the ranch. We talked to him for over 45 minutes comparing ranching in SD to farming in WI. Dave is a WI farmer and I used to be so we all learned a lot about the two lifestyles. So similar and yet so different.

Friday 10/18: Rose a little later and had breakfast at the cafe and thanked the locals for their help. We drove down to the ranch and parked where the rancher instructed us to park in the pasture we were hunting. We were in view of a large butte that blocked our vision to most the pasture. When looking at the butte it occured to me that moving around the west end of it was a lower climb and gave more direct access to the pasture. Since the rancher told us that the area had been heavily and successfully hunted for over a week it occurred to me that most hunters probably took the easy access. I told Dave that we should climb the east end of the butte and glass from there.

We headed out for the butte's east end about 3/4 mile away and probably a couple hundred foot rise in elevation (total about 3300 feet). We crested a ridge just off of the hard packed surface of the butte and peaked over the top. There was a group of 4 does and fawns grazing about 400 yards distant, just below a ridge that ran south, perpedicular from the west end of the butte. There was no way to approach them from our end of the butte as the ridge formed a bowl with the ridge we were standing on. The herd didn't see us and bedded down as we watched. We formulated a plan to move around the west end and climb over the ridge where they were bedded. The trip around the butte was probably about a mile. As we hugged the butte and came around the west end we found kind of a mini badlands extending downward from the butte. There were several deep ravines that required a little negotiation around the top as we didn't want to drop totally off the ridge and have to climb it again. As we moved around the area we continually glassed the pasture as it came into view. There was a lone buck of average stature, bedded way out on the flat, that seemed unapproachable. So, we turned our attention back to the does. When we finally came around the backside we could see the perpendicular ridge running south from the butte. We did wander a little further down the slope so we could come up over the ridge where the herd had bedded. At this point we shed our packs and other unneeded articles and began our stalk in earnest. After about ten minutes of walking and planning our final approach we moved into super stealth mode and moved ahead a step at a time. We'd creep ahead in a crouch and take turns peaking over the top. As Dave was taking a peak I saw an antelope peeking back about 40 yards to our left. I said, "we're busted", so we stood up and popped over the top to see the herd just starting to break into a run at about 50 yds straight in front of us. They weren't up to speed yet. And we both shot, Dave twice with the pump (he carries it for a reason) and myself once. As the four ran away there were suddenly only three. Out first antelope was down. We both felt we had good shots and couldn't decide who actually downed it. It turned out to be a doe fawn and a lot smaller than we thought, but for a couple of mid fifties rookies it looked pretty good. Dave went to recover the packs. We boned it out on the prairie and packed the meat back to the truck in Zip lock bags and put it on block ice in the cooler. We then had an enjoyable venison bologna sandwich on the tailgate and plotted the rest of the day. Since we could see virtually the entire pasture from the butte as we boned out the doe we decided to check out a place my SD buddies had recommended. But as we started the truck a herd of 23 does came out of nowhere and ran across the road about 300 yards ahead of where we were parked. The truck ignition was killed and we glassed them as they disappeared behind a small seam in the prairie. There was a mad scramble for guns and blaze orange as we geared up to meet this challenge. A small gully ran down from the east end of the butte to the truck so we took off in a crouch headed up the gully, trying to parallel the herd. After we had moved about a hundred yards they appeared again crossing the head of the gully and moving up the ridge to the precise point we glassed the small herd from about 3 hours earlier. They disappeared over the ridge and down into the bowl. Not believing we were going to climb this thing again we took off as fast as two old guys who had just finished a three mile hike could go, back up the east end of the butte. It was a 15-20 minute climb up to the crest again. When we peeked over the top the herd was just dots, way down beyond where the bowl spread into a flat pasture. They were at least a half mile away but there were only 17 dots! We guessed that the other six may have crossed the slope of the butte and headed over the far side of the ridge where we had jumped the small herd. Taking off in that direction we arrived at the ridge about 15 minutes later. On the way Dave was walking along about two steps ahead of me when I saw a snake about 3 feet long headed up the hill right toward us. I whispered for him to stop as it was cutting right across his feet. He thought I had seen antelope and dropped to one knee, right on top of the snake. It slithered out from under him, without him seeing or feeling it go, and slid down a gopher hole about three feet away. It was blue green and rather slender. The whole incident was funnier than hell as neither of us is fond of snakes. Eventually we got to the top of the ridge and crawled over for a look but there were no antelope in sight. Where they went is anybodies guess. We had to make the trip back around the butte again to the west, around the top of the gullies etc. for the third time and back to the truck. by this time it was about 4:30. The rancher had asked us to keep him posted about our luck. So, we drove back and relayed the info to his wife and headed for the other property. Planning to come back the next day if it didn't check out. We drove about 25 miles to the other property and secured permission to hunt the next morning.

Saturday 10/19: We checked out of our motel at about 5:00 AM the next morning and headed south in the dark. Saw several mule deer does in the headlights, feeding by the roadside. In the dark we actually drove past the driveway to the property we were to hunt but eventually got turned around and parked. We sat in the truck waiting for shooting light. As the day dawned we gathered our gear and headed NE toward a water hole where we had seen antelope from the road on the previous evening. Almost immediately we spied a group of 4 antelope feeding down a draw at the NE corner at the back of the property about 1/2 mile away. All appeared to be does but we still had tags. They were working their way south. When they disappeared down the draw we took off at a sprint southward, paralleling the backside of a ridge on the western slope of the draw. Our intent was to get as far south on the property as we could and wait for them to get to the end of the draw. It turned out that they were moving a little faster than we had planned. As we crested the hill in a crouch we discovered a gate in the corner. A hole in the gate was occupied by antelope number 3, the other two had already gone through. The last doe saw us and panicked at not being able to crawl through. She wheeled to run back up the fenceline northward. There was very tall grass on the ridge top as Dave dropped to one knee and laid his rifle across his monopod. This time the stick was set right but the grass was too tall for him to see through. The doe was walking at a trot getting further away with every step. We had agreed earlier that if either of us had a clear shot we should take it. As he tried to reposition for the shot I had rested my rifle over my walking stick and was following the doe in my scope. She momentarily stopped and looked back over her shoulder. Although I was waiting for Dave to shoot I could see he wasn't yet ready. As she swung her head to go I thought it's now or never. I squeezed the trigger of the 270 and caught her right across the top of the shoulders. The 130 grainer cut a fearsome slot about 1 1/2 in wide and 2 in deep across the spine and she dropped like a sack of potatoes. There wasn't even a kick from a leg. I'd heard about the effectiveness of a 270 but hadn't seen it first hand. I think I'm sold. The shot was about 180 yds. Since the property wasn't very big we hadn't brought the packs or field dressing tools with us. The doe was tagged and the march back to the truck for the gear began. On the way we checked out one little corner of the place we couldn't see. Back at the truck a pop and sandwich disappeared before we headed back to the doe. We were walking across the prairie BSing and jumped a large jackrabbit. He ran up over the hill about 150 yds away and then turned to come right back, or so we both thought for an instant. In fact an antelope buck's head was coming over the hill right where the jack had disappeared. He was moving pretty good but was at 75 yds before he or we could react. We were again caught flat footed with our rifles on our shoulders but as he slowed to try and turn away from us we both felt we had a pretty good shot. He ran unfazed. He stopped for a look back at about 300 yds and we both shot again. Unbelieveably we missed again. No blood, no hair, nothing except embarrassment. In retrospect that shot was probably further than we thought. A couple of Wis. deer hunters can sure get fooled on the prairie. At any rate we dressed the doe and iced the meat at the truck. After a brief discussion we decided to head for home a day early as we both had a full schedule waiting at work. We pulled out about noon. As we headed south we agreed that we were content with the outcome of our little trip. We were still within our hunting unit when we spied another set of walk in signs along the road. About a mile back from the road a herd of 16 or 17 Antelope fed along a ridge top. We looked at each other and said what the heck. I made a U turn back to an access spot. We could glass the herd from the truck and it contained one really nice buck. Once more the rifles were loaded and a trek began. Our only access was to try and make a wide circle around them in plain view as there was no plce to hide until we got closer. We hiked across the prairie at a distance of about a half mile. They watched us as they grazed further away. We finally reached the place where they couldn't see us and started up a draw that led to the ridge they were feeding on. Our plan was to cross the ridge and come at them from the backside. Part way up the draw we took one last peek to see where they were along the ridge. To our dismay they were filing through a saddle and over the ridge ahead of us at a pretty good clip. Evidently, they were fine as long as they could see us but got nervous when we disappeared. We then hustled straight up over the ridge but they were at least a mile away and a property over by the time we got up there. We got back to the truck about 3:00 and headed for home again. We nearly made Minnesota by 10:00. We stopped for the night and were back Home by 4:00 PM Sunday. I took Monday off from work and spent a couple of hours processing the kill. Most of the rest of the day I caught up on chores and went back to the salt mine on Tuesday.



Edited by Rockydog
When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.
Thomas Jefferson
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rob1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 October 2008 at 14:24
 Seeing a cat is rare and always fun. The last one I saw was hauling butt down my neighbors driveway! Good luck on the hunt.
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