The Quest for Real Food: Antelope Hunting in Wyoming
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Article contributed by Editor in Chief J. Townsend
I laid there undetected on my belly atop a large hill, peering through my scope with the crosshairs centered on an antelope doe below me. AJ and I had snuck over the ridge to find a herd of 15 antelope who were bedded in a small grassy bowl to protect themselves from the present wind and cold drizzle. We both setup for a shot on different doe. I exhaled quietly, held my rifle firm, and squeezed the trigger. The rifle erupted causing the herd to dash. My doe did not fall, so I quickly chambered another round and fired. This time, my aim was true and the antelope doe toppled where she stood. AJâ€™s doe also fell just a few yards away. A rush of relief overcame me as I watched the remaining herd sprint away. We had spent the three previous days unsuccessfully covering many miles in the field, but in one instance our antelope tags were filled. Thankfully, we would be taking meat home to our family.
The success in a Wyoming antelope hunt is very dependent on the landscape of the area you hunt. Antelope are more prevalent in the rolling grasslands of the southern part of the state and less existent in the pine laden mountainous regions. They prefer the open prairies because their greatest defenses are 8x vision and record setting speeds. To combat this, you must be willing to spend time in the field spotting and stalking herds, usually from great distances away. We averaged between 10-15 miles of hiking each day. Out there, physical fitness is essential because you are constantly traversing rugged terrain, steep washes, and rocky hills as you try to maneuver close enough for a comfortable shot.
The three days before our first harvest were spent mostly learning the terrain and the behavior of the animals. We had a mix of weather which added some challenges to the hunt. Our basic strategy was to spot the herds and attempt to sneak as close as possible. This usually led to a couple of hours dedicated to one herd. It was demanding work, but I enjoyed every minute. If you made a mistake or got â€œcaughtâ€ by the herd then your entire stalk was blown in an instant. Unfortunately, our learning curve and some missed shots had prevented us from zeroing in on a doe.
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Our luck changed for the better when we ran across some fellow hunters at a local bar. They had been hunting the area for a while and gave us some pointers which were very beneficial. They also introduced us to a mapping app, called HUNT by ONXMAPS. Basically, the app allows you to view public land in relation to your current location. It gives you an indicator marker which shows exactly where you are so the treat of trespassing is lowered. HUNT allowed us to discover the public land where we took our first antelope.
After filling our first tags in the south, we decided to head to the northeastern part of the state so AJ could try to fill his deer tag. I conducted a little research and discovered that there were some left over antelope doe tags for the region. I purchased one so that I could continue hunting while AJ searched for deer.
The hunting land in the northeast was my favorite for the scenery, but the landscape was not ideal for antelope. A blue river trout stream split the land and rocky cliffs formed a series of wide canyons, each scattered with mixed timber and prairie dog colonies. But, on the western side of the property there was the perfect antelope valley. It was wide, grassy, and dotted with smaller hills which are perfect for cover. We spotted a herd there on our first day, which prompted me to purchase the tag and return.
Each day after, I hiked the 3 miles to the edge of the valley, belly crawled up the ridge, and peaked my head slowly over. Discovering a herd in this valley was hit or miss. I had yet to have a successful stalk and the unfilled tag was weighing on me as I looked upon an empty valley. I optimistically pushed on to explore the northern edge, where a large hill obscured my complete view. A quick peek over the edge of the hill revealed a herd of 25 antelope bedded down in the grass about 250 yards away.
The wind was blowing ferociously and a closer shot would be preferable, so I maneuvered to the other side of the hill and hoped that the herd did not run as I lost sight of them. In order to get as close as possible I belly crawled the last few yards. To my relief, the herd was still bedded down with the exception of a lone doe standing watch. Her eyes had locked on me so I couldnâ€™t move any closer. I raised my rifle and fired, but the wind blew my shot down below the doeâ€™s legs. The herd jolted into motion, and their confusion was evident as they ran towards me. With my scope raised, I could only see a mass of antlers fur, unable to identify a doe. I envisioned being overran by the herdâ€¦ not a proper way to end the hunt.
Read our Antelope article on Huckberry
Luckily, the herd galloped closer and turned broadside to reveal another doe. Firing again, I noticed a tuft of fur fly into the air and was confident that I had made contact. There before me was the doe lying in the grass. Thankfully, in the last hours, my hunt was successfully concluded. Now the truly hard work would begin. Butchering the doe and packing the meat would take several hours of focused labor.
I could now go home in confidence that I had secured all the meat possible on my trip. Luck, skill and determination meshed together on this trip to help my success. Hunting is not always easy, and patience is necessary because many times you will come home empty handed. You have to be willing to dedicate the time and effort to prevail. Although, when you have a backpack full of meat and you are hiking out after a long successful hunt, the hard work is outweighed by the bounty. The most rewarding aspect would be eating the first cut of fresh meat.
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