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How we filled 7 tags in four days
Article Contributed by Editor in Chief Justin Townsend
To summarize this trip and introduce you to the story automatically presents itself as a challenge because there were many experiences, emotions, highlights, and pitfalls in this four day hunting trip. Either way, everyone enjoys a good story, or stories in this case.
I haven’t hunted in Wyoming since 2015 because I joined the Coast Guard shortly after that and shipped out in 2016 to Officer Candidate School. I have drawn antelope tags every year since then, but I have never been able to hunt because of deployments or other work commitments. This year, the schedule was clear and I was able to get away from work to join up with AJ. You may recognize that AJ and I have hunted and fished together for a while now, depending on how long you have been following Harvesting Nature. This year, we added another member to our group with the addition of my buddy, who we will call Jackalope in this story. Why Jackalope? That’s a story for another day.
Jackalope and I were roommates when I was stationed on one of the Coast Guard Cutters. He’s a good dude that began to have an interest in hunting. I thought it a good way to further his passion by inviting him to come hunt antelope in Wyoming with AJ and myself. The plan was that we would meet in Austin, TX and drive up to Eastern Wyoming to the area where we all drew tags. AJ continued to hunt the area after I joined the USCG so he had a better lay of the land then I did. Also, AJ had the opportunity get access to some prime private land which had helped him harvest some nice Antelope Bucks over the last few years.
Do you remember that feeling when you are so excited the night before school that you couldn’t sleep at all? Well, that was me for the entire two day drive up to Wyoming. The weather helped fuel my excitement because it was going to get cooler as we traveled north. The temperature was 95 degrees when we left Austin and the temp dropped the entire way north. We hit a snow storm in Denver that had pushed south from Wyoming where it dropped even colder behind the front. We were looking at the lower 20s to upper teens for our first day of hunting. It was going to be a gamble if the weather would keep the animals bedded down or if they would be moving around to keep warm.
The weather was in our favor…sort of, despite the temperature registering as 10 degrees. We immediately noticed that animals were up and moving as we drove out of town towards a little spot of BLM land we dubbed, “The Honey Hole”. You can read about my first experience with “The Honey Hole” from 2015 here. This time, The Honey Hole was not so sweet. The normal herd that moves around the area was about a mile away bedded down in a field which is on private land. The back side of the property butts up with the river. Across the river we were excited to notice two large elk feeding in a field next to the river. We sat on a hilltop and watched the giant pair feed and move around. The excitement faded as they disappeared into some brush. That was my first time seeing elk in the wild while hunting. From there, we hiked back to the truck and moved onto the next spot of public land.
This chunk of land was a state owned piece along a bending river with a mix of warm, green sage brush and orange deciduous trees. There is a road the cuts into the property that you cannot drive, but you can walk. The sage brush was anywhere from waist to chest high in places. The coniferous trees were about head height in places which mixed into the sage very well. The flora didn’t completely block your line of sight, but it did make movement slow unless you were on the road.
We each held two antelope tags and a white tail tag. This was a meat hunting mission with a short duration. AJ had his mind set on an older quality antelope buck, but other than the older buck, we were treating each day as it was the last. Essentially we wouldn’t pass up on a legal animal because our freezers were empty back home. This river bottom was important because it was one of the only public lands that we knew held whitetail. Here the whitetail prefer the river bottoms and the muleys prefer the ridges and gulleys.
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As we walked down the road we stopped, scanned, and listened. As we moved, I saw the deer jump and the flick of the white tail. Almost like a flag that says, “Watch me, I am a white tail…see you later.” As the deer fled, I chambered a round, dropped to one knee, and reacquired the deer in my scope with smooth skillful precision. I saw the deer stop about 150 yards away from me and turn to look at me. What I saw was a doe. I was okay with taking a white tail doe. Its meat in the freezer, right? Just a few seconds went by as I mentally confirmed it was a doe and reconfirmed its identity as a white tail while I squinted through my scope to peer through the sunlight behind the deer. I settled the crosshair and squeezed the trigger. The deer dropped where it stood.
As we walked up to the deer, I saw, not a doe, but what the Game Warden would later dub as “the smallest buck in the state of Wyoming”. We had some perplexed laughs later as he checked the deer. The antlers were approximately 2 inches long despite the deer being approximately 1-2 years old. We made another couple public land stops and called it a day without getting a line on anymore animals.
On the second day, the temps warmed up slightly which made hunting more comfortable and the animals moving a little more. We would hunt the private ranch this day. AJ was looking for his shooter buck and we were looking to get Jackalope on his first antelope. A couple of opportunities presented themselves for him to take a doe, but it didn’t line up until the afternoon.
We sat on top of a hill and glassed up a herd near one of the watering holes. This pond had a high dam on the opposite side of the herd. We planned to close the distance and use the 30 foot dam to conceal us until we got to the top into a shooting position. We all three scaled up the dam and got into a prone position, sneaking over the edge. There were a couple of antelope close, about 135 yards, which is very close if you have ever hunted antelope. We were waiting for Jackalope to take a shot. Minutes went by as he prepared to pull the trigger. The doe he was aiming at began to move away from the water and back into the sage brush. The variables aligned and Jackalope pulled the trigger. The doe antelope fell.
I love introducing people to hunting. Jackalope and I were close friends so it made it easier. I looked over at him after the shot and he was smiling ear to ear. He got his first antelope after a rough morning. Now, I told him, the real work began. I walked Jackalope through how to gut the antelope and we hauled it over to the nearest road while AJ grabbed the truck. We got the antelope loaded up and were on our way our when we noticed another herd on the north side of the property in a creek gulley.
AJ and I devised a plan which involved hopping a fence, working around a couple of hills and then belly crawling about 50 yards. We may have not thought through the belly crawling part very well though because it was a long 50 yards. Once we got into the crawling position and began moving forward, the antelope were within view. They had shifted their position slightly. They divided themselves on either side of the creek at about 400 yards. Some were positioned on a hill to the right and some behind a hill on the left. I was positioned left of AJ and about 50 yards from him. We had to crawl, another 50 yards forward to close some distance. I wasn’t comfortable shooting across AJ’s shooting lane to the herd on the right side, so I just waited and watched. The herd was traveling perpendicular to us and out of the creek bed. AJ shot and we waited. I never laid eyes on the buck until after he shot. I shifted my attention to watch the herd from the left side of the creek.
Here is a disclaimer about antelope. They are the fastest animal in North America, but if they don’t see you when you shoot they will run an ANY direction to get away from the shot. In this case, they crested the hill to my right and closed to about 150 yards when I raised my rifle and fired, dropping a doe as she ran. After my shot, AJ and I separated and checked out animals. I cleaned my doe and then headed over to help AJ. I walked up on what was a very nice buck. AJ had taken his shot from about 370 yards away for an impressive hit.
The third day warmed up and the winds picked up which wasn’t great for us. We spent the morning hiking around some public lands looking for whitetail to no avail. Our last chunk of land to look at for the day was split in two by a county road. We had watched that piece of land get a good amount of pressure over the past few days. A section of that land had a giant hill, maybe 500 ft tall on it. I spotted an antelope buck towards the top so we began hiking up in hope to find a complete herd to take some does.
Once we got to the top of the hill, there was just one lonely buck bedded down just past the property boundary. As we took a look around we noticed two hunters were walking out of the piece of land across the county road. As they neared the fence by the road, you could see a herd of antelope above them about a mile away. As the hunters moved out, the antelope moved in. The hunters could not see them from the road so they packed up and headed home. My other favorite part about antelope hunting is that the herds will move around all day unlike deer who will mostly bed down in the midafternoon.
We were about 1 ½ miles from where the herd was located. Luckily, it was downhill for us. We moved, at an almost jog, to get across the road and into position. Using a hill for cover, we moved to within 300 yards of the herd, but the wind was blowing briskly across our faces, making a shot at that distance more challenging. We backed out and eased around the side of the hill to the east.
Jackalope and AJ were on deck to take a doe from the herd. As we moved the herd also moved towards us. We judged our positioning wrong and AJ and Jackalope were out of shooting position when the herd emerged into sight. Although, I was in a good position to take a doe in the lead of the herd. At 150 yards, I made the shot and the herd moved over the ridge, leaving the downed doe behind. Boom, in an instance and outside of our plan, I had tagged out in just three days. I was happy for certain, but I wanted to help my friends get their tags filled as well. As I worked on the doe, AJ and Jackalope continued to follow the herd only for it to be spooked by an outgoing truck from an adjacent property.
On the last day, also the fourth hunting day, the pressure was prevalent because there were still two antelope tags to fill. At this point, AJ and Jackalope had abandoned the thought of shooting a whitetail and wanted to focus on the last two antelope because we had better access to them in comparison.
We headed back out to the ranch. It wasn’t long when we spotted a herd on the south side of the property near the mountains. I dropped AJ and Jackalope off near the road and they hiked into position. AJ connected with a nice doe out of that herd. The herd sprinted away to the west never to be seen by us again. As AJ cleaned up, Jackalope and I glassed around the property. We spotted another herd over by the creek bed where AJ and I shot two days ago. Jackalope and I hiked into position. We followed a similar path as before, thankfully excluding the belly crawling. There was a lot of freezing and quick moving as we got into a good shooting position.
Jackalope made contact with a doe at about 200 yards with the wind whipping across his face. Not an ideal shot for a new hunter, but he made it well. He connected with the doe, but she did not go down immediately. I asked him to chamber another round and get ready for a second shot. The rest of the herd moved away minus a couple of bucks and the doe who lingered behind. The bucks crowded her for protection. She wasn’t acting properly but wasn’t going down either. As soon as the bucks separated, Jackalope fired again from approximately 250 yards, hitting the doe. She went down and Jackalope punched his last tag with calm nerves and a happy heart.
On the last day, we fulfilled our Wyoming tradition and drove to The Mint Bar in Sheridan. We recapped the hunt and realized we had accomplished our plans and filled 7 tags in 4 days of hard hunting. We spent each full day in the field traveling either public or private land by foot and less frequently by vehicle. It was hard, fun hunting and we all enjoyed every minute, except for a rattlesnake encounter.
As we analyzed the days past, I noted some key take-aways which I think are vital for antelope hunting. You have to have the proper gear. This starts with having layerable clothing. Having warm wind stopping clothing helped us on the cold days and we could remove layers as the days warmed up. We carried packs, but they weren’t huge and were mostly empty in the instance we had to pack an animal out. I think a 5000 liter pack works very well. Attached rifle bipods, rangefinders, and binoculars are a must. The bipods help to steady the rifles because there isn’t much to rest a rifle on in the sage flats. Plus they save time on shots in comparison to shooting sticks.
Wyoming is a great place to take new hunters. There are a great amount of public land available to hunt as long as you are willing to move around and glass for herds. We used onX maps every day, whether it was to check public land boundaries or use the topography feature to judge gullies and terrain. I don’t think we could have hunted as hard as we did without the quality maps from onX.
I will say this as a closing note. I hold Wyoming in a special place in my heart. The entire area is very open to hunters and visitors. The hunting is amazing and there are a great number of animals. I encourage you to take a look and bring along new hunters. Maybe we will cross paths next year.