09 October 2006

Antelope Hunt

Orion, the hunter's constellation now rises about midnight and stands high in the sky before dawn.

I saw a hunting friend drive down the hill very early Sunday morning, while I was out in the yard sipping a cup of coffee, contemplating the stars, and getting motivated to scrape the frost off my truck windshield. Hope his hunt went well. I left soon after and picked up AJ at Rocker c. 5:30 am.

We drove into the antelope hills of the lower Big Hole River and were just getting parked when another truck pulled in and parked a few hundred yards below us. I remembered why it is I don't often hunt the first day of antelope season, started the pickup, drove down and around the low ridge, and moved over to the next little valley.

Just before first shooting light we started up the western hillside to make a circle around an old homestead where Old Charlie lives--much like hunts of past years. It was clear and cool, but with increasing clouds. There were no antelope along the back side of that low ridge, though a buck did cough at us from the next ridge over. He ran off, and shortly after two guys on an ATV took a shot at him but apparently missed. I remembered why it is I don't often hunt the first day of antelope season.

We stayed below the ridge top and continued up the valley. As we came near Old Charlie's place we peeked over the ridge to see a dozen or so mule deer and several fairly large antelope bucks in the dooryard. I learned long ago to avoid shooting those stinky antelope bucks and so we walked over a bit further to carefully glass the field.

In the lower edge of the field -- perhaps 500 yards distant -- was a herd of a dozen or so does and fawns with a buck carrying 8 - 10 inch horns. AJ spotted these without using binoculars--he certainly has a good eye for game. Perhaps 100 yards from this group was a small bachelor herd, including one buck with horns considerably larger than the herd buck. He kept making feinting little charges toward the does, but the dominant buck of the herd -- although smaller -- outran him, headed him off, and faced him down each time. Most of the does grazed with little interest in the sparring match, but occasionally one doe would sprint away, angling toward the bachelor herd. Each time, the dominant buck would outrun her and keep himself between her and the challenger buck. The doe would then return to her group. This was fun to watch, but I thought maybe we could be home early with an antelope.

We backed down the ridge and began a long circle crossing above Old Charlie's place and then proceeding down the fence line between the field and the eastern hillside. By keeping to the fence line and hugging the hill, the roll of the land kept us out of sight of the antelope in the lower field. As we got within a hundred yards or so of where they had been, we could hear some of them running up the coulee to the east, and the air hung heavy with their scent. I crept along the fence to see the largest buck trotting right toward us, just 60 yards or so away, apparently looking for an opening in the fence that he could squeeze under. Most of the larger herd had already taken off, but one doe was paused near the fence, watching the bachelor herd.

I took a rest on a fence post and shot her at a distance well under 100 yards. The main herd quickly disappeared up the coulee. The four bucks in the bachelor herd were confused. They were afraid of us two hunters, but they also wanted to follow the herd. Only when we walked over to the dead doe did they race off the opposite way.

We had barely begun field dressing the doe when we heard vehicles coming. Two trucks drove up from below, including one with the two hunters on the ATV we had seen earlier (they had put the ATV in the truck bed). Another truck drove in from the hills above Old Charlie's place. They all three parked near the gate where the road splits at the old homestead. It is common for antelope hunters to spend the day driving around, and if they hear shots they head toward the action. Lazy bastards can't or won't walk. I remembered why it is I don't often hunt the first day of antelope season

As we finished field dressing the doe and began dragging her toward the road, some of the hunters from the vehicles began shooting. Apparently, the bachelor herd had run up that way and were in the small coulee behind Old Charlie's place. The distance they were shooting was 200 to 250 yards. By the time we got to the road, about ten shots had been fired. We glassed the area, and saw that the larger buck had been wounded. He seemed to be gut-shot by the way he was humped up and one back leg didn't work so well. I left AJ with the doe antelope and jogged down to get my truck. Several more shots were fired. I remembered why it is I don't often hunt the first day of antelope season.

As I returned from the truck, two of the so-called hunters had started across the field by the homestead. The wounded buck went up and over the ridge, and the hunters made no attempt to follow. As we drove away, they walking down the fence line, where two of the other bucks were again trapped in the fence corner. I hoped they would run out of the field if we left the lower end near the road. I remembered why it is I don't often hunt the first day of antelope season.

This morning I butchered the doe, sauteed bits of meat in olive oil and garlic, snacked on these with sips of red wine, and thought about all that had happened yesterday. Though it was a vile experience, it was also a lesson for AJ about poor hunting ethics. As a new hunter, I hope it made an impression that will help him formulate his own hunter's code.

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