12 October 2010

Pronghorn Antelope Hunt 2010

[Reader alert: there is a photo of a dead animal on this page.]

Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana) are one of our few truly native American megafaunal species. They evolved on this continent tens of million of years ago, along with now long extinct North American species such as horses, camels, and oreodonts. On the savanna, a sort of American Serengeti, there were many large fierce predators such as "North American cheetah (Miracinonyx trumani) and American lion (Panthera leo atrox), each larger than their modern African cousins; the giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), a creature larger—and faster—than a Kodiak brown bear; as well as other dangerous carnivores like the dire wolf (Canis dirus) and a ferocious hyena-like creature, Chasmaporthetes ossifragus" (Hawes 2001).

Short-faced Bear (left) and other megafauna by artist Karen Carr:

As the original array of North American megafauna went extinct, many newcomers came to the continent--including grizzly bears, mountain sheep, elk and other deer. But the pronghorn remains, running far faster than necessary given today's predators and living in a harsh, dry, high sagebrush prairie environment where few of the newcomers can thrive. Here's the landscape where we hunt antelope in the lower Big Hole River valley of southwest Montana:

I don't usually hunt the first week of antelope season. The worst sort of crazed hunters often turn out: shooting incompetently at long range and wounding animals; road-hunting and shooting from their vehicle; and driving 4WD trucks and ATVs illegally off-road. I was at the Quarry Brewpub on Friday, however, and met Matt Hamon--an old friend that used to teach at my college and who recently moved back after accepting a position with the University Mother Ship in Missoula. With very little arm-twisting and after only pint, I agreed to hunt opening day.

We parked on a low ridge and hiked along it through some places where antelope often feed and cross the plain from the higher ridges that frame the valley. As we sat in the morning sun glassing three separate herds of antelope from one to two miles away, we saw a group of hunters stalk one bunch and another group of hunters drive their rig up a hillside to get closer to another bunch. Many shots were fired seemingly to no avail, though we watched the herd to the west run across the head of the plain to the north, cross to the east, and drop out of sight behind a ridge. I speculated that they might circle back to their origin--which might bring them past us. We began hiking back to the truck, slowly and stopping to glass frequently. Sure enough, here came the herd. They stopped below us in a hidden swale and began feeding. I stalked within shooting position, careful to keep my hands & knees out of the prickly pear cactus. Using my shooting sticks (a simple bipod made with two old tent poles), I chose an adult doe and fired once:

 Like all animals we hunt, they are a beautiful part of the natural world. As a fruit of the earth, their flesh sustains us and we must use it well. Thank you:

We carried her to the truck and drove home, where I skinned and quartered the carcass, bringing one hindquarter to Matt, another to "Little Brother" AJ, and boning out the remainder for sausage. The following day, I accompanied AJ on a hunt. Here he is, stalking along a ridge to get within range of a herd that we had spotted from a mile away, then circled to approach from downwind and from above:

As so often happens, the antelope had moved during the stalk and we had no idea where they went. This is typical in antelope hunting, especially during the first week of season when the animals are skittish from the opening day madness. We'll return in a week or so, and typically the antelope are back to a settled routine while the crazies are in front of the TV with beer and chips.


Maria said...

It's interesting to see your photos of hunting for the purest of meat available. There's such a difference in free-range meat as opposed to all else available.

I learn little something every time I visit here...
If you asked me what an oreodont was a few minutes ago... I would have made up something about cookies :o)
But, I did a little Googling and now know it means "Mountain Teeth."
very cool

Enjoy this season!

Janie said...

We see a lot of "crazies" out during hunting season. I like your Native American style respect for the animals you hunt.