Cactus, Coulees & Cow Pies

In September of ’05, I got the chance to hunt antelope for the first time, and I jumped at that opportunity.

It was a 10-hour drive from Minneapolis , heading westward through Minnesota and North Dakota .

When I finally crossed over the border into Montana, I made note that I should probably stop in the town of Glendive to fill up with gas, as it is the biggest town on the east side of Montana before arriving in Terry. Well, I was so taken with the “different” scenery all around me, that I forgot to stop. I kept rolling down the highway with my CD player blaring, that I was oblivious to the tachometer reaching in to the red zone. Yikes! I’d have to pull off on the next exit to fill up! Unfortunately for me, every exit I came to had a “No services” sign. Even the ranch houses where I thought maybe I could walk up to, were nowhere in sight of the road.

I dropped speed from 75 mph to 50 to conserve precious gas. Every time I passed several exits, my heart sank, knowing that I may end up stranded on the road.

While my truck was running on just fumes, I was able to pull in to a rest area on “Bad Route Road”. Now this didn’t sound too good to me! I hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come. But my luck did change, and I ran into to a guy and his buddy who were both hunters, and they gave me a lift to Terry, 20 miles away.

While talking with them, one had mentioned that his wife “had just logged onto the WomenHunters web site last night for the first time.” I knew now I was in good company.

They dropped me off at the American Legion building where I was to meet my hunting guide of Stillwater Outfitters, Craig Schell.

I called him on the pay phone but there was no answer. As I turned to walk away to meet my newly acquainted hunting friends, I heard my name.

“Janice?”

Sitting right there was my guide. He quickly figured that the gal in the camo shirt with an archer on it must be his client. I was so glad he was there!

I went out and said goodbye to my new hunting friends and gave them my thanks for the lift to town and wished them well on their hunting adventures.

Craig was gracious enough to take me to the gas station to fill up a gas can, and then drove me back to my truck. I was grateful for the kindness all these folks showed me.

I followed him in my truck back to the Legion and we had pizza for dinner. We then headed to the round log guesthouse for a good nights sleep before the first morning’s hunt.

“Why is it round?”

“It was built as a church. Their religion didn’t want the devil to be able to hide in any corners.”

The first thing that came to my mind was the verse, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Either way, I knew I’d be safe.

Monday, 26th: This morning we drove around the Kalfell Ranch where I would be hunting. It was a mixture of cattle pasture, native buffalo grasses, sagebrush, yucca, prickly pear cactus, and shale rock out-croppings, all on 12,000 acres of rolling hills and flatland.

I was to become the unofficial gate tender this week, as there were plenty gates  to be opened and closed on every hunt.

“Now only grab the plastic handle on this one, as it’s a live electric wire”, Craig said.

“Aw gee! You take all the fun out of it!”

“Well go ahead then! Grab the hot wire!”

“Um, well… maybe not.”

Craig was easy to get along with.

Craig dropped me off at the waterhole where a Double Bull ground blind was already set up and waiting for residencey.

By 9:55 a.m. , a lone young antelope buck appeared across the waterhole, over 70 yards out, munching on some greens and drinking from the brew.

http://residents.bowhunting.net/tumbleweed/mt/antelope2.wmv

At 3:30 , 7 does and 2 bucks came from the east but disappeared to the north, never making it to the waterhole.

http://residents.bowhunting.net/tumbleweed/mt/herd1.wmv

I stuck it out all day at the waterhole but nothing more came in. Now I had another day of hunting to look forward to! 

Tuesday, 27th: Nothing appeared today, as it was very windy. I wonder where they hide out on a windy day like this? I hid inside my blind.

At sundown, I was treated to a beautiful sunset from the waterhole.

Wednesday, 28th: We tried spot and stalk this morning on several antelope, but none would play our game. We did see a coyote not far from a couple antelope bucks but it too disappeared from view.

On one of these spot and stalk episodes, I learned a very valuable lesson. Always look at the ground before you hunker down on it. Pulling prickly pear cactus quills out of my butt wasted precious time I could have used glassing.

Note to self: cactus HURTS!!

Since our spot and stalk failed us once again, I returned to my hidey-hole, the ground blind over the waterhole I referred to as “home”.

Upon arriving there, we saw a group of ‘lopes just to the north of the waterhole and hoped that they would meander back for a drink once I was ready in my home.

At 1:30 , a lone buck came in from the southeast and crossed to the other side of the waterhole. He was 45 yards out when I rushed my shot on him. I had my bow ready in one hand and my laser range finder in the other. I kept pressing the button of my range finder but a number never comes up. Out of frustration I set it down and told myself to, “Just shoot!”

I put the 30-yard pin on him and released the arrow, which went right under his belly. The arrow stuck in the mud and he started to walk away. I got another arrow ready in hopes he would come back and finish his drink, but he decided it’d be safer if he left the area. He trotted off to the north, over a hill, and out of my life.

I went and retrieved my arrow and placed a little plant in the mud where the antelope drank form. I went back to my blind and tried the range finder again. Still no numbers would show, so I shook it, and then I was able to get a reading. 45 yards. Man it’s hard to judge distance in open land, especially when there is also water to shoot over!

The rest of the afternoon and evening provided no sightings so I got out of my blind and crawled up the hill for a better look-see. Gloves were a great item to have on, as it made crawling through cow pies and cactus much more pleasant. The antelope didn’t appear to be in the same zip code as me, so I waited for Craig to appear for me in his truck.

Thurs., 29th: When we arrived at the waterhole at 7 a.m. , there were already 2 bucks standing on the east hill above the waterhole. So much for them usually coming most often during the hottest part of the day.

They took off to the north, making me think that tomorrow we’ll get here even before sun-up.

At 8:05 a small buck came in from the east and walked around the waterhole to the north for a drink. Unfortunately for me, he was 80 yards away, so I shot him with my video camera instead. After his drink, he trotted off to the north.

Birds were landing on my roof and I watch their shadows move across the material.

I tickled the bottom of ones feet and he quickly took off.

 I had such a hunger attack that I finally ate my lunch at 10 a.m.

By 10:20 , I spotted 9 antelope on the far east hill, well over 300 yards away. By 10:45 they had disappeared behind another hill, never to be seen by me again.

Twenty minutes later, I did spot two of them. They were young bucks that I figured were chased off by the dominant buck. They quickly made their way out of my little world and headed somewheres south.

11:30 A young buck appears from the northeast, but ten minutes later, he disappears, never making it down to drink from the waterhole.

At 3:20 , a tall-horned buck appears at the top of the east hill and just stood there looking down. I dubbed him “The Sentinal”.

He finally eased his way down towards the waterhole, stopped and stared, either catching the scent of my double chocolate muffin I had just been eating, or more likely, was spooked by the shininess of my camera lens. I’m going to need to dull the finish on that thing! He turned himself around and headed back the way he came. Dang!

http://residents.bowhunting.net/tumbleweed/mt/thesentinal.wmv

Fri., 30th and the last day: I arrived to my hidey-hole around 6 a.m.

It started out calm, but once the sun came up, the wind began to blow!

I sat the whole day without any sighting of any antelope. They just don’t seem to come to the waterhole on these really windy days. I was just glad that the ground blind was staked down to the earth by heavy rebar, or else both blind and me may have gone flying through the air with the greatest of ease!

While waiting for Craig to pick me up that evening, I brought all my stuff outside of the blind and flung some arrows at my Rhino block target that was left behind for me to use inside the blind as an end table all week. I thought to myself, “Just my luck, as soon as I start shooting out here while waiting for my ride, an antelope will probably show up.” Guess what? After I was about to retrieve my 6th arrow from the target, there, standing on the top of the levy to the north, was a lone young antelope buck, watching me.

I pulled out my range finder and he was 340 yards away. I quickly slipped behind my blind with bow in one hand and one broadhead-tipped arrow in my other. I grabbed a red bandana and tied it on a flu flu arrow shaft and started waving it above the blind from behind it.

I could look through the screened windows and see him watching it wave back and forward, but he decided he wasn’t really that interested in it, and disappeared behind a hill, like all the antelope in my life before him have done. I could only smile and shake my head. I shot a few more arrows and then the truck arrived.

My hunt had no harvest, but it sure had lots of great times and memories in a new land!

Before heading for home, I took in the view of the town of Terry and the Yellowstone River from atop one of the high hills of the Terry Badlands.

Things I learned on this hunt: When hunting antelope from outside of a blind, it’s best to wear a camo pattern specifically designed for the wide-open west or at least a light colored camo. (Leave your dark-colored camo like Mossy Oak Break-up and RealTree Hardwoods camo back home.) Montana Camo’s Prairie Ghost, Mossy Oak’s Brush, Sage Country Camo, Conks Faded Sage, Nat Gear or Mothwing Camo’s Canyon Mimicry are all excellent choices for hunting the west.

Easiest way to hunt pronghorn antelope is over a waterhole.

Challenging way is spot and stalk. This way has you running all over the hills trying to spot from a distance, a nice ‘lope to take. Actually getting close enough to shooting range is what is the challenge. It’ll certainly get your heart a-pumping!

Bring plenty of water, as the temperature is usually quite warm and you need to keep your body hydrated.

Watch out for cactus underfoot (and hand)

Thanks to Craig Schell of Stillwater Outfitters for a great week of antelope hunting in Terry , Montana . If you are interested in an antelope hunt out west, please check out their web site at www.stillwateroutfitters.com

Shoot straight & shoot often!

 

© November 2005