Antelope Addiction

Win or lose, a serious bowhunter just can't quit hunting Colorado's wary pronghorns.

My HUSBAND, Jim, and I had been eagerly awaiting our annual antelope hunt with Phil and Leslie Phillips in Colorado . While Jim had taken five Pope and Young bucks in 7 years with Phil, I had hunted hard for 2 years but hadn't scored. Despite that record, I was addicted to antelope hunting and had to keep trying. And, of course, I was hoping this would be my lucky year.

For several years I had sat with Jim in his blinds, observing and learning about animal behavior, shot selection, and shot placement. Then Jim had sat with me during my first 2 years of actual hunting, all the while quizzing and teaching me.

With that background I had all the information and confidence necessary to hunt by myself and to harvest a mature buck. So now, after driving the 1,100 miles to Colorado from our home in Minnesota , I would sit by myself and make my own decisions on whether to shoot, when to shoot, and where to aim. I would cure this addiction.

Our typical days in the blind started at 7 a.m. and lasted until 8 p.m. That's 13 hours! Over the first 4 days, numerous does, fawns, and cone heads (immature bucks) came in. Mature bucks came in, too, but they were either not quite big enough, they were standing at the wrong angle, or they all came and left together, never giving me a clear shot. Hunting antelope is very fun but very frustrating. I was going crazy!

Other than watching antelope come and go, part of my excitement during the days came from watching and feeding ants. The fact is, I had to keep feeding them to keep them off me. The food kept them busy and they, in turn, kept me busy as I watched them in amazement.

In addition, a couple of deer mice decided to make one of my blinds their birthing room. Maybe I didn't quite fit into their plans by sitting in their home day after day for 13 hours. So they moved their babies from place to place in the blind.

By the fifth day, I was getting pretty depressed. Remember, this was my third year for antelope, and in total it was my 20th day of sitting in a blind for 13 hours a day. While I was addicted to the whole experience and the hope of killing a big buck, I also was feeling like a failure.

At about 7 p.m., as the sun neared the horizon, antelope started to come in, including a group of bachelor bucks, and one was a definite book animal. If he had only been by himself! But there were just too many other bucks in the way, and soon they all filtered away in a group, crossing a hilltop against the blazing orange horizon, a beautiful sight.

Just as they were disappearing, I saw Phil watching from the road. It was now 7:30 p.m. , and I assumed he was there to pick me up. Feeling a little defeated any way, I decided to call it a day. So I gathered all my stuff and walked to the road.

Well, that was the wrong thing to do. Along with Phil were Chuck Adam's and one of Phil's guides. Chuck hunts at Phil's every year and, when he has time, enjoys watching others hunt. After he has taken his antelope, he often rides along with Phil to check on the other hunters. If he's lucky, he may even get to see someone else harvest an antelope. That's always a bonus for Chuck.

When I reached the road, Phil asked why I had got out of my blind so early. ''After that bunch of bucks came in, I couldn't see any more coming. So I decided to call it a day," I said.

Hmm. We just saw another good buck off in the distance. It looked like he might be coming your way;" Phil said.

In a defeated voice, I said, "I'm sorry, I didn't know." I felt as if I had totally let Phil down. He was so understanding, and he was determined for me to get my antelope. Day after day he put me in great places, and I just couldn't get it right.

Back at camp, I went straight to our room and cried in frustration, disappointed that I hadn't thought things through and stuck it out until a half hour past sunset, as I should have done. Jim reassured me that it would all be okay. He and Phil both knew how hard I had been trying. I swore to myself that come the next day I would stay in my blind until a full half hour past sunset, giving myself full opportunity to harvest an antelope.

ON DAY SIX I went to blind No.3. Jim was at blind No.2, about 200 yards away.  By 7:35 am does and bucks were drinking in front of my blind, and things were looking good. Now if a shooter would just come in and make my day!

At 8:05 a.m. , four cone heads came running down a hill. As they went out of my sight behind a hill, they appeared to be headed toward Jim's blind. But as they came back into view, they were marching my way. And another buck had joined them. A shooter!

I reached for my bow and prepared for a shot. The four cone heads came in at 20 yards and lined up one by one to drink, as the bigger buck stood a few yards back, watching cautiously. Finally, as a couple of the young bucks backed out, the big one came in to drink, and the buck on his left backed away, exposing his vitals. But a small buck still stood directly behind him. A pass-through shot would kill them both. I waited.

When the last little buck slowly backed away, I drew my bow. The shooter snapped his head up and looked towards my blind. Don't run! Just keep drinking, I thought.

Finally, as he put his head down again to drink, I stayed so focused and calm I couldn't believe my composure. Picking a spot, I released and my arrow sliced completely through his chest. As he bolted out of sight over a hill, I got out to retrieve my arrow and go tell Jim what had happened.

We decided to get Phil to help us track, and when we hit the road we met up with Phil, Chuck, and big Mike, one of the guides. Chuck, watching from the road, had seen the whole hunt unfold.

"Do you mind if I tag along while you track?" Chuck said.

"The more eyes the better," I said. "Come on. Let's go!"

So Phil, Chuck, Big Mike, Jim, and I headed out to the last place Chuck had seen my antelope run. Not finding any sign at that point, we decided to split up. Before long I had lost sight of everyone and was looking around to see where they had gone when I saw Phil on top of a hill, motioning for me to join him. I got so excited! I just knew he had found my antelope, and when I reached him, Phil gave me a hug and a pat on the back.

"Thank you so much for finding him!" I said.

Then I admired my antelope, with his striking colors and beautiful heart shaped horns. After 3 trying years, I was happy and thrilled to have finally taken my first antelope.

As I thanked everyone for helping me, Chuck just gave me his world-famous grin. That smile has symbolized his own success on many occasions, and I felt as if was approving of mine right now. What an unforgettable hunting experience.

Jim and I eagerly look forward to returning to Phil and Leslie's to hunt the incredible antelope again. My heart pounds even now as I envision Pope and Young bucks coming toward my blind, because antelope hunting is addictive· That addiction is what kept me going back for 3 straight years, despite my failures. And that addiction is what will draw me back again, despite my success.

When she's not in the field with a bow in hand, Michele Leqve works as a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines.

Author's Notes:

Phil Phillips is a top-notch outfitter and guide. He specializes in trophy antelope but he also offers hunts for other big game. Contact: Phil & Leslie Phillips PO Box 786 Montrose > Colorado 81402; (970) 249-8068;

Reprinted With Permission Bowhunter Magazine