This year's Antelope Tag was a surprise, in more than one way. This would make the third Antelope tag drawn in 36 years. So, 12 years apart for each, after a fourteen year wait for the first; same unit--Beulah--one I knew well but wanted to spend more time in exploring some remote places not reached in previous trips.
Here's my story...
The Second surprise was that the work calendar (that was full for the entire summer), had just opened up, and a number of dates were free for me to take as vacation. The girls would be with mom the week before the opener, allowing me to scout.
Scouting--I would say--is the primary key to hunting success.
With a plan in mind and one in a note pad, I set forth to take a good public land buck, even though a record book buck was out of the question, as the Beulah isn't known for book-class bucks--and the planets just weren't going to align (Syzygy) for that to take place.
So, it would amount to about 954 miles of scouting--400-500 miles off-road--and hours of glassing. What surprised me most on the three full-days of scouting was how few public land bucks were available. Most being spotted on private land, and alfalfa fields being the key magnet.
From the highest peaks of the Beulah--around 7,000'--to the lowest of terrain--1,400' near the Snake River, across from the Idaho border.
In 2002, Speed Goat (number two) was taken just off the Old Oregon Trail and I-84, and that's just where Plan-A buck (or the planned number three) was spotted, early on day two. The "promised-land" would be close to a Century's old trail of migration and hardship--misfortune and fame, leading to the "Promised-Land" of the Willamette Valley.
I wouldn't find another buck that presented himself on public land as good as the Plan A buck, so this was the buck.
There were other bucks out there--either on-and-off of private land in such a way that phone calls to land owners and lack of permission to hunt, or timing just wouldn't happen to allow me to take the best buck seen on any of the private lands bordering public.
The harsh landscape is hard on vehicles and tires--luckily no flats with my Toyo, M-55's--as I purchased a second spare tire because I had two flats 12 years ago while scouting, just five minutes apart (but only three flats ever with 13 sets of these commercial tires).
This is one of the harshest landscape for the modern-day hunter in all of Oregon's Wildlife Management Units (WMU's). Whitehorse probably number one worst, Owyhee two, and Beulah three perhaps....when it comes to time behind the wheel and rough terrain.
Abandoned homesteads and machinery tell the tale of hardship, and for the unprepared hunter/explorer a short-term hardship compared to years bygone...
For all the miles put on the Tundra, few animals presented themselves. There were mule deer bachelor groups; the usual Sage Grouse--opted out of applying for tags for 2014, and many amazing thunderstorms the week of July, 11.
So, after pouring rain, and beautiful sunsets-- a record two vehicles--in three days were recorded (Ranchers) in the backcountry of the Beulah.
On opening day, I was equipped with my OpenRange Orion, OpenRange Range finder Bro, and my brother-in-law Bob's Husqvarna (Swedish made) .243. I was so excited to get out of bed at 3:30 (MST) to try for the good-smelling Speed Goat.
By 0430, we were travelling north on I-84 to our promised land.
At one hour before sunrise, we passed a camp just off I-84 (Valley Boys, we thought), and wondered why they weren't awake yet. We took that as a good sign that we'd have the prime location for the opening morning.
We glassed for over forty-five minutes to the down-wind. The trajectory of the buck 12 years ago--and this buck when scouted, were the same--into the wind in a clock-wise direction around the butte--one hour after day light--and the time was near, and no buck was spotted!
So, we split up, Bob going to the north side of the butte, me glassing to the east and west, with the sun to my back.
The sound of ATV's coming our way was our wake-up call--no buck spotted, and now other hunters moving in. "Perhaps they'll spook him into action", I thought.
As the ATV's approached the fork in the road, it was apparent only one had a tag, and he on a lone ATV and his partners in a UTV, observed our tire tracks and the dingle hunter proceeded our direction--unbeknownst to us the buck we were looking for had remained bedded as we walked within 75 yards in the dark--downwind, and now 75 yards from this road, and 100 yards from my truck.
As the rider then approached the crest of the hill, he either spotted the bedded buck and/or my truck. As he eased off his ATV, my Brother-in-Law whistled and pointed, as I ran to the crest of the knob to witness the unbelievable--the buck just 200 yards below us (the whole time?) was shot from an ATV--75 yards from the ATV/road.
So, off to Plan B!
And Yes, that is a Kilt! It was heaven to Scout, hike and hunt in that as the temperatures rose again into the mid-nineties--if you haven't tried one, don't knock it. For hot weather-hunting, I can't think of a better way to go.
So, we approached the next round of hunting in a new light. We would hit a couple places where we knew there to Antelope, and no people. The bucks sighted there were sub-dominant bucks with does, but we decided the hunt is by for the important thing to experience, and the meat all tastes the same.
After miles logged again on rough roads, and hours of glassing, we spooked a heard with a shooter and moved-on to Plan C. As public land hunting goes--especially Antelope--road miles are the quickest way to find places for glassing, then put the miles on your feet to find them hiding in the many folds of the landscape.
Near the Old Oregon Trail, we took a turn again to a place we felt would not have hunters--and again we found Antelope.
Of the many things I love about the Desert, the first are the Vistas (Sights). Then the smells and the sounds. With the smell of grass, and sounds of the ubiquitous Western meadowlark, we made a pursuit on a buck that wouldn't cross a fence, where his does would go.
My Brother-in-Law had handed me a white handkerchief earlier in the day, and stated, "you might need this today." The handkerchief not for a Summer-Cold, but for the old known trick of waving a flag at a curious goat, and having the opportunity to bring one closer.
And, indeed that curiosity, "killed-the-cat!" That Buck turned and took two steps toward me as if to say, "what's that?". Again, I waved and glassed him from over 500 yards, and he responded the same, and began to walk perpendicular, but slightly towards me.
I immediately jacked a round and proceeded to crouch into a small gully and beat-feat on a vector to intercept him, as he relaxed and walked as if to be going to a predetermined place unbeknownest to me. Also, a curious and willing doe followed along some 80 yards behind him. By the looks of their body language, all was good--I love attention deficit!
As I gained a small vantage point in a thick patch of thistles and made note of the doe, there was still no Buck. "Damn!", I thought, and dropped again down the gully for another 50 yards in the direction he was headed, and again did the gopher-thing and came up for a look, and there he was, carefully strolling along about 150 yards paralleling me.
I dropped the legs of the bi-pod, settled the cross-hairs on his mid-line that is painted tan-over-white, and let him intercept my Brother-in-Law Bob's 100 grain, .243 reload--and it was over--lung shot with no wasted meat.
Skinned and cooling in Bob's garage, I took the time for a small celebration, and in air-conditioned comfort began the sweet transformation of a great plains animal, the American Pronghorn (not a true Antelope, but a goat), to cool and control the aging of the meat to bring it to the table.
Within one hour, the buck was ready for the cooler in my hometown of Ontario, and left there for eight days, at 35 degrees.
Yes, that is a 22 oz. Swill--the last known Swill of 2014!
Lastly, I'd like to thank my Brother-in-Law Bob Thorstad, for great camaraderie, and the chance to shoot a gun I've always admired and watched many of his kids kill their first deer with.
And, here is the bounty!
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