“He stopped loving her todayyyyyy! They placed a wreath upon his doorrrrr. And soon they’ll carry him awayyyyy, he stopped loving herrrr todayyyy.”
I giggle to myself as I see in my mind’s eye Grandpa Bob, the father of my dear friend and hunting companion Mike Graue, chesting out these lyrics to the stars and steers after just the right amount of brandy and ice and a wall tent discussion on the greatest country music singer of all time. While on a three-hour stalk of a bedding pronghorn, many thoughts flash through my mind. Some thoughts and images relate to the stalk and others from who knows what part of my brain. I continue to ponder thoughts that drift into my mind in a way that leaves me talking to myself and at times making light of my inefficiencies in spot and stalking pronghorn in the eastern Montana prairie.
“It’s strange how the mind of a bowhunter works; one second I’m focused on the details in the bucks behavior and then in a blink I’m thinking about everything from the family to Grandpa Bob singing to the stars. Maybe this is a product of chasing pronghorn with stick and string for a week. It seems they have the tendency to drive a person into a delusional state. Or I could be showing signs of heat stroke. Hey bozo (me), get back to stalking this prongy, belly crawl style, and don’t mess this one up like the last dozen.” Before I slide across the ground that must resemble the soil of Hell, I mumble to myself, “Rattlesnakes? Check. Cactus? Check. Prongy? Check. Now belly forward three more feet. I can’t believe how difficult it is to get into bow range, man it’s hot.” I continue inching closer and closer.
“It sure would be nice if this guy is a dumb one. But I seriously question whether there is such a critter. If not a dumb one, maybe this one has cataracts. Now that would be nice, a pronghorn with cataracts. Now if he has cataracts, then maybe even a flat-lander like me can stalk within bow range.” Once again I find myself giggling at my thoughts trying not to take my recent failures too seriously while in the prone position pulling prickly pear cactus spines from my thighs and knees. “Rattlesnakes? Check. Cactus? Check. Prongy? Check. Alright time to move again.”
I inch closer to my quarry bedding on the point of a rise. The rise is lower in elevation than the peak of the rise in which I am located. From my position, I need to belly crawl down a gently, descending slope, at times using the spine of the point to conceal my motion and when there is not a spine, I rely on my camouflage and the buck facing the opposite direction. There is a shallow wash, 50 yards from the bedded buck. Once I make it to the wash, I need to belly crawl across the spine of the point, to a boulder that is 20 yards downwind and below the buck. From there I can draw, rise, anchor, and take him with a quartering away shot. All of the above is taking place in a wet desert prairie where the ears of a cottontail rabbit protrude above the crunchy prairie grasses and sage. “Okay, I can do this, I can pull this off. This ghillie suit will do the job. Or should I say, sasquatch suit. Rattlesnakes? Check. Cactus? Check. Prongy horns facing into the wind? Check.” With the wind in my face and the buck bedding on the point scanning the sage flat with the wind in his face, he gave me an opportunity to cut 2 miles to 20 yards. The first mile was relatively easy, but the last 300 yards required me to belly crawl in plain view of the buck, if he were to turn his head 120 degrees to the downwind direction.
“My goodness, this is difficult. I mean this is crazy difficult. When you think you are going slow, go slower. I wish I could thank whoever coined that phrase because it is the absolute truth. Lord knows–and anyone that knows me understands–that I have a problem slowing down. I bet if I had a camera on a stalk, it would help me slow down by giving me an opportunity to take pictures. Further, the point of view of the photos would be cool. But if I were to take pictures while stalking, I would have to peek my head up through the grass and the last time I did such, the darn goat saw the button on the top of my hat from half a mile. Maybe if I were to bring along a small notebook, I could scribble down my crazy thoughts while I crawl through a landscape more suited for those that slither. Yeah, a notebook, that’ll work, I’m not much of a photographer anyway. But if anyone finds this notebook and reads the thoughts they’re going to think I’m crazy. Hey Putz, quit talking to yourself and get back to focusing on the animal and the stalk.”
Antelope are amazing creatures with few flaws that limit their ability to survive in the prairie landscape. Usually water is the one trump card that traditional bowhunters can play to turn the odds in their favor at a waterhole. But this summer was one of the wettest and coolest in the last two decades. In a week of spot and stalk hunting, I saw only one antelope drink at a waterhole. Moreover, this happened to be the morning after the previous day high of 111 degrees. Somehow, in this arid landscape antelope must get enough water from the dried grasses they chew and the morning dew that on this hunt was common.
“Oh my throat is dry. I could go for an ice-cold beer. I can’t imagine why more bowhunters aren’t out here chasin’ these critters; it’s over 100 degrees, you get to crawl around with rattlesnakes, your knees and elbows become riddled with pus filled scabs from the cactus that cover the soil, and the quarry always seems to be running away from you. Yah it’s great, I can’t imagine why more people don’t do this? Oh, it’s hot in this ghillie suit. After a week of doing this, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a newspaper headline that read, “Sagebrush Sasquatch Spotted in Rosebud County!” I can see the feature story on the local television station, complete with a blurry video of this sasquatch looking creature (me) rambling through the sagebrush. Especially like yesterday when I ran for 400 yards to close on that buck when he was feeding along the shoreline of that reservoir. Can you imagine how ridiculous I looked, bow in hand, running across that hillside? I can see a reality show or a hunter Olympics competition where the participants are all wearing ghillie suits and competing in events like the Sasquatch 400 Yard Dash, the Sasquatch 100 Yard Speed Crawl, or the Sasquatch 300 Yard Belly Crawl. It is weird how my thoughts drift. If people ever learned what was flowing through my mind while on a stalk, they would take my hunting privileges away and put me in a pink, padded room.”
Meanwhile, the buck stood up from his bed and scanned the sage flat below while relieving himself. Then he just stood there as if admiring the scenery or maybe he saw the ear tips of a coyote cresting a rise two miles away. For those who have not hunted antelope or even for those who have hunted them but from the comfy confines of a blind, the antelope’s eyesight is the most impressive sense of any animal I’ve hunted.
“Good, he’s bedding down again, with his nose still into the wind. I have to get to that shallow draw and then I will be able to cover the next 50 yards crawling down the draw to the adjoining draw that will take me to the narrowest spot on the spine and 40 yards from the buck. My God this is difficult. And so help me, I’m never doing this again with cheap binoculars! My eyes are burning from sweat and strain. Oh, the back of my neck is sore from belly crawling the last four days. I think I learned something from blowing that stalk yesterday. When you are in control of the stalk, meaning that the factors that decide who wins and who loses are mostly in your favor, then continue stalking. But when the factors turn in favor of prongy, then stop stalking, knock an arrow and hope that either by chance he feeds into a shot opportunity or he does something that puts the factors back into my favor. Get goin’ you pansy (me).”
The pronghorn antelope is a bit of a biological misfit having no living evolutionary relatives anywhere in the World similar enough to be classified within the same genus. Thus, one can suggest that some freak genetic mutation allowed this species to outlive its extinct relatives or by natural selection or even chance it wound up with a perfect set of adaptations to survive in the prairie. However, I will never understand why they can defy the golden rule of energy conservation by running for a mile in a flight response after spotting such a minor threat like a traditional bowhunter peeking over a rise a mile away. Further, the only critters with such amazing eyesight are supposed to be flying and killing prey with sharp talons. Maybe God simply placed this animal on this planet to torment amateur spot and stalk hunters like myself.
“Okay, I’m here just 35 yards away. I cannot peek over the grass; I need to have faith that he is still bedding where I last saw him. Slow down and slow down more. I need to belly crawl across the spine, which puts me eye level with him, and then drop down a few feet into the draw adjacent to his point. Then I’ll have a perfect 20 yard shot. Okay, just 15 more yards to go. This is crazy, this is huntin’, this is livin’. I will never hunt antelope from a blind again, this is adrenaline antelope hunting at it’s best. Rattlesnakes? Check. Cactus? Check. Prongy? Check.”
Being a ruminant, antelope need to bed during the day and chew cud like a cow or a whitetail. In my hunt, the antelope tended to bed from noon to 4:00, and then they would rise from their bed and start feeding until after dark. Their beds tended to be in locations that let them look down across an expanse of prairie. The mistake they make at times is that they don’t seem to be as in tune with wind direction as a whitetail or an elk. However, it seems they have an excellent ability to pick a bedding spot that is difficult to detect until you make a mistake at 500 yards or one that puts predators at a disadvantage by forcing the hunter to eventually expose himself when within 50 yards. Maybe this distance gives antelope the head start they need to avoid being supper for a coyote, cougar, or hunter. Based on their endurance and speed, they sure don’t seem like they need a head start.
“Okay, I’m on the spine; he’s got to be just 25 yards away. I just have to get to that boulder because if I try a shot now he will be angling straight away, and I will not disrespect such an animal and take a shot like that. Oh no, there is his rack and it is facing my direction. Did he see me? No, I do not think so; he turned his rack back into the wind. Nock an arrow. Okay, I can do this. Oh my, I can hear his urine splashing on the rocks. It’s a good thing it’s so hot and urinating on my part isn’t an issue. It would be difficult to take a leak in this position. Oh, please bed down again, please. Oh no, don’t come my way. Oh my, this is an amazing site as I’m pancaked against the ground, looking at him approach me as I focus on him in the background while blurring out the grasses in the foreground. He’s only 20 yards away and I can hear him grinding his molars through the dried grasses and blowing the hot, dry dust from his nostrils. Oh, I really wish I had some of that invisibility cream that Wily Coyote would use to sneak up on Bugs Bunny. Please feed down the hill or turn around and feed back toward your bed, so I can rise to my knees draw, anchor, and release, please. Okay, at 15 yards you see me, lying flat in the grass on my belly looking like a skinny 150 pound sasquatch taking a siesta. Okay, you don’t know what I am, now turn around or go down your hill. Your close-range eyesight is not as impressive as your long-range abilities. Whitetails have you on that one, but turkeys need braille compared to you. But oh are those eyes dark and oh so beautiful. You truly are you an amazing creature. Come on feed in that direction. No, don’t feed downwind of me, no. Uh oh, your nostrils just realized I’m not a strange looking clump of sagebrush or a dead sasquatch. Come on, please don’t, please don’t…okay fine, go ahead and run for a couple miles. You win.
Spot and stalk antelope hunting is the most difficult hunt to get within bow range that I have experienced. By no means am I a seasoned pronghorn bowhunter, but I can say with a deep sense of sincerity that to whittle two miles of distance down to 20 yards in the course of three hours, produces an experience that exudes enough emotions to create a trophy memory. Further, I came into this hunt often poking fun at myself for not being good at stalking critters with bow in hand. But, I leave the hunt knowing that the antelope taught me much of their habits, strengths, and their weaknesses to a point that I can say, I am good at stalking within 50 yards of a pronghorn antelope. It is the last 20 yards where I have much to learn.
“He stopped loving her todayyyyy…”
Equipment note: Robertson Vision Falcon, 53#, cedar shafts with four-blade Magnus heads.