Missing a big pronghorn buck after a 4 hour stalk is a humbling experience. Missing 3 bucks, over the course of two and a half days is downright devestating! And so continues my quest for a big, Wyoming, archery antelope.
As our slogan here at ORG goes, “NO EXCUSES”. And as much as I want to blame my bow, or the wind, or the blind, it just boils down to the fact that I just plain blew it.
So if you are looking for a fluffy, happy go lucky type of hunting story, this probably isn’t going to be it. I hope that part is yet to come. And I will try to point out some of the good things as well, but tomorrow I am headed out to scout before the archery opener here in Colorado and just wanted to make a quick record of the hunting season so far. So here it is…
After sitting in a blind opening weekend, watching trophy bucks running around out in front of me, I decided this time I was going to take a little more initiative. I had been away for nearly two weeks and was set on some down in the dirt, stalking action.
Those who have hunted antelope in Wyoming, know that there is virtually no cover at all. And in order to sneak through what grass and sage exist in this country you have to be willing to let the fire ants get comfortable where they were never intended to be; try not to flinch every time a deer fly digs into the back of your neck; and brave day after day of nearly triple digit temperatures and gale force winds.
And this is fun right?!. Truth is, it seems like the more difficult and uncomfortable I am, the more memorable the hunt ends up being. Most other hunters will understand what I’m talking about.
After three or four close encounters, I finally had 3 bucks in the palm of my hand and they were feeding right toward me. As they closed the gap to 30 yards, I was about to rise from my prone position to draw, when they spooked and ran around behind me. Knowing I wasn’t going to have time to range the distance, I came to full draw, guessed the distance, and let ‘er fly. As I watched the arrow sail just over the back of the biggest buck, I felt my body deflate, knowing hours of hard work just ended with nothing but a memory that I would play over in my mind thousands of times.
So day two came around and I was looking for redemption. I watched another big buck working a fence line from a vantage point at first light. At the same time, from the bottom of the draw, I could see a smaller buck slowly working his way toward me.
After unsuccessfully stalking the larger buck, I decided to head back down the draw to see if the smaller one had bedded on the opposite side of the hill from me. As I came to a wash, I slowly peaked over the top and immediately caught a glimpse of two black horns.
With the video camera rolling behind me, I snuck up to the top of the next cut. As I peaked over the edge, the buck caught my movement and began to stand. Once again, thinking I didn’t have time to range him, I came to full draw, guessed the distance, and sent the arrow. This time, I heard the arrow pass right underneath him and slam into the dirt.
After months of practice, shooting instinctively for times just like these, it became very clear that I was still going to need to rely on my rangefinder. I was more than beat down. Any bowhunter knows that you wait for that one opportunity when the stars align just right to give you a shot. I had now been given two opportunities and I just knew the odds of getting another. And now, even just a day later, I am already starting to realize how fortunate I was to even have the chances I did.
The night before I had watched a group of bucks work down to get a drink at a puddle that was near my blind. I decided that I was in the mood to just sit there and try to get my head in the game. So, with 3 hours until dark, I re-set my blind near the water hole and began to wait.
With about 45 minutes left of daylight, I caught a glimpse of 3 bucks feeding on a hillside about 200 yards away. I knew if they came in, it was going to be right at dark. And from my vantage point, I wouldn’t see them until they came over the hill 40 yards in front of me.
And that is exactly what happened. 30 minutes later, bucks started pouring into the watering hole in front of me. I could instantly hear my heart pounding in my ears. I didn’t have time to count, but my guess was that there were at least eight, if not more like ten bucks. Four of them that would have likely made the P&Y standards.
With all eyes locked on the black hole I was hiding in, I came to full draw. The bucks caught my movement and scattered, then stopped. With one of the big bucks still within range, I again guessed the distance and placed my 30 yard pin just over a sage bush he was standing behind. Almost immediately after I released, I heard the unmistakable ‘THWACK’ of my arrow hitting bone. I finally did it!
Or so I thought…As light was fading, I slipped out of the blind to locate my arrow. Just behind where the buck had stood was an almost perfectly clean arrow. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what had happened. There was hair on the broadhead, and two small specks of blood on the veins, but clearly I had not made a lethal shot on the buck. I was devestated. Questions kept running through my mind, “Did I hit the window of the blind?”, “Did I hit the sage brush?”. All I know is that the range finder read 32 yards where the buck had stood and I had missed for the third time.
After sleeping in the next day, and going back to check for any blood, still in disbelief, I headed home.
As humbling as it is to even admit that I missed, there is something that happens every time I fail and then keep on trying. I go through a phase where all I want to do is throw in the towel. Once I get my whimpering, pathetic self to man up and accept my mistakes, I get a fire underneath me that motivates like nothing else from that point on. I really think it’s in these moments that our character is defined.
On my way home, I hit the archery range and poured every last ounce of energy I had into practice because I am going to get back out there and I’m going to kill a buck with my bow! In a way, it’s exciting because I get to keep hunting. That is the bowhunter in me talking. Sometimes it’s just clearly about the journey, not the destination.