An archer’s perfect opportunity

by Katie on September 26, 2011

For Round Two of antelope stalking for the day, we drove out to the northwest end of the ranch, where the terrain was a little more broken up with some juniper cover that would prove advantageous.

We stopped early into this country and glassed a few ridges with no luck. So farther in we moved.

Knowing we would be on long stalks for anything we found, we were packing super light on all these excursions. Brandon carried only his tripod and big glasses, a couple water bottles and the decoy. I had only our “small” glasses (no trusty tripod or my my 10x50s), the rangefinder and my bow.

I was a bit disgruntled once or twice throughout the trip without all my gear (Brandon may recall a few more times than I do), but little did I know, it wouldn’t even matter, as I set up in the shade of a juniper, freehanding against my knees in my chest at close range.

The second juniper I hit led me right to a set of pronghorns peeking out as a buck fed just below it.

“I got one, Brandon. A buck. Close,” I whispered. “And he has a doe too.”

I guess not realizing what I meant by “close”, Brandon was surprised when I led him to the antelope. “Crap! That’s 200 yards! Let’s go get him…”

We dropped everything on our person but the decoy, rangefinder and bow right where we were, and set out to the small ridgeline separating us from our buck. Once there, we gathered ourselves and made our game plan at the base of a juniper just up a ridge to the east of where our buck had been feeding. We found the wind was perfect and there would be excellent cover as I made my way down to the antelope. Stalking conditions just don’t get any better.

We decided I would put a sneak on them and move down the ridge, to within 20 to 30 yards of our buck’s juniper, behind some desert brush. As I headed down, I had no visual of the antelope, and the nerves began, since I knew that when I did have a visual, I would be in shooting range. I nocked an arrow and tried to be patient as I semi-frantically signaled to Brandon I had zero visual.

After what felt like hours but was probably only a minute or two, Brandon slowly began signaling for me to hold tight where I was. I had no idea what he was seeing, and I still didn’t have an antelope in my line of sight. So, I did just what he was telling me, trying to keep my brace hand dry as my anxious sweat glands were at work.

Soon enough, I got the signal to return to Brandon’s post, and found out the buck had fed right up the ridge, as I had made my way down. If Brandon had a bow (and the tag), he would have had five minutes of broadside, 30 yard shots as the buck fed up, never even realizing we were so close.

We had definitely made the wrong call on the stalk, but it was long from over.

We set up to try a different approach, with our buck now on a hill across a bottom from us, and the does still oblivious to our presence:  a key factor in our success.

This time, Brandon again stayed at our juniper, and I readied for a shot from my knees, just up the hillside we hoped we could lure our buck to cross. I peaked up over the hill just far enough over the grass at the top to see if Brandon and the challenge decoy were able to work their magic.

Sure enough, I watched the buck catch sight of the decoy, duck his head, and just bring it.

“He’s coming,” I let Brandon know, since we had enough wind cover to get away with things like that, and I frantically began scanning my side of the hilltop for horns popping over the edge, eyes working in every direction.

The downfall here? Neither of us thought for me to draw back when I lost a visual, when the buck got down in the bottom coming across to our side, which would prove to be fatal to our desired result.

Because before I could draw my next breath, much less my bow, I found myself in a staring contest with a buck, broadside. Pinned.

Now, I had done my job and ranged every piece of brush in every direction the buck could have come, but he was in front of a juniper I had ranged at 60 yards – out of my shooting range. Not sure how far in front of it he was, I was scrambling, trying to decide a)if he was even in range b)how far inside range he was c)if I could even draw my bow, now that I had a buck looking into my eyes.

Poor Brandon was behind me, watching me choke right in front of his eyes, on an opportunity most archery antelope hunters only dream of for years.

“40. Shoot!” he encouraged.

But too late.

As I started to draw, our buck had had enough. He was out of there.

Game. Over.

Again.

After he crested the hill, and took his four does down across a flat, I collapsed on the ground, disappointed in myself and a bit worn out from a long stalk with lots of creeping through brush, along with the nerves and anxiety that kept every one of our muscles tense for the entire 1.5 hour span.

“I choked!” I finally said.

“Why didn’t you draw?” Brandon inquired.

“I don’t know. At first, I couldn’t tell how far in front of the tree he was, then I was pinned so I was scared he would bugger out as soon as I did, and then he was gone. But now that it’s over, the alternatives were what happened, that he left when I drew, or that I was somehow able to get a shot off, so I should’ve at least tried.”

Of course, it’s always easy to talk about all the if-onlys and could-haves and should-haves and next-times after the fact.

Bottom line:  we learned a few lessons, had an exciting stalk and a perfect opportunity.

Brandon partially blames himself, given this was my first time to have my bow out in the field, for not suggesting I draw back when I lost visual, especially since I had prepared myself (physically) to be able to hold my draw for a while.

And of course, I blame myself, because, as I mentioned, I choked on the perfect opportunity.

Regardless, we had the stalk of a lifetime on that hill and ranged the position later to find out I would have had a 35 yard shot (had I even attempted to take it).

Brandon called the guys to check in, let them know about our close encounter, and found out the first buck of the trip had been taken down while we were on our stalk. He was asked if we were going to get back after it, to which he replied, “I think Katie’s ready to, but this is one of those times she’s just going to have to settle with the fact that she married an old man. I’m beat!”

So back to camp we headed for lunch, a bit of rest for Brandon and to get a look at the buck…

[Still more to come]

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