The best gift of them all…

by Katie on September 21, 2011

Warning:  This is merely an introduction to a multi-part hunting tale.

Back in 2008, around the time we were getting prepared to spend the rest of our lives together, some good friends of Brandon’s offered us the wedding gift a hunting couple dreams of:  a New Mexico landowner antelope tag.

They have a ranch over in the “Land of Enchantment” (less than two hours from the Promised Land, aka the great state of Texas) and are issued several (very valuable) landowner tags each year. Two of their cousins, and our friends, were getting married within about six months of us, so they offered tags to those two couples as well.

That year, it only worked out for the guys to go and use their tags, so they did:

From 2008 NM Antelope Hunt

Finally, three years later, it was the ladies’ turn.

Yes, this is the hunt I’ve been shooting my bow once or twice daily and running all over Buckeye farm fields in preparation for the past month and a half. Well, all that anticipation and preparation finally came to fruition this week. We all loaded up and headed to New Mexico Saturday morning for a three-day antelope hunt.

It was supposed to be a rifle hunt, but I begged and pleaded asked Brandon almost two months ago if we could try to get one with my bow before we pulled out the “smoke pole” (terminology courtesy of Stoney Burk, my long-time-ago-babysitting-kid turned about-to-get-his-Aggie-ring-college-student).

Brandon finally reluctantly agreed, and I set out getting myself prepared, all the while, keeping an understanding that it was going to be HARD to get an archery antelope. Between the relatively flat New Mexico landscape and impeccable sight of antelope, getting within bow range (currently 40 yards for me) was going to be difficult. We were up for the challenge.

And a challenge it proved to be.

We arrived just in time Saturday afternoon to load up for a drive around a couple pastures to locate a few bucks and check out the rut activity. We found the rut was definitely gearing up, which was the only way we were going to have any chance of success with a bow, set a blind up on a water tank in case it came down to that, and put a game plan together for our first antelope spot-and-stalk in the morning.

Our main concern was staying out of any pastures the other two girls would be hunting in, to make sure we avoided any hunting safety accidents with our decoy and being right in the middle of the antelope. So we decided to set out first thing for a pasture that had two different rutting bucks, with a few does and a satellite buck each. We thought if we couldn’t lure the herd buck in with the decoy, we could try to get between him and the satellite buck and maybe get in shooting position that way.

It all sounded well and good in theory anyway.

The next morning, we all set out from camp in the dark, and Brandon and I hiked to a position near one of the goat herds we had seen the night before. Just as the sun began to clear the horizon, we caught our antelope moving over a slight ridge. Sure enough, our buck was already working his does, keeping them all gathered. We gained what little ground we could in the open, flat ground, already pinned by the does.

We started to work the decoy, and I was left behind a cholla cactus, just over a slight hill, to make a shot while Brandon dropped back 20 yards with the decoy, trying to lure the buck right into my range. At first, it worked. The buck saw our challenge decoy and began to steadily make his way over. I took cover and lost a visual, as I frantically ranged every cactus and bush in sight (which was few) to get an idea on which sight pin I would need to use at different distances.

This was really happening. In seconds, I was going to be slinging an arrow at an antelope buck. The jitters started as I knocked an arrow and waited for him to crest my hill into my line of sight.

And then we waited…and waited…and waited.

Until we saw our buck bolt out across the pasture at a real satellite buck moving in on his ladies.

After a bit of a cat-and-mouse chase between the buck and his does, the buck and his satellite, our decoy spooking them a bit and not really getting him to commit, and hiking/running a couple miles through the pasture, we realized we were done there. Game. Over. Not going to work.

So we set off to glass up the second herd from that pasture.

And we found them. On the other side of the fence. Enjoying the neighbor’s grass. No longer in our hunting zone.

Plan A had failed. As we headed out of the pasture, we saw one more buck we had called “the loner buck” the night before. He had since hooked up with one lady friend, but bolted as soon as we came upon them…clearly not committed enough to his doe for bow hunting.

On to Plan B it was…

[More to come]

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