It didn’t begin well. Any hunter can empathize with our situation. Our luggage made the plane transfer during the hour and a half layover in Chicago but the rifle case did not. The airline agents in Rapid City located our rifle case in Chicago. It would not arrive at our location in Alzada, Montana until the second day of our hunt. No hunter likes to miss opening day of deer season.
Stanley and I would be hunting with long time friend Mike Watkins of Trophies Plus Outfitters. He guides in Montana and Wyoming for deer, antelope and turkey. Our tags were good for either mule deer or whitetails. Fortunately, our outfitter was gracious enough to let us borrow his personal guns. We went to the gun range upon arrival to spend time getting used to the borrowed rifles and sight them in to suit our needs.
Opening morning of Montana’s deer season was cold and windy. We glassed from the truck using spotting scopes and our Nikon binoculars. No shooter bucks could be found, which is not surprising since the rut had not yet started.
We returned to the lodge for lunch. The soon-to-be-released cookbook “From the Kitchen of Trophies Plus” will certainly be in my collection because Ester Watkins sure knows how to cook!
That afternoon we set up near a big old cottonwood tree to watch a cut hay field and nearby draws. Plenty of deer poured in to the field including a nice 4 by 4 at 500 yards. This buck emerged from open prairie. Whitetail and mule deer does mingled about in the field. When my field producer, Kenneth Chesson, finally told us we were out of camera light it was as if the bucks heard him. We watched a couple of nice bucks appear from the draw behind us but could do nothing about it. Even though we had legal shooting light left, the camera we were using to film the hunt for SHE’s Beyond the Lodge on OutdoorChannel, required more light than the final 15 or 20 minutes allowed.
My guide, Richard Watkins took us back to the same ranch on the morning of day two. We spotted a nice mule deer buck, but our stalk was fouled by some whitetail does that exploded from the creek bed to our left and took all the deer with them. I don’t think our buck had any idea why he was running, but all the other deer were doing it so he took off too.
We were glad to get the call that our rifle case had been found and was being delivered. We returned to the gun range to check our equipment and found everything in order.
That afternoon Richard set us up on the opposite side of the field we had watched the night before. Those big bucks bedding out on the prairie should pass by us on the way to the hay fields. Not long after we got settled, does emerged and filtered into the field. Turkeys and antelope soon followed. From the prairie side of the ranch a young buck walked into the field. Shortly afterward, Richard told me two more bucks had entered the field and one was a shooter 10 pointer.
He ranged him at 225 yards. The buck was feeding among the sage brush on some greenery and slowly turned broadside. A large sage brush covered the lower half of his body, but at 225 yards I needed to aim a couple inches high. When he stepped into an opening I squeezed the trigger. The buck kicked high and ran back toward the prairie. He went less than 100 yards and piled up.
The next morning I headed to Wyoming with a new guide, Ryan Phillips, for the second half of my Trophies Plus combo hunt. When he took us to a ranch near some Bentonite plants we passed a sign on the way in that read “Impassable When Wet.” We were not worried about the sign initially but soon it would be a different story. A big snowstorm was expected.
We saw plenty of antelope, but the first couple of herds were does and juvenile bucks. Then we spotted a herd with several bucks, two of which were dandies. Hence began what Ryan describes as his “sneak; peek; repeat; until desired affect is obtained” antelope hunting technique. We repeated the sequence often.
By late October the antelope rut is over and they have been hunted hard. The antelope did not get the knick name “speed goat” for no reason. They demonstrated this escape technique over and over as my frustration rose. We were hunting a particular herd that contained two very nice bucks. Every time I thought we were about to get within range for a shot, the entire herd took off at warp speed. They didn’t just run a few hundred yards, they seemed to run a mile or two.
After we busted the same herd for the third time my attitude was going south. As we walked back to the truck, Ryan spotted a lone buck about 700 yards away. He told me we could get close to this one. As we stood discussing the best way to hunt this antelope, the buck started walking in our direction. As he continued closing the distance between us we decided just to sit and wait to see what he would do.
By now the wind was pretty fierce. The predicted snowstorm was building momentum. I tried to hold the crosshairs steady on the buck, but was not having much luck. For nearly twenty minutes the buck slowly continued his approach. He would take a few steps, look around and then take a few more steps toward us. He stared at us several times as we froze, hoping the buck would not figure out what we were.
Ryan gave me rangefinder readings as the buck closed in from 300 yards to 250, 225, 200, 150. If I sat down to get a steady rest I could not see the buck over the grass and the rise in the terrain. But if I got up on my knees I could not hold the gun steady enough for an ethical shot even with the aid of the shooting sticks. Finally I decided to sit and wait and hope the buck would top the rise and I could see him from the sitting position. To steady things even more I asked Ryan to sit behind me and let me lean against him to get a good back rest and steady the cross hairs. This made a big difference and when he told me the buck was at 97 yards I could finally hold steady. Kenneth gave me the ok to shoot and I dropped the buck in his tracks.
Antelope are such uniquely beautiful animals with markings like no other. We admired the buck, took photos and then hurried to get out of the field. By now it was snowing horizontally and we could see the whiteout in the distance.
Stan and I both shot great whitetails and antelope on this trip. We were also lucky to get it done in only 3 days and just before a major snowstorm hit. We both highly recommend Trophies Plus Outfitters for whitetail, mule deer, antelope and turkey hunting.