Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Time Off

I've had the last couple days off to which I've taken full advantage of...I've been chasing speed goats and yes, I was successful but now I'm paying the price. One thing you have to know about antelope hunting is you don't chase them; you sneak up on them, which entails belly crawling and crab-walking and scooting your body through sage brush, rocks and prickly pear. Sounds like a blast, right? It was pretty fun but like I said, I'm sore as hell and I still have a prickly pear needle in my ass to show for it.

I drove down to Alder to Jill's dad's to hunt where I had been bow-hunting a few weeks ago. We saw a ton of antelope during the pre-rut and rut in the public lands adjacent to his property so I really thought it was going to be a chip shot. During the bow-season I had put the sneak on a good buck and got within 75 yards so this was going to be easy...When I got down there early Monday morning, there wasn't a single goat on public land. There were, however, a bunch of them grazing in the hay-fields and private lands next to the public land.

I gotta be honest; I drove around looking for the land-owners to ask for permission and I was pretty discouraged at first. I talked to one gentleman who knew one of the land-owners and basically said, "Good luck, they won't let you hunt 'em. You'd be better off shooting one and quickly dragging it back under the fence."

Obviously, I wouldn't do that so I kept driving around the perimeter of the public land looking for a sign. I ran into a group of about 30 goats inside a fence that I couldn't tell was public or private. On the map it looked public but since there were so many goats there, I was pretty sure it was private because they weren't being harassed. (It's definitely time to get a GPS with the land-owner software.)They were pretty close to Jill's dad's house so I figured I'd park at the driveway there and try to get a closer look.

The goats were all grazing near the bottom of a drainage coming out of the mountains behind the house. I could walk up one drainage and come down the other to investigate. At some point I must of spooked them because by the time I had made the mile and a half trek, they had moved all the way across the section they were in and were now about a mile from the drainage--still inside the fence. Shit!

I know it was early in the hunt but all the signs were pointing to a long couple of discouraging days. These animals ain't stupid and once the gun season opened up, they knew where they were safe. It only takes a couple shots and they figure it out.

Sitting there, glassing the antelope and trying to figure out my next move I noticed something a little peculiar about these guys. When they're spooked, they bunch up and take off running like a flock of sparrows. When one turns they all turn at lightening speed. It's kind of cool to watch. Something had just spooked them and they were now zig-zagging back across the flat section and eventually, they crossed the fence and stopped on the public land just down from the house.

I wondered what the hell spooked them so I glassed the prairie and down to the road and noticed a black dot moving quickly up the road. It was a dude jogging! He ran past the herd with black shorts and a black shirt and for all those goats knew, he was a wolf or something but they weren't sticking around to find out.

This was my chance as this guy going out for an afternoon jog, just pushed the goats into a spot that theoretically, I could get to. The problem is they were about a mile away out in the middle of an almost completely flat piece of land where the only cover was a few rocks and some sage brush that stands about knee high at best...oh, and a fence line but have you ever tried to hide behind a fence post?

The lay of the land does offer some protection as long as you can see the depressions and use them to to hide behind but once you come up over the top of one swell, you're completely exposed so getting low and belly crawling is your only option. I did that for about an hour and a half and in that time, the 30 or more antelope, (which also means 60 or more eyes,) bedded down--a plus on the home-team side.

It was slow-going for sure. I kept peeking up to range them but was still too far to get a reading, which meant they had to be over 500 yards. I kept scooting towards them and peeking up to range them and still came up blank. Frustration started to get the better of me and thoughts of just getting up and creeping on my feet towards them was becoming more and more prevalent. It was at those points that I would just lie down and chill out for a minute to collect my thoughts and then go back to the belly crawling, crab walking and ass scooting.

I forgot about the prickly pears for a little while too...I was reminded of them quickly.

Finally, I was able to range a swell in the terrain next to a couple of the goats. They were over 400 yards away. I kept crawling. Then they were 350, 330, and finally I ranged one at about 275. The buck I wanted was still 320.

"If I could just get to that rock," I thought, "I'd be within 300 yards and have a good rest..." I kept creeping through the sage and finally reached it.

I swung my body around to get into a sitting position. Most of the antelope were bedded down still with the exception of a couple does and one good buck. I was afraid to move too much while sitting up so I opted not to range them again. I worked at getting a comfortable rest and then waited for the buck to turn broad-side.

A couple of times I clicked off the safety on my new Ruger American .270 but I just couldn't get comfortable. I adjusted my legs putting them underneath me while leaning into the rock. I even spun around again and tried prone-style but still couldn't get a good feel. I took my waste pack off and set it on the rock to help and put the cross-hairs on the buck. It was as good as it was going to get and I squeezed.

Nothing. The gun mis-fired, which was my fault I think because I'm pretty sure the bolt wasn't completely closed. I waited a few seconds and then ejected the shell and chambered another. I found the buck in the scope again and placed the cross-hairs on the top of his back since he was out there a long ways and I squeezed.

The gun went off, which set off the next 30 seconds or so of craziness. Every antelope jumped up and flocked together and within what seemed like a fraction of a second, they covered a good 2 or 300 yards. I scoped them waiting for one to drop off and fall but he didn't. I missed.

The goats made a quick turn however, and ran back towards the spot where I shot at them and within a couple more seconds, they stopped right where they started.

"Holy shit," I thought. "I'm going to get another chance."

I picked out the same buck and again shot high and again, they took off in concert, covering a few hundred yards and then making another big turn but this time, stopped much further out...much further.

I thought about the ethics of taking a shot that far. I thought about the reality that I wouldn't hit anything at that distance. I thought about the last hour and a half of scraping up my knees and elbows and getting stuck in the ass with prickly pears and also thought about the likelihood of getting another shot. I settled in against the rock and now at that distance with that angle, I actually felt comfortable. I put the third reticle down on my cross-hairs right behind the same buck's shoulder and squeezed.

The gun went off with the familiar crack/boom of the .270 caliber but with a second softer "thwack" reporting back and with that the antelope scattered and then flocked up again to flee across the prairie. This time however, the buck stopped about 50 yards into it. The rest of the goats took a turn and stopped to look back at him. He shook his head a couple times, took a step backwards and tipped over. The rest of them took off for good this time and disappeared into the adjacent property.

"Holy fuck!" I said out loud. I walked the 500 plus yards to the dead antelope and bent down to inspect the shot--right through both lungs. I couldn't believe it.

Now, I realize there will be a couple reactions to this especially since I ranged the spot I was sitting at and it turns out I was right around 550 yards out. Jill's dad was impressed with a shot at that distance and I was pretty proud of it too but also realize I wouldn't have had to have taken the shot if I had just made the first one count. Those of you that have hunted antelope a lot have probably taken that shot yourself and might not think that much about it regardless of whether or not you hit the target. However, there are also a lot of people that probably think a shot of that distance is irresponsible to which I'd say you have every right to your opinion and I think it's fair.

I will say this though; the .270 Ruger is incredibly accurate and at that distance carries plenty of punch to get the job done. With a good rest and the right conditions, (meaning little or no wind,) and a good scope with multiple reticles, that shot is definitely doable. I'm pretty sure I shot high the first couple shots because I wasn't as familiar with how that gun would shoot and I thought there would be much more drop-off than there was and that's on me. I'll know better the next time and I'll certainly do my part to ensure another quick and humane kill.

On a side-note but related topic, I've watched TV shows where people are shooting 1,000-plus yards at animals and I don't support that for myself or would teach that to anyone. I know these people have crazy-good optics and the knowledge to take into consideration variables such as wind and altitude, etc. but I do think it promotes a certain MO to hunting I'm not comfortable with. Most of us don't possess the skills or have the gear to shoot that distance but see it on TV and the thought of taking shots longer than we should definitely creeps in. I guess what I'm saying is we all have our limits and we need to not only recognize them for ourselves but hunt within those limits to ensure we don't have wounded and suffering animals that can't be retrieved. That's one thing we can all do to preserve the resources and our opportunities for participating in the taking of those resources.

Keep 'em where they live...

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