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Author Topic: High Hopes for Big ‘Lopes - by Mickey E. Lotz  (Read 519 times)

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High Hopes for Big ‘Lopes - by Mickey E. Lotz
« on: June 18, 2003, 05:41:00 AM »
High Hopes for Big ‘Lopes

by Mickey E. Lotz


 

The sun rose slowly over the Wyoming prairie, illuminating in a brilliant splash of gold, the water hole that lay some 12 yards due south of the blind they called "Wind Break". Two hours and 40 minutes after I climbed into the blind in the pre dawn darkness I peered out of the shooting window to witness two nice antelope bucks coming in to drink some of that precious fluid upon which all life depends. The first of what I hoped would be an endless parade of trophy class pronghorns. It is because water is so rare on the prairie that antelope are forced to come to water holes to drink, thus allowing bowhunters the best opportunity to harvest one of the sharp eyed prairie speedsters.

At 8 yards I studied their horns through my Ranging 5 power binoculars making mental calculations according to the outfitters recommendations for recognizing a "good" buck. Horn width must be wider than their ears. Horn length at least twice as long as their ears and the horns should be “heavy”. Good prongs or cutters located above the tips of their ears, and good curl on top. In addition, if the tips had ivory showing they were definitely trophy class bucks. No doubt about it, both of these fellows were Pope & Young candidates, with one being slightly larger than the other. The bucks were standing side by side, a mere 24 feet away (easily within my range) and totally unaware of my presence. Decision time! Just then I heard a little voice inside my head. It was my good buddy Maggie's last words of stern advise before I left home, " NOW DON'T GO SHOOTIN’ THE FIRST BUCK YOU SEE ".  It's advice he’s given me before. Advise I usually ignore! This time however, I reached back and grabbed my 35 mm camera instead of my bow, and "shot" their picture. I was happy with the decision until they finished drinking, turned and walked away. Suddenly I desperately regretted the decision. As a consolation I still had over 4 1/2 days to hunt, and knowing the reputation that the ranch has, I was convinced additional opportunities would present themselves. Twenty minutes later 4 more bucks came to drink, but none the caliber of the first two. I let them walk as well. Wow, this was way better than I had ever imagined, as I had examined six antelope bucks within 15 yards in the first 3 hours of the hunt. Ten and a half hours later I was picked up without seeing another antelope, again making the decision to pass up the larger of the first two bucks that morning somewhat regrettable. So went the first day of a 5-day hunt at that famous antelope Mecca, the Spearhead Ranch, in Douglas, Wyoming.

This hunt was special to me for several reasons. My son Brian had turned 16 the previous January meaning this would be the first out of state hunt on which Brian would be able to share the driving chores, signifying his transition to manhood. In addition I'd be hunting again with my good friend Gary Wilford from Georgetown, Illinois, who I had spent 9 days caribou hunting with in Alaska a few years back. And, we had finally drawn some of those elusive antelope tags that Wyoming Fish & Game are so stingy with. Rounding out our party of 5 would be Jim Melton and Jack Stephenson also of Georgetown, Illinois. Together we would make the nearly 1500 mile trek to try and tag a trophy class antelope. Upon our arrival at the ranch we met the other hunters that would be sharing the ranch with us that week. It was a great group of friendly, enthusiastic bowhunters, which made the week a real pleasure. We all became fast friends and mutual supporters. All types of equipment shooters were there. Some shooting the latest high tech compounds and carbon arrows, while Gary shot a laminated recurve, Jim a Shawnee Traditions longbow, Jack a homemade Osage selfbow, and I was shooting my trusted Rocky Mt Recurve. No one ever uttered a word knocking another's equipment choice. Just the way it should be! Like I said, this group was a pleasure to hunt with. That evening over dinner we learned that no one had shot an antelope that first day. As a matter of fact Jim and I were the only ones to have antelope come in to drink. Frank explained that it had been an unusually wet year, and that they had reached their normal annual rainfall by mid June, so there were lots of little puddles around for the antelope to drink from so they were not coming to the water holes as usual. Still, with a little luck, we should all have a shot at one of the over 1,000 antelope that call the Spearhead home. To add to our anxiety, when we woke up at 4:30 the next morning, we discovered that it had rained all night. I went back to the "Wind Break" blind and spent the next 13 1/2 hours without a "lope" coming to water. All was not a total loss however as I had brought my new book "Longbow Country" by E. Donnall Thomas Jr. He is one of my favorite authors and his writing expresses a lot about the way I feel.  Reading his fine book was a pleasurable way to pass the time. I would read a chapter then get up and stretch while looking out the peepholes for ‘lopes, before sitting down and reading another chapter. Over dinner we found out that only one antelope buck was taken that day.

Day three, I hunted a blind called "M.R.'s Windmill" so named because M.R. James, a close friend and Editor of BOWHUNTER magazine spent 4 1/2 days in the blind before taking a Pope & Young Antelope. Although I saw lots of "prairie specks" as I began to call them (antelope to you can see in the distance up to several miles away, which appear to be tiny tan & white specks) no bucks came in to water during the 13 1/2 hours I sat there. That night I jokingly asked Frank if there was any water on the ranch that he wanted me to "guard" which seemed to prevent any antelope bucks from slipping in and drinking. Actually antelope activity picked up substantially on day three (just not at MY blind) and 5 bucks were taken, 3 of which exceeded the Pope & Young minimum score of 64" including one my buddy Gary shot which scored 65 7/8".

On the fourth day, I elected to hunt a blind called the "Gas Chamber" Actually it was an old underground fuel storage tank, cut in half and buried in the ground open end first. A door and a shooting window were cut in and well, instant blind! The previous evening around dinner I mentioned how hunting luck can change at any time, and that most contacts between bowhunter and prey usually last only 2 minutes at most. That's 120 seconds in which you spot an animal, it comes into range, presents you with a shot, and then disappears. You may wait hours, days, or weeks for those 2 minutes. That's why it's important to stay alert and to be prepared physically and mentally to capitalize on the situation. Those critical 120 seconds of my hunt would come at 9:50 A.M. this morning when I glanced out one of the side peepholes to see a lone buck headed my way. A quick glance through the binoculars confirmed he was a shooter (although at this point in the hunt I think any decent buck would have been a shooter). This time however, I reached down and picked up my recurve instead of the camera. The buck approached the water hole and stopped to scan the area for any hint of danger before committing himself to drinking. He was about 15 yards away standing broadside. I stared at a spot tight behind his shoulder where tan and white joined. Soon I felt that familiar tension as my middle finger reached the corner of my mouth. I let the string slip from my fingers, and just like that after 44 hours of sitting in various blinds my quest for an antelope buck was over. After a short dash I watched as the antelope buck went down. I put out the flag signaling that I needed help and within 10 minutes Frank showed up. We took a few "hero pictures", dressed and tagged the 'lope, and loaded the buck for the trip to the cooler. My buck turned out to be a whopper, scoring 70 2/8 P&Y points after deductions, a true trophy, although I never intend to enter him into any record book.  My son Brian? Well, he was still hunting. His 120 seconds came one night later, and with 15 minutes left of the five-day hunt Brian shot a fine antelope doe. He was happy and proud, and so was I.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolute beauty of the prairie. How the overpowering smell of sage assaults your nostrils as soon as you walk outside. How the lush prairie grasses flow in waves as the wind blows across the vast emptiness. How one can look for miles in any direction and not see a single tree making one wonder how in the world early settlers to this place built cabins or fires for that matter. Amazingly you can still see the Conestoga wagon tracks from some of those settlers who had passed through the area 100 years before. How in the heat of the day the heat waves make the horizon all wobbly looking. How critters of all manner from prairie dogs to coyote to antelope to mule deer just seem to show up, seemingly coming from nowhere seemingly headed nowhere. How the antelope seemed to enjoy running beside you as you drove down the ranch roads only to put on a burst of speed in order to pass and cross the road ahead of the vehicle. Even the fawn antelope seemed to enjoy this game. The prairie is an amazing place and I’m always thankful when I get to experience a bit of it.

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