Bittersweet Antelope success in Wyoming.
This hunt really started over a year ago. I was planning on hunting this unit last year as my 2nd choice when I drew my first choice out of nowhere! When I stopped at the Lander field office last year to buy my conservation stamp I made a last minute decision to buy a left over doe tag for this unit and do some scouting. After filling my 1st choice tag on a very nice buck I headed to this unit with my doe tag. The unit has a decent amount of BLM but it was a lot harder to figure out what was BLM then I expected and I was really kicking myself for not planning better but it turned out to be the best mistake I ever made. I pulled into a ranch to verify what was BLM and after talking for a while the owner offered to let me harvest a doe on his ranch! I got a doe in no time and by the time I was ready to leave I had been invited to come back and hunt next year!
I stopped by the ranch to visit in June when I was in the area. While I was there the owner Ken showed me his very impressive collection of old guns. That got me thinking I wanted to do something different on this hunt. I went through my safe and chose the oldest gun I own, a model 1894 Winchester 30-30 made in 1896. It has a 26'' octagon barrel and Marbles peep sights and is in very nice shape for its age. I had bought this gun the same day I got my orders to deploy to Iraq and hadn't shot it very much. I sighted it in at 150 yards with 170 grain Remington core-lokts. The old gun shot very nice groups and with a little practice I was confident to 200 yards and set that as my limit. I thought about taking my trusty .270 Win along too but when I left the only gun in my truck was my old lever action. I was going to do this with the old 30-30 or not at all!
The season opened 10/1 and I want to get there a couple days early to do some scouting but we had to finish planting winter wheat before I could leave and it would not stop raining so I didn't get to leave until the 5th. I got to the ranch early afternoon the next day and there is only 1 word to describe things, MUD. They had got snow a few days before and it had warmed up and was melting fast. My plan was to just do some glassing for the rest of the day and figure out where I wanted to be the next morning. I saw a bunch of antelope but nothing very big and none were in a place I could make a stalk close enough for the gun I was shooting. I knew I would have to be patient and wait for the right opportunity. I returned to a big draw I had briefly glassed earlier to do some more glassing and spotted a lone antelope bedded in the other end of it nearly a mile away. I put the spotting scope on him. He was a decent buck and he was in a good place to make a stalk! There was a big ditch going up toward him with a stock tank on the edge of it that I estimated would give me a 150 yard shot and the wind was in my face! I made good time up the ditch and when I thought I was getting close I crawled up the bank to look things over. I was close to the stock tank and the buck was still bedded. When I got behind the stock tank I chambered a round and set the hammer down to half cock. When I got part way up the bank I decided to back out and come up about 25 yards from the tank in a place that would give me a better place to shoot from and had some small sage brush for cover. I crawled up the bank in mud and melting snow. Right when I got to the spot I wanted to be I'm not sure if the buck spotted me or not but he knew something wasn't right and started to get nervous. I quickly ranged him at 155 yards and for lack of anything better I took my binoculars off and rested the gun on them. Right about this time he stood up. I pulled the hammer back, settled the bead behind his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The old Winchester fired and I herd the bullet hit! He took a few steps and stood there. I chambered another round and laid there with the bead on him just in case he tried to take off but pretty soon his legs started to buckle and he went down!! The pack out was pretty level except for 1 big muddy ditch I had to cross. I really didn't want to skin and quarter him in the mud so I ended up packing him out whole on my shoulders. When I was almost back to my truck I was met by a very nice game warden that helped me load him up and validated my tag.
When I got back to the ranch I pulled my gun out and asked the owner if he liked my antelope gun and told him how his gun collection had inspired me to hunt with it this year. He was very excited I had used it to kill an antelope on his ranch and commented several times how neat it was! After looking it all over he told me what a nice old gun it was which I took as quite a compliment considering all the guns he has that are much older then mine. Then Ken and his brother look at my antelope and told me it was the nicest antelope killed on the ranch recently.
The next morning I filled my doe tag and after she cooled out I packed both of them up and headed out. On the way out I stopped on the gravel road. I walked around behind my truck and when I looked down I had nearly stepped on a small rattle snake. Without even thinking about it I jumped up on my bumper, grabbed a shovel in back of my truck and killed it.
I felt a sense of accomplishment on this hunt I have never felt before. There is something about limiting yourself with the equipment you choose to use when you could use anything you wanted that makes success that much sweeter when it comes. I now understand why guys choose to use a bow or muzzle loader on an any weapon hunt. I never truly understood that before. I'm not saying I'm going to hunt exclusively with my 30-30 from now on but I sure wouldn't hesitate to take it on any hunt I went on.
Sadly the ranch owner is in very poor health and is expected to pass any day. When I was there in June he was having some problems. They have gotten much worse since and there is nothing the doctors can do. Ken was a sniper in the Korean war, a rancher and the nicest, kindest, most interesting person I have ever known. I did not know him for very long but I am truly grateful I got to meet him and for what time I did get to spend with him. It wasn't easy leaving his ranch knowing I will not see him again. I have decided to mount this antelope not because it is big but because of the ranch I got him on, the gun I used, and I would like to look at him in years to come and remember Ken and the great times I had at his ranch. Knowing all this I am even happier I chose to use my old Winchester on what I didn't know at the time would be my last hunt on his ranch. It was a great hunt I will never forget. This ones for you Ken!
I wish I had got better pics where I killed him but in my excitement to stalk him I forgot to take my camera.
I have to share this because I thought it was pretty funny. There were some guys hunting there that just could not believe that anyone would walk that far to get an antelope and pack it out. I got the feeling I was not very popular with some of them since they had all been there a few days with nothing to show for it and I had a nice antelope on the ground in a few hours. Its up to them if they don't want to walk but wasn't expecting them to hold it against me. 1 of them even went as far as mentioning this to the owners brother. I guess he didnt think much of that because later when myself and everyone else hunting was there he said "quite a few guys hunting here but only 1 spilled blood yet, the 1 that got out and walked".