Perched amid lava and sparse sage brush, the hunter waited as the crisp dawn air gave way to dry heat. Late in the morning, antelope finally milled about the outskirts of their shimmering water source. The herd-buck sought shelter in the rolling hills above.
Led by habitual instincts, the same buck antelope the hunter had seen 24 hours earlier waltzed up the trail. One shot anchored the 16 7/8" monster and my dad stood, pleased with his best ever antelope.
Fleet of foot and graced with some of the sharpest eyes in the outdoor world, antelope are a thrill to hunt. If you're a lucky tag holder contemplating how to approach your hunt this season, here are a few options to consider.
Hunt Travel Routes
Antelope need food and water. If you can locate a food source or water hole, you'll greatly increase your odds of success. It can be challenging closing the distance within so much open ground, but there's an effective alternative. Try hitting travel corridors used by antelope. This is precisely how my dad nailed his big buck.
Watch to see where antelope move when entering or leaving a water hole or feed lot. Search from a safe distance with a quality spotting scope. Mark the time, direction and precise location of antelope movement and setup near the trail the following day. Be it from a small blind or nestled into sage, you may be surprised at what trail hunting these plains dwellers brings.
With drought looming heavy in antelope country this year, animals will congregate at water holes. This means more antelope, which equates to more eyes. More game means an increase in the number of predators, drawn by the lure of an easy meal. As antelope nervously make their way to a water hole, they will be on constant alert for coyotes. Catching them on trails may be the way to go.
The Water Hole
If you're having trouble locating trails, sitting at a water hole is another option. Hunting water holes offers the highest rate of success among antelope hunters. Rules and regulations regarding hunting near water holes may vary from state to state, so check local game laws wherever you intend on hunting.
The most productive method of water hole hunting is from a blind; either a pit blind or low profile setup. If you can dig in the hard soil, pit blinds are preferred for they keep you below the desolate horizon line. Even half-dug pits are effective when covered with vegetation or plywood.
If using plywood or camo material, the addition of brush and dirt to break up the outline is a must. Position the blind so light will not penetrate the entrance, highlighting you or your gear. Make sure the wind is in your face and know your distances.
Before setting up, range surrounding landmarks to validate your comfort level with any shot that may present itself. If you're a stick and string shooter, ranging is critical. When a locale is established, settle in and be prepared to wait long hours. You're just about guaranteed of seeing all types of desert life, and if you're patient, that big buck you've always dreamed of may pay a visit.
Decoying Big Bucks
Antelope are curious animals and hunters can use this to their advantage. Decoys were once thought to be a fad, but as many archers have learned, these foam wonders can pull bucks into bow range.
Positioning the decoy is key. Find a good buck and observe in which direction he is moving. Try working ahead of the herd or coming in from the side. A natural entry into the herd's territory is crucial, for you are a buck looking to take ownership of the harem.
Feather Flex makes a versatile decoy that can be easily maneuvered into standing or laying position. Holding the decoy in one hand, bow or rifle in the other, you can move toward or wait for the herd. Some hunters don't like moving, opting to stick the decoy in one place, sit behind it, grunt and shake it a bit to demand attention. Hunters contemplating using decoys during rifle season should give serious consideration to the danger of concealing yourself behind a realistic decoy, especially on public land. It would be wise to limit the use of decoys during rifle season to private land, where you are confident that no other hunter will be attracted to your ruse.
Other hunters prefer walking with decoy in hand. By meandering toward the herd, often animals can be kept standing in wonderment of the approaching foam buck. Time of season and habitat may well determine your approach. Broken terrain allows for a closer, ambush-type attack while open country may find you positioning your decoy along a travel route, the night before the hunt.
The Ultimate Challenge
One of North America's most challenging hunts is going mono-a-mono with Mr. Speedgoat. Last season, good friend and fellow bowhunter, Cameron Hanes, spotted a nice Wyoming buck feeding along the base of a knoll. Using the broken terrain and sage brush to his advantage, he slipped to within bow range and with his PSE Mach 10, arrowed the 75 point P&Y buck. What's more, it was all caught on film.
Spotting and stalking antelope can be done. It's not easy, but that's what makes it so gratifying. Several stalks may be made in one day, and from each blown maneuver there is something to learn. Wind, terrain, noise and unfamiliar movement are key elements in a successful stalk. Then there is the shot.
Antelope are small animals, and seeing one in the open can make judging distance difficult. Bushnell's Yardage Pro 800 is the ideal rangefinder that can mean the difference between success and failure. Sitting on a trail, water hole or behind a decoy, it's easy to range surrounding marks and anticipate where the shot may come. Not always is this so with stalking antelope. Knowing your distance is critical.
With patience, stealth and a level head, creeping to within range of one of nature's most alert animals will become addicting.
Scouting Is Key
Last season a buddy drew an Oregon antelope tag. He was tied up, so I scouted for him. It was mid July, a month before his hunt, and not only did I find many good bucks, but many friendly farmers. They were stunned that I was putting in the time to scout; they were accustomed to eager hunters knocking on the door opening morning, requesting to hunt the bucks in their fields.
I learned that not one of these farmers granted permission to hunters who stopped by on a whim. I ended up staying the night with a few families, making new friends and securing hunting grounds for many years to come.
Come opening morning, my buddy sat in the trail I'd directed him to. As the antelope moved from an alfalfa field to bed, he nailed a nice buck. Had I not patterned their movement a month prior, I would have never believed these animals were going where they were. Scouting paid off.
No matter how you hunt antelope, you'll come away with fond memories and a newfound passion that will keep you wanting more. Get out there this season and have fun in your quest for one of our country's most exciting big game animals.
Click here to view our selection of big game decoys
Scott Haugen was born and raised in the outdoor world. Before he was old enough to walk he was carried into Oregon's blacktail woods on the shoulders of his father. At age four, he caught his first limit of steelhead. Haugen's journeys have taken him to Africa, Australia, New Zealand and throughout Asia. He's traveled to over 20 countries and has chased wild game throughout North America.