My dreams of rifle hunting antelope in Idaho’s Owyhee Mountains were not to be this year. I drew a tag, but I’d mistakenly applied for archery, not the rifle tag, and I’d never shot a compound bow in my life.
Fortunately, Nick said he could help. Nick is the Sherlock Holmes of hunting. He knows everything. He’s like an almanac, so when he says to do something, I just do it and it’s made my first year as a hunter very successful.
Nick set me up with a bow at his archery store in Emmett, Idaho, and I practiced my brains out. I killed a doe mule deer with Nick a week before the pronghorn hunt and was feeling pretty good about my bow skills. This hubris would come back to bite me.
Of course, Sherlock knew a great place to hunt antelope. I’m not exaggerating when I say that everything happens exactly as Nick says it will. If he says an antelope will walk down this draw, it will. So, I scouted the area he suggested.
Five minutes after I left my vehicle there was a buck at 125 yards. It was a good looking buck, too. I made some pictures and noticed something that made him really attractive to me.
I was using a 100-400mm lens on my Lumix G9 camera, which is like a sixteen power scope, and noticed he was favoring his rear leg. It looked hurt, and I assumed he was wounded by a hunter in the season a week prior. It could have happened fighting with other bucks, but I liked the idea of killing this buck that another hunter had not recovered. I nicknamed him “Tripod” and marked him in my OnX app.
That was Friday, and my hunt opened on Monday. Nick and I started hunting at sunrise. We immediately spotted five bucks in a draw 600 yards away. They were walking away from us, though, and there was no way to make a play on them. We also saw two mule deer does grazing and a young buck. Game was everywhere.
As we headed for a ridge, the air exploded with coyotes howling. You can read that story here.
When we finished with the coyote it was eleven o’clock. We climbed a ridge to glass. I attached my camera to my Vanguard scope and although there was a lot of atmospheric shimmer, we could tell there was a decent buck out there with a harem, though too far away to pursue. And I was still hoping to find Tripod.
By 6:00, I was walking angrily along, second-guessing Nick and getting grumpier with every step. Don’t hunt hangry; it makes you sloppy. The truck was on the horizon but no pronghorns.
As we finished eating by the truck, Nick saw a buck stand up. I guess he’d been politely waiting for us to finish dinner. I hit the deck and crawled around the truck to get my bow while Nick made some pictures of him coming down the hill. Nick said it was a pretty good buck, but at the end of the day, any buck is good. Nick followed him, and I followed Nick.
He stopped right in the bottom of the draw and laid down. The wind was perfect, and luckily there was a large bush right between us. He had sat next to the only dead tree in the draw and the trunk blocked his view. Unfortunately, the only branch on the tree also blocked his vitals from an arrow.
Sherlock always says that when pronghorns bed down you have forty-five minutes to make a move. The buck sat down at 6:30. At 7:10, Nick suggested he could whistle and get him up, but I said, “No way! You’ve been saying forty-five minutes, and I’m going to wait the full forty-five minutes!”
At 7:16, that buck stood up. If I could bottle Nick’s hunting brain and sell it, I’d make a fortune.
This is where my mistakes began. I drew my bow for the long fifty-nine-yard shot, Nick whistled, and the buck stopped and looked at us.
I triggered the release and he started to move. The arrow hit him in the flank, but farther back than I’d aimed. He bucked and moved ten yards. I knocked another arrow, peeked over the bush and drew again. My arrow soared down the hill but fell under his belly. Startled, he ran across the draw.
From our video, I can see that I’m lucky to have hit him with my first arrow. First, I didn’t pay attention to leveling my bow. If your bow is tilted right, the arrow will hit low and to the right, and if it’s tilted left, it’ll hit low and to the left. I’m certain my bow was tilted right both times. He had jumped the string and advanced with my first shot, but the arrow wouldn’t have hit as far right if the bow had been level.
The second reason I’m lucky is that my sights were off. I checked them later and the fifty and sixty-yard pins were hitting five yards high. That’s why my tilted bow still hit him the first time—I was aiming farther away, which kept my arrow in the air long enough to hit instead of flying under his belly.
I swore I’d never make the next mistake: I pursued him too soon. But, after my first shot, I realized that this was Tripod. He was already wounded on that back leg and his spirits were low. I thought that I could end it quickly.
I snuck to eighty yards, and he walked a little farther up the hill. I got to eighty yards again, he emptied his bowels and walked away again. Finally, he walked up and over the top. I thought he was dropping pellets, but it turned out to be huge clots of blood; he wasn’t going to last much longer, and I should have just waited.
But I ran over the top, praying I could get one more shot and end his misery quickly. I found him on top and he was sitting behind a bush. I ranged the bush next to him and shot my last broadhead, and he ran off. He wasn’t sitting—he’d been standing, and he was five yards farther than I thought.
Why not make more mistakes? I ran after him with the sun setting in my eyes. The yellow bushes were backlit and wildfire haze made the sun burn red on the horizon. Tripod’s horns were silhouetted against the blazing sunset. It was gorgeous. I tried to run parallel to him and get ahead, but Tripod was staring straight at me again from 80 yards. A pronghorn buck staring straight at you is disconcerting: the black fur on his face melds perfectly with his horns and it gives him a powerful and menacing expression. He seemed to be saying, “Are you kidding me? Just leave me alone to die!”
The sun was gone and it was too dark to shoot. I went back and we decided to wait until morning. Nick said he’d probably bed down and die less than 200 yards up the draw. We discussed it and agreed that I should have left him alone to bleed out and die.
In the morning it was just as Nick predicted. Tripod was dead 75 yards from where we’d left him. I pulled him down to the bottom of the draw and got him cleaned out and cut up. His rear leg was green and he’d have been coyote meat soon. That whole rear ham was wasted, but everything else was salvageable. I’m grateful to have shot him. Antelope is the best meat I’ve ever had. It’s rich and tender, and my wife loves it.
Despite making mistakes sighting in my bow and pursuing Tripod too quickly after shooting him, I was blessed to end his misery and bring home a lot of delicious food. I took his head to Swanson Skullery (firstname.lastname@example.org) and they returned a beautiful European mount.
Each time I see it I’m reminded of what not to do on my next hunt.