Antelope Dreamin': A Father-Daughter Double
For many bowhunters, making an out-of-state hunt is a dream come true. But deciding on what species to hunt, let alone what outfitter to use, can be difficult at best. Years ago, caribou, black bear, or pronghorn antelope hunts offered your highest success rates. Nowadays, some things have changed in that lineup. But many would still argue that hunting antelope from a ground blind presents you with the best chance to score on something besides a whitetail.
With this is mind, I started to look for qualified guides in Wyoming. Why Wyoming? Because this state has the unique distinction of having more pronghorns than people. But, it wasn't always that way. In fact, the entire population of antelope in the 1920s only totaled 20,000 animals. Today, because of wildlife management and conservation efforts promoted by hunters, we now have over one million pronghorn antelope.
Pronghorns are not related to any other animal in the world, and they're unique to North America. Unlike other horned animals that never shed their horns, antelope shed their horns annually. Their horns (present in both sexes) consist of two parts — a bony core and a black sheath. Antelope shed the sheath part of the horn in late fall/early winter and it regrows the following spring. This shedding of horns is what makes them truly unique.
It's believed their keen eyesight is equivalent to looking through 8X binoculars. Their speed can be traced back to when they'd outrun the extinct American cheetah. It can be argued that the pronghorn is the fastest animal on earth. This is because a cheetah can only maintain their 60 miles per hour top speed for short sprints up to 300 yards, whereas pronghorns can run up to 60 mph and maintain that speed for miles.
This antelope hunt would be very special, because I'd be joined by my oldest daughter, Hailee. Ever since she was young, her shooting form has been perfect, and it still is. Evidently, she had a good teacher! But while she'd been successful hunting other critters with her bow, the question remained whether she'd be able to hold it together when a majestic antelope buck presented itself at the waterhole.
After numerous calls to various outfitters, we decided on Real Western Hunting, owned by Dale Critchfield. It didn't take long to realize that Dale really knows his stuff. What impressed me the most with Dale is he understands the biology and management of antelope, and he knows what your odds are in obtaining some of the more coveted Wyoming pronghorn tags.
But when Hailee and I arrived in Wyoming and first met Dale at camp, he informed us of some bad news. According to the weather forecast, the high desert near Lusk would be receiving a half-inch of rain by morning. This meant there would be hundreds of natural waterholes to contend with. You just never know what Mother Nature will throw at you, but unlike many outfitters, this is the reason why Dale conducts five-day antelope hunts.
Hailee's first day in the blind started out wet, but within an hour after sunrise the sun was starting to show. With Hailee settled into her ground blind for an all-day hunt, antelope started to appear. The problem was they were all miles away. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a buck appeared in front of her blind. At first the buck looked like he'd bypass Hailee's blind, but then he turned toward her and eventually stood broadside at 30 yards.
Although Hailee was getting big-time nervous, she drew on those thousands of practice shots and came to full draw, anchored solidly, and then slowly squeezed her release. The end result was a perfect shot. Her first ever P&Y-class buck made it just 50 yards before tipping over.
Upon reviewing her shot in slow motion, it appears her shot actually was a bit low. But, because the buck lowered itself to sprint away, he actually dropped into perfect alignment with Hailee's arrow. Although she'll never admit it, the video seems to show her shot wasn't as good as the result. As they say, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good! And to think this all happened on the first day of the hunt (before lunch) is testament to Dale's knowledge of available waterholes in the area.
With Hailee's tag already punched, it was my turn. Although I had a buck within 20 yards on the first day, I let him go in hopes of taking a larger one. For the next three days, I was questioning my decision to let this first-day buck walk away. Although I was seeing bucks on every sit, nothing of any size was coming into my waterhole.
Yes, all-day sits in a ground blind can be mentally and physically challenging. With only one more day left in our hunt, and with temperatures in the blind hovering around 90 degrees, my luck finally changed. Although the buck was over 300 yards away when I first saw him, he had one thing on his mind — water! Patiently I waited as he made his way to the berm of my waterhole.
At only 20 yards, I was determined not to eat tag soup. Going on auto-pilot, I drew, focused on the spot, and released, watching as the buck sprinted away in a death run. The arrow had been dead-on. Soon a sense of relief and jubilation took over as I realized my buck was down and he looked to be the same class as Hailee's, maybe even bigger! (Hey, nothing wrong with dad being a little competitive with his daughter, right?) But, it really didn't matter, we'd both taken great bucks and had the opportunity to enjoy hunting pronghorn together at Dale Critchfield's Real Western Hunting. Those days will forever put a smile on my face!
Hunting notes: Both Hailee and I shot a Mathews No Cam bow and Easton Full Metal Jacket arrows built with Bohning Blazer Vanes, Lumenoks, and 100-grain 2-blade Rage broadheads. We also used Spot-Hogg sights, QAD Ultrarests, Fuse quivers, T.R.U. MaxPro 4 thumb releases, and clothing from Cabela's. For information on antelope hunting, contact Dale Critchfield at Real Western Hunting, (307) 221-7434, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.realwesternhunting.com.