I first met Travis Capelle at the Wisconsin Deer Classic and Hunting Show. His ranches comprise over 140,000 acres of leased private land that have been professionally outfitted on for only two years. His leases are in management units where you can now take two bucks, and his hunters have averaged 100 percent opportunity and 90 percent success on bucks. When Travis told me his bowhunters at Ranch Creek Outfitters were taking many bucks in the 72-inch class -- minimum for the Pope and Young record book is 67 inches -- I immediately booked a four-day hunt for Bowhunter Assistant Editor Brian Fortenbaugh and me for the second week of September.
Wyoming's antelope application deadline is March 15, but Travis told us not to worry because tags are always left over for a second drawing in early July. Still, Brian and I were nervous about getting tags and bought two each online prior to the first drawing.
Come September, Brian and I, along with cameramen Mike Malley and Robby Rohm, who would be recording the hunt for Bowhunter TV, flew into Denver and then drove three hours north to Douglas, Wyoming. On the way, the sky darkened, and rain poured down. This meant natural waterholes could be everywhere -- an antelope hunter's worst nightmare!
After meeting Travis at the Plains Motel, where we would be bunking, we went into the local hardware store and bought our mandatory Wyoming archery stamps and conservation tags. From there we drove to a nearby KOA campground, where Travis had two wall tents set up -- one the guides' sleep tent, the other the dining room -- and got acquainted with his guides before shooting our bows and eating a great home-cooked meal. By the time we hit the sack, the skies had cleared, leaving only a good night's sleep between us and what we hoped would be a productive first day of antelope hunting.
The next day, Travis took my cameraman, Mike Malley, and me to a waterhole on a high spot Travis called Hamburg Hill. The temperature was in the 50s and the wind was roaring at 35 mph, which made setting up our blind quite a challenge.
Even inside the blind, the chilly temperatures and strong winds soon had Mike and me reaching for second jackets, and as we were putting them on a buck slipped in from behind. Although he was a respectable buck, this was the first day, and I decided to pass.
Mike scolded me for passing up a golden opportunity at a P&Y-class buck, but Travis made it clear that bigger ones roamed the area. So, at the end of the day, neither Brian nor I had released an arrow. However, former Major League Baseball pitcher Mike Timlin had defied the strong winds to nail his first P&Y pronghorn.
The next day weather conditions were much better, but I had developed a migraine headache that forced me to sleep in. Finally, at 9 a.m. I made myself suck it up and return to the blind, and within 10 minutes a buck showed up. Deciding to take him, I slowly drew my bow and got the okay from Mike.
At the shot, I waited for the sound of impact between my broadhead and the pronghorn's chest, but I heard nothing as the departing buck's hooves tore up the ground, leaving a dust trail in the air. Then I saw the reason for my clean miss -- the lower limb of my bow had hit the leg of the chair I was sitting on. Call it a rookie mistake. My migraine suddenly got worse.
Again I tried to suck it up, but I simply had to return to camp for more headache medication. Back at camp, we learned that Brian and Robby had been watching an 80-plus-inch buck and his harem of does for more than five hours but had never got a shot.
As the sun set, Brian and Robby were still watching the same giant buck protecting his does from lesser bucks -- several hundred yards from their blind.
The next morning brought some welcome changes. First, my migraine was history.
Second, even as Mike and I settled into our blind, a buck showed up for a drink -- his last drink.
Then a problem developed -- Mike and I realized we had no cell service. With a buck on the ground and morning temperatures rising quickly, I needed a way to keep the carcass cool. So I submerged the buck in the water tank we were hunting. The cool water from down deep in the ground would keep the meat from spoiling. After humping it out to an area where we got cell reception, we made contact with Travis. He congratulated us on our success -- and informed us that Brian had missed a buck. However, the day ended on a happy note for Brian as he later shot and recovered a different buck.
On the last day of our hunt, Mike and I moved to a new spot, and within the first hour we watched six individual antelope come to a natural waterhole 75 yards from us. I might be dumb, but I'm not stupid, and after watching this activity, we hastily moved the blind and all our equipment to within 15 yards of the natural waterhole.
By now conditions were ideal for hunting antelope, meaning the temperature was soaring and Mike and I were sweltering inside our blind. One hour after we'd moved the blind, we saw two antelope chasing each other near the crest of a hill. We thought they were a buck chasing a doe, but we soon realized they were two bucks. As the larger buck chased the smaller out of our view, we assumed he must have some does over the hill.
Just then, the bigger buck came back into view. Glassing him at a distance of 150 yards, I could see his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. Without a doubt, he was coming in to drink. Things could not have been better -- I had no migraine, my chair was out of the way of my bow, and a thirsty, 70-plus-inch antelope was headed our way.
As the buck slowly walked to the waterhole, it was like watching a marathon runner gasping for water after crossing the finish line. Now well within bow range, the buck faced us head on, so I waited.
At 22 yards he turned broadside, and when I released the bowstring, I silently began counting the seconds. "One, two, three€¦" At that instant, the buck nose-dived and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
As Travis and I dropped my second buck off at the butcher shop, Brian called. Hunting on Hamburg Hill, he had just killed the buck I had passed up on the first day -- after he'd missed a different buck earlier in the day. Four bucks for two hunters is about as good as you can do.
Many outfitters can put you on antelope bucks, but how many can produce four for two in four days? And how many can offer you better-than-average chances at Pope and Young bucks? Frankly, I can't wait to return to Ranch Creek Outfitters to try to take an even bigger buck. If you get there before me, keep an eye out for Brian's errant arrows -- and mine!