By Aaron Carter, Managing Editor, AR
It was opening morning of antelope season, and you could feel the anticipation in the air throughout the diner where we, along with numerous local hunters, were eating breakfast.
After a quick breakfast, we headed just outside of town to our hunting grounds. Atypical of Wyoming weather, there was no wind...at least initially. Mentioning it seemed to cue its arrival. Certainly the wind speed and direction would need to be taken into account before a shot was taken.
Because of an extended stretch of drought and harsh spring storms, one of which the locals reported producing tennis ball-sized hail, we were forewarned as to the low population density. They were right. The first half hour was spent driving and glassing vast areas without spotting any “speed goats.” Finally, after covering miles of ground we spotted a trio, consisting of two does and a respectable buck. With Henderson having the first opportunity, and being limited to slug gun range, we were unable to get within range before the group fled the ranch for another property. Considering this was opening day of season, they were very skittish. As we were leaving this particular parcel we encountered a larger group, but they too were on the neighbor’s land.
After a short drive, and once back on the ranch property, we came across a group of antelope similar in size to the last. Obviously one doe was “hot,” as two bucks—a mature and an immature—continually chased it around the hillside. Unaware of our presence, it allowed me time to grab my handgun and prepare for a shot. The animal farthest to the left ranged 301 yards away—a long shot for a handgun—however, a sandbag provided a solid rest.
At the shot the doe stood motionless. Rethinking the “holdover,” I immediately determined that I had overshot the animal, so I put the crosshair two-thirds up the front shoulder and eased the trigger. Through the scope I could see the doe drop, with no discernible movement afterward. Upon inspection, the 100-gr. Nosler Ballistic Tip entered the doe’s right shoulder halfway up and exited out the top of the opposite shoulder. Perfect! Doe/fawn tag filled!
Although it took some time, Henderson indeed filled his buck tag with the Savage Model 220 20-ga. slug gun. After several failed stalks, we were working closer to a large group of bucks when one, obviously oblivious to our presence, split from the group and came in our direction. When it was approximately 30 yards away, Henderson took a quartering-toward shot, with the 260-gr. Remington AccuTip entering immediately behind the left front shoulder and exiting in front of the opposite hind quarter. The buck ran approximately 100 yards before succumbing.
After some lunch, with a buck tag in pocket, we began hunting in the same area where Henderson took his buck, hoping the group would still be nearby. Immediately we were greeted by two mature bucks aggressively pursuing a doe. Following close behind was an immature buck. Once the group crested hill several hundred yards from the vehicle, we disembarked and made our way toward the same hill.
Once we could see over the crest, we were rewarded with the sight of the group being only a few hundred yards away. As the dominant buck chased off its competitors, then actively pursued the doe, we first duck-walked forward, then crawled to the final distance before I deployed the bipod and got in the prone position. With Beckett calling out the buck’s whereabouts, I used the Eliminator to range the buck and prepared for a shot. However, before I could, the buck began chasing the doe, then bucks, again and again. Each time I would range it and a corresponding aiming point would light up, the buck would get much closer or further, requiring a subsequent ranging. Finally, after about 10 minutes the buck stood motionless and broadside. Using the provided aiming point, and with the wind at me and downrange constant, I eased the trigger. I was rewarded by a miss. Beckett called the shot high, but I recall the buck turning as the trigger broke; regardless, it was a miss—and fortunately a clean one.
The animals, in a rut-driven state, not to mention the gusting wind, paid no attention to the shot. The group continued running wildly in the bowl, but it was probably only another 10-minutes before they stopped again. I ranged the buck and it was now 426 yards; the wind was directly at me, both in my location and at the antelope, so no compensation was required. As the doe stood motionless a few yards forward of its position, I anticipated the buck to remain in-place temporarily. I was wrong...again. With the dot on the buck’s shoulder, I began applying pressure to the trigger, and as it broke, the buck whirled its head and neck to look back. Its shoulder was now blocked. Too late! The bullet impacted directly between the eyes, traversed a large segment of neck bone and stopped in the shoulder. The buck dropped instantly. Had the buck not moved, the shot would have been perfect...but it wasn’t. My only comfort was that it indeed died instantly.
This experience taught me several things. First, animal behavior, particularly during the breeding phase, is unpredictable at best, so try to account for this and pick your shots carefully. Secondly, if possible, cut the distance, as the bullet will be less affected by wind and will arrive on-target faster, with the latter possibly preventing the incident I encountered. Not to mention closer shots tend to be better shots. In our case, we simply couldn’t get closer because of the terrain, and accuracy at greater distances wasn’t a problem. Although a brain shot will prove lethal with nearly any projectile, few bullets—and especially non-premium versions—would provide the terminal performance I got with the Swift Scirocco II. Especially when things go awry, it’s well worth the expense to have premium performance built into your projectile.
After heading back to town for a few minutes, Beckett and I spent the evening trying to find him a mule deer buck. Unfortunately, we only found several does and a large group of antelope. Still, it was evident that the antelope population was down. But, in the waning hours of light, the landscape afforded many beautiful pictures.