There must be 45- to 50 antelope headed in my direction, running through the sage, just flashes of white and tan, in a cloud of dust. It has taken me 10 years to draw this Whitehorse Unit tag in Oregon, and I want one of these bucks.
Luck Of The Draw
It took me 23 years to draw my first antelope tag! During that time several of my friends drew two or three! Then the preference point system came in and I finally drew a tag.
Now, 10 years later, I have drawn again. This tag is special for a couple of reasons. I know in another 10 years I will not be physically able to do this again. I also have decided to use my son Gary’s rifle — he passed away unexpectedly a year ago. He had always wanted to hunt antelope, but was never able to draw a tag.
He was a good hunter and an excellent shot. He always went for a neck shot. I tried to counsel him that the rib cage is a much larger target, but he had confidence in his skill with the Remington 25.06. His grandfather had given him the rifle when he turned 12 years old, and no one else has ever hunted with his rifle.
After three days of hunting in temperatures higher than 104 degrees, the dust seemed to be at least an inch deep all over my body, inches deep on the truck, and I’m ready to put an end to this hunt.
Bud Sanders, my hunting buddy for 40 years, has driven from Joseph, Ore., to Jordan Valley to help me get a buck. He always gets more excited helping someone else fill their tag, than he does filling his own. He hunted deer in this area last fall.
"I have never seen such big herds of antelope in Oregon," he assured me.
Getting Close Enough
We found them all right, but they learned the safest place to be was on the mud flats of Antelope Reservoir — where else — and were always at least a quarter mile from any type of cover.
After hours of frustration — and failing to get within shooting range — we went back to camp. We spotted a herd of 45- to 50 feeding in an alfalfa field not far from town. We studied the herd and determined there were several "keeper" bucks.
It takes three stops for us to locate the rancher who owns the property. He is at the gas station in Jordan Valley. When I asked permission to hunt, he flashes a big grin and responds, "Just go shoot the @#$%^ out of ’em." By the time we get back to the alfalfa field the sun is sinking low in the sky. We are rapidly running out of time. Conditions are ideal for a stalk because the sun is to our backs and there is no wind.
The plan for the stalk is to drive to the edge of the field and slip down the dry irrigation canal that separates the field from miles of sagebrush.
We are well hidden in the canal. In fact, it is deep and wide enough to drive a full-size truck down! To our right lies miles of sagebrush while the alfalfa field is to our left. The canal is so deep we can’t just peek over it; we have to work at finding a place to climb up to look for the antelope. Due to the serpentine path of the canal, the distance is much greater than we had thought. We’re going as fast as I can travel — in the deep sand — and we’re soaking wet with sweat. Sanders has the strongest legs of any person I have ever hunted with. I have never been able to keep up with him. I always find myself gasping for air as he patiently waits for me. Even on this level surface of the canal bed, my pump is working overtime. I kept telling myself, "You will have to settle down before you can make a shot."
When we make it to where we figure the herd should be, we crawl out of the canal to discover they have fed another 200 yards away, across the field. Instead of the planned shot of 250 yards, it’s now well over 400!
Plan Number Two
Sanders is a former packer and big game guide. He has always had a feel for what animals will do in certain situations.
"Our best bet is for me to go back up the canal to the highway, come down the other side and push them toward you," he explained. "You get down to that patch of sagebrush below the canal. That will be the first cover they can head for."
About the time I reach the patch of sage, and Sanders is halfway to the highway, a pickup on the highway stops to take a look at the antelope. They then stampede toward Sanders. He jumps up and waves his arms and they do a fast 45-degree turn, and head my way in a cloud of dust!
In a matter of seconds they’re streaming past me in the sagebrush at about 40 mph. I have to stop them to get a shot. My varmint call is in the truck, so I yell, "Hey," at the top of my lungs. They throw on the brakes at about 125 yards and start milling around. I frantically try to pick out a buck. They start trotting off and will be over the hill in seconds. One buck and doe are walking, quartering away from me. I have to make a quick decision.
The Remington settles in and I find the buck in the scope. At the roar of the rifle, antelope explode in all directions. I see one buck turn and go downhill, but at top speed. I’m not sure if it’s a hit. I hurry into the sage, keeping a fix on where the buck was when I pulled the trigger. I spot something white. My heart’s pounding in my throat, just a clump of white desert flowers. I look up the dim trail and see legs. There he is! He had dropped like a rock.
The author with antelope horns and his son Gary’s Remington 25.06 rifle.
On closer inspection I discover that the Nosler bullet has broken the buck’s neck. My last antelope is not only alfalfa fattened, but also no meat has been damaged!
I pause to think about the significance of this hunt. I’m lucky to be out here with my best friend, and have the opportunity to tag this beautiful animal. My son Gary would have been proud!
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