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by a.k.a. Joseph Richter Last updated: 2016-10-11 20:34:02
A busy year for the Richters it has been. This journey started in January 2014. I was on the phone with my father and he was apologizing for forgetting my birthday *(he was having other personal things preoccupying him). I was quick to understand knowing the backstory… Just then he gifted me a spot on his upcoming Little Gun Invitational Antelope Hunt. And although I had gone the prior year, it is always a blast spending quality time with my father in pursuit of antelope. Last year’s trip occurred because he had a last minute cancellation and a spot opened up, see here for that story(link to Little Gun Invitational Part 2). Needless to say I'd go every year if given the opportunity, and have gone about dozen or so times before.
For those of you familiar with the history of the Handgun Hunters International Antelope Hunt, you know that Gregg Richter hosted roughly 16 hunters a year for 24 years in a row. It was one of the most successful handgun hunts ever for HHI, and the archives of the SIXGUNNER paper are packed with the stories in testimony to that. However, in the past several years, due to the antelope herd numbers dwindling, his allotment of hunting slots was reduced to only 3 or 4 a year. Thus he renamed this smaller version of his hunt the ‘Little Gun Invitational.’ And as such, the few high demand spots fill up quickly. So naturally I jumped on the opportunity and made plans to once again chase the speedgoat across the plains.
However as I mentioned before, it was a busy year for this family… As the hunt got closer my father ended up with some health issues. One resulting in the removal of his titanium knee, in favor of a ceramic ‘antibiotic’ spacer *(ouch). And while I was communicating with him during his recovery, he was telling me about his doctor reading him the riot act for walking on it.
So, mental note, during the hunt he will not be very mobile… Or more appropriately he should NOT be allowed to be mobile. HA! Tell that to my Father. This recovery represented the 2nd major surgery on his right knee since May of the same year(within 6 months), and his doctors had about given up trying to control his recovery once he got out of the hospital. His attitude was: “It’s gotta be replaced again with titanium in a few months anyway, so what?...”
So what this meant is that I needed to be prepared to step in and guide his hunters. Looking back at all my years of experience hunting with him and assisting wherever needed, I knew I was ready. And my Father had complete confidence in me. But nevertheless, I was still nervous, as it would obviously not be the same.
The hunt time and day arrived quickly. I left work to catch my early evening plane flight. After getting into Denver, I met up my Dad and jumped into his Suburban which he had outfitted for guiding. I looked over at his right knee. In shock I asked if he was wearing some foam padding or something else on it. ‘Nope, that’s just me’ he grimaced and shrugged his shoulders. And for those of you who know him, Gregg is the living embodiment of the expression a ‘Bull in a China Shop.’ The trauma evident to his knee reminded me that I would need to keep this ‘Bull’ tied up in ‘Bubble Wrap’ if I can.
After a brief night stay at a hotel and long drive, we arrived in Wright, Wyoming. We met up with our hunters for lunch at the local Subway. The father son team of Duke and Michael, fine gentlemen from New York. Now, I want to tell you that these guys were the best hunting fellows to be with. Polite, laid back, and genuine. You could have sworn they lived in the country, as Duke reminds me that they live outside the city towards the farm land. Emphasis noted!
We got them signed in at the ranch office and asked if they wanted the standard Ranch tour; perhaps head over to the shooting range; or to go out hunting. Before I was finished with their options, they were verbally anxious to go out and start hunting. So we piled into the Suburban, and my father asked me, ‘where do you want to start?’
I suggested that we head out to an area on the Durham Ranch (same ranch since 1987, approx. 55,000 acres, where my father’s handgun hunters have taken over 600 antelope) called the ‘Goodman Flats’. At first as we drove along, there was not much to see. As it was a lazy afternoon, we figured the ‘Lopes were bedded down enjoying the PERFECT weather. But not 15 minutes into the trek we spotted the first group of Antelope. Michael was getting excited as this was his first Big Game Hunt!
We reviewed the situation and made a plan for a simple stalk that might get Michael in range, so that he could look them over and take a shot if he wanted. Having been on numerous hunts, I knew that there's never any guarantee of a perfect stalk, or of perfect shooting conditions. So Duke and Michael jumped out of the vehicle and began the stalk. As they made their way closer to the herd, the antelope cooperated. They stayed put as Michael got within range and set up prone behind his gun. Gregg and I just watched through binoculars as Duke calmly instructed his son. It did not take long before a loud ‘CRACK’ echoed across the plain back at us. We continued to look on as most of the herd ran away in panic. Yes, most of the herd, that is minus one Buck.
Michael was grinning from ear to ear! Now this is the best way to break in the next generation of hunters! He had made a fine stalk, a fine shot, on a fine animal. That’s when the chores began, lots of pictures and preparation of the animal for transport to the skinning shed.
After the skinning was complete, my father broke out his golf ball launcher. And before you picture my Dad in plaid pants, think again. HIS version of golf involves his AR-15 and ‘literally’ a golf ball launcher attachment that screws onto the barrel. Yes, using ammo blanks as propellant, this enlarged tube holds a golf ball and makes for a hilarious good time. That thing launches a golf ball out of sight! We all had a blast shooting it.
After getting that out of our system, there was still about an hour or so of good shooting light left. I asked Duke what he wanted to do next. The proud papa said ‘My turn, let’s go hunting’. So I suggested we resume our previous course to the ‘Goodman Flats’ as we had not gotten there yet.
On our way moving down the road to my suggested destination, yet only 15 minutes of travel was required to produce yet another herd of Antelope. Duke was ready and raring to get after them. So chomping at the bit, he jumped out and went stalking after them. The three of us watched and waited. Waited, sure, if you can call it that. Within just a few minutes, Duke had gotten himself into position at close range. And within that same timeframe he had given the rest of the herd a booming reason to split... Well, all but one of the bucks which was given a breathtaking reason to stay put, that is…
More work ensued to photograph, field dress, and transport. Wow, what a great team, what a great day. This was definitely a new record in my books, two trophy animals in one quick afternoon. Duke and Michael sure made one heck of a great hunt, short but sweet! We all enjoyed a nice dinner together. Let me be clear, hunting is not usually this perfect. It is called hunting for a reason and this was an exceptional day as the Lord had provided a bountiful harvest for us.
Now the focus shifted to me. It was my turn and I had three full days left. The next morning Sunday*(ironically not much sun) produced a lot of rain and wind. While the rain was a downpour, it was not likely to stick around all day, but the effect of the rain would. Sticky mud everywhere, meaning complications if we attempted to do any stalking, not to mention getting stuck on the wet ranch roads. Again, I did not want my father to be moving much in the field, let alone in the mud that would further complicate things.
At this point we decided to take Pastor Ernie Bishop up on an open invitation to attend service at his church. Ernie is as passionate a preacher as you will find with great communication and presentation skills. Yes, the Good Lord has a great man bringing His word to Gillette, Wyoming. After a beautiful church service, read heartfelt tears, there was a potluck lunch offered to the four of us. Even though we did not have any dish to contribute, they fed us Hunters anyway, and we had a good time.
As the weather was still dour, we made our way over to the local Gun Store to do some window shopping. Yes the hunter’s candy store. While we were milling around Duke was talking a lot about the New York gun restrictions, and the cool things he could not purchase and take home, despite them hanging on the wall in front of us. Man am I glad I live out west in Arizona *(but not too far west, ala California).
After we were done browsing my father and I returned back to the ranch to do some hunting. It was still a bit wet out and the hour was getting late, however we did spot a decent buck. Admiring him in the binoculars, I followed his curvy horns, while not the biggest buck I had seen this trip, he was very neat looking. I decided that if he gave me a chance, I’d not hesitate to punch his light out. We figured out the logistics of getting over to the area to make a stalk on him. A great plan but the ranch roads were so muddy that we started sliding all over the place. Just short of getting stuck combined with the dwindling clock, we decided to exit stage left. Effectively we disappeared from the area without disturbing the buck, effectively bedding him down for the evening.
So the generic plan now was to catch up with that Buck the very next morning. We ended up getting up and out of our room the next day around 10~ish. The continental breakfast area for the hotel was closing up for the morning. There was a nice maid clearing out and cleaning up the food. I knowingly inquired about the time, and the chance to score some breakfast. To my surprise she smiled softly, and asked what she could heat up for me. I then informed her that my father would be coming down as well. She simply nodded and inquired to know what he would like as well. Culture shock, here I was clearly late, clearly wrong as breakfast closed at 10 and here it was 10:17! The nice madam fixed us up with some decent breakfast despite the fact that we were getting a very late start. As we left the hotel, Duke called me on my cell phone and reported that he had seen a decent buck *(Duke was preparing his carcass for the butcher). I interrogated him about the area he had seen the antelope and determined that it might possibly the same buck I had been ogling the night before.
As the roads had dried up somewhat, we proceeded to the general area we had been the night before. Glassing the prairie we found what I believe to be the same herd, with the same buck right where we had left them. Safely out of sight, Gregg and I made another plan and grabbed our gear to put it into action. With great confidence and anticipation we hiked in the direction of the buck that I couldn't wait to meet up with. My father was stoically trudging up the first hill on one crutch, with the video camera in his other hand. My imagination drifted to that of an angry Doctor scolding Gregg on the proper use of crutches and his orders that were cast aside for the sake of the hunt. I then closed my eyes briefly and said a prayer for my Dad.
After we stalked to the top of the hill, we did not find what we were expecting. The herd was gone, or at least they were not simply waiting around for our scheduled meeting appointment. I paused and thought about it for a moment, as they had to be unaware of us. We had been down wind and out of sight. Either they simply continued to graze in a different direction, or I miscalculated the location. Darn all this prairie land, it looks so similar. Seeing the next rise, far ahead, I sent my Dad back to the truck and proceeded to scout it out. Thankfully he didn't argue with me, perhaps because it really was quite a long ways to the next rise.
While walking I stumbled across a two track road in the middle of this pasture. And it was leading towards the same rise I suspected I'd catch up with my buck. Good sign I thought, it will help to retrieve the buck if I get a shot. After about a half mile I finally reached the rise. As I approached the top of it, I saw the herd. I came back down off the ridge with renewed excitement. I had found the herd, I sure wish my father could see this. Half praying and half wishing my eyes followed the two track road back to where I had started this hike. And to my surprise I saw my Dad driving his Suburban following that two track road that I had found. I guess he was not about to miss out on the hunt, good timing I thought with a grin. I then remembered exactly why I had imagined the angry Doctor and smiled to myself. So I flagged my father down, had him cut the motor, and let him know where I suspected the buck was.
Grabbing his video camera once again, he followed me closer to the herd. Just out of sight of the antelope, I started my stalk. Gregg set up his camera, and observed as I made my way to the top of the ridge toward the buck. As it goes to keep out of sight, first the crouch and walk, second the awkward and painful knee shuffle, third the down on all fours scramble, and finally the dreaded belly crawl. All while keeping a sharp eye out for the cactus *(pun intended!). As I went, to make sure I kept bringing my head up to locate the buck as I closed the gap. And with every visual check came validation, yep he's still there, along with a rush of adrenaline. Closing in on my intended shooting position with tunnel vision and a singular focus, something threatens to break my concentration. I think I hear my father in a strange half shout/half whispered voice warning me ‘To your right!’. It worked, so I glanced back to his voice in total disbelief, and gestured that the buck was down the other side of this ridge directly in front of me. He repeated ‘To your right!’. Totally sure of myself, I poked my head up to locate the buck that I ‘knew’ was there. He was not!!! At least not anymore… So I sat up turning to my right, and sure enough, there was the buck staring straight at me. Oops, busted!!
The fact that I had the buck’s full attention meant that he was not going to allow me the time/motion to calmly lay down prone and bring my backpack ahead of me and steady my hand cannon for a shot. Therefore I simply pivoted on my butt, squaring myself to the buck. With the backpack between my legs, I rested the .308 Encore on my knees, and leaned back a bit to find the picture scope and line up. Settling the cross hairs on the bucks vitals, I watched the herd moving around him in the scope. The buck was not moving, as he was curious about me, however the doe’s were still milling around him. I waited for a clear opening to take a safe shot. After what seemed like an eternity *(all of about 15 seconds) I got my chance. I pulled back the hammer and my trigger finger sent the 165 grain Hornady Superformance SST on it’s mission.
The buck stops here, literally… The 65 yards away where he was watching me from, is the same 65 yards where he remained till I came up to him to celebrate and do the chores. Walking up on him I grinned, he was cool looking! I nicknamed him 'Captain Hook', and said another silent prayer of thanks and gratitude as everyone was safe and sound.
That evening the hunting group met up in Gillette with Ernie and his wife at a local favorite restaurant, The Prime Rib. And they serve the best... Well you can take a wild guess.... You're following pretty good at this guessing game so I don't think I need to tell you what I ordered. And it was absolutely phenomenal, a meal that I look forward to every time I go to Wyoming to hunt with my father.
During dinner Ernie invited us to go shooting the following day. As all the hunting was completed, there was nothing that a group of 'Good Old Boy's' would rather be doing! That was perfect! The deal included helping Ernie reload some ammo. Ernie has quite an amazing set up, between the auto powder measure and precision primer tool. You see he regularly shoots handguns accurately at yardages that make rifleman hesitate and shake their head.
These specialty pistols are truly amazing technology. We were going to have the opportunity to shoot them at 500+ yards. It sounded surreal, but on the Wyoming prairie that is easy to see *(well out past 500 yards, that is). In fact distances were deceiving in the wide openness of these outdoors.
The next day we grabbed some lunch and went to the range. The first to shoot was Duke and Ernie was instructing him and dialing in the scope to account for wind, drop, and the other factors that can affect the trajectory of a bullet. As Duke lined up, he squeezed the trigger *(not that squeezing was required, a simple breath reaching the super tuned trigger would suffice ;-), he struck the target cleanly at 600 yards.
As Duke's confidence increased, so did the ranges he shot at. Then came my turn. After seeing Duke shooting so well, I was nervous. While I believe I'm a better shot than your average Joe, I had never seriously considered reaching targets out past 300 yards. As a matter of course, I prefer to hunt with my trusty Thompson Center Encore handgun chambered in .308 with my game under 200 yards, the closer the better. I mean it doesn't always happen that way, as sometimes hunting circumstances line up just right such that a golden opportunity that can not be passed up and would be lost otherwise *(read as above, distances out here on the prairie, vision of the game as well.) So just as he had done for Duke, Ernie taught me about his precision weapon. He dialed in the scope and told me where to hold. I took a deep breath and let half of it out, and barely caressed the trigger. I heard the gun report: shot fired. And simply nothing, no return tell tale sound confirming a hit on the steel target. Horrified that I had missed, yet justifying it rationally in my head, I just have to have another shot to prove that I can do this! Just then, PLINK... Ohhh, right, the target out at 600 yards at the speed of sound would take longer to announce success then what I'd been used too. You can always tell when you hit your game with the telltale THWACK, and at under 200 yards it occurs very quickly after launch.
Before long Ernie had me dialed up and shooting at ranges from around 600 and 800 yards and even a little further. It is not important that you believe me, as I find myself thinking it was all a dream. Nevertheless it happened, with superior equipment and an expert guide.
After we were done shooting, Mac *(Rangemaster, whose property we were shooting on) invited us to check out his gunsmithing shop. This was of particular interest to me, as in my profession I teach Engineering and Design to Engineers, Designers, and Machinists. So I relish seeing and learning whenever I can as well sharing my knowledge on the subject. He had a high precision CNC milling machine along with a Solidworks workstation. I felt right at home. He showed us some projects that he was working on. Additionally he was having a few technical issues that I assisted him with as we called it a day.
To see more handgun hunting adventures follow Gregg and I in the very fist handgun hunting video of North American Big Game available, you can check it out at http://www.hunterseyevideo.com/. Of If you would like to join Gregg on an adventure of your own, contact Gregg Richter here on the forum.
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