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by GREGG RICHTER a.k.a. Gregg Richter Last updated: 2017-11-20 09:34:25
My 2017 Little Gun Invitational Antelope Hunt, now in it’s seventh year, had gone very well. It takes place on the Durham Buffalo Ranch near Wright, Wyoming; this year I had six hunters and they all took home very respectable bucks. One particularly heavy-horned buck even scored 77 and change, which is an excellent buck for this area.
I had been told by Shark, the manager of the hunting at the Durham Ranch, that he had put his binoculars on a very special horned antelope doe. Now let me try to put this into perspective.
Most doe antelope are “bald headed;” that is they do not have horns. The Colorado Big Game Hunting Brochure used to show a picture of a doe with horns, terming it an “Uncommon Doe.” If you GOOGLE “uncommon,” the Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists synonyms for uncommon as “scarce, rare, or infrequent.”
In my antelope hunting experience of over 30 years, I can certainly agree with the “rare” term. In a herd of let’s say 10 or a dozen antelope, chances are there will be NO horned does. On the other hand, in some herds of several dozen or even fifty or more antelope that I have glassed over the years, I have seen anywhere from one to maybe 2 in the bigger herds. I believe that it has something to do with genetics, but I don’t know if the game biologists have really nailed it down.
Because my hunting duties were over with for this antelope hunt, and I had a day or two before I needed to head for home, I went ahead and bought a left-over doe antelope license for the area we were hunting. The next day, after working on my Suburban truck (one of the heater core fittings broke and I lost all of the anti-freeze) I had about a half day left to go look for that special horned doe Shark described. He told me that she had medium mass horns about 4 to 6 inches long and on one side there was a little prong. Over the years I had intentionally hunted and killed a couple other does with little horns using handguns, including one with my FA .500 Wyoming Express revolver, but had never even SEEN one that had a prong! I felt that she would be a real trophy to add to my collection.
After getting my Suburban into running condition again, albeit without a heater, I spent about a half day looking over several antelope herds in the part of the ranch Shark had spotted that special doe.
It is a real challenge to look for horns on a doe antelope, even in a small group. But the weather had gotten extremely windy the past couple days, and that seems to cause the antelope herds to group together more than usual; maybe for protection is my theory. The wind takes away one of their defenses: that of hearing.
So I theorize that they group up more so that they have the added security of those extra eyes to watch for predators. Eyesight (and obviously their legs) are their main forms of defense but I believe they get very nervous when all they can hear is the Wyoming wind howling.
I was saying it is a challenge to spot a horned doe even in a small group, but compound that by the small group changing into a herd of 20 or 30 to even 50 or more antelope and wow!
In my opinion, hunting for a horned antelope doe, especially a specific one that you have seen and identified before or maybe you just have a description of, as I did with this one, is a tremendous challenge. And I will add that it is a challenge much more difficult than hunting a trophy buck antelope. The reason I say this is simple. A buck’s horns are like neon signs on his head compared to a doe with little “spikes.” And then to top all of this off, when you are glassing a herd of undisturbed antelope, which is necessary to identify a particular animal, usually about half of them have their heads down feeding, and as far as a doe is concerned, you have to wait until she raises her head to see if she has horns, and/or is the particular doe you are looking for. Oh, and then not to mention that the individual animals are not all staying in one place; rather they are constantly changing position in the herd.
Well, that first “antelope doe day” hunt drew to an end. The next morning, my last one before I needed to head for home to take care of some business, broke cold and windy. After a quick ‘continental breakfast’ at the hotel and several cups of coffee, I headed out. Within a few hours I probably put my new Nikon LaserForce binoculars (range-finder built in; OK: here is a mini field-report: the flip-up eyecups are too fragile, the laser button is in an awkward spot and hard to push, and the glass wasn’t very easy to focus, at least for me, so I returned them to Cabela’s) on over 150 antelope does. And of course, at least 25 pronghorn bucks; some definitely were “shooters,” and a couple were REALLY nice!
I had found four does with horns; one that I decided was my second choice, as she had nice little curvy spikes maybe 3 to 4 inches long. I shivered (no heater, remember) as I looked at my watch: 10:30 am. I figured I needed to leave for Colorado no later than noon, so I decided to try one more section of the ranch.
An hour later I was glassing my way through a herd of about 20 antelope with my Leupold spotting scope. I got excited as I concentrated on one that “looked suspicious,” and suddenly there she was! Sure enough, as I cranked the Leupold up to 35 power, I verified that she was the one Shark had described: about 5 inch horns and the left one had a little prong! I quickly surveyed the set-up; they were about 700 yards off and if I circled around the herd about 180 degrees I might be able to get on a little hill above them and get a shot.
Fifty minutes later I was doing the dreaded belly crawl the last 15 feet up the top of the rise, and as I reached the top and very slowly and cautiously peered over, I was in luck. The herd of ‘lopes was directly below me and my laser rangefinder read 145 to 170 yards depending on which animal I targeted. I carefully uncased my Encore in 30-06 JDJ topped with a Bushnell Elite 2X6 scope.
Let me digress a moment. I had grabbed this pistol at the last minute before I headed up on this trip, not really thinking I would be using it but taking it just in case. It was sighted in with 180 grain Nosler Partitions for elk hunting, but I decided to grab some 150 grain reloads instead as they were more appropriate for antelope, coyotes, and badgers which were all available on this ranch. I figured I could sight it in with the 150’s at the ranch range. But what ended up happening the other day because I was in a hurry, I tried the method of sighting in according to “The Target Book For North American Big Game.” In this book it shows that if you sight in a 30-06 dead-on at 26 yards with 150 grain bullets, the bullet will impact about 2 ½ inches high at 100 yards and will be spot-on at 245 yards. This sounded just about perfect.
I found a Volkswagon-sized rock out on the ranch on the way to my hunting area and made a 3 inch square on an appropriate part of the rock with duct tape. I then backed off my Suburban to 26 yards and placing my shooting bag on the hood, I fired my Encore. Curiously the bullet hit 3 inches low. “Bad hold,” I thought. A second shot verified the first one so I adjusted the scope and four shots later I was sighted dead-on at 26 yards. Now back to the story.
Lying prone with the Encore on my backpack, I steadied the crosshairs on the “trophy doe’s” shoulder and pressed the trigger. The hold felt and looked good but at the recoil she took off running along with the rest of the herd. I had heard no tell-tale ‘WHACK” of the bullet striking antelope. I was dumbfounded. This was practically a ‘gimmee’ shot with this rig and shooting prone. I grabbed my binoculars and followed the running group of animals; not one looked the least bit injured. They ran over a hill and out of sight. I got back to my Suburban and drove around and finally found the herd again. I placed my spotting scope on the window mount and after a few minutes found the horned doe; she was fine. And I was out of time.
I begrudgingly turned the Suburban for the main highway and headed south. I told myself I would be back; the season was still open for over a week. I really wanted a chance at that horned doe again.
Several days later and a small job out of the way, I packed up my Jeep Cherokee equipped with lift kit and big tires and headed north to the Durham Ranch again. I was determined to put that doe on my wall.
This time the 30-06 JDJ stayed at home and I brought my tried and true TC Contender in caliber 6.5 JDJ. My old-school load of a 120 grain Speer lead-tipped spitzer bullet shoved along by IMR 4320 powder is very accurate and has accounted for one whitetail buck, about five mule deer bucks, a couple pick-up trucks full of antelope, and several coyotes. The 6.5 caliber bullet has been said to “kill way out of proportion to it’s size;” as it’s sectional density is quite high due to the bullet being so long for it’s diameter in the preferred weights used. And the bullet’s long and slender profile also gives it an excellent Ballistic Coefficient (BC) giving it a flat trajectory.
When Winchester brought out the .264 Winchester Magnum in 1959 I believe they knew the great assets of this caliber but in a way it was ahead of its time; as the round quickly gained a reputation for eroding the barrel throat; plus the bullet technology wasn’t there for such a fast, “light” bullet to allow it to penetrate and then expand without blowing up upon hitting flesh and bone of a game animal. Nowadays of course we have the much tougher stainless steels for barrels that are more erosion resistant and we now have excellent bullet technology. Note the recent major popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor; shooters are “rediscovering” the amazing features of the 6.5 caliber bullet; whereas us 6.5 JDJ fans have known about them for a long time, thanks to Mr. JD Jones.
On my way to Wright I experienced one of my “ill spells” and had to stay over in Cheyenne for 22 hours. This ol’ body just ain’t what it used to be after fighting the “Big C” plus undergoing all of those knee surgeries in a row; and then topping all of that fun stuff off with the accident where I went over a small cliff backwards in my rubber-tired backhoe after it slid out of control on an icy driveway after dark. The long term results? Multiple complications.
If it’s one thing I have learned about life, it’s this: Usually ya just gotta cowboy up; some days definitely more than others...
Well, that layover cost me one of my precious hunting days. I arrived at the ranch with 2 days left in the season.
The next morning I again did the continental breakfast and then turned the Jeep a little further north up Highway 59 to the Durham Ranch. The weather was spotting tiny snowflakes that quit soon after but the sun stayed hidden and it was cold and windy all day. I turned off the highway and twenty yards later the Cherokee suspension creaked and rattled as the over-size tires bounced their way over the incredibly massive and rough ‘buffalo guard’ that protected the highway from that buffalo pasture entrance. What is a ‘buffalo guard?’ Take an extra-large cattle guard and build it with much wider spacing in between the gaps and out of twice as heavy steel and bingo! One massive “buffalo guard.” Some of those Durham Ranch bison bulls push the far side of 2000 pounds. For what it is worth, I was told that out of the top 10 Estate Buffalo in the SCI book, 6 of them came from the Durham including number 1 and 2.
Another 200 yards and I pulled to the side of the narrow dirt road and out came my brand-new Bushnell binoculars. As I stated earlier, I was not happy with the Nikon LaserForce binoculars I had on the first trip earlier so I exchanged them for a pair of Bushnell Fusion 10X42 Rangefinding Binoculars on advice from Doc Rogers aka wvhitman right here on handgunhunt.com. I like them a lot better though I would prefer the read-out numbers to be in red instead of orange.
I will go ahead and fast-forward. The rest of that day was spent driving maybe 15 miles through-out the ranch and stopping for anywhere from 15 minutes to up to an hour or so putting the Bushnells as well as my Leupold spotting scope on at least a couple hundred or so pronghorn antelope; the herd sizes ranging from small groups of 3 or 4 to 60 or more in two different herds.
I found several horned does, but not THE ONE. However, of those several, one was a very good horned doe that I would consider my second choice; she had little curvy spikes probably 3 inches long. And I enjoyed seeing lots of average to excellent bucks; and watched two that were sparring with their horns for about 10 minutes. Another high point of my day was spotting a Swift Fox that was sitting by his hole on a ridge top where he had a commanding view all around him for miles. I was able to get close enough to him that I got quite a bit of video footage; he even went in and out of his hole once for me. After a while he even lost interest in me and paid no more attention. It was a really neat experience filming him for a half hour.
The sun finally set with a beautiful array of colors. My eyes were tired from all of the glassing I had done (this is where excellent quality optics really display their worth) and my neck was sore from constantly turning it from side to side as you do when searching for game out of a vehicle. I headed to my Hotel, got cleaned up, had a steak at the Steak House, and then hit the hay.
The next morning was a much nicer day; hardly any wind and the sun was shining. It was October 31, the last day of the pronghorn season here and of course…it was Halloween!
The morning pretty much duplicated yesterday; as there were still unseen parts of the area where that pronghorned doe had been seen and you never for sure see all of the antelope in an area.
By noon I decided to give this section of the ranch a rest and get back on highway 59 and go north some more to check out an entirely different part of the ranch that wasn’t even connected with this one. I figured “Heck, maybe I will find a different horned doe that I really like. Not only that but there is a prairie dog town over there.”
Half an hour later I turned off the road and unlocked a massive steel gate that was 6 feet tall and so heavy that it had hard rubber wheel-barrow wheels on the unsupported ends. It took most of my strength, being a little on the weak side these days, to swing the two gates full open; then I drove through and had to close them again.
Fast forward. After a mile on the two-track road I came into a little valley in between two small bare ridges that was alive with moving tan and white forms a half mile away. The Bushnell’s showed at least 250 antelope spread out over a quarter of a mile and basically all moving at a deceptively fast ground-eating gait toward the west that you absolutely can not keep up with on foot. Been there and tried that; even when I was younger it just wasn’t possible even though they look like they are barely moving.
I sighed and decided to head for prairie dog town. I had brought a Savage B-Mag rifle in .17 Winchester Super Magnum and for the next 2 hours or so I had a literal blast popping p’dogs at ranges from 40 yards to 150. I sent at least 120 to that big dirt mound in the sky; the shooting was almost non-stop. They aren’t shot much here and are kinda dumb.
But alas, time was passing, the sun was dropping, and I wanted one more crack at that ‘trophy pronghorned doe.’
The Jeep Cherokee again rattled over the buffalo guard previously described, and I looked at my cell phone as I dialed up Shark to let him know what I was up to. I had two hours of legal hunting light left on this Halloween afternoon; and in reality until the 2017 antelope season ended here in Wyoming.
I drove deeper into the ranch, almost immediately spotting antelope. Incidentally, all of the antelope sightings I write about in this story are not exaggerated at all; the antelope herds have made a resounding comeback in numbers on the Durham Ranch since the big die-off seven years ago. This is partly due to good hunt management where Shark cut the hunter numbers way down, and also several good winters and lots of rain the past couple of springs and summers.
For the next hour and a half I continued to look for “my doe,” glassing over 100 antelope, but she was nowhere to be found. Right there at the last I did find the herd with my “second choice” doe in it, however. Time was running out; I decided it was go time; I would try for number two.
After a short stalk I had closed in to 130 yards of the herd and got set up on the bipod, prone. The light was fading; sunset at 5:53 had come and gone with less than 15 minutes of legal shooting light left as 30 minutes after sunset was the limit. I patiently picked my way through the herd with my spotting scope, trying to identify the doe I was interested in as a second choice. I got lucky and found her near the edge of the group, with just another doe and fawn near her to contend with. A minute later they separated and I switched to my Contender. The light was getting very marginal, so I turned the scope power from 8 back to about 6. I was able to pick her up in my Leupold and settled the crosshairs on her shoulder; then when it all looked good, I pressed the trigger. It broke cleanly and I heard the bullet strike home. My horned doe took about 4 steps and crashed; that long 120 grain Speer spitzer bullet did an awesome job as usual, it took out the near shoulder and exited the opposite side; shattering about three ribs.
My watch said 6:19 p.m.; I had gotten my Halloween Horned Doe with four minutes of legal hunting light left as well as four minutes before the end of the 2017 season. Although she was not my first choice she was still a good one, and those several challenging days of handgun hunting for a “rare antelope” made it that much better.
*A NOTE ON SIGHTING IN: As I wrote earlier in this story, I was in a hurry to check the zero on my 30-06 JDJ when switching from 180 to 150 grain bullets, so I employed the method of sighting in according to “The Target Book For North American Big Game” at 26 yards.
And as I found out, the pistol was shooting “low” to begin with so I raised the crosshairs. This turned out to be a major mistake. After I missed that shot at the trophy doe that I wanted so badly, I checked the Encore at 100 yards on a 16” square target, and the bullet just clipped the upper edge of the paper, although it was “dead center” horizontally. This equates to 8 inches high at 100 yards which would be even a little bit higher at 130 yards; the range I missed my doe at. I simply shot cleanly over her back.
Apparently the sight-in method described in the book works OK for rifles, but doesn’t take into account the extra recoil and resultant barrel rise of a big handgun, so I recommend that you do not use that method for handguns!
Another hunting lesson learned: Do not be in a hurry to sight in your gun; it could cost you an animal or even a trophy. It happened to me.
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