Everything up to this point in the season seemed like it had been all sunshine and rainbows. I had experienced the highest of highs in bow hunting over the last month with the elk hunt and the harvest of the whitetail just 2 weeks earlier. Little did I know how much that was about to change over a series of events that would unfold over the next 48 hours. I was once again on my way home to hunt for the weekend after taking a week off from the woods. While the plan was to get back into the tree stand that evening with an extra deer tag in my pocket that was not part of the super tag, I was looking forward to the next day already when we would be walking the hills in hopes of finding a muley or even better an antelope to fill the third leg of my super tag that was still un-punched. Although I did see a shooter buck that didn’t come within shooting range that evening out of the tree, as soon as I climbed out of the stand, my mind was already on the next morning.
The next morning, we walked into the first set of hills and made our way to the top of a hill not long after the sun broke the horizon. We glassed for a bit and after a bit, we spotted the unmistakable bright white of a hind end of a muley buck over a half mile away. With the sun shining down on him, he stuck out like a sore thumb against the brown of the dying grass. With an extra deer tag in my pocket, we decided that we would go after him. He was a nice buck and would by far be my best muley yet. After seeing another nice buck on the way in, and spotting this one, the hunt was off to a hot start. It was one of those mornings that everything seemed to be out and moving. The wind began to pick up just a little bit, making it perfect stalking weather. This was going to be good. We got up, and began walking in the direction of where we last saw the buck disappear over the hill. When we reached the top of the hill, we made it just in time to watch the buck work towards a small side hill about 600 yards away, and eventually bed down. With the buck bedded, and just the right amount of wind, it was time to make a move, everything was right where we needed it to be.
We made our way across the pasture and got to within a couple hundred yards of where we saw the buck bed. We moved quietly and angled off towards a small hill that was between the buck and us, and crawled to where we could see him bedded. We didn’t have much of an option from here, it was too open and we would be busted if we tried moving. We decided that we would circle around and make our way through a blowout that was about 30 yards behind the buck’s bedded position, we should have a shot if all went according to plan. So we backed away and circled around, moving quietly in the direction of the deep blowout directly downwind of the buck. The wind was perfectly in our face and we peeked up over the edge. The sharp tines poking up out of the grass gave away the buck’s position. He was 25 yards from us and bedded, but all that was visible was the top of his rack. We knelt down and knew we had to wait for him to stand. Whether it would be 2 hours or 2 minutes, the buck had to stand at some point, and I was willing to wait however long it took in order to get a shot at this brute. A few moments later, the buck began to fidget and my dad whispered to draw my bow. I drew and my heart began to pound as the big buck stood up and stared at us just 25 yards away. I reached full draw just as the buck turned his head towards us. I put my pin on him and touched off the shot. My heart sank as I watched the arrow fly harmlessly over his back. In a flash, he was gone. I could not believe what had just happened. 25 yards is a shot that most bowhunters would consider a chip shot, and I just whiffed it. I stood there in disbelief, not knowing what to say. We talked about the shot for a bit, and I said that I completely lost it. It seemed like when the buck stood, I had forgotten everything I had ever learned in that moment. It hurt, it sucked, and it wasn’t fun missing the shot, but that’s part of bowhunting, and that’s why we do it. I kept telling myself that and promised that I would learn from it, but man did it hurt.
After missing the muley, my dad spotted a big antelope buck with a handfull does working down a hill fairly close to us. We switched modes, we made our way back to the pickup and got the antelope decoy. I was pretty excited, after not seeing much for antelope this year, and an opportunity to fill the third leg of my super tag, the herd was a welcoming sight to say the least.
After one failed stalk attempt, the antelope didn’t go far. We were able to locate them again and watched them through the binoculars as they fed about 200 yards from us. If any of you have ever hunted antelope spot and stalk, you know just how tough it can be trying to make a move on a buck that has multiple does with him. This particular buck had 9, making it very difficult to make any move without being busted. Eventually the herd fed through a valley and got into some small, rolling hills. When they went out of sight, we made our way across the same valley. We were just a minute too late getting to where we wanted to be, the antelope had fed through a small cut below our current position just minutes before we got there. It would have been a perfect opportunity, but we were just moments too late. We watched as they fed from the small cut into open terrain, where we now had no opportunity to make a move.
The herd soon bedded in the open and we layed flat on top of a hill a couple hundred yards from where they were bedded. They layed there for what seemed like hours, and showed no intention of going anywhere soon. Finally, the buck got all of the does up one by one and started walking toward a windmill just over the hill behind them. I nudged my dad and as soon as we saw the last goat go over the hill, we went after them. We ran down the hill and up the next, and knew that the antelope were just below the next hill. We snuck near the top of the hill and belly crawled the rest of the way. I knew that when we saw them next, they were going to be close to shooting range. When we finally were able to see the herd feeding just below the hill, they were just barely out of shooting range. We decided to be patient and let them get over the next hill, the last cover that was available before they would be in the wide open area that surrounded the windmill. Once again, as soon as the last antelope walked over the hill, we moved quickly to get in position before we ran out of cover to work with.
This time when we got to the top of the hill, the herd was feeding on a downward slope well within shooting range. The buck was to the left of the does, about 30 yards from them and didn’t have the slightest idea that we were there. My dad gave me a range. “59” he said. The moment he said that, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a doe had us pinned, but the buck was still unaware of our presence. The buck picked up his head and looked at the doe as I drew, I settled my pin and squeezed off the shot. The shot felt perfect, and I watched as my yellow and white fletching was on a B-line for the buck’s chest. With the buck now alert, he dropped and whirled and my broad head gave him a fresh haircut down his back. The whole herd ran behind us and high tailed it for the next set of hills. Antelope are notorious for jumping the string, but I didn’t have the slightest idea of how this one managed to get out of there without catching my arrow. The buck was slightly quartering to us, and by the time my arrow got there, he was facing almost straight away and had ducked more than 10 inches. I couldn’t help but to shake my head, had it not been for the doe, we would be celebrating right now. It was a perfect opportunity, and the shot hit exactly where I was wanting, there wasn’t much more that I could do in that situation. I was grateful for the opportunity nonetheless, antelope are one of the toughest animals to hunt spot and stalk with a bow, and its situations like this that are the reason why I respect them so much.
We covered some miles that day in the hills, and the hike back to the truck was pretty quiet. I was reflecting on what had happened that morning and thinking of all of the ways it could have ended differently. In the end, had it not been for that day, I dare to say that the rest of my season would not have unfolded the way that it did. This was the biggest learning experience I had in a long time. Needless to say, it also fueled my fire and made me want to succeed even worse. Experiences like this are why we bowhunt, and is what makes a bow hunter so much more grateful when it all comes together. It would be a long week and a long drive back to school, but I knew exactly what I would be doing the next weekend when fall break rolled around.