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Antelope on My Mind

Beth LemkeBy Beth Lemke

-- For more than 20 years, I’d dreamed of taking an antelope, posing for the success picture, telling how I’d taken it.

As a loving wife, I never brought that up. Ok, only every chance I got! My husband, Johnny, took up the mission to see that I fulfilled my dream.

We chose Montana because of abundant wildlife there and also because it would be new country for us to hunt. We completed the applications and mailed them away. Life took over, and soon the applications were forgotten. Then a Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks envelope came in the mail one day and I discovered we had drawn!

The really great news was that my dad and friend Bob had also drawn and were going with us!

We picked the dates and made preparations. As we left, it sunk in that my dream might become a reality at last! 

The Montana country was breathtaking. It reminded me of Wyoming, where I had grown up, but with a softer side to it. And let me tell you, the antelope were abundant. Many of the ranchers wanted hunters to come hunt their property as they consider antelope a nuisance. This worked out well for us as our newfound friend Russ Compton had us set up to hunt on three or four prime ranches. He even had a honey hole for my Dad. 

Day one dawned with fog and a bit of wind. As we sat in our blind, we watched as a heavy-horned buck with an attitude herded his harem of about 15 does this way and that. We named him "Big Boy." The group disappeared over one of the rolling hills in the field.

As the fog burned off, another buck with taller horns entered the field and then disappeared over the same hill. Soon we saw the second buck running for his life with "Big Boy" hot on his heels. There was a lot of communication between the two bucks. Translated into human speak, it would have been something like, "These are my girls, and you are not welcome here!"

We saw this happen many times over the week. We adjusted our setup from a crossing under the fence to a windmill watering hole, to spot-and-stalk with a decoy.

The decoy was named Ralph. Russ would hold Ralph up in front of him and walk straight toward the dominant buck until we got his attention. I would follow closely behind. As Russ would stop and kneel down, I would stop, too.

The bucks were so curious about this new intruder that they would almost always come to investigate. Some would just turn and run like their tails were on fire.

On the afternoon of the fourth day, we found a nice buck lounging with five does. Winds were gusting from 35 to 45 mph, which worked in our favor because the buck never heard us making our way through the grass and sagebrush.

We got within 50 yards and stopped. The buck had no idea we were there, so we decided to sneak another 10 yards closer. As we stopped again, I nocked one of my arrows and came to full draw. I was not nervous at all when let the arrow fly. I just kept my eye on the spot right behind the front shoulder where the light hair meets the dark and waited for the arrow to penetrate.

Then I saw a puff of dust in front of the buck. He moved off about 10 yards, not knowing what had happened, and I realized I had missed. I had not allowed for the crosswind. The wind had caught the arrow in flight, and it was a clean miss that came up short. The does took off and he followed. What an incredible opportunity!

Our final day, we made a new plan. My Dad and Bob were going to go out with one of the ranchers. We were dropping Johnny off at a waterhole we’d found the previous day, and Russ and I were going to check out a new spot. Just before we topped the hill, we stopped and glassed to see if we could see any antelope. There was a group of animals to the west, so we got back in the truck and started moving that way.

We came to a fence. It was my job to open the gate. As I was busy trying to open the wrong side of the gate, Russ tapped the horn and pointed to the other side. I managed to get it open and then struggled to get it closed again all the while, laughing at myself and feeling like a city girl. We had not gone 50 yards toward an old abandoned home place when out of nowhere came a buck antelope, making his way down the road straight toward us.

He seemed really concerned about something off to his left, and kept his eye that way all the while approaching. As we looked, we spotted another big buck making tracks across an open field with the apparent intent of running the buck in front of us out of his territory.

Russ said the buck coming toward us had been hooked and did not want another altercation. We noticed he was limping on his left front leg. We stopped the truck, but I knew as soon as I opened the door, the antelope would bolt. He didn’t, so I eased out and stood behind the door watching him come closer. Suddenly he veered off to the left, so I moved around the front of the truck where I could get a clear shot.

It all happened so fast that I didn’t have an opportunity to use my rangefinder. I was excited, but steeled myself for the shot and calculated the shooting distance: 35 to 40 yards. I set the pin accordingly and came to full draw.

Remaining calm, I waited for the buck to stop. I held a little high as he presented a perfect broadside shot. I let the arrow fly, and this time it hit in the spine, cutting an artery and dropped him right there. I think I was in shock as I realized that my dream had finally come true and that I really truly had my own antelope down.

My BowTech bow and Muzzy broadhead did the trick. I finally had my dream buck! His horns were more than a foot tall with real deep curls, ivory tips and good mass. He certainly was not the biggest buck we saw that week, but he is mine and I am ever so proud of him.

As for the rest of the hunting party, we came out 50 percent successful. My husband, who had followed me all week with a video camera, did get a smaller buck the only day he got to hunt, the last evening at the waterhole. My dad, who has hunted for 50 years, took a shot and missed. Our friend Bob passed on shooting a smaller buck as he was holding out for a trophy.

Many thanks to Russ for spending the time with me and helping me get my buck. My husband is forever in Russ's debt for getting him out of a 20-year doghouse.

--Beth Lemke

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