By Tim Radke
Everything happens for a reason.
That’s what my wife told me on the morning of her first turkey hunt. We woke up to strong winds and a raging blizzard. Four inches of heavy wet snow did not exactly scream “success” to me.
It was supposed to be my wife’s first bow turkey hunt, but when we realized what the weather was doing, I suggested we leave the bow at home and grab the 12 gauge. She simply uttered her words of wisdom, grabbed her bow case, and headed for the truck.
Slick roads and poor visibility made us late getting to the hunting area, a 120-acre woodlot. We made the long trudge out to the blind, set up a few decoys and began what I believed would be a long morning without much action.
I yelped a few times without getting a response. Twenty minutes later, we heard our first gobble, and not long after that, a tom made an appearance. He was on the decoys within minutes, but my wife rushed her shot, sending the arrow behind the big bird. She took a deep breath, and shot again, smacking the bird square in the wing.
The tom ran and was soon out of sight. We followed the trail in the snow to the gobbler, a 23-pounder. Without the snow, we never would have found it. Maybe there was something to my wife’s philosophy after all.
If everything happens for a reason, I was having a tough time figuring out why, on another hunt, I was on my way to the emergency room.I had been setting up a ladder stand for the upcoming bow season when the ladder began to tip away from the tree with me near the top. I jumped off, hit a tree limb on the way down, flipped butt over teakettle, and landed with my left arm bent under my chest.
I broke my left ulna and shattered my radial head. It was less than a week after my honeymoon, and my bow season with my new wife was over before it began. I then found out that my arm would never be 100 percent again.
I spent a lot of time rehabilitating my arm, bought a new and much quieter bow with a lighter draw weight, and 8 months later returned to my regular job as a police officer. My wife and I decided to take a hunting trip as soon as my arm was healed enough to draw a bow again. We settled on an antelope hunt.
I began researching different areas and came across a landowner in South Dakota who said we could hunt his property free of charge. He sent me pictures of animals he’d taken, and we spoke on the phone at least a dozen times. Everything seemed legitimate, and we applied for our tags. We also invited our fathers to go.
August finally rolled around. I had been in contact with the landowner numerous times. The night before we were to leave, I called him again, and heard “The number you have dialed has been disconnected, cancelled, or is no longer in service.” Dumbfounded, I tried the number three more times, and received the same message each time. I emailed him again, and received no response. Was this too happening for a reason?
We briefly discussed cutting our losses and not even making the 12-hour drive to the Sturgis area, but we had been researching public land as well, and thanks to extensive walk-in public hunting areas, we decided to try the trip on our own. We woke up the next morning, finished loading the truck and headed west two days before the season opener.
Although we were weary, stiff and hungry after our drive, we immediately began checking out some hunting areas. We found a few goats, but more importantly, after some networking at a few area gas stations, we ended up with leads on a few landowners who reportedly had more antelope on their land than cattle. We even managed a few phone numbers, and things were looking better.
We slept in on Friday morning, and further discussed our plan of action. I made a single phone call to the most promising lead, and an hour later we were on our way to check out his 4,000-acre property. After we arrived, it didn’t take us long to see antelope, including some nice bucks, many in the 14-inch range. We offered him the little bit of extra money we had allotted in our budget, and were setting up blinds within the hour.
There was little sleep that night, and we arrived at the land shortly before first light. Everyone saw goats immediately as light broke, but the entire day progressed with nothing flirting the edges of our bow range. The next morning proved to match the previous day, and as patience has never been the strongest characteristic of the Radke family, we decided to try some stalks on some goats.
My first stalk went surprisingly well. We had spotted a nice 13-inch buck bedded in a ravine just a few hundred yards away. I made a short loop, got in above the buck, and placed a small sage brush between us. Ten minutes later, I was within 75 yards hoping I could get another 25. Two steps later, I found out that wouldn’t happen. “My” goat was last seen a mile away with no signs of slowing down.
The next day, I made another stalk on a group of nine bucks. As they crested a small hill, I took off on a dead run across the prairie towards them. I reached the back side of the same hill, pulled back and slowly eased over the crest to see all nine bucks topping another hill 70 yards away. The largest buck was the closest antelope to me, but all were still too far away. They cleared the next hill, and I took off on another run and repeated the process. This time, all nine bucks were within 100 yards, and some began to bed down.
I was pinned down and couldn’t get closer from my present angle. As I was contemplating my options, I was pleased to see my wife approaching from the other hillside and from a better angle. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong hillside to finish her stalk and a short time later, the animals were on their feet, running away. It was a great stalk, and a great opportunity, but it just didn’t come together.
A few hours later, we came across yet another buck. Feeding in a small horseshoe-shaped ravine with a large rolling hill in the middle, he was in a perfect stalking position.
Approaching the buck from the far end of the horseshoe on the opposite side of the hill, I began to close the short distance between us. Less than 5 minutes later, I spied the buck, still unaware of my location, and drew my bow. The arrow flew between the buck’s legs. He jumped and looked around.
I somehow managed to get another arrow nocked, came to full draw again, and released another arrow. This one sailed over the buck’s back. He again jumped, looked around, and resumed feeding. I could not believe this was happening!
I’ve never claimed to be the best shot in the world, but it soon became obvious that estimating distance on a pronghorn in the prairie is a lot different than on a whitetail in the woods. Silently kicking myself for not grabbing my wife’s rangefinder, I again came to full draw. I knew I had finally narrowed down the range, and let the arrow fly. The arrow hit the chest with a hollow “THAWUNK” and the deer took off. I watched him run. At 150 yards, he looked back and fell.
Only twice have I been unable to contain my emotions after making a successful shot. The first was a 24 pound double-bearded tom I shot with my bow. The other time was when that goat tipped over. I jumped in the air, pumped my arms, and ran to my wife who was running up behind me.
Now was this the reason that I had shattered my elbow the year before? Did buying my new quieter bow allow me to get more than one shot at this buck? Was this the reason we were stood up by my initial South Dakota contact? I obviously can’t say for sure, but I do know that if I hadn’t fallen out of the stand, we probably wouldn’t have been planning on taking a trip that summer, and if my first landowner hadn’t offered for us to hunt his land, we may not have even chosen South Dakota.