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Where the Antelope Play

HoltzBy Bob Holtz

-- Our journey began by flying into Las Vegas, Nev., for a four-day stay of gambling, buffets and swimming pools. We then rented a Jeep Liberty and headed out across the dessert toward New Mexico. The 9-hour drive was very beautiful and a sightseeing dream. By the way, while traveling through Arizona we encountered several trophy Bull Elk; a story yet to come.

We arrived at the Carter Ranch, the home of our host, West Plains Outfitters. As I pulled in the drive, Pow Carter, one of the owners, greeted us. The first words out of his mouth were, "Well, Bob, ya made it all that way again. I am glad yawl are here!"

I introduced my new bride to Pow, and he stated, "So ya gonna run the camera are ya? We are sure glad and honored you guys are here." Immediately, we felt welcome and comfortable.

After unpacking in our honeymoon retreat, we walked over to the bunkhouse where I ran into my friend, head guide and outfitter Randell Mansell. Randell had a big smile on his face as I asked, "Well, ya ready to hunt?"

He then asked, "Did ya bring anybody to shoot for ya?"

I laughed and told him he was with me, but I did bring my new bride and she is running the camera. Randell retorted then at least they would have proof I can't shoot. After some more light-hearted conversation, we then discussed the morning's plans. A short time later, we ventured out in the prairie to scout for the next morning.

While in camp, I met several hunters, including Wade Derby of Cross Hair Consulting. Wade has written many hunting articles and was a pleasure to talk to. We enjoyed hearing his hunting adventures.

The next morning came early as the alarm went off around 5:15. As I got up, I felt the 9 hours we had traveled by Jeep - OUCH! We ate a huge breakfast and wandered out into the dark prairie.

As the sun began to rise, I spotted my first antelope, and we began the stalk. We got within 200 yards of it, and I was eager to load my rifle. But then Randell said, "He's a nice one but there's better around here."

My custom A-bolt Browning 280 was ready to bark. I lifted my head from the cheekpiece, I said, "What?" Randell instructed us to move on. I looked at my wife and said, "He's the man out here. Let's go."

As we moved and put more and more ground between us and the really nice buck, I was confident in his decision. We glassed several other antelope bucks and passed on them all. Shortly thereafter, Randell decided we'd head back to camp and see if anybody had scored.

We arrived at camp, and, of course, they had. Randell said to me, "Now don't get disappointed if there are a few nice bucks hanging.

I replied, "Okay," but with a frog in my throat. We then grabbed a sandwich and headed back out. I had just cracked the cap on my water and "ta-da" there was a nice buck standing right in front of the truck.

Randell agreed, but then went on to say the buck is a little weak up top. By now I was learning what to look for in a nice buck. Several times Randell had told me to look for thick mass, big cutters, nice curves inward at the tips, double-ear length in height, ears below the cutters, and nice ivory tips.

That being said, we were looking through the glass at a lot of antelope. Around 11:30, I was beginning to wonder if the big buck was out there. All of a sudden, Randell hit the brakes, and I knew what that meant - a coyote was in range. I hopped out of the truck and found a secure base on my shooting sticks, and, sure enough, there it was. I took the safety off and ta-Pow. The coyote leaped off, and I looked up at Randell.

He said, "Ya missed, didn't ya?"

Sheepishly, I replied "Yea," in a low voice, thinking of the 35-mile-an-hour crosswind

Randell then asked Liz if she got it on film. She confirmed and then we laughed about my 300-yard shot at the coyote and kept pushing on.

We then came upon a cactus field, and Randell stopped the truck again. We glassed and walked the field before spotting a buck at almost the same time. Randell told me that this was the one! Instantly, my heart raced and my breathing became rapid.

We stalked the buck, and it had five does in its presence. As I was getting setup, the does spooked and started to trot off. But what I didn't realize was there was another buck moving in on the buck we were after. We hurried up ahead of them and took aim on my buck as it cleared another thick cactus field.

The wind was blowing hard, and it was very difficult to keep a steady aim. The next thing that could happen did, the buck spotted us. So away it went. My nerves were getting worn thin at this point. Again, we moved ahead of the deer and setup.

Randell pointed to the buck as I steadied my gun and dialed the buck into my crosshairs. Then I told Randell it wasn't him. He realized I was right and told me to hold on a minute.

When I looked up, there was the buck, trotting away from the does and trying to lead us and the other buck away from them. Randell estimated he was about 250 yards out and asked if I could make that?

I responded that I'd try. But the buck kept moving away from me and looking behind him. Randell then said the buck was 280 yards away.

As soon as I steadied my rifle, I asked Randell what the distance was. He replied, "305."

With that, I said I was taking him. Ta-pow barked my 280. After the shot, Randell said loudly, "Ya missed! I saw the dirt fly up! Reload!"

I countered back with, "No, I didn't."

The next thing Randell yelled was, "He's down, yah! Nice shot, Bob!"

I asked my new camera operator/wife if she got it on film. She stated, "Yeah, kinda." All I could do was I laugh.

It seemed like it took forever to walk to the buck. When we found the antelope, I knew I had downed a magnificent trophy buck. We then celebrated and took pictures, I felt honored to have been blessed to take a beautiful buck such as this.

We returned to camp with smiles from ear to ear, and the tempo at camp rose as we hung my trophy up.

The taxidermy guys were there and asked to score my buck, so I said yes. They scored him for Safari Club International at 83 1/8 overall. This score is official and number 88 in the books.

They told me it is a very nice antelope, and we should score it for Boone and Crocket, too. I agreed. The length of each horn was 16 1/4 and the cutters were 5 3/4. I authorized Out of this World Taxidermy in Roswell, N.M., to do a shoulder mount of my trophy.

The third day, it was time to head out, but we really didn't want to leave this beautiful land. I had spent a whole year missing this prairie since my last hunt here for mule deer. However, I said goodbye to my friend Randell and ranch owner Pow Carter. As we left the ranch, many antelope surrounded us as we drove miles down the dirt roads. It's as if they were saying goodbye to us and to have a safe journey. This was one of the best trips I have ever taken. Special thanks to my new wife, Liz, Randell and Pow.

Bob Holtz

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