Antelope hunting was my initiation into big game hunting back in 1986. Although I grew up on a farm and hunted upland game, antelope was never a part of my family’s heritage. One enjoyment of antelope hunting is the ability to see antelope all day long. It also allowed me to cut my teeth on what would be the ongoing challenge to make first shot connections at distances that were long-range for me at that time. This was pre-laser rangefinder days and determining approximate distances for antelope was challenging for this Kansas upland hunter.
I had several saving graces that helped me immensely to successfully take my first antelope: A good mentor, and the love of prairie dog shooting using my hunting load, with my Ruger Model 77, chambered in 257 Roberts Ackley Improved out to a quarter of a mile. I lived in Greeley, Colorado at the time, and one day after leaving the local gun store I noticed a man about the same age as me having car problems and on foot. I offered a ride and as he accepted and was getting into my car he immediately noticed a Thompson Center Arms catalog. The rest is history.
Steve Hugel had been hunting big game including antelope for a number of years on the plains and in the mountains with both bow and rifle. He introduced me to big game hunting on the plains and in the mountains and I introduced him to using specialty handguns. From that time forward we have been able to complement each other with our different strengths. With some big game hunting experience now in my corner, I felt much more confident in attempting to hunt antelope.
The first tag I drew was for a buck antelope in a unit east of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The antelope numbers were small compared to the antelope population you will find in many hunting areas of Wyoming. With Steve as my mentor and friend, I was able to add a number of valuable assets to my antelope hunting tool box (not to mention the lessons I learned the hard way).
As with any type of hunting, persistence is a quality that must be underscored in antelope hunting. If it was not for persistence I would not have tagged my first antelope during my first hunting season. The frustration of spoiled stalks, other hunters spooking the animal you are hunting, driving their vehicles off roads to approach antelope, shooting from their trucks, and at times shooting in your general direction is enough to frustrate you, if you are not committed to antelope hunting.
Physical conditioning may not seem as essential in antelope hunting as in high country elk hunting, but I can assure you that when “Murphy’s Law” is in full swing, it is to your advantage to be in good condition with your boots broken in properly as you can spend much time walking and sometimes even trotting. I know many people drive around and spot antelope from their vehicle (which I still do when circumstances allow) or will stand hunt by a water hole or typical antelope crossing area, but I enjoy spot and stalk more than anything. I have watched men make their first antelope hunt only to realize they were not physically prepared for what they would like to accomplish. Good conditioning will allow you to be better at everything you do, especially when you are on that trigger after a hurried stalk on an antelope.
Quality optics is an asset antelope hunting as you will have the opportunity to literally see for miles in many places. You can save yourself a lot of energy and time by finding a good antelope glassing area and setting up in your vehicle (window mount) or on the ground with a field tripod and spotting scope. There is a lot of wisdom of being content to thoroughly glass an area with a spotting scope while your partner is covering another area with binoculars or possibly a second tripod mounted spotting scope. I have used spotting scopes on a regular basis, and binoculars are always with me. Through time I have slowly upgraded the quality of my optics and that in turn has reduced the amount of eye strain and allowed me to see more game and better judge them at a distance. With that being said, an affordable optic is better than no optic at all.
Currently, I am setup to mil-range with Darrell Holland’s ART (Advanced Reticle Technologies) reticle if conditions do not allow ranging or if my laser rangefinder fails while hunting. Laser rangefinders are a must for anyone who is considering long range antelope hunting and I always have spare batteries for all the technology I carry. I have used Bushnell, Leica, Leupold and Swarovski rangefinders with good success.
Antelope are curious animals sometimes and have been drawn to white flags and other moving objects. I would not recommend antelope decoys during the rifle hunting season unless you know for a fact that there are no other hunters in the area and you can do so legally and safely. Check your regulations, as they may be different from where you live and they can change from year to year.
I learned a number of things the hard way during my third season hunting antelope. Again, I was hunting East of Colorado Springs and the antelope bucks were few and they had been pushed hard. Steve was unable to hunt with me, so I was hunting solo. A local rancher that I had become acquainted with decided to have pity on a greenhorn antelope hunter and showed me several antelope hunting tricks. One was to drive slowly like many ranchers do when checking cattle and such and have the hunter in the passenger seat. The truck will then slow to a brief stop, allowing the hunter to get out safely and go prone. The truck will continue meandering down the road for another half mile or so and then stop.
The goal is for the truck to be far enough away from the antelope herd not to cause them to run but close enough to draw attention to the parked truck while allowing the hunter to make his stalk. This works where you have spooky antelope and not much cover. Another unique trait of antelope is that once they cross in front of you and are out of sight, they have a tendency to double back and return to where they were originally. This helped explain why a whole antelope herd would seemingly vanish at times in the past.