Steyr + Quigley/Ford + Berger = One Antelope Buck
By John Johnston
The idea for this hunt started almost two years ago. A fellow retired police sergeant, Frank Miller, got interested in long range shooting especially when the Best of the West Shooting Range opened not far from his ranch. We started talking antelope hunting since he had already taken an antelope in New Mexico and Wyoming a few years back. He purchased a new Savage LRH in .260 Rem. for the possibility of a hunt. One day I was thumbing through the “Safari Times” and ran across an advertisement that got my eye. It was in prime antelope country, northeast New Mexico and only about a ten hour drive from my ranch. The outfitter, Ross Hastie, of Tucumcari was the owner of Red Dirt Trail Outfitters. He answered all my questions and was also interested in long range hunting. Frank reviewed the web site and I called some references, which all had glowing reports. Can you ever trust references given by the outfitter? In this case they were right in all details.
Author with his antelope buck. You can see the entry wound just to the left of the rifle.
Now for me it was the question of what to take. Shots could easily be 300-400 yards. At the same time I did not want to lug around a big heavy rifle. I chose my Steyr Pro Hunter model in .25-06. This particular rifle was purchased shortly after the model came out in the 1990’s. I put a Leupold VXII 3x9 on it and sighted it in with plain old Remington 100gr. ammunition. It shot less than an inch so I never tried a single reload. This rifle became my “go to” rifle. I could take it out of the safe, put some store bought ammo in it and knew I could depend on it. It weighed less than 8 pounds without the scope and was easy to carry.
I knew the Leupold on it was not ready for a long range shot, so I called Randy Ford to see if he had any ideas. He had a new model that he wanted me to try. It had parallax adjustments, was good to 1000 yards and each yardage marker had a horizontal line. The end of the line was where to hold for a 10mph cross wind. He calibrated it for a load I had developed in the mean time for the rifle. It was a 115gr. Berger VLD/Hunting over a healthy load of 55.2gr. VihtaVuori N165. The load shot about a half inch groups at 100 yards and was clocked at a little over 3000fps. Randy’s scope arrived the week before the hunt. I had little time to sight it in but no time for a long range try out. My back up rifle was also a Steyr .243 with a Quigley/Ford scope, the same one I have written about in the past, with which I had a lot of range time. Frank’s son surprised his Dad and gave him a custom made 6.5x284 on a Mauser action just before the hunt. Frank had time to break in the barrel properly and developed a good load. The gunsmith who built the rifle lent Frank a Night Force target scope for the trip. It was not the perfect rifle/ scope to lug around on this kind of hunt because it was real heavy but it meant a lot to Frank. The Savage LRH was taken as a backup.
Author with Ross Hastie.
We stayed in a small motel in Logan, NM and had breakfast there each morning with the rest of the hunters. First afternoon, we met up with Ross, did our paperwork, hunting license and final payment. We then headed to the local range to check out our rifles. There were a total of 17 hunters for this two day hunt and we each shot our rifles. Both my Steyrs were right on the money. We met our guide, D.J. Weber, out of southern Colorado. He was a nice, knowledgeable person. After two days with two worn out old cops, he showed a lot of patience and was obliging to our limitations. He did ask how far we were comfortable shooting and we both said about 300 yards. We could not have been happier with our guide. Dinner that night was at Ross’ house and it was great, a shrimp boil.
The next morning I had Frank up first to shoot. I knew he wanted to use this very special present from his son. We went in DJ’s Dodge, 4 door, 4x4 diesel. The first place we checked was what he called the “rings”, which are irrigated fields of alfalfa hay. The rings are made because the water is sprayed from long arms that slowly move in a ring. We snuck in there and saw a few antelope which they call speed goats or just plain old goats. Our guide said the bucks were definitely too young to shoot. We did see a couple bucks on the land next door that were pretty good size goats, but they would not come under the fence onto the property we were hunting. We eased out and decided to try back later. We drove and checked a few other pastures but never saw a real good shooter. Frank and I were not looking for a trophy but rather just a good size typical antelope buck.
Frank Miller, his nice buck and his new custom rifle.
We could only hunt certain pastures but these pastures were thousands of acres each. Altogether DJ had access to over 30,000 acres to roam but it was like a patch work of pastures, some miles away. The outfitter had access to close to 100,000 acres. During our travels from one pasture to another we only saw one other guide. There was not an overabundance of antelope, but just enough to keep our attention going. We glassed and drove. In fact the first day our guide drove over 190 miles during the hunt, usually in 2nd or 3rd gear. Around noon we came across a lone buck. He looked great to me with tall, massive base horns. The horns had a little character junk growing on them. He seemed not to be in any hurry. The guide set the truck up so Frank could use the door or the corner of the bed as a rest. We all got out. Frank took the shot. We all were not sure where the shot went but the second shot was right on the money. It was not a long shot at 139 yards but it was placed well and dropped the goat in his tracks. After the obligatory photo session the guide field dressed the goat and we headed to a centralized skinning station. It was around 90 degrees and the game had to get cooled quickly. A taxidermist caped and quartered the goat. He also removed the back straps. These were all bagged, tagged and frozen. Later Frank and I wished we had paid more attention when it was skinned to see if his first shot had been a hit. It was a nice antelope.
Frank sighting in his new rifle after we arrived in Logan, N.M.
Now I moved up to the front seat. We went to a 5200 acre pasture and found a few small groups but still no bucks big enough for D.J. I had to depend on him to judge. This was my first antelope hunt and all I knew was whitetail hunting and believe me, this is nothing like whitetail hunting. We did find a small herd with a buck D.J. wanted me to shoot. We stopped the truck and I jumped out. I put a round in the chamber, adjusted the parallax and steadied myself on the door. I took the 450 yard shot. Both D.J. and Frank said I just barely shot over the buck. The buck and herd ran a short distance. I ran to the corner of the bed of the truck for a better rest. D.J. called out, “He’s 500 yards”. I put the 500 yard marker on him and held off a little due to a cross wind. I took the shot and no one knows where it went. After a few cuss words, I looked down at the Q/F scope and it was set on 10X. Yes, I had read the scope instructions, which stated that for the distance markings to be correct, the scope needed to be set at full power, which for this scope was 16X. Sometime, bouncing around in the back seat, the power ring had turned slightly. The bouncing was so bad the windage cap had vibrated off. I was mad at myself. I still had confidence in the Q/F scope. Next we found a large herd of over 30 antelope working a slight rise, which they like to do so they can see danger coming. In this herd was a dark buck with very good horns in my opinion. I told D.J. “I want that one”. He agreed it was a trophy. He stopped the truck and I bailed out again, ran to the back of the bed of the truck. Frank and DJ were watching with binoculars. I set the scope up properly this time, and started trying to find my herd buck. The problem was at 16 power my field of view was far less than their binoculars. I just could not locate my buck in this ever changing strung out herd. I did not make a shot and watched as they ran off. Later I realized I should have just found him with my eyes, and then put the scope on him. Another lesson was learned. That was all for Saturday. We went back to the outfitter’s house and had a nice rib eye dinner and a beer or two.
Sunday was a new day. The wind had died down but the antelopes were now a little more skittish. We snuck into the rings but no goats. We could see three bucks on a distant hill but D.J. said that was not our land; a phrase I would hear often the rest of the day. We checked several other pastures we had not been on yet. There were some goats but they kept a distance and were not trophies. We went back to the pasture where I had seen the big one with the herd. We found a big herd but the big boy was not in it. It did have a couple decent bucks. D.J. got out his fold up decoy, the Bog- Pod sticks and off we went on foot. They were over 1200 yards away and moving slowly from our left to right. We angled off to the right but the herd kept that constant distance from us. These animals have eyesight that is at least eight times more powerful than humans and they can see 300 degrees around them. They keep to the higher ground so they can be watchful for predators, including hunters.
The Steyr Pro Hunter, Quigley Ford scope, Berger bullets and my buck.
After lunch we were getting that end of the hunt attitude, especially for me. If I went home without one it would be disappointing but not the end of the world. About this time a doe came over a slight rise with a buck right behind her. They were walking right to left. We stopped at about 250 yards out. I got to the bed of the truck and I was ready. The buck stopped and looked right at me. He was slightly quartering to me. D.J. had always said put it right behind the shoulder where the white hair meets the brown. Well, the old whitetail hunter took over in my mind; I always shoot trophy bucks high in the shoulder. I took the shot. You could actually hear the distinctive “thud” when the Berger hit the buck. The sound from the bullet contact was louder than I had ever heard before in all my hunting. He ran about twenty yards and piled up. D.J. ran over and gave me a hug. We walked up to the buck and the shot was “exactly” where I had aimed using the appropriate cross hair. Everything had finally come together. He was not a trophy but a good average antelope buck, I was happy. We did the photos, and Ross who was close by came to help celebrate. D.J. field dressed the buck and we took it to the cleaning station. The front shoulders were gone but I got the rear quarters and the back straps.
The new Quigley Ford scope reticle.
Looking back I can say Ross Hastie’s outfitting service was just what we needed and did a good job. New Mexico was and still is suffering from the 2011 drought. The antelope were healthy but the horns were only average. Frank and I should have told D.J. our limit was 500 yards, not 300. This would have made it easier on him, even if we did miss. Shooting off a bench is far different than shooting off a truck or a Bog- Pod tripod. I realize it is hard to find a place that will let you practice field condition shooting. Also, I wish I had known the type of land and cover we would have to hunt. There was no cover and very few bushes. It was wide open and flat. It was the perfect place for a long range hunter. My rig of a Steyr rifle, Quigley/Ford scope and 115 grain Berger VLD/Hunting bullet were perfect for this hunt. It was a lot of fun and we will do it again, probably with Ross.
Thanks to Red Dirt Trail Outfitters (575) 403-5267
After twenty-five years with a major law enforcement agency, John Johnston retired to the hill country of central Texas. His law enforcement career was diverse with assignments with the tactical/motorcycle unit, patrol, and criminal investigation. After retiring, writing became his calling. He started with a newspaper column which, he still writes and then moved up to major magazines in the area of shooting and hunting. He is known for his unbiased product testing and evaluations. Having a full size range from 25-450 yards next to his home was his dream come true. 2010 marks his fiftieth anniversary in the hunting, shooting and reloading sports. You will notice his writing style is quite relaxed and he prefers to write like he is speaking to you around a camp fire. John welcomes questions and comments whether good or bad. You can reach John at firstname.lastname@example.org.