Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Cow Trick

This was an exciting time in my life. I had a summer full of travel over Alaska as well as much of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West. Now the culmination of that first summer across the big river would be a guided hunt for pronghorn antelope in the state of New Mexico. This would be the first hunt "out West " for me. To make it more distinguished was the fact that I would be hunting with a single shot handgun. Most people who hunt this magnificent animal use a flat shooting rifle with a variable scope . This would be a challenging hunt not only for me but for the guide. I was a member of HHI and had read about pronghorn antelope hunting in many of the western states. I had made it a point to research and make some phone calls to fellow members as to who would they use for a guide. I came across a story about a guided hunt with Joe Jakab and his outfitting service,Point Blank Hunts. My guide, who is also a first class taxidermist, was Karl Brosig .

I had arrived the day before the August private land season for antelope was to open in New Mexico. We were scheduled to hunt in the northeastern portion of the Enchanted State near the town of Raton. I had driven down a long dirt road to the ranch once owned by a man named Crews Wells. The family had owned the ranch for generations but unfortunately lost it due to inheritance tax. I could understand how he felt as one of my student's family went through the same situation. They were land rich but money poor but the Infernal Revenue Service didn't see it that way. Anyways, I have a bad tendency to go off on a tangent like that with such things.

I met Karl and Nolan Henry the camp cook. Nolan was an interesting character. He was a retired USMC drill Sergeant who worked as the camp cook. He was a wonderful fellow to chat with and always had a good word about things in life. I helped them out set up the large army tents for the camp and then helped Nolan with his cook set. I believed that assistance helped out when I had some "technical difficulties" while trying to get within range of my pronghorn.

That night I slept soundly as the other hunters arrived in camp. The next day I was off to the other side of the ranch . The ranch was approximately 44,000 acres in size. To someone who lived in Massachusetts for one person to own such a piece of land was hard to comprehend . I was dropped off at one spot overlooking a large arroyo and a flat area. As I sat there I had some difficulty comprehending how to hunt these animals. The guide told me that the antelope would be traveling in front of me. Well, there was one that was more than traveling. It was running. These creatures don't exactly move too slow. This thing was clipping right along. They seem to have a natural gait when running. Their bodies remain at an even level while the legs gyrate into locomotion. Other game that I have seen seem to arch their backs when running. This animal seemed to naturally run. I realized that this was going to be tougher than I had imagined, especially with a single shot 30-06 handgun.To a life long New Englander the biggest shock was the openness of the terrain. I have shot deer at ten yards in my hunting career yet here I was in terrain that looked like this

The gun that I took with me out West is a semi custom made single shot called the Competitor. The Competitor uses a rotating breech like a howitzer cannon. You turn the large knob end clockwise to open the breech and drop the shell in . A turn counterclockwise closes and cocks the firearm. This handgun was very accurate. At the NRA's Whittington Center I shot a 2" group at 200 yards off a bench rest. Needless to say the gun would do the job. The bad thing was that the gun was less than reliable. I had a number of misfires. It seemed that I was getting light primer strikes and this would happen a number of times as I was taking aim at some wonderful antelope. I suspect that the striker lost a certain amount of energy as it made that U turn through the breech block.

After that first morning I got a tad antsy and decided to move around. I was on the edge of this large arroyo that was crescent shaped. It partially encircled this flat pan. On the other side were a group of antelope browsing the flat desert plain. I was amazed at their sense of vision. They spotted me from what I gathered to be one mile away. I could visualize this plain area as one square mile as I reside on a lake with a body of water approximately the same size. This was not going to be easy. I thought to myself that if I get down into the arroyo I may be able to sneak up within a certain range of them. Well, I got down and walked a ways. After a bit in the 100 degree sun I ran out of water. I had taken some with me but apparently not enough. I noticed I felt a tad light headed and figured I had better rest. After sitting for a while I spotted Karl's truck. He picked me up and we headed off with the rest of his hunter's for some lunch. He queried me as to how well I did. I told him what happened. I wondered if he questioned my wisdom in using a single shot handgun.

We then went out for the afternoon. I sat on the other end of the flat plain I was on after telling him what I had seen. I hate to say it but my only cover was a fence post. Again this openness was bugging me. Believe it or not I hunt behinds people's homes with a bow and arrow and they are unaware of it. There vegetation can conceal many things. Here there was no concealment to speak of. I knew that these animals had excellent eyesight and can discern movement very well. How would I be able to get within range of one of these animals? I did learn some things. I noticed that antelope run in small herds and that the males tend to be loners. The small herd would be led by a dominant doe. I watched one small herd run across the open flat I was in and stop . The lead female ran up to the fence and then ran a small circle around the herd. Then the whole herd seemed to follow her through this one opening.

That night we ate well. We exchanged stories and pleasantries. It seemed that my New England accent was a point of amusement for some. We retired for the evening. I sort of enjoyed sleeping in the large canvas tent on the arid plain of New Mexico. The next day came quickly.

We all awoke to a wonderful breakfast made by Nolan and then plans were made. I would be with a couple of people and a friend of his as a guide. We took off in his Suburban and then did some spot and stalk. To make a long story short I had some 'technical difficulties'. Remember how I stated that this single shot pistol had a cannon like breech. Well I got some misfires on antelope. I was upset and getting angry at the failure of the thing to fire on many occasions. I am not sure why but I blew some shots. I remember a nice stalk on a trophy antelope and then nothing. The gun malfunctioned again. I was ready to smash it.

That day I took some good natured ribbing and then we headed back to camp. That evening we experienced a large thunderstorm. In fact lightning struck nearby and killed two cattle about two hundred yards from the camp.

The next day we went off. I cleaned my gun and we were ready. This was the final day of the hunt and we planned to use the " cow trick". One of the great weaknesses of antelope is the gift of their acute vision. I surmise that there is a cost to such powerful vision. It must be with depth perception. You can take a plywood cut out of a cow and use it as a movable blind. Karl and I took the cut out and we were able to stalk within forty yards of this one large antelope. It was rough because we did a lot of knee crawling. One of the things I learned was that the ground is rocky, hard and does have some cactus. I did kneel on one nice big cactus that did not tickle.

Anyways. We did very well sneaking up on this animal as it grazed. I then used my ALICE pack stuffed with a sleeping bag as a rest. I put the cross hairs on the animal and took the shot. The 165 grain hand loaded Barnes X bullet took out the antelope. I was elated at the news as Karl watched it drop through the binoculars.We then retrieved my prize and headed to town where it would be processed.

That hunt took place many years ago but I can still close my eyes and see it happening now. Many times I wished I could relive that moment of stalking such a magnificent animal on the open terrain of the Great American West. Maybe I will be able to repeat that experience again. Time will tell.

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