There are two ways to do this, the easy way and the hard way. So much of my season I choose the later of the two, mostly for masochistic reasons. Grind yourself into the ground, make the pain real, noticeable, in order to keep yourself in the present moment.
But I don’t like to just ram it home, I like to start it off ‘’easy” and go for a spin in the truck out to Colorado’s eastern plains and sharpen my dulled stalking skills on the ample opportunities of spot and stalk hunting on North America’s favorite outcasts; speed goats.
Not an antelope and not a goat, these creatures are unique unto themselves.
With vision to rival Ilan Musk’s (see what I did there?!) and inhabiting land that has about as much concealment as a football field, these guys are as hard as it gets in the spot and stalk game.
I average about three blown stalks a day when using my stick shooter. That's adds up to a hell of a lot of practice for times you’re not going to get that type of high volume opportunity, like when chasing high country mulies.
Yup, three blown stalks. Alright let's be honest, one I was pretty damn close on, they were just innies instead of outies. And Colorado says I can’t shoot females until September. Time to keep looking.
I came down with the intent to kill he first legal pronghorn willing to step in front of my bow. I came with the honest intention of getting in and getting out. No obsessing, no getting caught up with with one in particular. I was going to be promiscuous, jumping from one horned goat to the next, not setting my eye on any particular one.
Well… I fell in love. He’s a big bruiser with a droopy right horn pushing around sixteen of the finest females in the county. Problem is that's thirty four potential eyes staring my way as I reluctantly crawl through the fire ant infested Satan’s beach. The beach would actually have more cover, there's the occasional sand castle built by little Johnny to hide behind.
They schooled me. Schooled me in a way that makes me come begging back for more.
This ability to traverse the land and never leave themselves in a vulnerable position has me wondering if they haven’t been receiving special forces training.
Patience, something I have very little of will be what wins out. More tomorrow.
Yea, this guy knows what he’s doing. He uses his does as advanced scouts. I get behind them as the sun splits the horizon with a set of heavy clouds. All is calm with leisurely feeding taking place while the big buck forks any laggers to keep them moving along. The front mistress catches wind of something she doesn't agree with and the alert is sent out.
Dust trails spit up into the air. A coyote. Now that’s some terrible timing.
I pack up and hit the dusty trail myself, leaving them to settle down until the evening.
The rest of my day is about as eventful as my grade school dance. A few awkward standoffs with little eye contact before I blow it.
Back to the real game at hand.
I have a feeling that I know where they may be. I park the truck out of sight and sumo walk up a hill using a windmill as cover.
I see some of the broads lying down on the far side of the hill. He’s gotta be with them. He hasn't let them out of sight since the start of this Risk game.
I belly crawl through fire ant hills and siege my way through locust camps. I’m scratched raw by the time I see the white skull caps of the females.
Thirty yards. Now all I need to do is wait them out and let the old timer make a mistake.
There’s something missing in my equation. He ain't there.
The does stand up and walk off. No buck.
“Well shit” I mutter to myself.
I head to the highest vantage point and scour the sea of sagebrush.
I don't give up and about an hour later it pays off.
He parked it on a hill overlooking his domain about two miles away.
I landmark everything I possibly can. But let's be honest, the sagebrush all must have come from the same parents, because they all look like identical twins.
I do my best to mark his location and I find a spot to park behind the hill.
Sweating bullets with more clothing on than a Muslim woman, I pop up over the hill.
He's standing looking at me. Blown stalk. God I'm getting good at not getting good.
The make or break day. I falter mid-day and shoot Hazel a text asking whether I should ditch the hunt and head home to regroup and then head to Arizona for my Couse hunt. Before she can text back, I’ve already made up my mind up to stay in the game. I’m not quitting now. She knows me and shoots back exactly what I was thinking.
To be truthful the cop-out had some merit. I just got finished crawling through the trenches for a thousand and a half yards like a bad war movie. I was hot, pissed off at myself and ready to give up.
“Hey idiot, you decide to do this on your time off. Stop whining about it and buck up.”
I love to give myself pep talks.
Two more blown stalks today and I'm looking for my third.
I found my volunteer. Old saggy horn himself. I want this guy on my wall in a bad way. I have an affinity to his sagging appendage. I feel his pain. I went through my childhood being called ’Dumbo’ because of my ‘George Bush’ like ears. Brothers in suffering so to speak.
Problem is, he's about two miles out with his watchdogs surrounding him like the president's Secret Service agents. And they're agitated at my stopped vehicle two miles out! Christ, remind me to call Swarovski and ask them who's team they're on.
I decide to throw the Hail Mary and go in.
After a hike through the dust bowl, fending off a pissed off bull and debating how serious the railroad company takes their ‘No Trespassing’ sign, I belly crawl the last two hundred yards only to hear the tell tail snort.
This disappointed feeling in my gut is becoming all too familiar now. Tomorrow…
Not tomorrow. Damn. I spent more time crawling today than I did walking. Brutalized. I'm sore from my knees, to my groin, to my neck, to my palms; and I love it!
I never thought hunting pronghorn would be so physical, but I also thought that you ate the shells of edamame. Guess I have been wrong before.
Every technique that I have heard of I've tried. Flagging. Apparently it doesn't work before the rut. Sitting on water. Might work in a dry season but considering I've found water in nearly every drainage, they don't need to risk being patterned.
I'm running out of excuses in a hurry. I'm not sure what else to do but I need to do it quick.
The animals are on to my game and we’re practically on a first name basis.
The day ends with no more interactions. Time to head home to regroup for my elk hunt.
This isn’t the end of it.
I come back armed for war about two weeks from my last humiliation.
They’re rutting and I know this makes them vulnerable. The doping effect of an extra shot of testosterone will be in their systems. The males are not as sharp and I mean to take advantage of that.
My secret weapon comes in the form of a vinyl antagonist that goes by the name of Montana Decoy. I’m not playing nice this time. I’m here to win.
They’re roaming about but I fall short by bumping a few groups with my slow moving truck. The moment they see a vehicle doing under sixty miles an hour, they’re suspicious and take off for the next county.
Call me crazy, but I think they’ve seen a hunter or two out here before.
I finally smarten up and decide to take advantage of what has been thwarting me. The only ones that don’t take off when I drive by are the ones on the major through-way that sees vehicles driving by every few seconds. They’re immune to the presence.
Bingo. A stalkable group is in perfect position as I pass them. They don’t even look my way as I drive by.
I park the truck a half a mile down the road, grab my bow and decoy and start the long slither towards the oblivious group of speed goats. With a solo tree in the middle of the field as my landmark, for once I’m sure of my prey’s location.
I’m within two hundred yards now and the wind is in my favor.
Wind check. Cover check. Sound? Well for that I improvise with my surroundings.
Diesel trucks roar by and I take full advantage. Every time one passes I inch my way towards my prize using the combustion engines for sound concealment.
I can see horns now, protruding through the tops of the grass. I’m zeroed in.
I’m about one hundred yards out. I might be able to crawl my way in unnoticed, but kneeling and drawing my bow back is out of the question. There is just no way to do it without some sort of cover.
In comes the best $79.99 I’ve ever spent. I slide up the decoy I’ve been dragging with me and wait.
They all stand and look.
“Shit, did I blow it?” I whisper into the grass with my lowered head.
Sweat drips down my nose as I peer between the legs of the decoy, hoping, praying that this will pique the interest of this buck just enough to close the gap.
He inches forward.
“Stay with me wind.” I beg. I need consistent, driving winds to maintain the same direction for just a little longer.
He creeps forward, occasionally looking back at his does to make sure they don’t lunge forward towards the bigger, better looking competitor.
He gains confidence with each strut. He wants these does to know they chose well.
I want the does to know that they will need to look for another suitor.
His steps become defiant. He’s almost in range.
I slip my rangefinder out of its case and crane my neck around the edge of the firmly placed decoy.
Fifty two yards.
I draw my bow back while almost in a prone position. I work my way up to my knees and am able to look over the back of the decoy.
He’s facing me and absolutely confused at the protrusion appearing out of the back of his adversary.
I’ve practiced this shot so many times this past year that I’m not even debating if it’s ethical. I’m on full autopilot and get to enjoy watching the kill go down in third person.
The arrow releases and rifles towards the chest of an absolutely stunned creature.
Forty yards later he realizes his mistake in his last breath.
I stand over him. Brutal. But this is what I am. The mixed feeling that all of us hunters feel and yet can’t explain.
I don’t resist the emotion dump. I let it work its way through my system. Then I get to work.
// Fred Bohm