I don’t know that I have ever experienced an adrenaline rush quite like the rush I felt drawing back on my first big game animal.
It was uncontrollable. I prepared myself for this moment all summer….tuning, adjusting, and stressing about my bow. Changing accessories, arrows, and broadheads until the fit felt right. Mentally preparing myself by envisioning the situation, shooting from all distances, pretending to be in the situation, shooting standing up, shooting sitting down…well you get the idea. It monopolized my life for 2 months. As it should of; archery hunting is no easy feat, and archery hunting for Antelope in Wyoming was an experience of a life-time. I had to make sure I was prepared for it.
Antelope tags are distributed through a draw system in which we applied for back in March. It was a fairly easy procedure; we simply entered in as a party and sent our applications in online. Results were not posted until the end of June which left only a couple months to prepare and plan. This was a sufficient amount of time for us as we were strictly hunting on private land that we had permission for already. Tags run at around $285 US for non-residents, in addition to that we were required to purchase an archery license and conservation stamp totaling approximately $40 US. Much like Manitoba, we had to hold proof that we had obtained a hunter safety course. I found the Wyoming Game and Fish website extremely helpful. In the case that we did not have access to private property, there is information posted on public Walk-In Area Rules, Hunter Management Programs, Hunter/Landowner Assistance Programs and the rules regarding nonresidents hunting in wilderness areas.
What I didn’t find overly helpful were the rules and regulations at the border crossing pertaining to bringing across a compound bow and wild meat. Trying to find these answers was pretty frustrating actually. Crossing with a compound bow turned out to not be a problem, there is no paperwork or restrictions on this. As for the meat, the only information I found was that I had to have my state antelope license with me at the border crossing.
This was my first visit to Wyoming, and in my opinion Eastern Wyoming was beautiful, but I can see how some of the residents might become impatient with the constant dust and wind. It was very open, dry, expansive terrain consisting primarily of pastureland, desert cacti, shrubs and grasses. Everything was very brown…green grass in these parts is definitely a novelty. We saw a ton of Antelope on the drive down, foraging in the pastures…herds of 10-20 in every other pasture alongside the highway. Antelope forage on a wide variety of plant species, including the plants that are unpalatable and toxic to sheep and cattle. These herds often stay within 5-6km of the nearest watering hole.
I researched a bit about Antelope, aka “speed goats” and found they are fascinating ungulates. They get their nick name from holding the title of the fastest land mammal in North America; actually second fastest in the world to the Cheetah. They can run up to 35mph and can endure this speed for long distances. Their bodies are built for speed, with large windpipes, hearts and lungs to take in large amounts of oxygen. I was surprised by their size when I saw them for the first time; they are quite small compared to the Whitetail deer we have here in Manitoba. Males only weight between 88-143lbs and stand 32-41 inches high at the shoulder. This was very deceiving at times, as was estimating how far away they actually were from the blind. It was easy to misjudge their distance. Our range finder was well used and I was thankful we had one packed.
My good friend Eric introduced me to this opportunity. He described antelope hunting in Wyoming as a perfect hunt for a novice archery hunter, as there is potential to see multiple goats and keep shots at a relatively close range. Eric has been shooting archery (for sport and competitively) for over 30 years…not to date him but I believe he said he shot his first big game animal with a bow when he was 7. The guy knows his stuff, about archery but also about hunting goats. I trusted every word he said and couldn’t have asked for a better hunting partner to walk me through this experience.
The build-up and nerves leading up to the hunt just about killed me. They were mostly excited nerves, but I also had those doubtful, unconfident nerves that kept creeping in and clouding my focus. All you expert archers out there know that these nerves are the worst kind. Eric had words of wisdom when I talked about doubt. He simply stated “if you think you are going to miss…your definitely going to miss, so get that crap out of your head right now”. Yeah, tough love! I arrived in North Dakota at Eric’s house the night before our journey to Wyoming. We shot our bows in the head lights of his truck till 11pm. He made sure I packed my bow for Wyoming doubt free, with only confidence and excitement on my mind.
We stayed at a huge ranch in Wyoming and primarily hunted their private land. They had ground blinds set up beside watering holes. There were about 7 of us tenting at the back of their property. We didn’t need much for accommodations as the majority of our time spent was in the blinds. Eric and I put in 10 hours the first day. Not so bad, it was only 95 degrees outside. You can image what the inside of that fiberglass blind felt like. The time went relatively fast as we had Does and Kids (young antelope) coming into the watering hole periodically for a drink which kept us entertained. It was nice to have the ability to watch them for a day as it made me a bit more comfortable and accustomed to their behaviors. It also gave us a chance to assess the potential bucks in the area. It is easy to want to draw on the first buck you see; they look so impressive up close, even the smaller guys. Eric quickly taught me what to look for…horn length, mass and depth of the prong (triangle that jets off of the horn halfway up its length) all contribute to a good measurement. From a distance it is hard, but a good tip is you can measure the horns against the length of the ear, and how high above the ear the prong sits. The days to follow this first day were very similar. We had some spectacular views of mule deer, more doe and kid antelope, a few bucks to get our adrenaline going, and as you can imagine, conversations I wish we had taped.
On the fourth morning we woke up with good a feeling. The blind we were manning that morning had multiple bucks coming down to water and the blind was positioned for a 20 yard shot or under. It was within the first hour when Eric tapped my shoulder, “Buck 50 yards, coming in”. I positioned myself in the blind and of course the shaking began. My thoughts ran wild…Carly breath deep, relax, and think about all the elements to make this shot count. “30 yards…still coming Carly get ready”. Eric was in a position to see the buck, I was not yet. This was torture. “He is coming in on the left hand side of the blind….10 yards out”. And there he was, a beautiful buck broad side standing right at the edge of the watering hole. This was it, my big shot I had anxiously waited for. Eric gave me the nod and I drew my bow….
Ok that wasn’t my big shot. I had a noisy jacket on which amplified in the blind, spooked the buck and it ran away showing us both his speedy goat talents. Ha…you don’t see that on TV.
The mood was lightened after that experience and it wasn’t long before the next nice buck come sauntering down to the water hole. He swung around the blind wide, but gave us a nice view of his girthy horns and plush coat. He was definitely a shooter! Eric calmly explained that this buck would likely take a drink and on his way out pass the blind at approximately 15 yards. “That’s your shot if you want this buck”. The adrenaline rush started again, my heart pounding so load I swear it was worse them my jacket. Deep breaths…remember every element you practiced to make this shot…your grip, a nice smooth quiet draw, the button kisser in the corner of your mouth, and most important follow through! “He is walking back Carly…you can draw”. I drew my bow and waited for what felt like 10 minutes. He took his time that’s for sure! Finally, there he was, less than 15 yards out, quartering towards me and walking. Eric whistled but he continued to walk. He was spectacular and holy man did he look massive in my sight! I took the shot…
If I had to re-assess this situation, I may have let that buck pass. Going forward if I was in that situation with a White-tail I would know now to definitely pass on that shot. However I am glad I took it, because the next two hours that followed this shot was the biggest learning experience of my life.
It was a solid hit and the outlook looked good from what we could see, but it wasn’t perfect. The antelope ran about 70m out and stood there, eventually it laid down. In my binoculars I could see the entry point and it was a bit farther back than an optimal vital shot. Eric was reassuring that it wouldn’t be long, but as you can image the stress level at that point was over the top. After a couple hours, a bit of stalking, tears and anxiety, my goat called it quits and laid down for good. The relief was exhilarating…I have never felt so appreciative in my life. The most stressful moments of my life turned into the happiest and our celebrations began!
I was pretty proud of my accomplishments on my return to Canada. By the way, crossing the border with this wild meat was no problem whatsoever. Eric and I took good care while field dressing and the taste of the meat was a direct reflection of our actions. With antelope it is important to gut them right away. They are naturally warm creatures and the hot Wyoming temperatures can spoil the meat quickly. We quartered the animal quickly and placed it on ice for 2 days before butchering and freezing the meat. I cooked the back strap and tenderloin for my family as soon as I returned home. The meat was like nothing I have tried before; sweet, tender and delicious.
Imperfect shots are not generally what people write about; we tend to keep these experiences under wraps. Honestly I think it is better to talk about it. By the sounds of it many have experienced this situation in the past. If you haven’t experienced this yet, you likely will at some point of your hunting career. It will force you to slow down, assess the situation and think hard about the consequences of your actions. I honestly believe I have become a better archer in the long run because of this experience. As I stated before, archery hunting is no easy feat. It takes practice, consistency and real hunting experiences to build confidence and knowledge. I was fortunate to have a hunting partner to help me through this first shot and was fortunate to harvest my first big game animal.
That same morning Eric also shot his buck and a beauty at that! I was equally as nervous and excited when he drew his bow as I was when I shot. He showed me exactly what a vital shot looked like with perfect placement and a quick, clean, instant kill. It was impressive to say the least! His confidence and expertise showed in every aspect that morning, not only with this incredible shot, but also in his patience, instruction, knowledge and kindness mentoring me through this incredible experience.