Hunting Oregon Antelope With a Bogus Bovine and Binoculars
By Gary Lewis
"There's a buck feeding on that far slope. Every now and then he stops to look around,” I whispered. “I think we could get within range.” I put my binoculars down and examined our approach.
The ground rose in a gentle swell, crested at a low ridge, troughed in a grassy valley and crested again, tipped with low sagebrush at the top like a breaking wave. The pronghorn buck looked to be at least 1200 yards away.
Jerry, who had tagged his antelope on the first day of the season, said “This looks like a job for ol’ Bossy.”
If ever there was a time to employ the moo-vable blind, it was now. Jerry had built the Black Angus impostor out of stiff cardboard with plywood backing and a wooden handle. With a razor blade, he crafted a bovine noggin that would have fit in at any feedlot.
To a pronghorn antelope in Oregon’s Malheur River unit, there must be no more familiar profile. Spray-painted black, it looked like 90 percent of the beef in our western desert.
Jerry hid the truck behind a rise and we started out through the sagebrush with the cardboard cow lifted high. After we’d covered 300 yards, we stopped, lowering ol’ Bossy to the ground while we knelt behind her. I noticed that my rifle barrel glinted in the sunlight, so I moved it to the shadow in my left hand.
With his hands cupped, Jerry moo-ed like a lost heifer. I leaned beneath the bovine head and took a look. Now I could see two bucks. The smaller buck stood alone on our right. The buck we were after stood on the left with his does behind him, bedded in the sage.
We started out again, holding ol’ Bossy high to conceal our cowboy hats. This had to look like the longest-legged cow on the range. The next time we stopped, the bucks were staring. Jerry moo-ed and the antelope went back to feeding.
So far it was working. We fooled a jackrabbit that let us approach to less than ten feet, then turned nearly inside out when he realized he’d been tricked.
For 200 yards we were concealed by the low ridge. We made good time to the top then slipped over the other side. We had their attention now.
We waited. Jerry moo-ed and the antelope settled down. Then we felt the wind change direction.
“We’ll have to move left to keep them from smelling us,” Jerry whispered. “Let’s go along the top of the ridge. Trouble is our cow will be walking backwards.”
For some time, our cow had been walking sideways. The antelope got used to that. Now our bovine would walk backwards to stay downwind. 500 yards now. For the first time, I got a good look at the herd buck. He carried horns that were wide and at least twice the length of his ears.
We zigged and zagged and bawled and rested, moo-ving ever closer. I waited until we were less than 300 yards away before I put my hand on Jerry’s shoulder and stopped him.
Jerry lowered the cow and I peered under Bossy’s head, ready to go prone and make my shot.
They were gone. The big backwards bovine with long legs was more than the antelope could stomach. Speaking of stomachs, we couldn’t see through the big black cow. Next time we’ll put a window in Bossy’s belly.
That afternoon we sat on a ridge and watched a herd of wild horses in a canyon. In the distance, I spotted a pronghorn. While we watched, he bedded beneath a juniper. I could see an approach through a rocky canyon. It would take two hours to get there through a mile of snake-infested, rocky ground with little cover except sagebrush, junipers and a deep canyon. The temperature hovered near 90 degrees. A fickle breeze blew from west to east.
This was one of the best bucks we’d seen in a combined eight days of scouting and hunting. I dialed the Alpen scope up to 36-power and, through the hazy heat mirage, could see deep prongs and long horns that probably measured 14 inches or better.
“Do you want to go after him?” Jerry asked.
I dumped out my daypack and put back only what I needed. A compass, extra ammo, two knives, a two-way radio, my Leep Pack (to pack out an animal) and two bottles of water.
In full view, I walked at an angle across the open flat. Grasshoppers rattled in the dry grass. I stopped and changed direction when I heard a buzz that sounded like a rattlesnake.
Down in the junipers, I crept on hands and knees. To my left, I heard a snort and looked up the slope to see a lone buck with wide horns. He retreated north along the hillside. Above him, four wild horses trotted down, their long tails and manes rippling in the wind. The lead stallion was a dappled gray. Two roan mares and a foal trailed behind.
In the canyon, where I expected to find mule deer beds, I found horse trails, beaten down by unshod hooves, the underbrush gone. I was halfway up to the ridge top when Jerry honked the horn three times – our pre-arranged signal that meant something had spooked the animals.
It took a few minutes to locate the herd again. The horses had chased them a mile away. Now the buck was having a hard time with his girls. When his rival would move in to pick one off, the herd buck lowered his horns to drive him away. I watched four does head off up the slope. The buck had to circle around to head them back.
I watched him watch his rival, his does and the horses as he rested for a moment. I slipped out of sight and used junipers to close the distance. Somewhere ahead, between me and the herd buck, was the challenger.
If I spooked him, the game would be up. I eased from juniper to juniper down the hill. Still more than 600 yards away, I would be able to get no closer than 300 yards at best.
A movement caught my eye and I stopped. The lone buck bolted into the open below me, then turned and lowered his horns. They stretched well beyond his ears, spread wide, almost like airplane wings. He took one hesitant step forward.
A decision to make. And fast. 600 yards out, beneath a lightning-struck juniper lay a big buck. And he had me pegged. One hundred yards away stood his rival.
With my sling wrapped around my forearm, I slipped the safety ‘off,’ steadied the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. It had taken ten years to draw this tag and now the hunt was over. I’d have three miles to go across the hilltops, the meat heavy on my back. And a memory of a stalk that will stay with me forever.