September 16, 2022
By Dan Porter
Since joining the military, I’ve always been stationed somewhere that was a logistical nightmare for hunting multiple states a year. It doesn’t matter as I will always find the time and energy to do what I love. Even if that means running an average of 50 thousand miles on my truck each year. Being active duty allows me to maintain New Mexico residency. If I follow the regulations outlined by game and fish, I am still able to apply as a resident no matter where I’m stationed. This year, that paid off, big time.
To my surprise I pulled my third-choice antelope tag. A unit that I used to dove hunt and knew to have a decent population of antelope. Even with the area being predominantly private—with only checkerboard pieces of public—I had confidence I’d be able to find a buck.
With season opening on a Tuesday, I left my base in Missouri and arrived in the state late Sunday evening allowing for a day of scouting before the hunt started. An archery season and two rifle seasons had already come and gone. Mixing that with wide open terrain and not much cover, I planned to take any legal buck that presented an opportunity.
Monday morning came and it didn’t take long to find antelope. I found a few legal bucks, but one really caught my eye. Only armed with 10X42 binoculars, in wide-open terrain, I never really got a great look at him. What made this buck stand out was his harem of thirty or so does. If you ask me any buck running around with thirty does is probably worth taking a closer look at. I backed out, marked the spot on my map and went back to camp—pretending like I was going to actually get some sleep.
Early Tuesday morning, I returned to the area, keeping my distance to not prematurely spook the group. It did not take long to find the herd. They were just over 1100 yards away and boasting every strategic advantage they could possibly have. They were bedded at a high point in the terrain with the wind and thermals at their back, facing in every direction, with nothing but open country around them. This was proving to be an interesting play.
After reviewing maps and topography lines then verifying landmarks with my binos, I planned for a stalk. Making a mile and half loop, I found myself directly beneath the antelope. I started to sneak up a drainage and was able to finally reacquire their location. I was now seven-hundred yards away with only one slight slope and a small bush to cover my approach.
I dropped my pack and began to crawl. Not your typical, fun hands-and-knees crawl either. I am talking the move the gun up a foot or two, then slide like a turtle with my head down type of crawl.
After what seemed like forever, I found myself at the intended bush. Eleven of the 31 antelope were looking right down the drainage. I had run out of space to get closer, so it was time to set up for a shot. I was able to get a range of the buck's head while he laid there bedded, two-hundred and ninety yards. I set up my bipod, laid in the prone and waited for him to stand.
As the buck finally stood up and began to stretch, he presented a good shot. I picked the hair I wanted to hit and eased pressure on the trigger. The bullet hit its mark, and the buck took three short strides and fall over. After the shell shock cleared and the thought of “Wow, that actually happened” wore off, it occurred to me that I had no true idea what caliber of buck I’d just shot. I knew he was legal, but the story of chasing the king pin with thirty does is the narrative I really focused on the whole time. I picked him almost solely for that reason.
Every step closer to the buck quickly confirmed I had made the right choice. He was one of the biggest bucks I’d ever seen on public in New Mexico! After getting him back to the truck and in a cooler, I had my final epiphany: This was going to be twenty-seven hours of driving for just a two-hour hunt. And you know what, I’d do it all over again tomorrow!
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.