This weekend I had the pleasure of returning to Eastern Colorado with an antelope tag in hand. It has been quite a few years since I have had an opportunity to chase antelope, and I'm grateful that I was able to harvest a mature buck on opening day. It wasn't until I missed a few times and blew a bunch of stalks before I was able to connect.
It's always humbling to head out onto the plains landscape. What looks flat and lifeless from the highway is actually a network of washes and ridges, teeming with life. While you would think being in a wide open space would make antelope hunting fairly easy, it's not. They use their extraordinary eyesight, terrain and environment to their advantage, and they do it well.
Being back on the plains immediately made me think of one of the first antelope hunts that I did. That hunt also just happened to be one of my good friend's first big game hunts. It's been nearly a decade since Noah penned this blog post after we returned from that hunt. Some things have changed, some things are exactly the same.
P.S. Back in the day, my friends nicknamed me Captain Colorado, since I was the one that always seemed to lead the charge when it came to hunting, fishing, backpacking and other general outdoor debauchery.
I hope you enjoy this comedic trip down memory lane through the eyes of an antelope first-timer.
If I was a male model, that expression I have on my face would be "The Ponderer, by Noah." I've seen this look on my face in numerous pictures and usually I'm just posing. In this case though, the pose is real; I am honestly thinking, "What the hell just happened"?
It's hard to pinpoint when or why Erik and I started to hang out. It's also hard to figure out why things always seem to get ratcheted up to awesome when we are together. A constant stream of "Oh yeah? Well get ready for this!" action that, reflecting back, makes me think that someday we will end up on the Darwin website for guys who didn't make the "evolved" cut. Last weekend was no exception. If you searched for a list of keywords from our Antelope weekend, the results would return: guns, rattlesnakes, cops, blood, hospital, cowboy camping, and Dukes of Hazzard.
Those keywords should now have you nice and stretched out for the rest of your reading experience. (I wouldn't want you to pull anything)
Welcome to Antelope Hunting 2010: A 30 Hour Recap, With A Few Extra Hours of Bonus Time
Hour 1: Erik rolls in at 4:00 am and bursts through the door, "Ready to shoot some speed goats?" Over the last few years Erik has taught me everything I know about big game hunting. Although my role in the hunting party is pretty well defined as Comedic Relief and Guy Who Carries Other Guys Dead Animals Out Of The Woods (G.W.C.O.G.D.A.O.O.T.W), I would like to see it evolve into "Actual Hunter". So, I ask a lot of questions.
"Speed goats? That sucks, I thought we were going antelope hunting. I don't think I bought the right tags to shoot speed goats. And embarrassingly enough, I don't even know what a speed goat looks like." This is where having a good hunting mentor comes into play. He explains that on weekends when I swap my Boulder sandals for Redneck squirrel squashers, we do things like rename the animals we are hunting. We do this to bring them down to our level and show them how tough we are (i.e. goats) but also give ourselves an out, just in case they are the superior species and we don't put one on ice. (i.e. speed.) Got it.
Hour 3: Just as we are getting close to the hunting grounds and things have grown quiet in the car, Erik asks if I am ready to get hyped up with a new hunting mix. That's right amigos, a hunting mix tape. He explained that any hunting mix tape is kicked off with one song and one song only:
Track One: Ted Nugent: Fred Bear.
I embedded it above for your listening pleasure. What I would recommend is that you hit play and listen to it while you read the rest of the blog. No, I can't stop that uncontrollable urge to tap your right leg or limit you from wanting to pump your fist in the air and play your air guitar while listening. But I can tell you to TURN IT UP TO ELEVENENENENNENENNENE!!!!!!!!! Well, unless you aren't good at listening to music and reading, like me, then you should turn it down to 3 or pause until you are finished.
Hour 3 (plus a few minutes): We stop at McDonald's for some breakfast. As I mentioned, I'm no hunting genius, but don't we wash our clothes in special soap so animals can't smell us? Then we stop for fast food, something that I rarely eat. Just saying, a little counter intuitive based on what the results will be hiking in a couple hours.
Hour 4: The. Hunt. Is. On. And it's like no hunt I have ever experienced. Normally we're knee deep in snow or hiking some giant peak. On this one though, we get out of the car, standing in the middle of a field with rifles in hand. I make the comment that this is the first time I have actually “used” Eastern Colorado. The more I think about it, Eastern Colorado is kind of like having Rain Man for a brother. Not real great for the important stuff like picking up chicks or wrestling, but good for those one-off situations like counting cards in Vegas. Or in this case, antelope hunting.
Hour 6: Back to the car after walking around flat fields for a couple hours. The highlight of the stroll? Me: "Is that antelope crap?" Erik: "I think so". A real Lewis and Clark duo.
Hour 7: Driving down the road to the next farm, I'm trying to read the boundary map of where we can hunt and where we can't hunt. I glance up and take a look into the field. "I think that is a herd of antelope". Like I said, Lewis and Clark.
Erik asks, "Are we in the right hunting unit?" 30 seconds go by as I try to read the map. The antelope grow restless. "Ah, yeah, it appears that we can hunt this farm." Another 30 seconds goes by as we are adding everything up in our head.
We are hunters + we are hunting antelope + they are standing where we can hunt them = ???
Carry the 1….
They start to wander off as Erik tells me to jump out and get ready. "OK!.... Wait!...Hold my Snickers. Ok!...Wait!...Have you seen the top to my Gatorade? OK!... Ah… I have to put on my orange vest and orange hat so some guy hiding in this flat field doesn't confuse me for an antelope. Ok!...I also have to get my gun ready." Clearly my 4 months as a Boy Scout practicing "always be prepared" is paying off.
I jump out of the car and take off into the field. The antelope start moving and Erik drives down the road to try to get into position in front of them. They double back and start picking up speed. My heart is pounding and this might be the moment where I prove my worth to the tribe! One slows and turns, and for the first time hunting with Erik, I pull the trigger.
A puff of dirt kicks up right in front of her and then 20 seconds later the herd is 2 counties over. I see first hand that they can get up to about Mach 10.
I walk back to Erik, who is now standing next to the car. "What happened?" he asks. I look at him and reply, "Well the wind, and angle, you know small, didn’t look tasty…”
Hour 8-14: The next few hours are slow. We get a lay of the land driving around to each farm that we have access to. Plenty of antelope but they must have gotten the memo that today is opening day. We can spot them faintly on the horizon and they can spot us. It is like an old school standoff. I whisper to them that I will meet them behind Roberts Shorts Stop later (Side note: When I was in high school all the after-school fights happened behind the gas station Roberts Short-Stop. I never went there of course because I don't like to get beat up. Anyhow, that's where the good stuff went down.)
Hour 15: While driving to the next farm, we kick up a couple antelope and once again they start making a beeline straight to a property we can hunt. Erik guns it to get us out into the field before they get there, and as we crest over the hill we run right into two separate groups of hunters set up watching the field opposite of where the antelope are. We slow the car and the hunter turns around staring at us. Now, I can always tap into my inner redneck, but these guys were next level. We stop, not wanting to spook the antelope as they are slowly move into the field where everyone is set up.
Now it is getting awkward. The hunter who is staring at me in the truck with the "lets meet behind Roberts Short Stop" look is missing the fact that two antelope are about to walk right in front of him. I calmly roll down my window as he stares at me. "Ah, there are two antelope right in front of you." He turns slowly trying to comprehend my full sentence and correct verb tense. "Well hot damn, Billy-Ray-Ricky Curtis get your gun!" Some kid comes flying out of the car in what looks like his pajamas. He is trying to throw on his orange safety vest and get set-up; my kind of dude. No shot ever rings out, as the antelope have already disappeared over the next ridge.
Hour 16: After running into a few more hunters on the outskirts of the property, we decide to mix up our strategy before dark. We enter a cow pasture and start to walk through a herd of cows when I start to realize they are all bulls, big bulls, who start to follow us. Erik turns to me and mutters, "Did I ever tell you my great grandpa was killed by a bull?" I laugh. "No really. Got him on the ground and gored him to death." Well ok then!
We must have been paying too much attention to the bulls because out of nowhere 6 antelope appear 50 yards away staring at us.
Both of us drop to one knee as they start to run for it. Apparently antelope don't like to hop fences and for a brief moment we have them cornered. "LAY THE HAMMER DOWN!" (Ok, I didn't yell that, but it would have been cooler if I did.)
Lead flies and the odds have to be in our favor...although nothing goes down.
I turn to Erik, "I think I missed both of my shots. I don't know how. They practically filled up my scope."
"I missed" I repeat.
Erik stares at me, "I think I'm deaf. I can't hear you. Your gun was firing three feet from my head. I think we missed all five shots." We stare into the distance for a second. Erik breaks the silence, "On the upside it seems like you have discovered where your trigger is."
"Yeah I guess." I say, still confused.
Hour 17: After getting back to the car and making our way to town in silence, partly because we were both trying to figure out what happened and partly because Erik could not hear my half of the conversation, the blue and red lights flash behind us. The cop walks up to the window and takes a look at our blaze orange, "Howdy boys. You hunters? Cause if not you're probably terrorists." A real true detective we have here…
Hour 19: We return to the fields after dinner for a little cowboy camping. This is where we roll out the sleeping bags and sleep under the stars. As I am laying down, I'm feeling a little exposed. "Do you think there are rattlesnakes out here?" I ponder. "Nah. If there were they probably wouldn't be out at night." Erik replies. I always defer to Erik's experience when we are hunting, but silently brainstorm ways to get a snake out of my sleeping bag, if one slithered in.
Hour 25: We roll out of the dirt with moral a little low. By all accounts of what was supposed to happen, we should be sleeping in our own beds with a stocked freezer by now. As we load up in the car and start the granola bar and beef jerky breakfast buffet, I ask Erik if he has seen the show Friday Night Lights. "No." he immediately responds. I explain the premise of the show and go down the rabbit hole on how Season 2 is crap, but they get back on track with Season 3, and finally circle around to my original point. "Clear eyes, full heart, can't loose." I get the "why are you telling me this" look.
Not 10 minutes later we come over a crest and notice a lone antelope running right at us. I look at Erik as he is getting out and loading his gun. "Clear eyes. Full heart. Can't lose."
The antelope slows and stops right in front of him. As I mentioned, Erik is my hunting mentor. He is alone in the field with the antelope. It's like watching the awesome fight scene at the end of a good movie where you expect your hero to win. He has to win right? Right!?!?!? I have pretty high expectations that he actually knows what he is doing. This is why every winter I get up early, freeze my ass off and sleep in the dirt. I have to have the faith that he can lead me to the promise land of holding a dead animal's head up on my Instagram page.
The Karate Kid delivers the Crane Kick.
He walks back to the car as I yell, "See, I told you motha f******, all you needed was a little pep talk!". He smiles, "Can you help me pull all these sand burrs out of my ass?"
Hour 26: Erik is cleaning his bounty and I spot a couple more antelope in the distance. He encourages me to leave the nest and spread my wings on my own.
I run off, staying low to the ground and creep behind the bushes. (Wait. Wait. Wait. Go back up and restart the song for more effect) I sneak to the edge of the field and then get on all fours and start the belly crawl through the grass. It's slow going. I can see them turn and look in my direction. I follow the rules. I stop. I hold. I am patient. I am a hunter.
The minutes tick by and I make my way to the edge of the grass. I watch and I wait. I decide this is as close as I can get. Slowly I pull off my backpack and lay it on the ground. I place my gun on top of it and peer through the scope. The sun is at a bad angle and I have to adjust, moving quietly. I find her in my scope. Small, but manageable. The gun is steady and I start to talk myself into this moment.
"Come on. You did everything right. You stayed low. You were quiet. You have a steady shot. You EARNED this. This is your moment."
There is blood on my hands.
No literally. My face is now bleeding all over my hands, all over my gun, down onto my coat and a little bit sprayed onto my backpack. It appears that when adjusting for the shot I got the scope a little too close. Combine that with the fact that I am shooting an arm cannon and the recoil was enough to split my forehead and spray my own blood all over.
You know that moment when you realize it's your blood? I hate that moment. I get up quick trying not to panic. I have no idea how bad it is I just know that it feels like a lot. I make a beeline to the car where Erik is staring at me trying to figure out what happened. I gauge how bad it is by his expression. "That's not the blood I was looking for." Erik explains, half laughing. "You also missed." Good. He is now fully laughing as I bend down to look in the mirror. I am still seeing stars and can't say anything. The head bleeds a lot right?
Hour 27: After another effort at tracking some more animals down we load up in the car to head home. Two minutes into the drive Erik slows the car "I think I just ran over a big snake." Sure enough we back up and get out of the car. He isn't huge, but a large rattle snake is standing up ready to strike. We didn't exactly run over him, just his tail. So now he can't rattle before he strikes. I can't think of anything more terrifying then that exact scenario. I vote to shoot him before he kills some sorry hunter in the bush. Erik says that me shooting at anything else for the rest of the day is probably not a good idea and probably wouldn't have much effect on the snake anyway.
One unhappy rattlesnake
"I think I just ran over a big snake"
Hour 30: We pull up to the house and I wait for my girlfriend’s reaction. Unlike Erik, I know her reaction is going to be more proportional to the actual severity. "Oh MY GODDDDD! What happened to your face?"
Hour 31: I shower the crusty blood off and every time I move my eyebrow, blood starts to run down my nose. After a lot of complaining and a lack of medical supplies I agree to go to the hospital.
Hour 32: The P.A. comes in before stitching me up. "So tell me how this happened?" I look at her slyly and flash her The Ponderer, "Let me tell you about the adventures of Captain Colorado and his hunting sidekick...." Heidi interrupts me, "His gun hit him in the face."