In the predawn darkness I wound my way along the ranch driveway, then through several tall rows of round hay bales to an open spot which was about the highest point in the pasture. From there I’d hike over the ridge into a deep draw where I had a blind set up overlooking a pond. As I opened the truck door coyotes began their parting serenade as they ended their night’s hunting and headed for cover to spend the day. There were moans, howls, yips and barks as I closed the truck door quietly and stood there in the darkness soaking it all in. This was opening day of Kansas antelope rifle season, and my plan had been to sit in the blind until daybreak, then wonder farther up the draw to try and find a large group of 20 or more I had spotted there the evening before, even though now it was doubtful they were anywhere close, given the fact that the coyotes had evidently just come through that same draw.
For years now a friend of mine has gone to Canada goose hunting each fall with several friends. Geese are so thick where they go that people come up to them and literally beg them to shoot geese on their properties. I found almost the same scenario on last week’s antelope hunt in western Kansas. It’s hard to find a land owner and rancher out there who want them on their property. My Kansas antelope tag was for unit 2 which includes all of Wallace Co, and I had previously lined up three landowners around Sharon Springs who were eager to see a few disappear.
This ranch was 7 miles north of Sharon Springs and consisted of the usual deep barren draws, high flat bluffs, barbed wire fences and stock tanks & windmills that are a common denominator to the area. I met with a local landowner who had for years been an avid antelope hunter, but now hunts only deer, and he taught me a few of the finer points of Kansas antelope hunting. It seems antelope group together for the winter in larger groups like turkeys do here in my neck of the woods. I saw a group numbering more than twenty and a smaller group of ten or less within a couple mile radius of the property I was on that first morning. While I freaked at the thought of a 200 yard shot to harvest one, he chuckled and told me most local hunters sight in their rifles at 300, and shots of 400 yards are not unusual. He also warned me that while hunting from blinds might work some on dry years, this was not a dry year, and that I should concentrate on spotting them with binoculars then figuring a way to get to them unnoticed.
As I sat in the blind, I was antsy to get out and start walking further up the draw, even though the coyotes had certainly spooked any other critters therein. Shortly after daybreak, 3 shots broke the morning silence, probably from a walk-in hunting area (WIHA) just over the ridge. I fidgeted, but sat still thinking maybe that would flush the rest of that herd down the draw toward me. Soon I could stand it no longer and left the blind, heading up the ridge to the truck to drop off my chair before tackling a trek back down into that draw. With the binoculars I took a good look around before leaving the truck again, and in the opposite direction from my blind, a small group of 9 or 10 antelope were slowly grazing their way up a short narrow draw probably a quarter mile away. If they would put up with me for 50 yards or so, I could be over a ridge and maybe work my way quietly to the lower end of the draw they were in. I had little hope in that working, but thought to myself “What the heck, I might as well get my first failure of the day out of the way.” I picked out a dark bare spot at the base of a hill just below them and headed for that. I lost count of the number of small ridges I crossed and the ravines I followed, but managed to stay out of the antelope’s sight. Finally I got down and crawled the last few feet to the spot I had picked out at the base of the hill. I half crouched, half knelt behind some yucca plants, and through their broad leaves I could see the antelope ahead and slightly above me. One animal, a buck stood alone above the rest, but was at an angle that made for a bad shot that would do too much damage to him. He kept looking my direction and was on alert, but didn’t seem at all spooked. My range finder was not working from behind the plants, so I was only guessing the distance. Two does at the bottom of the group offered a perfect broadside shot, but should I take one of them or hope the buck changed his position?
I situated myself as comfortably as possible, put my rifle on the shooting stick, watched and waited. After a time, the buck evidently felt all was well with the world, turned broadside to me and put his head down to graze. My rifle was sighted at 200 yards and I knew the distance was no less than that, so I put the scope crosshairs where they needed to be and took the shot. The entire group bounded up onto the flat ridge above, but as I watched, the buck went down just a few yards from where he had stood.
I could hardly believe this had all worked just the way it was supposed to. I don’t get emotional when I harvest an animal, but as I stood there admiring my first Kansas antelope, I believe I pumped my fist in the air and hollered something like “It really worked!” Well, yet another adventure is crossed off my bucket list, and this will officially become the most expensive meat I’ve ever put in my freezer. ..Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]