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Never Trust a Doe -
Hunting Colorado
November 2020
Sam Martinez

 
The elk sign was surprisingly high up. We regularly hiked at or above
timberline trying to get an advantage to see the elk. They like the
thick woods at high elevations.
Upon moving to Colorado in 2018 I knew that I would finally get the opportunity to go hunting again. As luck would have it though, I arrived too late in 2018 for the fall season, and 2019 was spent staring at sand and camels off in the Persian Gulf. 2020 was my year! I didn’t know what to hunt or where, but I was looking forward to the upcoming season nonetheless. My plan was to go all out, put in for everything by every means of take, and stock the freezer by the end of the year.

My friend Mike, another Arizona transplant, was also planning for the upcoming season, so we decided to put in for the same areas and help each other with scouting and hunting. His goal was to get his first elk with a bow. I have only tried bow hunting once, and was terrible at it, so I was initially hesitant to put in for the archery elk hunt with Mike.

We spent an evening after work pouring over the regs and maps to determine where we would hunt. After much deliberation, Mike and I put in for rifle season deer and antelope in a unit near his land, as well as the archery elk tag outside of Buena Vista, CO. Like I said, I was a terrible bow hunter, but figured that it would be a new challenge, so I went ahead and applied for the archery tag. Since I was going “all out,” I also put in for mountain goat, Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, and moose…nothing to lose, right?

Now I needed a bow. Colorado has the largest elk herd in North America, and they even sell over the counter tags, so I figured I was all but guaranteed to get drawn for elk. I searched around, seeing if anyone had a spare bow, but ultimately decided to buy my own. My friend Skyler is a bow hunter in AZ, and he said that he shoots a “Prime” bow and has enjoyed it. I never heard of the brand, but after reading some articles about them being ‘forgiving’ and ‘accurate,’ I decided, that’s exactly what I need. I about threw up when I saw the price of a new bow!

I looked around some more and found that I could get a left-hand bow for much cheaper than a right-hand bow. Since I am technically left eye dominant, and suck at archery anyways, I opted to look for a left-handed bow with a draw length fit for a tall person. It turns out that those are even less in demand, so I got a new old stock Prime Centergy bow for a couple hundred dollars!

I got the bow, but now I need to figure out how to shoot. Mike and I began hitting the local range a few times a week. The archery range in Colorado Springs is right outside of Fort Carson, free for the flat range with targets from 10-80 yards, and the walking 3D range is $3. We got pretty decent and were consistently nailing deer and elk targets out to 65+ yards. Then, some terrible news came to my inbox.

The draw results were in, and I did not get drawn for moose or bighorn sheep, or even mountain goat. I also did not get drawn for elk, but Mike did… Sometimes even a sure thing is not so sure. The saving grace was that I got a buck tag for both antelope and deer! My new goal was to get an antelope this season.

All of this happened right around early June, almost concurrently with some news from the Army that I needed to get ready to pack my bags and head to North Carolina to start a new job. They wanted me there in early September. Hey, that’s when hunting season starts. It looks like it will be another year before I get to hunt again…

The hunting gods had my back though. They made sure that I was delayed, delayed, and delayed again in moving so that I could make it out in September to help Mike search the woods for a mighty Colorado elk. I figured that I could help him out for a few weekend trips, and then surely, I would end up moving somewhere in the middle of the archery elk season. The elk story is one better told by Mike himself, but spoiler alert, he was able to take down his first elk with a bow!

Well, the Army is great at making things as painful as possible, so me thinking that I would be in NC by early September, turned into late September, turned into sometime in October. I was so focused on that debacle that I forgot about my antelope and deer tags.

------------------------------------------------------

 
While hunting for elk, tourists were plentiful, the elk were
scarce, but we saw a moose.
Mike and I were catching up after he tagged his elk when he mentioned that antelope season opened the next weekend. “Wait, really!?” I thought to myself, “I am still in Colorado, so it looks like I will get to hunt this year!” By this time, two-thirds of my personal goods were already in North Carolina, including my hunting gear and rifles. Swiftly, I polled my friends asking around for a spare hunting rifle. Surprisingly, only a small group of my Army friends hunt, so I got a lot of “no’s” from the group, until I got to my old roommate. “Well, I have a couple handguns, and the Barrett,” he noted.

It was a Barrett 98B sniper rifle chambered in .300 Win Mag, with a 5.5-22x Nightforce scope to be precise. This is not exactly the classic sporting hunting rifle that I was looking for, but the hunt was 5 days away, and this is all that I could find. At least I knew that the rifle would be accurate and was capable of dropping any critter I would encounter in North America, antelope included.

 
Beautiful country to camp, off road, explore, and hunt. In a month
or two, this whole bowl will be covered in snow.
I ran to the nearest sporting goods store and scooped up one of the only boxes of .300 Win Mag left on the shelf, a box of 180gr. Winchester Ballistic Silvertips, and ventured out to the local shooting range. Due to caliber restrictions on the range, my options were to sight in at 300 yards, or 300 yards. I opted for 300 yards, set up, and landed 3 shots in a 2-inch group a little right of the bullseye. A couple windage clicks later, and I was dead on at 300 yards. At least I knew the rifle was accurate.

With that complete, I was able to do some bullet math with the help of the Applied Ballistics app, and dial in the hold for a 100-yard shot. I sneakily verified the math at 100 yards and departed the range. After several more calculations, I developed a ballistic chart for MOA holds for ranges from 70-350 yards at the various power levels on the scope. I was as ready as possible for the hunt the next day.

The plan was to meet up at Mike’s house at 6:30 AM or so and drive out to his piece of land about 2 hours east of Colorado Springs. Originally, we wanted to be there at sunrise, but Mike is also in the Army, and ended up working later than anticipated on that Friday. Not ideal, but we were still planning to work with the cards we were dealt.

We linked up in the morning and began the mundane drive east to the plains. We saw antelope after antelope the whole way out there, as well as a plethora of hunters sitting on the sides of the highway, glassing for pronghorn. “Seeing all these antelope is a good sign,” I thought to myself. After arriving to the middle of nowhere, we drove a little more, crested a hill, and made it to Mike’s plot of land.

Mike bought this piece of land as part of a program in Colorado where the state gives you money to not farm the land. His acreage is roughly ½ mile x ½ mile and yielded a deer and antelope during the previous year’s season. For being in the middle of nowhere, and un-farmable, it’s surprisingly good hunting real estate.

As we crested the hill to his land, we did a quick survey and noticed a small herd of critters on the opposite corner of the land from us. We stopped, pulled up the binos, and noticed one buck with a few ladies. It was evident that the pronghorn also saw us. As soon as we parked, they perked up and locked eyes with us from afar. We were in their territory.

Mike and I had a few small rises to play with between us and the antelope, so we hatched a plan to maneuver through the low spots to at least get within long rifle range (~600 yards or so). We grabbed our gear and began walking. “Dang it!” I exclaimed, I forgot my shooting sticks at Mike’s place that morning, and the grass was just tall enough that a bipod was useless. “Well, let’s try and get close enough to the buck, then I’ll figure out if I can get stable enough to accurately shoot.”

My goal was to get within 250 yards so that I could make the shot with no issues. With that in mind, we began maneuvering towards the antelope using small rolling plains features to mask our movement. As we closed the distance, we caught a glimpse of the small group, and could see that they were definitely alert to our presence, but we pushed forward, closing in to about 500 yards from where we last saw them. Or at least to where we thought they last were.

We were moving up a small rise when suddenly there was a jump in my left peripheral vision. The antelope got up and began running from left to right in front of us at about 150 yards. I dropped down and tried to get stable, but they were moving all over, and the buck was aggressively herding the does so that the group stayed together. I was on a knee watching through the scope as the antelope ran in circles, and the now buffeting wind kicked me around in the kneeling position.

I dropped down to the prone and extended the bipod. “Dang it, I wish I had my shooting sticks!” I could not see over the grass, the buck continued to herd his group while running in circles. “200 yards!” Mike said to me. I threw down my backpack and tried propping my rifle up to get taller. Still not a great picture, but I had a small window where I saw the buck briefly stop, stand broadside, and my finger eased onto the trigger. Then, as quickly as they spooked, the buck ran off over the next rise out of sight.

I missed my chance! We were moving too quickly in pursuit of the antelope and failed to notice them off to our left before they spooked. Surely, I would not get another chance.

Mike and I quickly talked over the encounter and decided to push over the next rise in front of us to set up shop and glass for a little while. We plopped down on top of the rise and began the timeless tradition of glassing and snacking. I was two pop-tarts deep when I noticed some movement over another intervisibility (IV) line and quickly brought up my binoculars. I saw two horns peeking over the IV line like the periscope on a submarine. I could also tell that the horns were moving back to the left, seemingly right to where we last spooked the antelope.

Mike and I decided to be much more patient and deliberate this time. They obviously like the area that we spooked them out of. We continued to observe as they sauntered from right to left along the rolling hills, all the while staying about 400-500 yards away from us. The antelope started roughly due north of our little observation post and traversed counterclockwise to a spot approximately west of our OP where they ducked out of sight behind a rise. That was our cue to begin the stalk.

We packed everything up and begin pushing west to where we last saw them. Mike and I deliberately walked, crouched, and crawled from small rise to small rise over the span of a couple hundred yards. For most of this, we could not see the antelope, or we only saw the buck’s horns peeking up like periscopes acutely aware of us stalking in on him. He was on alert, and definitely not going to let us walk right up to him. We got to a point about 300 yards away where we could maintain visual contact with the buck, but only if we got to roughly seated height. That meant it was time to crawl.

I was in front, with Mike about 5 yards behind me. I had my rifle, and Mike carried his frame pack and his range finder. Our plan was to creep forward, Mike would hand me his pack, and I would set up on the pack so that I could see over the grass and get a shot. We crawled forward yard by yard, until we were roughly 200 yards from the buck. All I could see were occasional glances of his face, and his periscope horns. We knew the does were around him but could not see them. Finally, I got to a spot just under 200 yards where I was on the edge of a slight rise looking down on the antelope. I set up on the pack and could see only a slight bit of the buck’s horns to my 11 o’clock.

Here I sat, knowing that if I advanced any further, I would likely be too exposed and spook the buck. On the other hand, I did not have a shot because the buck was too low on the slope, with only his horns exposed. All I could do was wait…

Suddenly, I saw one of the does appear to my 12 o’clock! She must have been bedded down just out of sight but was now moving to the right. I saw her ears, then her head, then her whole body was exposed. I sighted the rifle her way, knowing that this buck was very aggressive earlier and would likely come to corral this doe back to the group. “150 yards!” Mike said.

Sure enough, not a second later, the buck appeared. He ran up to the doe, warning her to get back down behind cover. The buck was frantic, but not quick enough. He reached the doe and got her to move but exposed too much of himself in the process. For only a brief moment the buck stopped, presented his side to me, and … “CRACK!!”

The Barrett leaped with authority sending a bullet careening towards the antelope’s vitals. The buck took a few steps but those were his last as he dropped to the grass and bedded down for the final time just beyond my line of sight.

We took a few minutes to gather up our things and began towards the buck. Sure enough, the shot was good and hit right in the pumphouse. Then, just like that, as quickly as the hunt began, it was over.

This antelope was my first ever, and I was fortunate to get the chance to hunt in a new state with an old friend during this fall season. Within the next week I would be packing up the rest of my things and driving to North Carolina, so I was very glad to get a good western hunt in the books. I hear there are a lot of whitetail and even some elk in NC. Maybe my bow will get a little use after all.

Until next time Colorado, until next time.

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