I headed to northwest South Dakota recently for my annual archery pronghorn antelope hunt. I’ve hunted the last several years with Ryan Routier and Routier Outfitting. I had two simple goals: get some much needed relaxation in an antelope blind after a busy summer, and to harvest a “goat” bigger than my previous two.
Ryan indicated in phone conversations that conditions were favorable. Very good populations of antelope were present and a hot, dry summer meant that the antelope were watering consistently at water sources Ryan has blinds strategically placed by.
Antelope hunting often means long days – sunrise to sunset – in a blind patiently waiting for the goats to show. When they do, it’s often a very short encounter as they quickly water and leave.
Opening morning found me in a blind in a low-traffic area but on a water hole Ryan had seen a big buck antelope water at recently. I saw about 20 goats that day, but none came to water.
Day two saw me near a water hole that had seen good recent activity. Mid-day, a herd of 15 antelope came trotting in, including three bucks, the biggest being a definite “shooter.”
The big goat was the furthest from the blind, standing at 42 yards and appearing nervous. I hastily readied for a shot.
Seconds later, my rushed shot saw the arrow fly a couple inches under the buck’s belly. As the spooked herd sprinted across the prairie, I had the sinking feeling that a summer of shooting practice had been wasted.
The next day meant a new blind and renewed hope. Midday, however, another hunter spooked the herd of goats I was hunting. A quick move and blind switch saw no action at that water hole, though I did observe through my binoculars what appeared to be a very good buck and several does in the distance.
Thinking my three-day hunt was over, dejection set in as I watched the sun slip over the prairie horizon.
When Ryan picked me up, his first question was, “You wanna hunt tomorrow?” It was a very generous offer and was followed by a quick affirmative response. Ryan indicated I’d hunt the same herd that the other hunter had spooked that morning.
At 5:15 the next morning, Ryan’s gut feeling that something good would happen at the water hole I’d sat the previous evening meant a change in plans to that water. His thought was maybe the big buck I’d seen the evening before would water.
Daybreak found me in the same blind overlooking the water. In front of me and to the right out to 30 yards was an area along the water with several antelope tracks, meaning it was probably the preferred watering spot. Around 7:30 a.m., a doe and fawn appeared on the berm across the hole at 35 yards. They quickly watered and left.
Just past 9 a.m., a small doe came trotting in and stopped at 25 yards to my right. I glanced behind her and, to my surprise, a big buck was trotting in as well!
Rather than stopping as the doe had, the buck ran right up to the water, 18 yards away, and started to drink. A quick glance at his horns confirmed his size, so I drew my bow, settled my 20-yard pin on his vitals, and mentally told myself to “see it!”
“See it” is a mental cue and part of my shooting ritual reminding me to follow through and see the arrow hit. My tendency is to rush shots and drop my bow arm during the shot, usually resulting in a low shot.
This time I saw the arrow, heard the dull thud of a hit, and watched the big goat speed back the way he came. When Chase, one of Ryan’s guides, came to the field half an hour later, we quickly spotted the downed goat around 200 yards from the blind.
As we approached the buck, Chase’s comment, “that’s a really good goat” made the gnawing frustration of Sunday’s miss suddenly be replaced by elation. Forty-nine hours in the blind over three-plus days in temperatures close to 100 degrees had all been worth it!
This was my best goat yet and, though tired, the drive back to Minnesota had me feeling relaxed and mentally refreshed. I’m also very thankful for Ryan’s generous offer of an extra hunting day and happy he’d followed his gut that morning regarding the blind change!
As the South Dakota prairie disappeared in the rear view mirror on my way home, I couldn’t help but think, “I can’t wait for next year . . .”
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series. Visit Fishing the Midwest’s new website www.fishingthemidwest.com to learn more.