One. Two. Three. Four.
Yes, I was watching four bucks headed down off the bank to my right with a little less than an hour to go before last shooting light. It isn't often this Eastern bowhunter gets to size up that many antlered deer in the same moment. Even more unique was that each one was an 8-pointer — two of which towered over the others to land firmly in the "shooter" category. The good news was they were going to be feeding straight toward me if they didn't alter their current path. The bad? They were in no hurry, and with last light looming, it was certainly going to be cutting it close on time.
I came to the realization I had better decide quickly which of the two bigger bucks was my top priority. Each had different but impressive characteristics. The first buck to enter the field was visibly high, while the last one had the width many hunters dream about. I figured they would score about the same, so I went with the time-honored decision-making method that has been passed down from generation to generation — take aim at the first one to give me a quality shot opportunity! Now just 25 minutes before it would be time to call it a night, the wide eight started separating himself from the others. As he slowly worked his way toward that magical distance I felt my Browning OneSevenOne was comfortable with, an accelerated heartrate told me the moment of truth was mere seconds away. With one final check of the range — 46 yards said my trusty Bushnell — I settled in on what I hoped would be my first Wyoming whitetail.
Just one week earlier, I'd been in Oregon chasing elk with my compound bow. Still mentally exhausted from a trip that ended with a cross-country flight from Portland, Ore. to Harrisburg, Pa., I had just enough time to unpack and re-pack before heading back to the airport to catch a flight to Rapid City, S.D. From there, I drove the rest of the way to Ralph and Lenora Dampman's Trophy Ridge Outfitters near Carlile, Wyo., for a whitetail/antelope combination excursion with some great friends and colleagues from Plano Synergy and Howard Communications.
Dampman has more than 200,000 acres of private hunting ground at his disposal — some of which features a unique and picturesque hero shot opportunity with Devils Tower National Monument in the background. He's been operating Trophy Ridge for 20 years, guiding for elk and turkeys in addition to the whitetails and pronghorns we were after. The outfit is located on the Belle Fourche River and equipped with a full-time taxidermy service on site.
My hunt was initially supposed to start on Tuesday morning, but I arrived at camp with a couple hours of light left in the western sky. Quickly taking a few shots with my crossbow, I wanted to be completely satisfied out to 60 yards on the range. After one small scope adjustment, the bolts were flying true and hitting solidly in the kill zone. I questioned whether I would do more harm than good by getting into a tree at this point of the evening, but Ralph assured me any deer in the fields would simply make themselves scarce for a few minutes before returning to finish their meal.
That's all I needed to hear — I was ready to hit the field!
Back To It
As my wide 8-pointer continued to get in perfect position for a shot, it was hard not to think about exactly how this came to fruition. It wasn't yet four hours ago I had driven away from the airport, and now — if the buck turned broadside like I expected — the whitetail portion of my trip would hopefully be in the books. With a crossbow in my hands and darkness looming, I knew one shot was all I was going to get, so I had to make it count. After letting several smaller bucks walk under my stand earlier in the evening, I knew it was time. He turned broadside, and after I reminded myself to squeeze the trigger slowly, the bolt was gone.
Two steps — that's as far as he went! The combination of the OneSevenOne and Bloodsport GRAVEDIGGER broadhead had certainly done the job, and at the very least I was headed back East with some fresh Wyoming venison. To make the story an even bigger memory, Ralph was watching all the excitement through his spotting scope from a few fields away! From the treestand, I felt as if everything leading up to the shot happened so quickly, but Ralph assured me there was a fair amount of anxiety from his position — not knowing the exact distance I was from the feeding herd and wondering if I was going to fire away before quitting time.
But the best part? We were only a couple hours into the week, and plenty more was on the way. In the morning, it was time to turn our
attention to antelope.
But Wait, There's More
I had hunted pronghorn once before in Wyoming years ago, a fantastic trip that ended with me taking my first Western animal. So, with three days remaining in the hunt — all of which were now dedicated to antelope, in my case — my plan was to be selective and wait for a true stud of a pronghorn. As it turned out, that was going to be a lot harder than I expected.
It was now Tuesday, and we were just days removed from another hunter in our group harvesting a pronghorn in the same field I was in. He told me to expect a ton of action, but I'm not sure you can prepare yourself for the numbers I was seeing. Hundreds of antelope — no joke — filled the area around my ground blind. In order to stick to my game plan, I needed to be disciplined. The fact that we weren't more than two hours into the day was sure working against me, though. But then, using my Bushnells to scan the field, I came across possibly the only thing that was going to force me to be patient — a pronghorn that visibly towered over all the others. I decided then and there that he was the only goat I was hunting that day, no matter what else walked into shooting range. For me, he was it.
I couldn't even begin to come up with an appropriate number of antelope I saw during that all-day sit. And taking it a step further, it would be hard to even place a number on how many were well within range for the OneSevenOne. But as so often happens when you lock on to a single animal, you hit the sack unsuccessful at the end of the day. That's certainly a relative term, however, because no true sportsman will say a day was unsuccessful after watching that many majestic creatures in a 12-14 hour timespan. At times, if I didn't know any better, I might've thought Wyoming's entire population of speed goats was in that field with me.
Despite not connecting, I was certainly amped up for the next morning — and that's a good thing if you've ever spent an entire September day in a ground blind. Morning comes awful quickly!
After what I had witnessed the day prior, I had big expectations for Wednesday morning. Sure enough, it didn't take long before the antelope started moving in again. The dynamic had shifted from Tuesday, however, and a swirling wind was clearly wreaking havoc on the skittish creatures. By mid-morning, I still hadn't seen the same giant I was so focused on before and was beginning to entertain the idea of lowering my standards just a bit. As hunters know all too well, some decisions we make in the field simply don't work out like we intend. Luckily for me, I got this one right.
Not long after my decision had been made, a single old goat with busted off tips caught me by surprise and quickly approached my position. I didn't take long to identify him as a good pronghorn, but he didn't show any signs of sticking around long enough to mull it over. A quick range put him broadside at 45 yards — a shot similar to the one I had just executed two days earlier on the whitetail. A smooth squeeze of the trigger, and the mobile pronghorn dropped in his tracks. I knew instantly the hit was high — but with the speed and power of my setup, I was able to get away with a slight aiming mistake as I hustled to not let him escape past my last open ground-blind window.
From start to finish, our entire group was treated to excellent hunting and equal hospitality. In fact, our group of seven went 14-for-14 on the week, with each of us connecting on a whitetail and a pronghorn. To make that happen, you need two things above all else — quality equipment and a quality outfitter. We had both, and it goes without saying the successes we found ourselves with on this hunt will stick with all of us for a long time to come!
- Crossbow: Browning OneSevenOne
- Arrows: Browning 22-inch Crossbow Bolts
- Broadheads: Bloodsport GRAVEDIGGER
- Clothing: Browning Hell's Canyon in Mossy Oak Camo
- Boots: Danner High Ground