October 28, 2010
With a coveted non-resident pronghorn tag in hand, ingenuity and determination land a memorable trophy.
Looking at the New Mexico Game and Fish website, "pronghorn -- successful" glared back at me. As the reality of the situation sank in, I quietly wondered if I'd bitten off more than I could chew. The unit I'd drawn was known for producing some tremendous trophies, yet because of my lack of experience with the area, I wondered if I might squander an excellent hunting opportunity by hunting solo.
New Mexico's trophy pronghorn habitat is beautiful and stretches as far as the eye can see. There sure is plenty of ground to cover!
But being a strict do-it-yourselfer, I could not bring myself to consider the services of an outfitter. In my heart, I knew the satisfaction and savvy gleaned from a "self" hunt would far outweigh any trophy gained, or lost. Yes, the matter was settled in my mind -- I would go it alone again, no matter the outcome.
Full Speed Ahead
With a few months to prepare for the trip, I set about the many tasks at hand. As I assembled gear and conducted research, summer slid slowly by, and I often found myself dreaming of laying hands on a set of the big, black, beautiful horns that crowned mature pronghorn bucks.
Inside, however, I knew that I was anything but a pronghorn guru, and I fought feelings of inadequacy. Refusing to allow trophy pressure to affect my outing, I determined to have fun, do my best and let the chips fall where they may. Priority number one was going to be the enjoyment of some wide-open, quiet spaces -- that outcome, I could control!
As my August departure date neared, I'd refined my bow shooting abilities to nail-driving perfection. I'd also significantly increased my cardiovascular health, thus my mental confidence was also peaking. More than enough time had been allowed for the trip, since this would be my greatest ally. It was time to burn some boot leather.
Laying The Groundwork
I arrived in my hunting unit 12 days before the season opened and set up a good base camp in a secluded spot in an oak canyon. All around stretched lush, green high plains.
Rolling mountains broke the landscape at regular intervals, providing great variety to the beautiful scene laid out before me. Though the heat of summer was still present, it was clear that cooler, rain-soaked breezes often blew through this area. I wondered if this regular moisture might dash my hopes of ambushing a big goat from a water source.
The next few days were spent covering a lot of ground. Daylight would find me on prominent points glassing for animals. Mid-day often found me making my way into extremely remote areas to do more of the same. Cool summer nights were usually spent bivouacking under starlit skies. Other evenings were spent around a campfire, deep in thought. Some nights, the Milky Way stretched across the starlit sky, and at other times, lightening flashed across a dark sky while rolling thunder lulled me to sleep.
Lying in my bag at night, I would often feel tugs of loneliness. But that would be over soon -- I'd be driving to a distant airport to pick up my mate in a few days! Yes, my wife Peggie would be here with me soon to share a grand time in the great outdoors. Could it get any better than that? Not in my book. Man, it was good to be alive and away from the rat race.
By the end of the first week, I'd looked at a lot of big country and scores of antelope.
There were groups of does, groups of small bucks and groups of good-sized bucks. The old goats were few and far between, usually by themselves, though occasionally hanging in groups of two or three. I'd looked at some certain Boone and Crockett-class bucks and many others that were flirting with this magical mark. The animals were certainly here. It would now be up to me to sink or swim. The anticipation was killing me.
Eddie Claypool works on his "redneck brainstorm" -- a homemade cow decoy -- in the back of his horse trailer at camp. All of the materials used to construct the decoy were purchased in a nearby town after visiting Lowe's and Wal-Mart.
Three days before the opener, I pointed my truck toward civilization. Rolling into Albuquerque, N.M., I rented a room, took a shower and put on some nice clothes. It was time to greet my sweetheart at the airport. My thoughts were focused on companionship, a good meal and more companionship. Just when you think it can't get any better, it does!
Back To Business
After a fun day in town, Peg and I were both eager to get to wide-open spaces. Rolling back into camp, we jabbered like little kids about the newness of the days to come. Peg talked of peace, quiet and new sights and sounds, while I rambled about hunting plans and big bucks. Our first evening was spent roasting wieners over a campfire and sharing thoughts on how blessed we were to be able to enjoy God's great creation.
To us, it was this type of simple life, with its simple pleasures, that really mattered. All the other stuff -- the work, the money, the head-games -- were simply a necessary means to reach this meaningful end. We prayed our future would hold a lot more of this very kind of enjoyment.
Our first morning in camp together found me rising early to do some groundwork. For some time, I'd been racking my brain about how to best approach this. As I had suspected, there was no way I'd be able to sit over water, because it was everywhere -- the evening thunderstorms saw to that.
Eddie and Peggie Claypool, dressed in all black, pose with the buck fooled by their homemade cow decoy. Eddie said Peggie was a vital part of this hunt. She helped build the decoy, carry it in the field and share the joy of the harvest.
Since the area was fenced off into enormous pastures, I'd scouted fence crossings for many days in hopes of finding one that was a sure bet. All this effort had brought me to the realization that a fence crossing might be a good way to kill a "potluck" buck, but probably not a particular trophy. Not willing to settle for "any" buck at the start of the season, I determined that in order to hunt a particular trophy, I'd have to revert bac
k to my old nemesis -- spot-and-stalk tactics.
Heading off to find a particular buck, I spent the morning with my quarry. Bringing Peggie afield in the evening, we excitedly watched a big buck tend to his carefree existence. Little did the big fellow know, but a distant, skinny predator was lusting after his topknot. The next morning would see who wanted it the most.
The Best Laid Plans
As I carefully approached the area where the big buck resided, I worried about stepping on a rattlesnake in the morning darkness. As daylight arrived, I had my quarry in sight and the stalk was on. For the next couple hours, I crawled down cattle trails and up arroyos. Using the meager cover that was available, I gave the effort my all. At one point, I ranged the big goat at 93 yards. After having spent so much time in such big, wide-open country, 93 yards actually seemed close! It wasn't nearly close enough for me, however, so I slithered on. Around 9 a.m., I finally blew the stalk -- same old story, different year.
Heading back to my ATV, I headed to camp for a shoulder to cry on.
Mid-day found me back on "my" trophy goat, newfound determination at work. Within the first 30 minutes, I blew it again. The old-timer responded the same way he had earlier, with speedy and distant departure. I was beginning to get frustrated -- same story, different year. Heading back to camp, I knew I was up against a seemingly insurmountable task. Sadly, I was already starting to get that old familiar feeling of hopelessness that had ultimately whipped me on previous spot-and-stalk pronghorn hunts. And I knew that when the confidence goes, you're in trouble.
Out Of Thin Air
Arriving at camp that evening, I suddenly had a brainstorm. Loading Peg into the truck, toward a distant town we went. Finding a Lowe's, I headed inside. Grabbing materials, I hurriedly checked out and headed back to camp. Feeling rather unsettled about my plans, I seriously questioned my sanity. Surely, this was a waste of time, wasn't it? Could a cow decoy really work? Could I even make a decent decoy? Time would tell.
Author Eddie Claypool shows off the prize earned through many days of hard work -- and a little bit of redneck ingenuity.
Inside, I felt this wild idea would surely end up an embarrassment, and a waste of time and money. If it did, I'd take the secret of my "wild-hair idea" to my grave. I swore Peg to secrecy also.
Arriving at camp, I quickly set about fabricating a decoy. Miraculously, things went even better than I'd hoped, and in about an hour, I was staring at a workable decoy. As evening settled in around us, Peg and I sat by the fire and laughed about the goofy-looking "cow" leaning against a nearby tree. As I lay my head down for sleep, I smiled at the absurdity of my recent actions. I would soon be 50 years old, and I silently wondered if dementia was already setting in. Oh well, whatever the case, I was ready to get the party started!
Who'da Thought It?
The following morning, Peg and I rose slightly after sunrise, had a leisurely breakfast and prepared for the effort ahead. To start the show off, I decided we'd cross the road from our camp and give the decoy a try on some of the local bucks.
After all, we figured there were going to be a lot of "quirks" to be ironed-out of our approach, so we might as well educate some of the local adolescents first. Donning entirely black outerwear to match our Black Angus decoy, Peg and I looked like little Ninjas. It was all we could do to stop laughing at ourselves.
Cow in hand, Peg and I trudged across the road in front of our camp and climbed a low rise. Settling in for a look-see, I soon spotted a group of five young bucks about half a mile away. Discussing a plan of attack, we headed out.
Shortly, Peg drew my attention to our left. Looking, I immediately spotted a really nice buck standing about 300 yards away, intently watching our progress. Frustrated that I'd not spotted this buck in my glassing efforts, I knew there was no use in trying to fool him -- he had us dead to rights. Peg had a slightly different take on the situation, stating that we should "go ahead and give him a try." Certain that we would be wasting our time -- already feeling frustrated and stupid -- I reluctantly agreed. Climbing behind our cow, off we went.
In a matter of minutes, I was quickly becoming amazed at the results of our actions. The big buck had never moved a muscle all the while, carefully scrutinizing our deflected approach. As we neared 100 yards, I was truly freaking out. It was looking like this was going to work, and I couldn't believe it! When we reached what appeared to me as "shooting range," we settled the decoy to the ground and I quickly peered around the butt of our decoy to take a rangefinder reading. Nocking an arrow, I drew my bow, leaned out and touched my release button.
In a moment forever frozen in time, Peg and I watched as my arrow drifted across space and hit the goat right in the sweet spot. Blasting out, the big guy made a short, blistering sprint and piled up within sight. In a matter of seconds, it was over. I was done. Emotions flooded over me like hot water. Jumping out from behind the decoy, Peg and I looked at each other in disbelief. Then, the celebration began. We were running in circles, laughing and hollering like a couple of kids in a candy store!
Miracles do happen. Give them a chance.