Mass Is King
By Aaron Smith
As March rolled around, expectations were not very high when it came to drawing any tags for the upcoming big game season. With rumors of credit cards being hit, I grabbed my phone to check, but there were no unexpected charges. Early the next day, I checked again and there was a $90 charge from government services! I couldn’t believe I had just drawn an Arizona antelope tag with only six bonus points.
With a pregnant wife at home and a busy summer ahead at work, I knew my scouting time would be minimal at best. I decided to call Tony and Eli with Pronghorn Guide Service. After talking to Tony about the unit I had drawn, just how lucky I had been to draw this tag, and hearing that I could be looking at a 20-year wait for another one, it made the decision easy. We made plans to hunt giant antelope in September.
The summer was long and hot. Every spare minute was spent at the shooting range or behind the reloading press. Every shooting angle, hot, cold, up, and down, was practiced over and over until I felt like there was not a goat in the world that was safe. I shot so much that I started to wonder if the barrel on my rifle would live until the hunt.
Finally, the hunt was here. With enough gear and junk to stay gone for a month, I headed out. On the 100-mile drive, I got a text from my guide, Bobby Priest, with a map location of where we would be camping. As I pulled into the spot on the map, Bobby called and said to drop my stuff by my tent and then follow the road to the top of the hill until I could see his truck. He’d been up there for three days watching a big buck. I decided I could unload my stuff later. It was way more important to have a look at the antelope he had spotted.
At the top of the hill, I met Bobby and looked at the buck. My first thought was that he looked heavy and was well over a mile away. After looking at some pictures and watching him for a while, we decided that this was the buck we should go after in the morning. We got ready for a long day of watching in the heat. With the rut in full swing, we watched this beast chase his does and a few smaller bucks all over the valley. At about 3:00, we watched as they headed for the waterhole for a quick drink. The herd filtered into the water one by one, and we were hoping that no archery hunter had snuck into position to wait for this buck to come in. Lucky for us, they were able to water up without any arrows being launched.
With the antelope back out in the same flat where they had been all day, we began to figure out how we were going to get close enough for a shot if they were in the same place at first light. Bobby said we should go around and make our approach from the east so the sun was at our backs. That way, we would not have to try to make a shot with the low sun in our faces. With the plan in place, we drove off the hill and headed back to camp to get ready for the morning.
With several hours until sunrise, I got up as I was unable to sleep. I was wondering if that buck would still be where we had seen him at last light. I started to brew up some coffee and shove stuff into my pack, making all kinds of noise. From across camp, I could hear Bobby say we had a few hours before it was light.
“Sorry, man. There is no way I can go back to sleep,” I replied, not thinking that he had been up here scouting for a week.
With everything packed, it started to get light enough to see, so we headed back up the hill. It only took a few seconds for us to find the group. They had not moved far from where we had last seen them the evening before. We jumped in the truck to get to the other side of the valley. After we made our way around, we grabbed our gear and off we went.
With the antelope still a long ways off, Bobby said, “We need to stop and take a good look with the spotting scope to make sure he didn’t break anything off.”
Bobby got set up and looked at the buck. He asked me what I would do if he had broken one off. I was starting to think he must have broken one off and said we were going to pass if he had. He quickly told me not to worry as they were both there.
As we got closer, the antelope began to move and started to get nervous. I moved to a position where I could get down on my bipod and clear the tall grass. After a couple of attempts, I was able to find a good spot to make a shot. He was at 540 yards, and Bobby told me to wait for him to turn. I dialed my scope, and as the buck turned, I squeezed the trigger. It was high, way over his back! The antelope scattered, and it was clear that I had missed. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to be too spooked, so we moved back into position.
After only a couple of minutes, they were at 530 yards. I got down and shot again, and it went high over the buck’s back the exact same amount. After this shot, I was puzzled. This was a shot I had made a million times over the summer. Something had to be going on with my rifle or scope.
We watched where the buck had gone over the hill and headed to where we had last seen the antelope crest the hill. As we hurried over, Bobby handed me his phone and said to watch the video. I had no idea he was taking video of this. I watched, and sure enough, I was shooting way high, but now I knew how high. As we got to the top of the ridge, I could see the buck standing in the flat below and we crawled to a clear shooting lane. He was at 550 yards, so I dialed my scope for half of the adjustment it should take for this range and shot. It was a hit! The buck moved a few steps to the left, I took another shot, and he was down.
As we got up close to this monster, I couldn’t believe it. He looked big before, but he looked even bigger up close. The mass was insane. Watching this buck run off after missing made it even sweeter to finally be able to put my hands on him.
I would like to say thanks to Tony, Eli, and Bobby at Pronghorn Guide Service for their hard work and to my wife for letting me put this hunt together.