Accomplishing What I Set Out To Do
By Travis Nowotny
The word on the street was that 2018 Arizona hunt drawings were out. With much anticipation, I opened up my hunt portal on the Game and Fish website. I couldn’t believe it! I had drawn an archery antelope tag. I didn’t know much about the unit I would be hunting. I thumbed through my Huntin’ Fool magazines and local regulations, trying to gather as much insight as possible. I decided it would be best to contact Austin Atkinson, one of the many Hunt Advisors from the Huntin’ Fool team. He quickly filled me in on the best access points and gave me several landowner contacts. I tried to get a good plan together, knowing I wouldn’t be able to scout ahead of time. I live in Idaho and with a busy work schedule and thousands of miles between me and my unit, I knew I would just have the seven short days of the antelope season to make something happen.
The time had finally come. I touched down in Phoenix and got my rental pickup. I drove to Camp Verde where I would be staying while day hunting out of my pickup. On opening day, I found myself at the closest access point, glassing the grassy flats. The terrain consisted mainly of rolling grassy plains and sandy dry washes. There wasn’t as much ground cover as I was hoping for to stay hidden while stalking. It was immediately apparent that there was no shortage of antelope. Every fold I glassed into while pulling over and covering country had antelope in them. My plan was to use mostly spot and stalk tactics or setting up for a possible ambush after running out of cover. I located a great buck, and the stalk was on.
I got as close as I could with the low ravine hiding my approach. The buck was not alone; he had five other bucks with him. I crawled for several hundred yards and used my rangefinder on the group of bucks. At 118 yards, there was no way to close the gap. It was becoming apparent that this hunt would be no walk in the park. The terrain just didn’t allow me to get in bow range without a lot of crawling and some luck.
The days kept coming to an end with the same story. I would work all day to close the distance to the outer edge of my comfortable, effective range and end up getting busted while trying to rangefind the bucks above the grass or actually coming to full draw. I could barely get within range because as soon as I had to get up from my belly, the antelope would bust out and it was back to square one.
I found myself with three days left to hunt and not much to show for my efforts except sunburned skin, sore knees, and cactus spines in my legs from my knees to my ankles. I stalked one particular buck all day. He had very good mass and length. He was exactly what I was looking for in the tag I had drawn. I went into this hunt with the mindset of taking my biggest buck to this point or I would head home empty-handed. I kept on this buck all day and couldn’t get to full draw even though I was within 60 yards on two occasions.
The sun began to set, and this left me with two more days to fill my tag. I had been stalking the buck from sunup to sundown. I realized that he didn’t drink any water all day. I had been packing a blind in the back of the truck that my friend, Joe Decker, had let me borrow. Joe let me stay at his place and use his coolers, blind, and antelope decoy so I didn’t have to try and take mine on the plane from home. I remembered there was a small cattle water tank pretty close to where I was at when I backed out and left the buck at sundown.
The next morning, I set the blind up at the water tank and climbed in. I was feeling very desperate. These antelope had flat out avoided me. I peered out the blind window in the direction of where I had last seen the buck as the sun came over the horizon. Sure enough, there he was. He was rutting like crazy, running smaller bucks away from his does. The antelope were slowly making their way in my direction and disappeared in the small draw between us.
Forty-five minutes had passed, and I was franticly making circles in my blind, glassing out every window, trying to catch a glimpse of the buck. I feared they had circled out of the bottom of the draw and into the flat behind me. Just as I was starting to feel like they had gotten passed me, the buck appeared. The buck was on a string, walking directly towards me at 70 yards and closing. He paused several times to make sure there was no danger at the tank. I tried not to move. My heart was beating franticly as the buck walked up to the tank. His head was up and alert as he circled to my left. I feared trying to draw my bow, thinking he might bust. He slowly walked up to the tank and began to drink. He was perfectly broadside. I came to full draw and settled my 30-yard pin low behind his shoulder. I began to put backpressure on my trigger, and the shot broke loose. In an instant, the buck dropped to the ground on his side. He kicked, trying to get on his feet for a few seconds and then the commotion stopped as the buck relaxed and the dust settled at the tank. I was full of emotion. I slowly unzipped my blind and made my way to the buck. Still in awe and disbelief, a big smile came over my face as I knew I had accomplished what I had set out to do.
I want to give a special thanks to Austin Atkinson, Joe Decker, Brian Rimza, and Bobby Priest for all of their help.