New Mexico Dream Antelope Hunt for Two Young Boys
By Alex Kennedy, Hunters Henry and Thomas Kennedy
My two sons had the big game hunt of their young lives in New Mexico this season. Henry (nicknamed “Big H”) and Thomas (nicknamed “Mr. T”) were 14 and 12 years old, respectively. They both hit the jackpot as they drew New Mexico non-resident youth buck antelope tags in only their second year of applying. Their odds of drawing were only in the 15% range. The particular hunt they drew enabled them to hunt in the entire northeast corner of New Mexico; they were not assigned to hunt just one specific private ranch. The hunt was only three days long, so we would have to be efficient. Big H and Mr. T were accompanied on the hunt by their wonderful 14-year-old cousin, Ezra (nicknamed “Ez”), and me, their Huntin’ Fool of a father.
The 811-mile drive from northern Utah to Clayton, New Mexico, our base of operations, was not as bad as we had feared and enabled us to see beautiful country. This hunt was going to be less physically and mentally demanding than our Utah backcountry muzzleloader hunt earlier in the season. Instead of backpacking in three miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain to hunt mulies for five days in the high mountaintops with a muzzleloader, we would be staying in a nice motel with comfortable beds, an indoor swimming pool, complimentary hot breakfast, hunting from the truck by driving and glassing with small hikes, and eating delicious food at a local restaurant each night. It was a welcome change for the boys. When hunting with children, I have found that it’s important to mix it up, incorporating different kinds of hunts for different animals in different places. The last thing you want to do is bore or overwork kids as they begin their hunting careers.
We scouted our first full day in New Mexico, the day before the season opener. Since much of northeastern New Mexico consists of beautiful, large, private cattle ranches, my Garmin GPS with an onXmaps landowner chip proved to be invaluable in helping us identify public pieces of state land or national grasslands. The land was generally flat with some rolling hills. Instead of the ubiquitous sagebrush associated with a Wyoming antelope hunt, we saw beautiful grasslands with the occasional cactus. We spotted two very tall bucks with decent prongs while scouting that day, each of which we estimated to be over 17" tall and likely to be in the 80" B&C category.
Opening day of the season dawned with Mr. T and me stalking the biggest buck seen on the trip. Mr. T and Big H were shooting a stainless steel Savage Lightweight Hunter rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmore, topped with a Leupold VX-3i scope with dial turret, and equipped with a Harris bipod. This was the perfect rifle for this hunt as it shoots accurately at long distances, but it is not too heavy to carry and the recoil is modest. We were able to get the wind right on our stalk and used a small rise in the terrain to stalk to within 150 yards of a buck. Unfortunately, buck fever and a difficult shot angle led Mr. T to take two missed shots at this bruiser buck. Later that same day, Mr. T stalked to within 125 yards on another buck, located about 30 miles away from the first buck, that measured approximately 73" B&C. Unfortunately, in the excitement of the shot, Mr. T failed to properly chamber a round and the trigger pull led to the infamous “click” of a firing pin striking an empty chamber.
Not to be left out, Big H stalked a nice 73" buck a few miles away from Mr. T’s second stalk, but the buck had so many does with him and the terrain was so flat and open that we could not get within 500 yards of the buck after repeated attempts, so no shot was fired.
That evening as we were stocking up on supplies at the supermarket, we met a local hunter. He was very kind and told us some spots to focus on on our second day of hunting. He recommended that we try an entirely new area and even gave us some coordinates of spots where decent bucks had been seen that year. Each night, we enjoyed amazing cuisine at a local restaurant. The chile verde was unbelievable. My nephew, Ez, liked the “Extreme Breakfast Burrito” so much that he had one for dinner four nights in a row.
Day two of the hunt was action-packed! At 8:00 a.m., we spotted a bedded herd of 35 antelope. The herd included nine bucks, one of which was huge by our standards (80" B&C) and another that was a great second-choice buck. We parked the truck behind some trees and stalked to within 400 yards. We could not get closer without spooking the herd, which was already standing and milling around. Big H’s shot at the 80" buck hit six inches below its chest. The herd ran 300 yards away to a hilltop. We pursued them, using the hill to conceal us until Big H was within 200 yards of the two largest bucks. The 80 incher was concealed from Big H’s view, so I told him to quickly shoot the 76 incher. Big H had perhaps five seconds before they bolted, and he put the buck down with one shot through the heart. I was so proud of him, and he was excited and relieved. This was his first big game animal.
After photos, skinning, quartering, and putting the buck on ice, we enjoyed a delicious roadside lunch out of the back of the truck. Spirits were high as we relived the thrill of the morning hunt, teased each other, and laughed.
Three hours later, we spotted another herd of 20 antelope with two bucks, the largest of which was 75" B&C. They were feeding away from us across a small valley on a half-mile square of public land. With the wind perfect for a stalk, we walked down a small crease in the landscape to within 225 yards of the larger buck. Mr. T got set up on the Harris bipod. As a young hunter, it took him a long time, perhaps five minutes, to get comfortable with the setup and to steady the rifle and make the shot. Fortunately, the buck and his does never saw us and remained calm throughout this process. A great buck dropped after a well-placed shot through his neck.
This hunt was an adventure that none of us will ever forget. We spent three amazing days in the Land of Enchantment. The boys learned many important lessons about practicing beforehand with the rifle, scouting, glassing, stalking, field marksmanship, field dressing, and packing animals back to the truck. They learned more about the importance of virtues like persistence, resilience, patience, and commitment. We confirmed the controversial rumor that antelope is one of the best tasting game meats, provided that you skin it, quarter it, and have it on ice within an hour. The boys swam every night, learned to love spicy chile verde, and saw beautiful portions of Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.