Montana Antelope Hunting with 3 Generations of Family
By Tim Kraskey
My father, John, my brother, Matt, his two boys, David and Jonathon, and I went to the annual hunting pasture in Montana in search of antelope where we have access to private land through the generosity of a great landowner who allows us to hunt his ranch. This ranch is approximately 45 section (note: a section is a square mile of land) in eastern Montana near Baker.
My father has been hunting this land for nearly 40 years. My uncle (who is deceased) had been the caretaker on this land for a number of years. My dad is 81 years old and still gets around pretty well and still goes to work every day as a carpenter. While he has slowed down a lot, his passion for hunting and life are second to none. I would say Steve Rinella and my dad could have a lot in common. He taught all his kids to hunt, fish, and enjoy God and earths gratitudes. He stressed as well that we are here not to exploit it, and if we kill it, we should consume it and not waste it. He firmly believed in only harvesting what we need to eat and not waste.
We arrived the day before the opener for the Montana antelope season to allow us some time to do a little scouting for the next day. Opener is usually the first Saturday in October for Montana. We drove around some of the property and were encouraged to see a number of groups and few lone bucks in fields where we could put on a future stalk. We enjoyed a nice dinner with the five of us discussing how we would hunt the following day. We agreed that I would take Matt’s two boys and be their guide while Matt would take Dad. Now Dad being as old as he is, is not as mobile as he was a few years ago. His hunt would be more challenging and take a lot more patience. Matt is much more patient than I am.
We got up early Saturday morning, made a great breakfast, and packed provisions for staying out all day if required. We each got in our vehicles and headed to different parts of the property to start our hunt. I had David and Jonnie with me, and as we drove, I was giving them instructions I learned from Dad, my uncle, and even my brother, Matt. Things like, take off your hat as you approach the crest of a hill behind a sagebrush so they can’t see you as well; use that sagebrush to see them and they can’t see you; don’t kneel in the cacti (they hurt a lot); if more than one person is stalking, each is to be in single file behind the other and following the leader's move; as you approach the hill, you need to belly crawl (that means yes, on your belly); and watch for cacti because as I said, they hurt. Antelope have great eyes, and when there is more than one, you can multiply the eyes. If you spook them, they will go four hills over, which is about three miles away. Usually, the dominant buck stands on the skyline and watches you for a long time before they head off.
We happened to spot what looked like a lone buck. This was perfect because we agreed that Jonnie would shoot first because he had never got an antelope buck before. Jonnie is in college and hunting doesn’t work too well in a collegiate schedule at the present time. We waited until the antelope got out of sight behind a hill where we could put a stalk on him. We approached the hill where he went behind and started to go up and stalk closer. I was leading them in a single file and behind a large sagebrush to hide us. As I got to where I could see him, he wasn’t alone. I was now crouched low, and I signaled to my nephews that there were 15 antelope in the herd. We belly crawled about 50 yards behind the sagebrush to get into a great position. I could see only one buck in the herd. David did not care if he shot a buck or a nice doe. I motioned both Jonnie and David to crawl slowly to the right and left to get into potion. The antelope now knew something was up, but they did not spook off yet. We were about 100 yards from them. Jonnie had my .257 Weatherby, and David had his 22-250 each equipped with bi-pods, which are essential equipment while hunting the Plains states.
I told Jonnie to shoot the buck who was off to the far left of the herd as soon as he had a nice broadside shot. I told David to find a nice doe and get into position to shoot as soon as Jonnie shot. It seemed like 20 minutes, but it was probably only two or three minutes before Jonnie shot. The buck dropped right away. David then shot about a minute later and hit a doe. The doe did not run off. Another shot was required to get her down. The irony of all this was that we had only been hunting for about an hour. Both my nephews each had an antelope. About eight years earlier, I took Jonnie deer hunting on the same ranch and he shot his biggest deer ever, a 170-180 class 10-point whitetail. I think he thinks when he hunts with me everything is easy. I wish I had it that easy. I texted their dad that the boys had their two antelope and we needed to get mine. A few minutes later, he texted me that he and Dad both had theirs.
David, Jonnie, and I gutted the two antelope, tagged them, and got them in the truck. We then went looking for my opportunity. We saw a few different groups, but some were spookier than others. We could see off in the distance a number of small groups about a mile away near a dam where they could get water. We decided to head toward them. As we went by them, they were watching us but not spooked or running. We got behind a hill and out of sight where I could make a stalk. I started my stalk. I would have to walk about a quarter to half a mile behind the hill where they were through the grass to get into position. As I was doing so, I saw movement out of my left eye. About 300 yards away, I saw five does and fawns. They saw me clearly and stood there for a minute before they went over the next hill. I decided to move up in the valley through the grass. I cut about 50 yards off the distance. I saw another group of does, a fawn, and one buck now in the same line as the others. They too were watching me sitting in the valley floor. I had my .257 Weatherby at the ready. I knew from years of hunting antelope the last one coming would be the dominant buck. I waited. It seemed like three to four minutes passed. I was wondering if the other buck was the dominant one and had already left the area. After some time, I saw his head pop over the hill following the same line as the others. It was now about 250-300 yards. As he went broadside on the path of the others, he finally stopped to look at me. I released the trigger on what I thought would be a great shot. Nothing. He went about another 15 yards and almost stopped. I let off another round, and he dropped like a rock. I had a nice buck down. I went up to make sure it was down. He was. I then went back to the truck to get the boys to help me in getting the animal gutted, tagged, and into the truck.
Here is Dad and Matt's hunt as told to me by Matt. They left the ranch and headed south through the cattle gate and immediately saw a small group of antelope. They seemed to disappear as soon as they saw them behind some hills. They continued to drive and glass and went about one to two miles and spotted the group again. They counted about 15 antelope. They continued to drive over a few hills and hid behind one that would be within range of a stalk. They got to where they could see the group, and they decided to get out of the truck and set up for a shot. The group was about 300 yards away. As usual, the dominant buck was in the rear of the herd. Dad got into a position with his .257 Weatherby to be able to shoot. He readied himself and took a crack at the last buck in the herd. After a behind the front legs shot, it went down. Dad had his antelope. They tagged it and put it into the truck and noticed the herd did not move too far.
They watched the group for a bit, and Matt told Dad this group was going to come full circle around the direction they were going. If they just moved ahead some, they would be in position to get a shot. They drove the truck about half a mile forward and moved into a position where Matt could get a shot. As Matt predicted, this group moved right into their line of fire. Matt had his .257 Weatherby, and he was able to crack a shot off on a nice buck that was in the herd. It went down immediately. It was a nice lung shot at about 200 yards. Dad and Matt each had a nice buck. They tagged and cleaned up the two antelope. They then headed to the ranch and had only been hunting about an hour and a half.
The irony of hunting is some years you never get anything and other years it seems so simple. This year, my dad, brother, his two boys, and I all had our antelope (five of them) in about three hours. This was a great family outing, and we all had a good time.