Six years. It seemed like forever before I drew my first rifle antelope tag. Finally it would be me behind the trigger on a Montana antelope hunt and stoke was high. I’d been on a few other rifle antelope hunts and they always were a blast ending with a good goat on the ground and tasty meat in the cooler.
Maddie with her 2017 buck and Travis with his from 2015
Some hunts I try to get some intel on and others I just go in blind and use my skills built over the years to try to find success. I chose the later on this one. It was just me, my gear and some maps. It would be a lot of miles but I knew if I spent the time driving and glassing, driving and glassing I’d find some good bucks worthy of my tag. The first day had me rolling into my unit about 5:30pm. Just enough time to look over a little country and start inventorying bucks. That night I found the first good buck.
I really liked the look of this buck from head on with both cutters and horn tips curving in
I knew he wasn’t huge but he wasn’t small either. A few text messages confirmed that he was a good goat. I had 4 more days before opener so I knew I’d keep searching. The next morning I woke to rain and fog. Visibility was pretty minimal.
I’d actually camped in a spot where I’d hopped to hike down into a coulee and glass for mule deer. With the fog I decided to hit the road and move to my next target area for antelope. After about 3 hours of driving dirt roads I’d only turned up a few smaller bucks. Antelope seemed to be a rare commodity in country that seemed like ideal habitat for many, many more animals than was present. My map was a combination of mule deer spots and antelope spots. I’d drawn this tag with the intent of scouting for mule deer as well and before I knew it I was again in a spot that screamed mule deer. With fresh snow on the ground and a stiff 20mph wind I wasn’t excited to get out of the truck but finally I manned up and hit the hills.
Soon I was at the head of the coulee and it was much deeper than I’d expected. As I crest over the top I spotted multiple bucks bedded on the other side. A quick look through the spotter revealed a few 4 point bucks but nothing over 150”.
The “big” buck, pretty typical for Eastern Montana.
Pretty standard for Montana. They really need to do something about such a long rifle season and allowing it to run straight through the rut. It’s made for poor age classes of deer in much of the state and good genetics quickly get shot out. I snuck closer and decided to make a quick stalk on them for practice. As I got to the last ridge I looked below me. There was a smaller 4 point buck bedded facing away. I quickly ranged him at 40 yards and drew holding my pin on his vitals. It wasn’t easy holding in the wind but was good practice. I let down and headed up the hill looking for the main group of bucks. As I crested up higher the buck below me caught my wind and spooked up the draw collecting about a dozen does. That group stopped on the hill and I could see my group of bucks was now on alert. They were just 66 yards away. They slowly crept up over the top of the hill before fleeing to the next draw. Oh well, at least he wasn’t a big one. I glassed a few other pockets before heading back to the truck and going back to searching for antelope. That night I found one antelope buck. It was slim pickings out here but at least it was a buck and not a terrible one either.
One lone buck in dozens of square miles of perfect habitat
The next morning I kept moving west headed for new country. Right off the bat I spotted a few groups in a field. A quick rip down the road put me just a few hundred yards from them and I threw up the spotter. There was one buck in the group that I’d say was a shooter.
The group’s leader. Unfortunately never to be seen again
I watched him for a while before they trotted off to the north end of the field. I kept searching that day only to find a few other small bucks. Over the last month I’ve been working on getting a new rifle all dialed in and setup for mountain elk and deer hunts. It’s a Weatherby Ultra Light Mark V in the 300 Weatherby Mag caliber. Overkill for antelope but this hunt would be in-the-field practice which I wasn’t going to say no to. I needed to double check my zero and then shoot 400 and 500.
Trying to verify my zero at 200 in a strong wind. Not fun
Of course the wind was ripping so I tried to find a spot where it was at my back. I shot and quickly found my zero wasn’t exactly on. Weird, I’d just shot it at the range a week ago and it appeared to be on. I fiddled with it and adjusted it to the best of my ability given the winds. I wasn’t ultra confident in it but would have tomorrow to shoot more before the opener. That night was a hearty dinner of mule deer backstrap courtesy of Maddie and some mashed potatoes. The next morning I decided I needed to shoot the rifle while the wind was calm. I quickly verified my zero at 300 yards on my coyote steel. First shot was money and actually blew a hole right through the steel. Ouch.
I’m pretty sure my bullet will penetrate on an antelope
From there I drove down the road to some state land and shot 400 and 500 to verify my drop at each distance. First shot hits at each yardage told me all I needed to know and my confidence was restored after yesterdays tough shooting.
That evening I went back to the area I’d seen one of the better bucks and glassed from a high vantage point. I saw antelope spread out over a 2-3 mile range and were well back off the road. With an idea of where to expect to see antelope I found a camp spot and prepared for opening morning.
The next morning started with a beautiful sunrise but no antelope in the usual spots by the main road.
I drove back around onto a county road and started glassing into a field they had been calling home. A few small bucks showed up in the field down low but they were small. A drive further down the road revealed two other larger groups of antelope, but all the bucks appeared to be medium sized through my spotter. I wasn’t sold on a stalk yet and decided to check one last area before going and hiking to the back end of the public section. As I pulled up on top I looked down to my left and saw a buck. He was on the small side and I decided to go up and turn around and see if some hiking could produce something larger. After turning around I was coming back down the road when I looked back down where the smaller buck had been. There now were four other antelope and one buck that looked to be worth a closer look. They were just about a 1000 yards off the road and I quickly grabbed my stuff and headed down on the back side of a ridge. I thought the ridge would have a lower field on the backside where the antelope had fed to but I was wrong. It actually just came straight up onto the field by the road. By the time I got down there and peeked over the antelope where now up on the flat only a few hundred yards off the road. Unfortunately I couldn’t get close enough for a shot and they crossed the road and ran way out into a large flat field. Dang, I should have just stayed up by the road and could have easily shot a buck just a few hundred yards from the truck. Oh well. I put the spotter on the buck and verified that he was right on the cusp of what I was hoping to shoot.
I watched them feed off and drove around to start a hike back into the area I felt they were headed. Forty five minutes later I was hiking up a draw trying to gain some ground yet remaining low and staying out of sight. I looked up and spotted white up ahead of me. I pulled up the binos only to see that it was a coyote hunting his way down the draw. I rarely pass on the chance to hunt a coyote and I quickly put a bullet in the chamber and grabbed my distress call from my cargo pocket. I knew if he was going to come it wouldn’t take much coaxing. I blew on the call just a few times and got ready. Soon I could see a head bounding over the grass. He came down intently looking for the dying critter he had just heard. I put the crosshairs on the coyotes chest and started to pull. Nothing. My safety was on and before I knew it he was coming closer. The coyote was on a mission and I thought for sure he would key in on me sitting behind my backpack in the knee high grass. I panned my gun with him as he swung to my left side. He was oblivious to my movement and was soon about to hit my wind just 30 yards away. I barked and he finally stopped. I aimed low and squeezed one off. He spun a few circles biting behind his shoulder and then was dead. I’d made a perfect shot and the new Weatherby had it’s first kill.
I took a few photos and looked the coyote over. His buddy came up on the hill while I was dinking around and I could have shot at him but he was skylined and I only had 7 more rounds of ammo for my hunt. I passed and soon had my pack back on and was headed to find these antelope. Soon enough I spotted the main group. I backed around and shortly was within 400 yards of about 15 different antelope and 5-6 bucks. The problem I soon had was that they were all smaller than I had hoped for. The stalk and being able to get within range gave me confidence that I would be able to put the hammer on one as soon as I could locate a shooter.
A small buck with no idea how luck he is
A better buck that decided to peel off the main group. I’d end up passing on him later in the day.
I went back to the truck and made lunch and considered my options. I’d seen 2 if not three bucks in this area that I’d shoot and I just needed to find one. It was too early to relocate and I’d noticed that a portion of the antelope were using an adjacent state section that I needed to drive around to access. I couldn’t glass into it but figured it would be worth a shot for the afternoon hunt. I drove around and again grabbed my pack and gun and headed out. I dropped into the bottom and soon was glassing up mule deer bucks and does across the drainage. Nothing special and they just watched me from a distance as I proceeded down the draw. Soon I saw a buck just a few hundred yards out. He saw me at the same time and stood up. I was able to put my spotter on him and noticed he was the same buck I’d seen earlier that left the large group. He’d moved about a mile and half and was by himself. I deemed him not quite a shooter and started walking towards him. He wasn’t too scared and would run off to about 2-300 yards and just snort and blow at me. I kept going and wished he would give it up and just run off, little did I know he would soon come in handy. As I slowly rounded the next bend I saw a buck bedded down the draw facing me. I quickly ducked down and worked up about 50 yards to the last roll of terrain I could get to before being exposed. As I peeked up over it I saw the buck on his feet and moving to my right. He apparently had seen me or heard the other buck and was inquisitive. At this point he was looking towards the other buck behind me and too my right but circling my position and not coming closer. He was just over 500 yards out and with the wind this was just too far. I knew I needed to get closer or else he would run off and that would be it. There was one knob down below me about 150 yards and I knew if I could get there I could make a shot. He’d see me but I didn’t have any other options. I grabbed my gun and back bag and started jogging down to the hill. The buck looked at me and I soon was out of sight behind the rise. I snuck up and quickly laid down on the hill top as the buck looked my way. I was breathing heavy and thought the buck would run very soon. I hustled to range him and get a round in the chamber. He was 360 yards out and as soon as I got him in my scope he started moving. This time though he was coming closer. I don’t know if he was mad the other buck he’d heard and saw was in his area or though I was possibly another antelope but he was going to find out. Soon he was at 300 yards and I put the gun on him again. Before I could settle he was on the move again. He stopped about twenty yards later and this time I was ready.
My crosshairs were on him and I knew the wind would cause a slight shift in my point of impact. I held 1 MOA left for wind and squeezed one off. The shot was crisp and in my follow through I saw the buck drop right in his tracks from the frontal shot out of the 300 Weatherby Mag. I’d done it!!! I’ve hunted antelope a lot with my bow and with other people but this was the first time I’d got to kill one with a rifle and it was a blast! I gathered my stuff and was soon headed to check him out.
I shot some photos and then proceeded to cut up the antelope. The temps were perfect for cooling the meat and flies were nonexistent! Soon the meat was off and I was ready to load up.
Kifaru 22 Mag is hands down my favorite day pack
Soon the Kifaru 22 Mag was loaded with all my gear and my buck. I hoisted the pack and began the mile and a half back to the truck. Life was good and the setting sun made for a beautiful end to an awesome day.
This hunt ended on a high note. I had many points leading up to this that had me down though. From no visibility, to snow and cold temps, to few antelope, muddy roads, gun sight in issues, bucks disappearing and lots of gas burned. A hunt with no challenges is not much of a hunt and to end up on top with a respectable buck in the cooler made what started as a tough hunt one that I will remember and cherish forever.
Mud and my 2018 antelope buck
Written by Zack Boughton