DAY THREE – Sunday
There’s no pressure on me today. Now, I am just a spectator. I’ll ride with Mark Chesnut and Chester Berry as we try to fill Mark’s tag. He is one of only two hunters out of our group who has yet to get his pronghorn. Not that he couldn’t have easily gotten one the day before, we saw more than 50 that could be classified as shooters, but Mark, a veteran antelope hunter, is holding out for a really big one. We drive the 22 miles to the ranch we’re hunting in partial darkness. As the sun finally breaks the horizon, we turn down a road and barely go a half-mile when we spot a big buck being chased by one that is even larger-much larger. We pile from the truck.
As the first buck crosses far ahead of us, the second pulls up and starts to circle back. Mark and Chester move off a little ways, but the terrain is all open grass. Through the rangefinder, Chester lets Mark know that the shot is still close to 240 yards. One of the hunters in camp shot a pronghorn at 252 the day before so such shots are quite possible with these rifles.
“This is the only shot you’re going to get at this one,” Chester says. Mark dials the setting on his scope and takes a rest. At the report of the rifle, the buck takes off sprinting. None of us can tell where the shot went, but one thing is clear, it didn’t hit the buck. Disappointed, Mark walks back to the truck. It’s a sharp reminder that despite the amazing performance of today’s muzzleloaders, you still get only one shot.
Moving on to an area where we spotted a real bruiser the day before, we slow as the road dips between two high ridges.
“This is about where we were when we saw him yesterday,” Chester says. He stops the truck and Mark begins glassing to our right. Chester and I look to our left and almost simultaneously shout, “There he is!”
The buck’s rack is tall and wide. He is skylined on the hill above us, facing us from 184 yards away. “If you want ’em, you better take ’em now. He’ll be gone in a minute,” Chester says. Mark is ready to make a scramble up the hill if the buck drops down the other side, but it doesn’t. It stands there, as Mark takes aim.
As I watch the buck through the binoculars, Mark’s gun thunders. The bullet strikes with a loud smack and the animal staggers from the impact. As it turns, I can see that it has been hit squarely in the chest. Mark scrambles to get his gun reloaded, but there’s no need. The buck is dead on its feet. It doesn’t go 10 yards and it is down. Now it is my chance to return the favor of taking pictures of Mark and his trophy.