Home on the Range: Montana Antelope Hunt

A little over a year ago, my wife and I fulfilled a dream of owning a sizeable chunk of eastern Montana. We bought a small ranch, containing a mix of creek-bed cottonwoods and gumbo-flat prairie, hosting whitetails, mule deer and a fair number of pronghorn antelope. It became my goal to kill a good antelope on our new homestead. But last year I wasn't able to draw a tag for this hunting district. This year I've been so distracted by hunts elsewhere that I fretted I wouldn't have time to hunt the home place. But last week I grabbed my favorite antelope rifle -- a Ruger No. 1 in .243 Winchester - and my yellow Lab, Willow, and we headed for the prairie. My prairie.
Our prairie may not look like paradise, but it's a remarkable piece of ground. The first round of homesteaders here tried to plow and plant the prairie, with predictable results. I found this old grain drill miles from the nearest road or grain bin.
The relic of another generation is remarkably well-maintained in the dry air of eastern Montana's prairie.
Though this is land controlled by me, it's actually public ground, so I can't drive my 4-wheeler anywhere I want. I spy a herd of antelope about 3 miles down a creek valley, but I'll have to walk to get them. As I walk across the flats, wave after wave of sandhill cranes wing over, headed south. The sight comforts me. Opening day of antelope season here in Montana--around Oct. 10--almost always coincides with the crane migration. They're a few days late this year.
Plenty of pronghorn tracks out on the gumbo flats.
Finally, after more than three miles of hiking I spy the antelope herd. I drop my fanny pack, tell Willow to stay with the gear and belly-crawl to the rim of a deep wash. The antelope are bedded on the other side. It's literally a matter of picking the best buck out of the three in the herd, and placing my shot when the buck separates himself from neighboring antelope and gives me a clear shot. This blood spot tells me my shot was true.
The buck is down for the count.
I prop my rifle on my BOG shooting sticks -- necessary gear for long shots across open country -- and prepare to field dress the buck.
Willow is tuckered out from the hike and dodging innumerable patches of cactus.
I set up the camera for a quick self-timed hero shot before I get to work making meat out of the antelope.
I notch my tag and tape it to the buck's thick, tall horns.
Luckily, I brought a pair of canvas game bags, so I bone out all the meat and pack it up in the bags. I cape off the hide, roll it around the head and lash everything to my pack. It's heavy -- more than 40 pounds -- and my flimsy pack isn't really built to carry this load, but I've always rather enjoyed packing meat. Still, it's a long, hot pull across the prairie.
I was shooting Federal Premium shells loaded with 100-grain Nosler Partitions out of my .243.
On the way back to the ATV the little bluestem grass waves in the prairie wind.
Finally, the load is lashed to the 4-wheeler. I'm sore and tired, but I have fresh pronghorn meat, and I've fulfilled my dream of taking a great buck on my very own land. That's a claim precious few hunters can make.

A little over a year ago, my wife and I fulfilled a dream of owning a sizeable chunk of eastern Montana. We bought a small ranch, containing a mix of creek-bed cottonwoods and gumbo-flat prairie, hosting whitetails, mule deer and a fair number of pronghorn antelope. It became my goal to kill a good antelope on our new homestead.