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.