Double Play on Pronghorns and Mule Deer

I'm sure all of you were breathlessly following my daily updates on this web site from Dick and Cheryl Dodds' Elkhorn Outfitters outside of Craig, Colorado, during the last week of October. I was there to hunt pronghorns and mule deer with an impressive collection of various scoundrels from around the outdoor industry. Here's the rest of the story.
After flying into the Steamboat/Hayden airport, and a short ride to the ranch, we dumped our luggage and headed to the range to sight in our rifles.
I was shooting a Browning X-Bolt in .300 WSM. I topped it with a big Leupold VX-3L 4.5-14x50 scope, the one with the indented objective lens, which allows the optic to sit nice and low on the rifle despite its 50mm diameter.
We were the first hunters to use a new lead-free bullet that Winchester will be introducing in 2011 called the Power Core 95/5. It's so new, they packaged the rounds in surplus Supreme boxes and slapped some makeshift labels on them. I dialed my rifle in at two inches high at 100 yards, and called it a day.
The view from my room at the lodge that first afternoon indicated that we were in for a bit of weather come morning, and sure enough we awoke at 4:00 a.m. to howling winds and pouring rain: Just the thing to put a spring in your step in the pre-dawn hours.
But by the time we had finished breakfast, the rain had turned to snow and the hunting grounds where we would chase antelope that morning were covered with a couple inches by the time we arrived. I was hunting with Pete Angle from Under Armour, and we were guided by Elkhorn's ranch manager, Tony Bohrer. The fourth member of our hunting team was Adam Moffat, a videographer from Park City, Utah, who was along to film Pete's and my hunts. (Look for Adam's video of my hunts on outdoorlife.com in the coming days.)
Tony had a particular pronghorn in mind, one that he'd been hunting for about three weeks, but hadn't been able to close the deal on. He was an older buck with horns that came out from the front of his head, rather than upward. I'm all about unique antler and horn configurations, so I was anxious to get a look at him. I didn't have to wait long. Within 10 minutes of parking the truck, Tony spotted the buck running does and young bucks in a wide-open bowl. Their position didn't allow for an immediate stalk, so we waited and watched for about 40 minutes.
After a while, the big buck, along with a smaller buck and a doe, broke from the herd and began moving north through rolling terrain. We drove the truck around, parked and ambled up a hill where we thought we might get a better look at him. Sure enough, the threesome was moving up a distant hill, but I was unable to get on him before he disappeared over the lip. Before long, though, they reappeared and started working back across the hillside. As I wrote back in October: "He was at about 330 yards when he stopped and presented me with a decent broadside shot. I fought the wind as I attempted to put the crosshairs on him and when I was confident with my hold, I touched off a shot, but as I did so I realized I pulled the shot a bit to the right of the animal. The bullet sunk harmlessly into the snowy ground. The goat ran another 100 yards up the hill before stopping again, presenting another broadside shot. I had sighted the rifle two inches high at 100 yards the day before, so I knew that I needed to hold right on the buck's back for a clean shot at this distance. I did just that, squeezed the trigger and made contact with his mid-section. He slowly walked about 10 yards and lied down as the other two antelope high-tailed it. "A follow up shot wasn't possible immediately, so we decided to try to close the distance. As we approached him, he stood again and started to move. Wanting nothing more than to end the hunt and put the animal down for good, I rushed a shot and missed. He lied down yet again, and again, we attempted to close the distance. When he stood once more, I finally delivered the killing shot into his vitals and the hunt was over."
In addition to the unique angle of his horns, he's got broomed-off cutters on both sides, a sign that he'd been in more than a couple sparring matches this fall. His length pushes 15 inches and his bases are about 5 inches around. We loaded him into the back of Tony's rig, put the tag on him and set off in search of Pete's antelope.
As the sun came out, the temps reached into the 40s, the snow melted and the goats played hard to get. The winds had picked up again and made them super-wary. Pete chased one herd of 50 or so animals all afternoon. Not once did they stop moving.
I wish I had a dollar for every bullet-riddled road sign in the Rockies.
Here's a shot of Little Buck Peak snagging the first rays of sunlight on Day 2. We would ride to the very top of that peak on horseback on Day 4 in search of mule deer.
Here's another herd of pronghorns Pete chased all over creation on the afternoon of Day 2. Once again, he wasn't able to get close enough for a shot, so we decided to bag the goat hunt and focus on muleys on Day 3. (Full disclosure: I was sitting in the warm truck when this herd came trotting past me at about 70 yards. Naturally, Pete, Tony and Adam were half a mile away at the time.)
Day 3 broke clear, crisp and cold, with temperatures in the teens. "But today, we ride…"
At daybreak we started up Little Buck from the north side and rode and glassed and rode and glassed some more. It was damn cold, even in the sun, but we were wearing several layers of Under Armour apparel, which did a heckuva job cutting the wind and retaining body heat while keeping us dry. I don't know what I would have done without the Ayton fleece jacket I wore on top of everything.
It's a considerable challenge to properly glass distant animals on the back of a horse or mule, even when the animal is "stopped," so from time to time we'd dismount and break out the spotting scope.
It didn't hurt that the views were staggering. You can see here how the snow had melted in the lower elevations, but was still present up top.
We spotted several groups of does and fawns, and a few young bucks, but nothing worth putting a stalk on. We saddled up once again and, as I wrote in October in one of my daily updates…
"We worked our way up a woody draw, scanning the hillside in front of us, when Pete spotted a heavy-antlered buck not 80 yards ahead as we came around a patch of oak brush. We put the brakes on our rides and watched the buck turn and work his way up the draw. We quickly hopped off, tied up the horses and mules and worked up onto a little hill where we hoped to catch sight of the buck again. Sure enough, he appeared at about 140 yards going away. "When he began to quarter to his right, I settled the crosshairs on his midsection and let fly a 150-grain Winchester Power-Core. "The thwap was audible, and it was clear that the shot had slowed the buck considerably, but he continued up the draw a ways. He kept his hind end pointed in our direction, and an immediate follow-up shot didn't look likely until he turned his head ever so slightly providing me with a tight neck shot. Again I made contact, but the bullet hit high and the buck continued, slowly, into a patch of trees. After about 10 minutes we set off into the trees to locate him. He popped up 10 yards from me, but I was unable to get a shot before he disappeared, going back down the hill. We continued after him and jumped him one more time, again with no shot possible, before he disappeared into a thicket. This time we waited about a half hour before following him up, hoping he'd stiffened enough that I'd be able to get off a snap shot in the thick patch of brush. "As we entered the thicket we immediately saw blood, and followed it until, once again, the buck rose from its bed and immediately put a tree between himself and me as he exited the far side of the thicket. Tony and I ran out of the thicket and up onto a rocky high-point where I was able to get on the sticks and line up the buck at 220 yards. My third shot dropped the buck in his tracks and the hunt was mercifully over. "He's a great old 4x5 buck, probably 5½ years old. What he lacks in width he makes up for in mass and deep forks, and the color of his antlers is a deep, rich brown. He's an awesome trophy and my best muley to date."
We were able to recover the third bullet I shot, which had made contact with the buck's spine. As you can see in this photo, the Power-Core 95/5 performed wonderfully, with nearly 100-percent retention and a near-perfect clover leaf.
Here's another look at the ammo.
For the rest of that afternoon and all of the next day, we rode for miles and miles in search of a good muley for Pete.
And Adam shot hour after hour of video, even in the saddle, which is no easy task.
I found this product at the processor's when we stopped to pick up our meat on the way to the airport. It would have come in handy after two long days in the saddle.
We searched low…
…And we searched high for Pete's mule deer on Day 4, but came up empty handed. Here's Pete at the very top of Little Buck Peak.
The morning we left camp, Pete and Tony gave it one last shot and he ended up putting his tag on this fine 4x4 literally minutes before we had to head to the airport.
I can't recommend a hunt at Elkhorn highly enough. They might not have the biggest animals on earth, but they have a ton of them and plenty of land (around 120,000 acres altogether) on which to chase them. Of the 12 tags our party had (6 antelope and 6 mule deer), only two pronghorn tags went unpunched. Whether you're in search of an elk, pronghorn, mule deer or mountain lion, the Doddses will see to it that you have the hunt of a lifetime.
The staff is friendly; the guides know the land inside and out and work as hard as any I've hunted with; the accommodations are comfortable; and the food, drink and camaraderie are abundant.
One cool feature of Elkhorn Outfitters is that they have a taxidermist on the premises. Dean Malizia can turn around a pronghorn European mount in 24 hours, if you wish, and a muley in 48 hours. I was in no real rush to get mine, as I was flying home, but I got a call from Dean earlier this week and he said that my trophies are in the mail. I can't wait to get them and relive my hunt all over again.

OL editor, John Taranto, heads to northwestern Colorado in search of pronghorn and mule deer.