The fresh smell of smoke was hanging in the cool but dry air, but the early morning chill wasn’t enough to keep the sweat from running down my brow. I struggled to focus through the eyepiece of my spotting scope, breathing heavily and feeling the hard pumping of my heart.
And there he was, walking slowly along a line of the last green vegetation in the valley. He seldom held still, he hadn’t stopped since sunrise, I whispered quietly out the distance as my voice pounded in unison with my heart. His dark black horns stood out from the bright white of his rump as the sun just now reached him.
The safety was off, and my little Brother rested his finger on the trigger as the buck stopped for the last time to survey the dry desert landscape.
Watch the video at the end of the story
We had been preparing for this hunt for the last couple weeks, prepping gear, scoping out the terrain. It was early September, and the August sun had beaten nearly every plant in Utah’s West Desert into dry submission. The raging wildfires across the west had yellowed the skies and stained the sunlight.
It was the opening morning of the buck Pronghorn Antelope hunt that my Brother had beaten me to in the draw. We had spent the night listening to the distant howling of coyotes while poking at the fire.
We had spent the previous afternoon watching the inhabitants of this parched valley, several good bucks, as well as a bunch of lesser bucks roamed around.
To us their wandering seems aimless, but surely there is a reason to their constant motion. One of the several good bucks we had seen made his way to an area with a few trees and sand dunes just before night fall. And as the morning broke, we watched the dunes for signs of life.
Within minutes of observable light, we spotted one of his does standing. And as the next few minutes passed, several more appeared. As I had hoped, it was only a matter of time before he too appeared from his sandy bed.
Despite my Brothers shooting prowess, we decided to close the distance, mainly because we could. With rifle, binos, and the spotting scope, we dashed in the most covered direction towards a high point between us and the group of antelope. But perhaps to challenge our stalk, just as we reached our predetermined position, they worked over the hill.
We kicked into high gear and moved as quick as possible another six hundred yards to the top of the hill they previously occupied. Knowing they could easily make a half a mile without even having been spooked, we wanted to get them back in sight before they made it too far away.
Time passes excruciatingly slow, when your prey is out of sight. This can cloud your judgement when cresting the next hill, so we took our time, slowly glassing to make sure that we saw them before they saw us.
When we did spot them, they had made it nearly four-hundred and fifty yards further. As usual, the buck was at the back keeping the ladies moving. It was time to turn up the heat on this hunt, my Brother quickly found a good shooting position while I steadied the spotter and ranged the buck. He worked his way away from us moving to our left, as I whispered the range to my Brother. He had just chambered a round in his custom Remington, a 23” Bartlein barrel that had been chambered in 260 Remington. With Hornady 140 grain BTHP match bullets we had hand-loaded just a day prior. The rifle sat in a KRG Whiskey 3 chassis, and wore a Vortex Gen 1 Razor for a scope.
His finger rested on the Trigger Tech shoe, and we all held our stifled breathing as the buck stopped and checked his surroundings. It was a perfect broadside shot, I barely breathed as I focused hard through the spotter.
Everything came together perfectly as the trigger broke, and the near silent desert was suddenly woken by the crack of the bullet. We watched as the bullet impacted the buck, passed through, and hit the dirt behind him making a puff of grey dust envelop him as he slowly reared back. He stumbled a step or two, then made a brave effort to run forward, his offside leg clearly broken. The terrain between us quickly blocked him from our view as he ran.
We both felt the shot was good, and confident he was down just out of sight. The suppressed report of the rifle had startled the rest of the antelope, who now stood attentive to the actions of their patriarch. We watched for a few minutes to ensure he didn’t appear elsewhere, and the attitude of the does told us everything we needed to know, they stood motionless, fixated on the last known position of the buck. They watched curiously, as if waiting for him, even as we began to close the distance, they watched on.
We quietly approached the spot we’d last seen him, and looked for blood and sign. To our delight, none of it was necessary. The buck had hardly made it 50 yards, and he left a crimson trail against the moon-like dirt.
From the first sight, it was clear he had succumbed to the acute shot, hitting him low in the brisket and destroying his heart.
We quietly approached the beautiful animal, giving both space and time for the reverence due at such a moment.
We accessed the results of the shot, and took pictures. There was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, that we had done right by this beautiful buck.
We played the deadly game of predator and prey, and we had won. And his demise had been judicious and quick, sparing him the suffering that is the fate of many natural casualties.
We cleaned him up, and took him back to camp. He was skinned and prepped to be butchered after some time in the fridge. The meat harvested will surely be turned into various meals, and tasty projects that we will remember for years to come.
The next hunt for us is just days away, we’ll do it all over again. Time to resharpen knives, oil a few bolts, and re-stock my pack, the next hunt will be savored every bit the same.