Western antelope archery seasons offer some of the first big game hunting opportunities each year. The tags are usually easier to draw than coveted elk and deer tags. Hunting antelope with a bow is no easy task. With eyesight comparable to high-power optics, sneaking into bow range is challenging. Using a decoy can give you an edge.
I’m one of the fortunate souls lucky enough to have called Montana home. Although my residency lasted only four years, it was long enough to fall in love with the state known as the “Last Best Place.” When adventure film maker, Tom Opre, invited me on a spot and stalk archery antelope hunt in the open prairies of eastern Montana, I was apprehensive, but passing up any opportunity to return to the West is not easy to do. Even though my expectations of success were low, I went ahead and applied for an archery antelope license. No matter what, I’d be back in paradise, hunting in good company. I was lucky and drew a tag.
Opre and Jerry McPherson, founder of Montana Decoy Company, were my companions on this hunt. Opre is an experienced sportsman who has hunted all over the world. He’s roamed from Africa to Alaska to Argentina, but still finds chasing antelope on the ground, under the Big Sky to be one of the most exciting hunting experiences out there. McPherson is a diehard western hunter whose solution to a common problem revolutionized hunting with decoys when he developed a lightweight, foldable decoy.
Our hunt took place at the end of September. The rut was slowing down, but that only made mature bucks more aggressive in their efforts to maintain control of their does. Antelope bucks gather harems much like elk. When lesser bucks try to encroach, dominant bucks will run them off or engage the intruders in battle. Replicating an approaching subordinate buck is exactly what you want to do to entice a mature buck away from his does. This tactic can lure a buck into bow range.
The most common way to hunt antelope with a bow is to setup a ground blind on a waterhole and wait for antelope to come in for a drink. McPherson’s style is much more exciting. From a good ways off, we spotted a nice group of antelope consisting of one dominant buck and a dozen does bedded in a sage flat next to a long, deep drainage. McPherson and I could cut across the prairie behind a couple of high hills, drop into the dry drainage and basically sneak all the way to where the antelope were resting. Once we got there, we’d place the buck decoy on the lip of the drainage and wait below for the enraged herd buck to approach. It was perfect.
By taking into consideration available cover and the wind direction, we created a game plan on how to get as close as possible without being detected. Once we were within a distance we felt the dominant buck would consider too close for comfort, we threw up a decoy and blew a challenge call. The herd buck saw this brave intruder and charged.
On my knees behind the decoy, with McPherson behind me, I drew my bow. The big boy was in a rage. He had to have been able to see McPherson and I, but he must have been so focused on running off the satellite buck he didn’t pay any attention to the two blobs behind the decoy. He just kept coming and coming. Finally, at about fifteen yards, I released my arrow, killing my first antelope buck.
As anyone who’s ever released an arrow on an animal knows, the rush is intense. But to be on the ground, with an enraged buck charging at you, behind no cover besides a fabric decoy, is exhilarating beyond belief.
See you down the trail…
Pic: Tom Opre draws his bow behind a Montana Decoy on the prairie of Eastern Montana.
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