If you've ever looked across an open prairie under western skies, seen a white form in the distance and then a moment later have it vanish from a seemingly flat piece of pasture, then you've experienced the phenomenon of the prairie ghost, aka antelope. It can be a frustrating thing for a hunter, but at the same time I find myself respecting this animal even more... the way they survive on an open piece of land amazes me.
There really is a perfectly good explanation for why antelope seem to be swallowed up by the tall grassland. After walking for several miles in the open pasture this weekend, I now have a better understanding for the land I normally view from the pavement. It's not flat. There are series of gullies and ditches that run through the open pasture. Even the slightest ripple in the ground can allow a form to be hidden from view, and if you learn to use these to your advantage, the chances of putting a successful stalk on an antelope will greatly increase.
During one of my hunts this past weekend, I watched a group of antelope from the distance through my binoculars. There were several dozen all lumped together. A group of white specs sleeping and grazing in the prairie below me. What was interesting was how three or four would literally take turns watching for any sign of danger. They positioned themselves with their backs to the herd - standing on lookout. (I let them be - I tried stalking a herd of antelope last year and it was impossible... way too many eyes.) I'm not sure how far an antelope can see, but I swear there were a couple of times I felt like they were looking right back at me, peering into my binoculars. Amazing!
What peeked my interest was a prairie ghost in the other direction. I was on the top of a hill planting my Montana decoy in the ground and I saw him the same time he saw me. I froze. However this ghost wouldn't disappear. I needed him to disappear so that I could find a hiding spot nearby. Instead, I was stuck behind the decoy, like a beacon on the hill. Clearly the white spot I was crouched behind had his interest. Something looked off to him.. probably the big blob behind the decoy. Ugh. After what seemed like forever, he went back to grazing and when I looked back he was gone. Vanished.
Since I didn't see my little friendly "ghost" spook off and run over a distant hill there was hope he was still in the grassland below me. So, I slowly moved away from the decoy, found a comfortable spot and waited. Upon one of my sweeps of the prairie with my binoculars, I spotted him. Sleeping amongst a small group of cows. There was a drainage just below where he was at.. the stalk was on! I made a mental note of a piece of land I needed to navigate to and worked my way through the small rolling hills. As I approached the designated spot, I could just make out the tips of his antlers. I was close.
Then I heard it. Groans. Snorts. A big black blob had spotted me and wasn't happy that I was invading his little pond and grazing spot. I had just gotten over my fear of cows; however, upset bulls are still not my cup of tea. Luckily I had made my way to the other side of the little pond and was just below my sleeping antelope. So with the bull groaning and coming my way, I decided it was now or never. My approach was a little to fast b/c as I was at about 100 yards, my buck stood up and sped away.. swallowed up by the grassland. I hate bulls.
The antelope on the prairie will have to wait for a week or two since we are preparing for our Mule deer hunt in a couple of days. I am getting really excited, but there is still a lot to do!! If I have some extra time this week, I'll post my backcountry list. I'm honestly not sure how everything is going to fit in my pack. It is going to be interesting.
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From the Draw
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