A Fresh Tracks first

Hunting Day 4 we went and looked for a buck Matthew had seen on the first morning of our scouting that continued to intrigue him. We had went in there opening morning, but a well known Utah outfitter had a group standing on every ridge within sight of that basin. We'd met Sam, a hunter from North Dakota who had found a good buck in there the night before season. He texted me that he was going to the east of this spot in hopes of finding that buck on opening morning. Short version, he shot the buck at daylight and he stated the outfitting crew was frustrated that he got the buck. It was different than the buck Matthew had spotted, so we hoped the high-pronged buck Matthew was seeking might still be there.

A morning invested proved otherwise. Lots of bucks, but not him. Onward.

We moved to a place where we'd seen a nice buck in the junipers while checking out a paleo site. We found him. He was only 80 yards off the road. Matthew thought about it for a while, then declined. "I didn't come here to shoot one in the barrow pit."

Jace replied, "In Montana that buck would be dead in two seconds." Yup.

But we still hadn't crossed the threshold of "know it when I see it." So, I decided to try find a BLM road that would get us down near some private where Matthew had glassed a group of pronghorn. Try as I may, wedging the Raptor between tight juniper groves, and adding many more scratches to the paint job, we could not find a way that would get us to even a mile within that area.

So, I backtracked. I took a two-track that rose to a slight crest that allowed us to look at the many rabbitbrush finger ridges that rose just above the juniper groves. Matthew suggested we stop and look around. Fine by me. Sandwich time.

While munching on a turkey and cheese, I noticed a buck about 600 yards off, staring down from his perch and focused down into some sparse junipers. I got out the spotter. Small buck. Matthew asked for the spotter to check out another buck a hundred yards closer.

He excitedly stepped away, big smile, and pointed to me, "Whatcha think of that one?"

"Uffda. He's got height and he's got mass, even in these heatwaves I can tell he's worth a closer look. He's chasing a doe." I stepped back and assessed what the option was, while Matthew returned to the spotter, Ollin in hand, and tried to get some footage and images of this buck that had now moved off to almost 700 yards.

Evidently it met his "know it when I see it criteria" as he was grabbing his pack from the truck bed and attaching his rifle to the pack.

I wish we had better footage. The buck would not stand still and was chasing four other bucks that were trying to steal his doe. It was one of those bucks that when you look at him, you don't need to talk yourself into it.
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Matthew and Jace were getting ready. I felt completely useless. WTH was I supposed to do to help?

The doe had caught sight of the truck as the buck pushed her slightly our direction. She stopped and looked at us, letting her posse fight for the rights of her honor. It was crazy. If only we could cut 400-500 yards. Doing so would require a trek through some thick junipers that likely would allow for no shooting lanes.

The doe tired looking at us and started to our northeast, disappearing in the thick batch of junipers. We surmised where she was by the clouds of dust that we attributed to bucks fighting and chasing. Eventually she appeared on a ridgeline 1,200 yards to our east. A string of five bucks was following along, including Mr. Big.

They disappeared into a basin. We jumped in the truck and headed to a ridge that would take us north of where the group disappeared. Hopefully they'd be there and headed our way.

Sure enough. Four bucks were out there about 1,000 yards. No sign of the doe. A fifth buck came burning out of a coulee chasing off another very good buck. This defender was Mr. Big. He disappeared back into this deep long coulee.

We waited and watched. Waited some more. Eventually all the other bucks mingled back to the juniper ridges. The buck and the doe had to be in there somewhere. Time to get closer.

We drove the truck down into an adjacent low spot and hid it from view. We walked up to the mouth of this coulee. Still no sign. I told Matthew and Jace to stay at the mouth of the coulee while I climbed a ridge that would allow me to look down into the coulee. If the pronghorn saw me, their escape route would take them right past Matthew and Jace.

When I peaked around the crest, I found a waterhole down below. Bedded 200 yards away was the buck. 550 yards. I snuck back to where Matthew and Jace could see me. I waved them up to the ridge.

We snuck forward so they could see them. A steep downhill angle at over 500 yards is not a good shot in a decent crosswind. We strategized.

Ok, we circle behind the ridge and come up the backside of the dike that created the waterhole hole. Shot should be 320-350 yards. We're off. I remember being more excited than if I had the tag. This was a cool buck and would be a great reward for Matthew's patience.

As we got to the dike, it became apparent that the doe had the elevated view and would likely see us. We snuck to the lip and the doe stood up, staring directly at us. That got the buck out of his bed. He trotted around, trying to get the doe back to her bed. She'd have no part of it. He stood next to her, with his body concealed by a berm and his head looking at the doe. She was 330 yards. He was slightly behind her, probably 360.

The doe snorted. This was not good. Matthew was laying over the pack. Jace was ready. All we needed was the buck to emerge and provide a shot. He emerged alright, chasing the doe like his life depended on it. They ran a few small circles around the rocks and rises of the coulee, never stopping to provide a shot. Out the mouth of the coulee they trotted, taking them about 200 yards from where Matthew had been set up when I waived him up the ridge.

Oh well. It was only 4pm. Lots of good bucks around and these weren't too spooked. Hopefully we could relocate them in these junipers.
 
We hiked back to where we'd hidden the truck. That was a cool stalk. Just bad luck that when the buck did stand still he was obscured by some terrain. It was enough to have us chattering and talking about one of the other bucks that was also very impressive, a buck that had been run off by Mr. Big. I'd have shot him as he walked out of the coulee, but Matthew had his sights on the buck with the doe. Good to know there were other good options.

We drove the truck back up to where we had first spotted the buck and his doe. We hadn't been there long when I spotted a couple more bucks. One was a young buck, but the most beautiful and symmetrical buck you could ask for. He had good prongs and his frame hooked back down inside. Next year, I suspect he'd be a first-day shooter. He walked towards us and wheezed to let us know he wasn't happy with our presence. Matthew took a ton of footage and stated that a buck that pretty would be shot on the last day, no questions.

Another buck was wheezing at us in the junipers. We could hear him, but not see him. The other buck ratted him out by walking over to a knob above him and looking down into the coulee he was in. We moved forward and found him. Another good buck that would get shot in a heartbeat in Montana. But, not the buck who was protecting the doe.

We stayed for a couple hours. We scoured in every direction. No luck in finding Mr. Big. Matthew suggested we head back to the divide that looked down into the big basin with the waterhole that we had the stalk earlier today. Fine by me.

We parked the truck and walked up fifty yards to the divide that allowed us to glass down into the mile-long basis with finger ridges encroaching from every side. What a cool place.

As soon as we got there I noticed a buck on a finger ridge that was high enough to still demand a bit of direct sunlight. I looked through my binos and told Matthew to bring the spotter. He did so and set it up for some digiscoping.

He pulled his phone away and peered into the spotter. "Wow!" Then he took off toward the truck.
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I looked into the spotter. Where the hell did this buck come from. Look at that mass. And the great prong. He loops out and back in. I'm thinking, "That's a great buck, anywhere."

By the time I was done looking, Matthew was standing next to me with his pack and rifle, giving Jace details of the plan to close the distance on this buck. Dang, two of the "know it when I see it" bucks in one day.

I told them I'd just stay up here and not be another burden. They had no cover to get off this ridge. They had to wait until the buck dropped into a small coulee and hope he stayed in there long enough for these guys to drop the 150' of elevation and 400 yards of bare dirt that would allow them to be hidden. I'd give them hand signals of where the buck reappeared.

They were in high speed pursuit and the plan was working to perfection. They would end up about 200 yards when the buck emerged from this finger coulee he had dropped down into. For some reason unknown to me, the buck didn't go down the coulee as anticipated, rather climbed out of the coulee to take a look around. Matthew and Jace had about 100 more yards and they be out of cover.

I started wheezing at the buck in hopes he'd focus on me. He looked up for a second. He was looking right into the sun to see what I was. He didn't look for long. He looked to his NW and saw two other stationary and upright figures at about 350 yards that seemed out of place.

He turned and dropped down back into this small coulee and rather than moving west as he originally was traveling, he went straight south, taking him back up on a slight rise to give him a view of the entire basin. Damn it. Matthew and Jace had nothing to hide behind.

I saw Matthew starting to set up. This looked like a long shot to me, but if he felt good, it was probably closer than expected. The buck wasn't inclined to stick around. He dropped into the next low spot and disappeared for a short while. Matthew and Jace sprinted forward to cover some ground while the buck was out of sight.

They had a bit of cover to hide them when the buck appeared on another high spot on his south-bound vector. Damn it, the buck was adding more distance.

This continued for another half mile. Finally, shooting light, or at least filming light, had vacated this basin. The buck was still moving off, either looking for does or trying to stay away from whatever those two unidentified objects were.

I drove down to pick up Matthew and Jace. Matthew relayed that the one time he set up the buck was quartering towards him at about 400 yards. He had hoped the buck would turn, but the buck whirled and moved off to the south and into another coulee before Matthew could get set up for a solid shot.

Oh well. We'd found a nest of bucks nobody was messing with. And there were two great bucks here. If we could just relocated them in these junipers, Matthew had an entire day to get his tag on one of them.

The drive back to camp was filled with excitement. I grilled the other half of that one backstrap and we went to the tents very excited for what the last day would bring.
 
As I get older I try to figure out what are the triggers that excite me about hunting, and why. I've given a ton of thought to why I am so smitten by pronghorn and pronghorn hunting. As we built the story line for this hunt over the summer planning meetings, it became pretty apparent why pronghorn has been such a favorite past time of mine.

Pronghorn was the big game species that Matthew could tag along with and have a blast as a 2, 3, 5, 10 year-old. We'd hike all over the place, looking for fossils, camping, building a fire, letting him pee on the campfire and laugh like he'd just robbed the bank, explore places that interested him as much as it interested me. The weather was often nice. After the craziness of opening day, we'd almost have the Montana prairies to ourselves.

Giving it more thought, pronghorn and the places they live, were more about the memories Matthew and I made along the way. If I drive the Montana prairie, it is an endless ramble of stories about pronghorn hunts.

When he got of hunting age, he took three Montana bucks, three Wyoming bucks, and a New Mexico buck before heading off to college. All of those were memorable trips. I laugh at the time I went on a stalk and left him the keys for the truck. He was too young to drive, but when I returned, I noticed the truck was pointed in the opposite direction and the tire tracks told me he went for a little cruise while I chased a buck over a few high ridges. Things a 14 year old gets to do on a pronghorn hunt; not much you can hurt when testing your driving skills on a Wyoming two-track.

Montana 2003.
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Wyoming 2004.
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New Mexico 2007.
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I've come to realize that these trips and these memories are the biggest reason pronghorn is so compelling to me. And when I get to spend a week with Matthew, as we did together in Nevada last year and what we did for the last week in Utah, there is not much that is going to put a bigger smile on my face.

With my tag punched, we slept in the next morning, as we didn't get back to camp until 11pm. We showered at the public campground and washed some sweaty and bloody clothes, then headed back out for an afternoon hunt.

We ended the day at buck number 142 for our two days of scouting and our two days of hunting. Still nothing that got Matthew real excited.

Since he first started hunting I'd often ask him what he planned/hoped to shoot. His answer was the same then as it is today, "Not sure. I'll know it when I see it." And that was his same answer when I asked him many times over the course of this hunt.

That reply has become a big inside joke with us. I ask, just to make sure he hasn't changed his mantra about what animal he might shoot. When he replies with the standard reply, I chuckle and he smirks.

The night of Hunting Day 2 I grilled up both of my tenderloins and half of one of the backstraps. What a great way to end the day.
This hunt is definitely worthy of capping it off with some father/son DQ!

@Big Fin Im sure some of us would love to learn how to properly hunt with younger kids. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel and learn the hard way, perhaps you’d be willing to share some pearls of wisdom?
 
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Sorry I fell asleep on the couch before telling the story of Hunting Day 5. It started great, with us back in the juniper nest where we'd found the good bucks yesterday.

Immediately, we saw a small buck. Matthew had previously stated on Day 1 that any legal buck was going down on the last day. Here was his chance. Nope, next.

The big long basin where they chased the heavy buck until dark the night before was empty. Not a buck or a doe to be found. Dang, first time through this part without a buck around.

We continued over to the one knob that rose above the sea of Junipers and from which we spotted the tall and heavy buck from yesterday. On our way, Jace asked me to stop. Out the window 140 yards was one of the average bucks from yesterday. OK, this is a Montana style shooter, all day long. Time for a strategy. Nope, next.

We got to this small knob and looked. And looked. And looked. Nothing. In the far distance Jace saw an antelope walking over a knoll, headed straight away. It was a couple mile loop, but we jumped in and headed that direction. As we got close to the last location and the knoll we planned to glass from Matthew pointed to a buck 180 out from us. Decent buck, especially with the sand draining from the hour glass. Nope, next.

We drove back up on the small divide that formed the west side of the basin where all the activity had happened yesterday. Though no bucks were in there this morning, it has a lengthy high rim on its SW side from which all the finger coulees descend.

I suggested that I make a huge loop around the basin rim while Matthew and Jace keep vigil over the waterhole down below. You never know when a pronghorn might emerge from the junipers and come for water.

I did that. In my three miles, I saw two small bucks. As I thought of turning around I looked down in a drainage with some grass. Walking away from me was a good buck. It looked liked the heavy buck from last evening, but with him moving at 700 yards, I couldn't be sure. He disappeared down into a big coulee. I waited for fifteen minutes, but he didn't appear.

I headed back to the glassing knob of Matthew and Jace. I told them what I saw and the direction the buck was headed. Off we went. If the buck continued his path, he'd pop out on this bigger open area. We were there and waiting. After an hour, he never showed up. We decided to split up and glass different directions from higher ground. Nothing. Nothing. Uggh.

By now, it's nearing 4pm. Matthew is still holding out for one of the two bucks from the day before. Fine by me. Yet, if we haven't located them in seven hours of glassing, the odds of locating them in the last three hours is pretty slim.

We found a very good buck around 4:30. He was far off, about 1,200 yards and near some private. As we glassed and Matthew decided to stalk him, he ran off a smaller buck, taking him closer to the private. They disappeared over a ledge and we made a direct line to cut them off. After creeping the top of that ledge, we found them. Standing on one of the few pieces of private and messing around at a waterhole.

In Utah, you can hunt private land that is not posted or is not cultivated crops. Even with that rule, it wasn't a consideration. This buck was in the Top 5 of the 250 bucks we'd seen. We watched as they drifted a bit further south, paralleling the public private border. Matthew had to make a choice. Leave a buck he would have shot without any question, or go looking for others. It was back to the truck and running our milk route of good glassing spots among these Juniper ridges.

I wish I could tell you that Matthew filled his tag. He surely could have, many dozen times. He's always comfortable pushing it to the end, tag filled or not filled. We would have liked the extra meat, but for Matthew, it was "I'll know it when I see it" and that happened late in the hunt. A bit of bad luck on the two stalks of Day 4 didn't seem insurmountable, given pronghorn are usually easy to relocate and that kind of bad luck is not the norm.

The hunt ended as one of the best times I've had in all of our years of filming. I know it won't come across that way in video. As hard as I try to explain what it means to me, the words I choose don't seem to be effective enough.

We got to spend seven days of scouting and hunting on one of America's finest landscapes. We saw over 250 bucks. We met some great new people. I got a great buck. I got some fine pronghorn meat. Matthew and I got to relive 30 years of what pronghorn hunting means to us and our relationship. I can't write a better script than that.

I can't wait to do it again someday, somewhere, somehow.
 
Must be something in the Utah Pronghorn genetic about small bodies. I took a mature buck there this year and was shocked at how small his body really was. Nothing like goats I have taken in Nevada and Wyoming.
 
I may be biased, but you will be hard pressed to find a prettier location to hunt Pronghorn.

Great first video. Looking forward to the next one.
 
Great write up Randy. I agree 100%; the best part of hunting is sharing it with my kids and nephews. I'm at the point now, where it's all about spending time with them and seeing them have a great time in the outdoors. Thanks for sharing!
 
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