NM Pronghorn Fun Without a Gun

Big Fin

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Got back from a New Mexico archery pronghorn hunt late Friday. Been a few days de-junking and catching up on details in my other life. Thought I would post a few of the highlights here.

I had planned to drive to this hunt, then on to Utah for an archery mule deer hunt, but that hunt ended being taken off the schedule for unexpected reasons. So, rather than drive 1,300 miles each way, the big old jet airliner seemed like a much better option. It would require me to rent a truck with those 2-ply tires they put on those things. You know where this one is going when you factor in the quality of roads in New Mexico.

I met the camera guy, Mike, in ABQ and we were off to the great Datil metro area, arriving around 4pm. It gave us time to check in to the Eagle Guest motel, go scour some of the plentiful State Trust Lands, then head down the pike to meet with a Hunt Talker who had bought some of my inventory; Hank4elk. Pietown is a great place. Everyone needs to stop there.

We didn’t see much on that scouting expedition, but in reality, didn’t expect to. I was mostly checking out some other places that I had not investigated in my many prior trips to this part of the country. Got to the restaurant just in time to interrupt Eli Grimmet’s dinner and find out he was not seeing anything big on his side of the highway.

With all social functions now behind us, we organized gear and prepared for the following morning. I forgot just how flat the plains of western New Mexico could be. Being followed by another person carrying a 4’ tall tripod with an 80mm camera lens on top would not improve out odds. I went to be wondering about the sanity/insanity of this idea.

Doesn’t take long to spend the night there. We were up well before light, with coffee mixed and driving to the glassing spot on the east side of the Plains. We were the first ones there, which I found rather peculiar. This place is the most popular place in the unit. Usually lots of antelope and plenty of water to sit blinds on. Shortly after sun up, a few rigs came rolling through.

When IDBugler and I did some hunts down here, we saw a few instances of what we called the “New Mexico Bailout Plan.” It goes like this. Two guys drive down the road at a slow pace. In the early morning, if a buck is standing by the road, you roll almost to a stop and let the guy bail out the other side of the truck, only to have the truck roll on past. Evidently the buck watches the truck roll on by and the dude who just bailed out does his best Robin Hood impersonation. A big white F-250 was perfecting the bail out maneuvers on this fine morning, drawing no blood from what I could see. The one guy was wearing some sort of ninja suit with horizontal black and white pattern. Not sure what his goal was, but from our mile distant position, he sure look like a big black blob out there.

We glassed from all the good vantage points, checked all the water sources I had marked from our hunt with Bernie last August, and then realized we had not seen much for bucks. Maybe that is why the locals were not hitting this too hard. A few bucks way out in the flats, but even at mid-morning the heat waves were too extreme to make them out fully.

Time to go find some other State Lands. You don’t have to drive far here to find them. I had previously decided that this hunt was going to be spot and stalk. With that decision, it was obvious I would be better served to hunt areas with a bit of Pinion-Juniper for cover, rather than the big flat expanses of nothing. Finding public land with such cover is easy. Finding antelope in that cover is hard, especially when it is low density habitat to start with.

Leaving the Plains put us on a NW trajectory. We had hardly left Pie Town when we saw a cool buck with horn arching forward, rather than the normal upright angle of pronghorn. He was standing off the shoulder of the road about 30 yards.

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If ever a set up was made for the "New Mexico Bailout Plan," this was it. Rather, we pulled up, took some video, let him cross the road in front of us and tempt us by making a scrape about 30 yards past the fence on the opposite side of the road. Had I wanted to end this hunt early, this stupid buck would now be home in Montana. With six days blocked out, no way I was going to shoot one the first morning, even if he did meet the ugly/goofy criteria.

We continued down the trails that they call roads in western New Mexico. We put on miles and miles, climbing to ridges to glass and seeing nothing but three small bucks in an entire day of this process. Hmm, this was not what I expected.

Evening had us inspecting a buck that really could not make up his mind if he wanted to hang out on public or private. Given no fences were demarking the boundaries, we decided he would get to live another day. More glassing and searching the isolated public parcels wrapped up a rather uneventful day one.

For me, a big part of scouting is eliminating the turf where there are no animals. Seems we had done a pretty good job of that in one day. The plan for tomorrow would be to head further north and look for the local mystery buck; you know, the rumored monster all the locals tell you about and how he is the world record, blah, blah, blah. What the hell, I’ve never been that far north, so may as well take a peak.
 

Big Fin

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Morning came early again. By early day break we had our coffee and were on a ridge overlooking a huge flat of mixed P-J that rolled down into a green meadow with a water tank. One small buck claimed ownership of these many square miles. My suspicions of this being a lair for a whopper were confirmed.

We checked each basin to the north, finally making our way 14 miles north. We spotted four antelope so far away that my optics could not penetrate the heat waves to tell me if any was a buck. More miles and more glassing told me this area of the supposed monster was probably a waste of our time. By 9:30 am I told Mike we would backtrack to the main highway and head west.

As we turned a corner in this road to nowhere, Mike said he saw a puppy on a two-track. Huh? What would a puppy be doing out here in the middle of nowhere? I turned and drove toward the location. We stopped and stumbling toward us was a whining starving pup of some breed. He had little energy, but enough to tell us he was not well. Mike grabbed his water bottle and poured it in his hand. The little guy drank for a minute straight.

Now quenched, he whined and raised his paw towards us. I bent down to grab him, finding nothing more than skin wrapped around bones. His hip joints protruding like elbows, he shook and whined harder.

We carried him to the truck bed and dropped the tailgate. All we had was some turkey lunchmeat. I tore a very small piece and put it on my finger. His puppy teeth grabbed it like he had not eaten in a week, maybe longer. I tore another small piece. He devoured it and increased his scratching and whimpers.

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Mike cautioned me to not give him too much. His small stomach could not hold much and solid food like this would probably not be good for him in a large quantity. I tried to balance my desire to cure his hunger with what I knew was best for him. He was ravenous. He wanted more, but I declined. Mike gave him some more water and wrapped him in a jacket.

We tucked him into a corner of the truck bed where he would be safe on our ride to the nearest town. I told Mike I was not going to let the little guy starve. We would forsake the morning hunt and figure out a place to take this little guy.

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I had called Mrs. Fin and asked her to go online and look for vets or animal shelters in the area. She reported they were all closed on Sunday. I stopped and asked the clerk at the only gas station open. She said the closest vet would be in Socorro. I called and got a recorded message. If after hours and it was a sick or lost pet, call the Socorro animal control.

OK, I called Socorro animal control. Another recorded message. If after hours, please call the dispatch office of the Socorro police department.

Ok, I called the dispatch desk of the Socorro police department. I told the lady the situation. She put me on hold for a minute. She got back on and explained that officers had access to the animal control facility and if I drove it in to Socorro, they would take it and bring it to the animal control facility and that the follow day it would be taken to the Socorro animal shelter.

So, down the hill to Socorro. When we got there the dispatcher sent an officer to meet us. He was a hunter and we talked a lot of hunting while he figured out what to do with this pup. Once he had the details sorted out, he took the dog and was greeted by the dispatcher. Last I heard her say was, “That this is so cute, I might take it home myself.”

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Whew, done with that challenge. I have too soft of a spot for dogs. Maybe my cat allergies cause me to have no use for cats. Yet dogs, I just can’t find it in myself to leave one out to starve to death. I know nature would take care of the pup the same as nature takes care of other animals. Mike later thanked me for the decision to help the pup. He felt the same as I did.
 

Big Fin

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Westward Ho, but not without a detour for a quick piece of pie in Pie Town, which surely served us well. Even a working pay phone in that town. For those of you under age 30, here is a picture of what one looks like.

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Hank had told of a big buck living up his way and that there was some public lands nearby. I took a hard right off the pavement and headed north, retelling to Mike how one time down here Loren though a snake was under the truck, when it turned out to be the air coming out of a tire. Ten minutes later we glassed a couple more suicidal bucks standing alongside the road. Too small for the second day, but Mike wanted some footage.

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While putting his camera back in the truck, he laughed and said “Sounds like one of Loren’s snakes are under this rear tire.” WTH? Sure enough. The air was hissing out the seam of one of these tires, as if you had stabbed a knife in it. Thanks to the roads I travel, changing tires is one of my better skills.

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The new Dodges have the jack and lug wrench in the most screwed up place. Only an engineer who drives a car would put a truck jack in that location. In less than twenty minutes we were slowly creeping back to the highway, hoping no further blowouts would encumber our quest to get to Jerry’s garage in Quemado before closing time.

We rolled in to Jerry’s admiring the collection of decrepit junk he has in his lot. My Dad was a collector of much junk and would have been very proud to have owned half of what Jerry has. I explained the situation. Not a problem they said. We will have it ready by 7PM.

With that, we headed north, not daring to leave the asphalt for fear of another flat. There is not much in the way of improved roads in this part of New Mexico, but enough for us to waste the rest of the afternoon searching for the few portions of State Land crossed by these roads. Surprisingly, we saw more antelope on that afternoon than we saw the prior day. None of the size I would shoot on the second day. And one behind a locked gate that kept us from entering some State Land. Maybe lessees can lock and gate State Land in NM. The buck did not appear to be worth a conflict that might sort out the legality of locking access to State Lands, so we moved along.

As later afternoon drifted to evening, we were at Jerry’s, hoping our tire was fixed. Sure enough. The clerk rang up the price; $14.80, with tax. I started to say, “That doesn’t seem fair,” only to be cut off by the pregnant clerk before I could finish saying, “You need to charge more than that.”

My opening phrase obviously had her offended and she cut me off in mid-stream stating, “That is what we charge here to fix a flat.”

Raising my hand in a gesture of peace, I trotted to the truck, explaining I would pay for this with cash. When I returned, Jerry himself was standing behind the counter. I asked him, “How you gonna stay in business when you charge so little for getting a guy out of such a predicament?” I could see the smile on their faces as they realized I thought it was not fair to them and too fair for me.

I pulled a Twenty from my money clip and told them to keep the change. The clerk rang the till and reached out to hand me the $5.20. I told her I was serious. She looked at Jerry. I explained that in most my other travels, events like this cost closer to $100 as people knew they could take advantage of the moment.

In a tight grin, Jerry wiped some grease from his hands and said, “Yeah, but sooner or later you run out of moments. Thanks for your kindness.”

He and I both chuckled. The pregnant clerk blushed as I told her to keep that small tip. Looks like she would be needing it in a couple months. I laughed as I rolled the tire out to the rental rig, realizing just how much I owe to being raised in a town a bit smaller than Quemado. If you don’t love small town America, then you probably wouldn’t have much fun hanging out with me.

On our way back to the Datil metroplex, we say the same buck from the day before who had straddled the public-private boundary. He was the nicest buck we had yet seen. He was making a B-line across the sage toward the P-J and was well on to the mix of BLM and State Lands. We drove down the road and parked the truck.

Plan was we would sneak out in to the P-J and ambush him as he came our direction. A half mile loop had us right where I expect he would travel. Dang, I was right. But somehow he got here a lot faster than I expected. As I rounded a tree, he was right there looking at me, on the trail I had hoped he would take. He must have went from grazing to trotting, as I doubted he would get that far before we lost filming light.

I stepped back behind the Pinion and hoped he had not seen me as danger. Mike dropped the tripod low and filmed him from under the limbs. Nope, he knew something was not right. After fifteen minutes of a staredown Mike explained we were losing light behind the brewing storm clouds to the west. Rather than prove to him we were danger, we backed out and eased up the ridge. One last look down to the trail showed him still statue-like, sure there was a coyote in that tree along the trail.

Dang, I realized I was kind of rusty at this spot and stalk stuff. Oh well, he would make for a good target tomorrow.

We had four days to go and needed to find a good buck to chase. I had told Mike that this story was not about filling a tag. Rather, it would be about me looking for however long, finding the one buck I wanted to chase. Once I found him, we would hunt that buck and that buck only. I have been doing this long enough to have lost any concern that we need to fill a tag to have a compelling story. So far, that one buck to chase was hard to find, even if the monsoon had provided a lush green backdrop for these white pronghorn to make themselves visible.
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fishing4sanity

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The "New Mexico bailout plan" doesn't make for a quality show like yours, but that is one neat looking buck. Enjoying the story so far very much, but gotta go cut beans tonight ............ not quite as fun as chasing pronghorns, or even changing tires while pronghorn hunting. Looking forward to the rest of the story and more photos and a TV star goat.
 

Kiwi

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Great report and photos.

Love the story about small town America. I'll be there next week :)
 

Lv2hnt

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Kudos again for saving that pup (looks like a little lion tracker)! Puzzling why he was out there like that --- heck, he was so skinny even the coyotes felt sorry for him. Hope he finds himself a good home!

Like the picture you paint on this hunt, even though no goat has hit the dirt. I'm sure there's a lot more to tell.

BTW, we must be related when it comes to flat tires --- hope I don't continue the trend this fall ...
 

Gunner46

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Randy.....Dude......Brother.....if a Suicide buck like that gives this 1st timer that opportunity, then it's just going to be "Sight Alignment, Sight Picture...Squeeze" !!

Now you have me worried about renting a truck for a Lope hunt.
 

hank4elk

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Good stuff Randy,
it was nice meeting you and Mike.
Thanks again for the great pack and deal on it.
Jeez, wish you woulda told me about the pup,I would have taken him.I need a friend too...lol
The tall buck was here the last two days again and Jerry's daughter had a little girl.
Jerry says the "P" rating on those rental tires means Park....on pavement.
 
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nmtaxi

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From my experience, there are "private roads" on State Land that can be locked. Only walk-in access is guaranteed on State Land in New Mexico.
 

noharleyyet

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We were fairly close by in the City Different from Monday til Thursday Randy...the haze was dissipating when we headed towards Colorado Thurs. morning. it was pretty bad the first part of the week.

..cute pup, good write up so far.
 

MT_elk

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Great story. Glad you were able to rescue that cute pup! Great pics too. I like that freaky lope.
 

TimeOnTarget

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Great story, Glad you save that little guy. . No doubt he would have found his way home with. me. How could you not help the little bugger with those big puppy eyes looking at you.
 

double_a85

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Randy, helping that little starving puppy was not only worth the wasted morning hunt, but worth the entire trip! I too have a soft spot for dogs.

Your storytelling is always first class and I can't wait to hear "The Rest of the Story."
 

hank4elk

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Well the police ossifer took the puppy home,it's been adopted already. Cool,Good on You Randy!
 

LCH

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This thread already goes to show that a quality hunt is so much more than just shooting a critter... Although that is usually the icing on the cake! No doubt I would have tried the NM roll-out on the funky horned one :)
 
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