UPDATED SEPT. 20 WITH A POSTSCRIPT ON HOW TROY’S PRONGHORN SCORED.
Tuesday morning, Sept. 13, there were a couple emails from Troy, one of my Oregon writers, in my inbox. I’d asked him if a higher resolution image was available for a Cascades bull elk article he sent in for the October issue, but no such luck.
Then the Willamette Valley hunter casually noted his location.
TROY: Funny, I’m sitting in a blind e-mailing you from antelope grounds.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
ANDY: Stop it, seriously?
TROY: I know LOL … I’m just passing the time. Quiet right now.
That’s right, I recalled. Earlier this year, Troy drew into a Hart Mountain pronghorn antelope tag, one of the most — if not THE most — coveted and rare tag in the Beaver State. An entire generation of future hunters can be born, grow up and graduate high school before you might get drawn for it.
Ever since, Troy’s been calling biologists down on the national wildlife refuge, where friends of mine work, and recently made a trip there to check out the country outside Lakeview for the Sept. 10-16 hunt.
And what did Troy see that morning?
ANDY: Well, your “blind” is obviously not a tree stand — describe what you see around you.
TROY: Sitting in some tall grass near coyote dens surrounded by sage about 400 yards from a nice water hole. Had antelope around me all morning couple decent bucks. Antelope headed down the ridge now for water. Rut is in full swing with bucks chasing does, snort wheezing at each other and driving subordinate bucks away. The air is crisp with the fresh smell of sage after an evening thunder boomer. Antelope paradise! Truly a great place to be.
ANDY: Any other hunters out there, or do you have the veld to yourself?
TROY: Most other hunters are gone. Filled their tags already. Buck coming in, gotta go
ANDY: What sorta thunderstick you hauling around?
TROY: Shooting a .308 Husqvarna, 165-grain Hornady ammo. Just had a nice 14-incher come by at 100 yards. Debated shooting. Been doing a lot of debating on this hunt. It’s tough to make a choice in an antelope mecca!
Hart Mountain is, of course, that great upthrust slab of basalt looming over the playa of South-central Oregon. The refuge was created in 1936 by executive order of President Franklin Roosevelt to protect what remained of a once-larger pronghorn population.
These days, managers oversee a far wider range of critters and habitats, but amongst hunters, it’s known as one of the better spots for large pronghorns.
ANDY: What kind of buck is it going to take for you to pull the trigger?
TROY: Something unique or something that has a good story behind it. It’s all about the experience here. Eighteen years in the making, I surely can be patient at least a few more days.
ANDY: Are you there with your dad?
TROY: Here with my pops and my 141/2-year-old German shorthair.
ANDY: Bailey, right? You were worried last fall that you didn’t have much time left with him …
TROY: Yes, Bailey. Thought I was going to lose him last fall. He’s blind, arthritic and been on a lot of hunts with us — not only bird, but big game.
ANDY: That’s pretty cool. So what’s the plan then? Hunt till late morning then back out in the late afternoon, or do you stay out right through the day?
TROY: Hunt the morning from sunrise til 10 a.m. Head back out in the evenings. It has been a really great trip so far.
ANDY: It really sounds like it — you’re living the dream of thousands of Oregon hunters right now, plus are afield while some of us are cooped up in our offices.
TROY: This is where we all want to be. Many hunters wait all year for these moments. You would love it, man!
You ain’t a’kidding about that.
As it stands, we’re at T-31 to the start of rifle deer season in Washington, a countdown that began the instant I returned from the Okanogan after the second weekend last fall.
Ever since and especially these past few weeks, my thoughts have been on the backside of the mountain and bowl I “discovered” last fall. Found lots of sign and openings there, and I may press even further back into the dark timber and creek drainage below the saddles we hunt but never descended into.
Never been to Hart Mountain either, but it feels a bit like it this morning.
TROY: Further updates from the Southeast Oregon desert to come!
THE AFTERNOON HUNT COMMENCES
TROY: With God above and Ol’ Glory we enjoy some shade and relaxation in between trips to the hunting grounds. Back to the field for the afternoon hunt.
ANDY: Good luck!
TROY: As I hunt this evening I wonder. I wonder why haven’t I shot a buck as of yet. Answering my own question came quite easy as I’m out here staring at a very promising build-up of a thundershower. Once I bag my prize it’s over! Half a lifetime of waiting, hoping, wishing and dreaming for this experience. Gone. However, I remind myself the best is yet to come and when it is finally complete, though a bit saddening, I will truly be satisfied with this amazing experience. More from Hart Mt. tomorrow!
THE MORNING HUNT
TROY: After a night of restlessness and telling myself that I would shoot a particular buck I have been seeing for three days, I passed again this morning.
I don’t know.
Maybe, I just wanted to see him one more day.
Had another 13-inch buck walk past at 19 yards. Great shot with a bow. As for the hunting this morning I think that as close as I’m going to get to an actual antelope will be 19 yards — except this baby yearling buck that just walked past to say hello.
THE AFTERNOON HUNT
TROY: Andy, after a long day afield I have to say that once a person watches large numbers of pronghorn they all start to look the same. Numerous bucks between 12-14″ with the larger maintaining the largest groups of does. However, there are a few goats that are a bit bigger.
We had a couple rain showers here today and the hunting has been excellent with highs near 80 degrees. Rut activity has been very active in the early mornings with lows near 40.
I’m ready and eagerly anticipating some good speed goateroni and jerky for the coming fall seasons afield. Looking forward to a great evening hunt! More to come from S.E. Oregon.
THE MORNING HUNT
Troy’s back in his blind this morning, on the second to last day of his antelope hunt.
TROY: Got a good show from what I believe to be the Oregon Air Nat Guard yesterday evening. They must have been training over the SE desert region of Oregon. Looking forward to a good hunt today!
ANDY: I’ll bet the stars down there are just amazing. Amy and I woke up late one night while we camped at the mouth of the Columbia before Labor Day and were awed by what we saw. Just don’t see that in the city.
TROY: Yes, everything is amazing, including the hunting. The scenery is spectacular, the smells, the wildlife — worth the wait. You and Amy would surely love it. I need to see about pulling the trigger!
ANDY: Yeah, get to work, would you?!?! You’ve only got about 15 hours of afternoon and morning hunting before your time is up!
TROY: Exactly. Time to get serious!
THE FINAL DAY
This morning finds me frantically editing stuff for the October issue of Northwest Sportsman, fall issue of Alaska Sporting Journal, grooving to too-bouncy beats on YouTube and stinky (no shower this morning, didn’t want to wake Amy and the boyz).
It found Troy back afield around Hart Mtn. on the last day his pronghorn permit is valid for.
He’s been there all week, putting in his time “wading the desert” as our contributor Duane Dungannon phrased the search for a buck antelope in this wet year rife with younger animals, but also just enjoying his time outside with his dad and longtime hunting companion, Bailey, his pooch.
This morning I received another update from Troy, a joyous one.
TROY: 30 degrees this morning. Last day of hunt put a 500 yard stalk on him at sunrise. 150 yard shot put him down. What a hunt. More to come!
ANDY: Nice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Congrats, man!
TROY: Thanks. I’m very happy!!!! What a great experience!ANDY: Thanks for sharing it with us, I appreciate that — now get to cleaning that bad boy!
TROY: Will do. Glad we were able to share it. Cleaning in progress! Prongeroni!
ANDY: Oh, man, that stuff’s gooooooooooooood! Amy’s uncle got an antelope last season in Central Oregon and we gobbled sticks and sticks of it at her folks’ annual family Christmas dinner — I think I had more prongeroni than anything else that night!
On Tuesday, Sept. 20, Troy sent me a posthunt follow-up email:
Good Morning Andy,
Back home after a great time in the desert. Hung that meat and it got down to 28 degrees (perfect) then threw it on ice. Pulled camp and drove to Hart Mt. headquarters to sign out after the hunt. A man walked across the parking lot and through the back door as I searched for the sign-out roster of hunters — it was gone. The man then appeared out of the back room with the clipboard and said, “You looking for this?”
I replied, “looks like you were expecting me.”
He said, you’re the last one to leave.
Lucky me, I got to see how everyone faired while signing out. There were 31 hunters, 29 of whom filled their tags with one hunter not showing up.
The largest buck was 16 inches. Mine measured out at 15 2/8 and should score around 76 B&C.
Visited with the fella there and found out that your friend Gail had been there earlier that morning giving a small presentation on Hart Mt.’s large mammals. Would have liked to have met her and visited.
It was a good drive home except for blowing a tire about 20 minutes from Burns, Ore. Luckily, Les Schwabs doesn’t close until 5 p.m. on Saturdays and out blow-out happened at about 4:20. They saved us from a long night!
Anyway, back in the office today and back to the grind………………Jonesing for some hunting!
Later, TroyP.S. Oh, and my Blackberry is on the fritz. Quit working once I got home. Probably too much dust from the desert!