by B.R. Hughes
Let's say this quick and get it over with. As far as your field editor is concerned, New Mexico's special three-day antelope season in the year 2000 really put the "hunt" back into "hunting." In a word, it was tough!
This annum, the pronghorn season kicked off Aug. 26. Steve Middlebrooks, my long-time hunting partner, and I arrived in Clayton, NM, in the northeast corner of the "Land of Enchantment" around mid-day to permit us a little time for scouting. Our hosts for the 11th consecutive year were Fred and Emma Miller. They own a goodly chunk of New Mexico real estate, and unless I've miscounted, their ranch covers 12 sections, which is 12 square miles.
In my estimation, one of the highlights of this year's jaunt was the opportunity to field test a Zeiss Victory 8x40 binocular, which is the latest offering from this time-honored firm. I'll have more to say about this superlative binocular a bit later.
Our scouting expedition this time around left us just a bit dejected. Last year, prowling the same territory, we had seen a goodly number of young bucks, and with only three permits issued to hunt on this land logic would suggest that several of these should have grown a bit. So much for logic.
I believe in this day and age, a 12-inch head is nothing to be unhappy about-particularly in the area we hunt-but as the afternoon waned we saw nothing better than about 10 inches or so. Actually we were headed back to our bunkhouse, some 30 miles distant, when Middlebrooks with the aid of the Victory 8x40 spotted a group of perhaps a dozen antelope reposing on a gentle slope quite a distance away. Even after he called my attention to them, I couldn't detect them until I raised my old Zeiss 10x40 Classic, which I have used for over a decade. There were 10 females and two bucks, and while one of them wasn't much, the other looked very good-even at upwards of a half-mile in fading light.
Early opening day we headed back to that segment of the Miller Ranch but to no avail; the animals were nowhere in sight. Reluctantly, we began to search for other pronghorns. It was late afternoon before we spotted that particular herd again, and strange to say, they were in the exact-same spot where we had seen them about the same time the previous day.
The more we glassed, the better the larger buck looked, but now we had the problem of getting within shooting distance. Since I had enjoyed the first shot in 1999, it was now Middlebrooks' turn, and the best idea seemed to make a large circle of some three miles and place a slight rise of elevation between us and the herd.
Our game plan called for Middlebrooks to use some abandoned farm equipment approximately 400 yards from the animals as a screen to make his move. With this in mind, Middlebrooks began to ease cautiously toward the old implements, and due to the lay of the land both Middlebrooks and the antelope could see the rusty relics, but not each other. We had a good grasp on the distance involved, due to a Nikon Laser 800 rangefinder. This gadget is light, easy to use, accurate, and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg! Quite an instrument!
I lagged back a few yards behind my partner, because in my experience two hunters are at least four times more likely to disturb animals than one. But about 100 yards from the goal, Middlebrooks straightened, brought up his Remington M700 Sendero, 300 Magnum and swung to the right.
Something-possibly some of the coyotes that are prevalent in the area-had stirred the pronghorns to moving and they were now on Middlebrooks' right front, closer than they would have been had he reached the old equipment. At the shot, a solid "thunk" reached our ears, and the largest buck was down.
The trusty Nikon revealed that the hit had been made at 341 yards. That's a long offhand shot, and while luck certainly played a role-Doesn't it generally?-my partner is one of the finest game shots I've ever shared a campfire with, and I've seen him pull off similar feats on more than one prior occasion.
I'd call his shot one-quarter luck, three-eighths the superb hand-eye coordination of a man who was an all-state athlete in high school and three-eighths a shooting skill honed by countless hours at the range. Oh, throw in a rifle that will generally keep three shots in less than an inch at 100 yards, shooting off a bench. His standard antelope load in that rifle features a 150-grain Speer Grand Slam bullet ahead of a copious quantity of Reloader 22.
The buck was a dandy. The longest horn taped 14° inches, and the other 13 inches. This is the best pronghorn the two of us have taken in New Mexico over the past decade, which includes something like 17 antelope. So, a day that had begun slowly had ended in an auspicious fashion.
Daybreak Sunday found us in the field, and if prospects the previous day had been slim, the second day of the season was even leaner. By the time we broke for lunch, we had seen nothing-absolutely nothing-that made me even think of uncasing my rifle. After we had eaten, Middlebrooks suggested that we make "one more" swing around the north fenceline of the Miller spread.
Now, it should be noted that New Mexico game regulations restrict vehicles to roads that are obviously in use on a regular basis. In other words, one simply cannot strike out cross-country! The game department uses airplanes to check this sort of thing, just in case you were wondering.
But a road of sorts did parallel the northern barbed wire fence, and we hadn't traveled far before we spotted six doe and a buck which looked "pretty good." After glassing, we decided that it should measure "around" 12 inches. Using another small rise, I managed to get within perhaps 250 yards or so. At this point I took another long look with my binocular, then lowered the legs of the Harris bipod on my Ruger No. 1B .270, checked the Burris variable and determined the scope was set at 10 power, and settled down for a shot.
The females were clustered around the buck, delaying any shot, but finally he moved from the others, quartering away from me. The crosshairs settled just behind the rib cage, and at the shot the animal dropped in its tracks. I was shooting a 130-grain Sierra flat-base bullet ahead of a goodly quantity of H-4831 powder. We had guessed the animal to have 12-inch horns, but my trusty tape indicated that the actual measurements were 11 inches and 11° inches, respectively. No, not quite what we had hoped for, but from 250 yards, pretty close.
Now, permit me to return to the Zeiss 8x40 Victory binocular. It's from Zeiss' newest line of glassware, and it features what the firm calls the Advanced Optics system. The line is waterproof, dustproof, and fog-proof, and each binocular carries a transferable lifetime warranty. Without going into a lot of technical jargon, let me say that the 8x40 Victory is the brightest and clearest Zeiss I've ever used, and this firm is justly world famous for its optics.
According to the factory, all Victory binoculars transmit 7% more light than comparable models. We were also very pleased with the retractable eyecups which allowed both of us to use the glass-Middlebrooks doesn't wear eyeglasses, but I do.
When we bade farewell to the Millers on the morning of Aug. 28, one of the last things we did was to schedule another antelope hunt on their ranch in the year 2001. For further information on the New Mexico antelope season, contact the Department of Game and Fish at the Vallagra Building, Dept. GWK, Santa Fe, NM 87503.
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