Burke has been guiding and outfitting in northeast Montana’s Missouri River Country for more than two decades for elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and antelope. Like many western big game hunters, Burke has a passion for antelope and offers some hard-earned wisdom.
Know when to Fold ‘em
The excitement is undeniable when a good-looking buck is spotted right away in the morning. So many hunters will justify a stalk immediately without calculating all the risks. “Don’t even mess with a buck on flat ground with no sneaking opportunity,” says Burke. Even if a buck is bedded, the time it takes to crawl across a mile of cactus only to find yourself, NOT close enough, results in success about once for every thousand attempts.
Moral of the story, only stalk bucks that give you a reasonable chance of success. Early season, before the rut kicks in, you can find mature solitary bucks still traveling along creek beds and around the contours of hillsides or water holes where you have a better chance of an ambush. If you can get better at identifying when a buck is “Un-gettable” you will spend less time digging cactus out of your trousers and more time looking for a winner.
If you can get good at accessing the odds of a successful stock, you will be telling yourself “no” a lot but also definitely upping your batting average over time for successful stalks. Remember patience is a virtue. Don’t just focus on finding the right antelope, but also on finding the right terrain and waiting for that animal to make a mistake.
When to Decoy
A pro when it comes to decoying aggressive bucks, Burke simply says this “When you encounter a mature buck showing those first signs of rut consider that to be good time to try a decoy.” Signs of rut include protecting a harem of does from other bucks or aggressively chasing younger bucks away. Using a decoy that represents a smaller inferior buck should spark some attention and if you get just close enough to make him angry it could induce a charge.
When an aggressive buck is convinced you are here to take one of his does, he’s likely to come charging at top speeds around 50 mph or more. It’s easy to get a little rattled in this situation, there are few things more exciting for a hunter to experience than this type of encounter so embrace the chaos and enjoy the moment. Don’t forget to use your range finder before you draw your bow. Its not unheard of for bucks to come to a decoy setup from across a hundred or more yards of open cactus country. Decoys can be a real game changer in that late august heat when stalking any closer just isn’t an option.
So many hunters associate antelope hunting with long sits by a water hole. There’s no denying the effectiveness of this strategy but it’s far from a silver bullet. “Hot, dry conditions are the obvious choice for sitting at a water hole,” explains Burke. “But there’s more to hunting water holes that people tend to remember.”
Waterhole sits are typically all day sits where the most activity begins around lunchtime with another spurt of activity occurring an hour before dark. Hunters should anticipate long hot days inside a ground blind. Some hunters bring books or magazines to pass time but most importantly, bring plenty of fluids. Hunting waterholes needs to be strategic. The less water there is on the landscape, the better the hunting.
If there are numerous waterholes and stock tanks, there are more options. If the dam is too large, the antelope can keep out of bow range. Less water is better but hunters can also play a few tricks like creating disturbances at nearby water sources like leaving a vehicle next to a water tank or using police tape to fence off a nearby stock dam. Antelope can become accustomed to ground blinds quickly so don’t be afraid to move them if necessary particularly to play the wind or get closer to the water that the antelope are using.
Run & Gun
When the days are winding down and all else has failed, there comes a time when you pull all the stops. This is when a real run and gun approach can make the difference. A few lessons Kelly has picked up over his many years chasing speed goats includes some aggressive strategies that can work surprisingly well. Burke adds, “Follow a buck just out of sight until he gives you an opportunity to get close. Especially on a grazing buck when he’s not in a hurry, which is rare for an antelope, stay in striking distance just out of sight until he grazes over a hill.
Then quietly and quickly rush up to the top of the hill. You can often catch that buck still in range as he strolls along with his head down and just maybe get a shot off before he knows you’re there. Another lesson Burke has learned over time that has produced countless close encounters is simply changing your profile when you need to clear crucial yards without the benefit of cover or terrain.
“Antelope have incredible eyesight and can identify people with their upright profile,” explains Burke. If you find yourself in a position where you have no choice but to let the goats see you at a distance before you reach cover, be sure to crawl or bend over low the whole time moving slow. This will draw less attention and possibly convince the animals that you aren’t dangerous to them, allowing you just enough chance to make it to cover and complete your stalk.