Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others

Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
By Greg Thomas Nine months after my father's stroke I was loading up our hunting gear, wondering whether I should drive my pickup truck or an ambulance to the speed goat grounds. With me were my father's brother Bill (who was recovering from a heart attack of his own), his wife, Sally, my father, my brother-in-law, our friend Greg Partridge, and one of my father's closest buddies, Dave Zimmerman. All of us held antelope tags. I would serve as the unpaid guide, responsible for getting the geriatrics in and out of the field safely, hopefully with buck antelope in tow. Adding to our challenge were the rules behind the hunt: the rancher restricts hunting to hike-in only. Vehicles are allowed only on the main roads, meaning we'd have to drag antelope out of the hills, pack them on our backs, or load them on a couple of horses Bill brought over from Washington.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
After we arrived, Fred and Dave and Greg started out after a nearby band of antelope while I set up camp and dug a fire pit, an essential part of antelope camp when dusk arrives and the temperature falls. When the hunters arrived back in camp, Fred's spirits were high. "We didn't get an antelope," he said, "but I got around ok. I think I'm going to be alright on this hunt as long as I take it slow."Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
The following morning we crawled out of our tents and were greeted by a heavy frost and a temperature of 24 degrees. As Fred, the artist, scratched an illustration into the frost, the rest of us brewed coffee, chugged down breakfast drinks, rubbed our hands together and set out with binoculars and a spotting scope at the ready.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Antelope hunting on the Montana plains doesn't isn't as tough as chasing mule deer or elk in the high country, but it does come with its own obstacles. Ducking under fences, climbing steep hills, crawling a hundred yards across cactus-laden prairie, and finding places to cross streams are all part of the fair-chase antelope game.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
While the high desert seems empty from afar, when trekking across it hunters find all sorts of life... and signs of life. In central Montana the land is covered in deer, antelope and cattle tracks. Coyotes are frequently seen, along with Hungarian partridge and native sage grouse. Occasionally, hunters bump into rattlesnakes, too. In the area we hunt, we find petrified wood and signs of early native life.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Part of the fun of an antelope hunt is seeing so much game. In the area we hunt, we never range far before spotting speed goats. Not long after we set out on foot we jumped a nice buck. Running shots aren't advisable on antelope so the hunters held their fire. We took some time to let the buck relax and then headed out in pursuit.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
While following the spooked buck we bumped into another group of antelope, these unaware of our presence. That group included a nice buck and Greg made a clean 190-yard shot with his .30/06. The buck he killed carried heavy horns with decent prongs, no monster, but a nice representative Montana antelope.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
After dragging Greg's antelope out of the hills and getting it skinned and hung in a cool horse trailer, we set out in the truck to scope the hills from a county road. It was the thing to do: after a night in the tent, and a morning hunt, and an afternoon of hard work I was tired and I could see that my father was tired, too. I could hear it in his voice. Don't get me wrong, when we spotted a good buck feeding along a fenceline a mile away, Fred was more than game to go after it. Unfortunately, there was no way to approach the animal without getting busted. So we let the animal rest and continued along the county road.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
The following morning we spotted another buck bedded with a herd of does along a string of powerlines. We marked the buck's location and set out, Fred in the lead, Greg and I following behind.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
We took our time and eventually crawled within 50 yards of the buck. However, before Fred could gain a shot, I heard hooves hitting dry ground and knew the herd was gone. Fortunately, pronghorns are curious and feel safe at distance, and after we moved to a vantage point we saw the antelope stopped below, trying to figure out what had spooked them. Fred took a prone position, set his bipod on level ground and squeezed off a solid 300-yard shot.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
He hit the antelope hard and the buck staggered. A few seconds later it hit the ground. My father walked to the animal, slowly and with his Model 700 at the ready.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
I'll admit it, I'm my father's biggest fan. Fred has taken many big game animals, including three buck antelope that nearly qualify as Boone and Crockett records. He's harvested mountain goat, black bear, mule deer, whitetail deer, Sitka blacktailed deer, Columbian blacktailed deer, and bull elk. I've been with him on many hunts, but this one seemed special, a bonus hunt after all that my father went through this year. I treasured each second with him and shook his hand with pride when we reached his buck.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Fred Thomas with his buck.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
After dragging Fred's buck out of the hills, we met Dave and Bill and Sally at camp. Dave was working on his tasty "Killian's Red" stew and Bill was riding into camp with a buck that Dave had just shot.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
We chowed down on big bowls of stew, and then tossed the football around camp as the sun went down, the dipping temperature drawing us close to the campfire. We traded stories until late into the night and then retired to our tents. The following day, we packed the rigs and headed away from the prairie. "Same time next year," someone called out. All I could think was, I sure hope so.Greg Thomas
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Some Hunts are Sweeter than Others
Fred Thomas' rendition of the Montana antelope grounds. Done with his left hand.Greg Thomas