Published by archerchick on 08 Jul 2011 at 08:23 pm
At the moment, momma and the kids were relaxing by an indoor heated
pool at a plush motel in the Black Hills which, according to the Black Hills
Chamber of Commerce, is one of America‘s top family vacation destinations. They were
going to see Mount Rushmore and Bear Country U.S.A. and Devil ’s Tower. They
would pay to watch “incredible trained animals operate the Bewitched Village” at the
Reptile Gardens near Rapid City. If they really got lucky, the Ghosts of Deadwood Gulch
Wax Museum wouldn’t have closed for the season and, of course, everyone was excited
about the dino dogs and bronto-burgers served at the Flintstones “original” Bedrock
Not dad, though. Dad was sitting in a hole in the ground, in the dark. Dad was shivering
because the wind was blowing 40 miles an hour and because it was raining and, occasionally,
hailing. Dad, dressed for temperatures in the 70s when the chill factor was in the
20s, was catching his death of cold. No “Family Approved Attractions” for dad. Instead, dad
was having fun! He was bowhunting antelope. I was an incredibly lucky man. Oh, not
lucky to miss the dino dogs or the 20-minute Rushmore blasting movie at Rushmore-Borglum
Story with mom and the kids, not really. I was lucky because in the most miserable weather
I could imagine for September in Wyoming, with pale yellow smoke belching out of Yellowstone Park 250 miles northwest and filtering eerily through my blind, a fine pronghorn antelope buck was walking into my shooting lane on Frank and Elaine Moore’s Spearhead Ranch.
Unquestionably, the opportunity to bow-hunt pronghorns is an adventure that should
involve the entire family. You can drop your spouse (wife or husband) and children in the
Black Hills where they can enjoy some of the most spectacular tourist sights since the
invention of neon and plastic and, just 100 miles farther west, you will find some of the finest
pronghorn hunting in the U.S. Everyone will be happy and you’ll be a hero. Now, it isn’t
very often you have that chance, is it?
Antelope are open country grazers and September is an ideal month to bowhunt them
in Wyoming. Because they water several times during the day, alone or in groups, the
most productive way to bowhunt these prairie speedsters is by ambush at a waterhole. They
can be stalked, but because their vision is eight times more acute than a human’s, stalking t
hem is tough and usually requires longer range accuracy than most bowhunters can
Ambushing antelope requires discipline and endurance. If you are hunting from an
open ground blind or sitting above a watering tank strapped to a windmill, you’ll need to be
extremely careful with your movements – from early in the morning until dark. In this
respect, bowhunting antelope is like bow-hunting whitetails. You can not predict when
they will come to water, but they do come, every day, and that fact is consolation for
endless hours alone in a blind.
Make your hours in a blind comfortable. Take a book, lunch and a full water bottle.
Don’t forget a pee bottle and a roll of toilet tissue, either. Take a bag of hard candy or
chewing gum. If the blind is open, you’ll need protection from the sun and wind. Because
the prairie is glaringly bright through midday, you’ll be glad you remembered polarized
sun glasses such as the popular sportsmens’ glasses made by Bushnell. On the high
prairies, the wind is a continual companion and you’ll need a lip balm like Chap Stick or
Overcast 15 Sunscreen. And, if you have hacked your blind out of the hard prairie,
you’ll want a cushion like a Therm-a-Seat to ease the pain on your backside. Although
designed more for protection during cold weather, the beauty of the Therm-a-Seat is
that the multiple thorns, stickers and prairie cactus can’t destroy it, because the foam seat
The same gear you use bowhunting whitetails is fine for antelope. A full-grown buck
antelope weighs less than 100 pounds. Remember, though, that a blind is a restrictive
shooting environment, so whatever you hunt with, arrange it in the blind so that you can
come to full draw quietly, with a minimum of visible movement and with total clearance for
your bow and arrow.
When antelope come in to a water hole or cattle feed station, they’re alert with their eyes
and ears – but not their nose. I’ve never had a problem with human odor when bowhunting
antelope from ground blinds; either I’m buried in the ground and surrounded with aromatic sage
or they’ve seen my movement from hundreds of yards and refuse to come in. Generally, antelope will study a water hole from 100 yards to a quarter mile away, watching for danger before they come in. Then, it will be at a run. If you’re dozing, you’ll open your eyes to find the prairie goats already in your shooting lane. Don`t rush! They will probably put their heads down once or twice
only to jerk them back up suddenly and look around. When they do put them down for good, they’ll take a long drink. Draw then, relax and take your shot.
I drew the “Grandpa Blind” the night before the hunt began on the Spearhead Ranch.
Frank oriented us to the blinds and the hunting procedures and then Elaine filled us with
barbecue chicken, home-made biscuits, potatoes and spinach salad. The weather looked
threatening, but after a year of drought, Frank admitted he was torn between praying for rain
and realizing that rain and wind made the bowhunting difficult, even in his fully-enclosed blinds.
Monday, I was lucky. I had antelope at the blind several times: bucks, with horns above
their ears and black cheek patches; does, with the characteristic, tiny twisted horns only a
few inches in height; and fawns. It was the first day, so I waited, just enjoying the show.
What were mom and the kids doing while I was hunched over in this incredibly lousy
weather? Sleeping in. An omelette, pancake and bacon breakfast. A dip in the covered,
heated pool. Video games. A warm nap and on and on.
Tuesday, I was lucky again. I put on every stitch of clothing I had brought except Monday’s underwear: a reversible Fieldline camo jacket, one side quiet cloth and the other a
nylon shell, helped protect me from the chill wind blowing through the cracks in the blind.
A Bob Fratzke Winona Camo knit sweater and a light pair of 100 percent polypropylene
long underwear from Kenyon Products in Rhode Island helped my body retain heat during
a long day.
Antelope moved to the blind’s water and cattle feed late in the day. At 4:45 p.m., eight
does and fawns wandered in, fed, watered and moved away. At 5:30, nine does and fawns
and one good buck, his horns well above his ears, appeared. I eased into position and
waited. From a kneeling position, the shot was slightly uphill. As the buck moved from
feed to water, through the crowd of antelope, I drew, aimed and released. The 2317 Easton
shaft tipped with the 125-grain, three-blade Terminator Double Cut broadhead, propelled
by my 67-pound American Timberwolf cam bow, speared the buck in mid-stride, crushing
its left shoulder and projecting out the opposite side. It ran 100 yards and piled up.
As the adrenaline subsided and my heart dropped down out of my throat, I wondered
what mom and the kids were doing. Were they gawking at the “mechanical cowboy band and eight-foot jackalope” at Wall Drug, an hour east of the Black Hills? Were they listening to
“PeeWee Van Family” present an original mountain and country music show, “hillbilly-
style,” at the Mountain Music Show three miles north of Custer? Heck, I still had time to
join them, maybe even on the 400-foot-long twister slide at Rushmore Waterslide Park
where, “The water’s heated and the fun is non-stop.”
“Hey, wait for me kids! Guess what I did in Wyoming. I was in this hunting blind on the
Spearhead Ranch, see, looking for a big buck antelope and one day …. ”
I was lucky to have a big black-horned buck walk into my shooting lane the second day of my antelope hunt at Frank and Elaine Moore’s Spearhead Ranch in Converse County, Wyoming, 100 miles west of the Black Hills. It gave this Mid-Westemer time to tour the ranch and ask owner Frank
Moore a few questions which evenings in the bunkhouse might not have allowed.
Frank, how did you and Elaine get started on the Spearhead Ranch?
My great granddad came to Wyoming as a cowpuncher on a trail drive a century ago and got work on the Ogalalla Ranch. In those days, the big spreads were owned by cattle barons who lived in England. For them, having a ranch in Wyoming was like having a cabin in the mountains would be for us. After a couple tough winters, though, they lost a lot of money. When they sold out, my great granddad ended up with the Ogalalla and it’s come down through the family ever since. Daddy bought the Spearhead, adjacent to the Ogalalla, in ’72 and Elaine and I sold a farm near Douglas and moved up to operate it. The Spearhead and the Ogalalla are about 40,000 acres each. By “big ranch” standards, the Spearhead’s not that big…but it’s still a big ranch.
For bowhunters who’ve never been to Eastern Wyoming, how would you describe
the landscape where they’ll be bowhunting antelope?
It’s rolling grassland, good short grass prairie; probably some of the best grass country
in the state. The Spearhead is predominantly covered with native gamma grass and
sage. It doesn’t look like a lot of feed out there, because ’88 was very dry, but this is
good grass with lots of punch to it. It’s really good feed. Aside from having huntable populations of antelope, elk, turkey, whitetails and muleys, we run 2,500 sheep and 450 cows. According to the Game & Fish people, antelope and sheep feed on different things, but it’s basically the same: gamma grass – and sage in the winter.
How did you get started outfitting bow-hunters?
Elaine and I started guiding hunters as a personal business, a way to make a little extra
income. In ’78, we had our first bowhunters on the ranch and the season went pretty well,
even with a lot of mistakes on our part. Pretty soon, though, we started making a little bit of
a name. With ranching being as poor a business as it has been the last couple years, a lot of
people are turning to hunting for income. When I got into the outfitting business, people looked
at me like I was crazy, but now there are a bunch doing it. It has turned into another source of income for the ranch. Bowhunting got into my blood in a hurry. In ’80, I killed my first deer with a bow and was hooked. I shoot a Bear recurve, because I need something mechanically simple that I
can throw in the back of the truck, something that can stand some abuse and won’t end up
tearing up before I need it.
How do hunting and ranching get along?
Not real well. Better now that I’ve gotten support from the family, though. Fall is a busy
time of year on a ranch. I have to work hard before and after hunting season to make up for
it. It’s just something you have to work around. There’s a certain amount of conflict between outfitting and my own hunting. I can fit the business into the ranch, but when I try to I
fit my own bowhunting time in, too, something has to give. Somebody has to take up the
slack for me. Outfitting hunters is a lot of work. People try to figure out the kind of money you’re
making and they think you’re really hauling it in, but it’s not a business to get rich on. For
me, because I already have the ranch and ranching covers most of my overhead expenses, outfitting is a good source of income. Still, it takes a lot of work year round trying to
stay on top of things. Annually, it’s probably a quarter of my time.
What ’s the future of bowhunting out here?
It’s getting bigger all the time. Game & Fish really struggles to manage antelope populations. They can’t control winter weather and if they don’t control the hunting kill, they end up with a lot of antelope, but no trophies. Because I take does off every year and strictly control the hunting, I’ve still got antelope on my place that’ll go 16 inches. I’d say the herd quality is as good now as it has
ever been. The reason I can maintain good herd quality is that bowhunters won’t take the cream of
the crop. They just can’t do it. They’ll take a lot of antelope and they’ll take nice ones, but
they can’t shoot them at long range. So, I have good success with bowhunters and still have
quality, year after year.
I do have to take some gun hunters, though. I’d like to just take bowhunters, but I
can’t get enough kill to maintain herd balance. With 2,000 antelope on the ranch, I
should take 150 to 200 every year. I don’t have any problem at all with rifle hunters,
but as a rule, bowhunters are more serious. They’re out there to hunt, not just have
a good time. They’re serious about their hunting, because they have to be. Rifle hunters
know they’re going to get something. We’ve been 100 percent with rifle hunters…it’s not
a problem. It’s just a matter of what they want. That’s almost secondary to rifle
hunters, though. They’re there to have some fun and BS and get away from home.
Tell me about your facilities. Your bunkhouse is two heavy-duty 24×60 foot trailers joined at the middle. It has a kitchen and dining room, toilets for men and women, complete shower and bath facilities, separate rooms for every two to four hunters and even a washer and dryer.
Our bunkhouse is a wilderness oil field camp. It came out of Canada. It’s designed for
a crew to live in way back in the woods, when they have to stay until they get a job completed.
It’s built heavy duty so oil field roughnecks can’t tear it up. Roughnecks are a pretty
hard bunch and they don’t take good care of things. That’s why it’s got the funny doors like
you see on walk-in coolers. The bunkhouse can handle 27 hunters at a time, but the ranch itself can easily handle 30. Years ago, when the law allowed open hunting, it wouldn’t be unusual to have over 100 hunters out there. To be able to provide the kind of service I think you should provide, l2
is the most I can take and still get to know people, provide a hunt they feel is a quality experience and not just a commercial operation that’s only running people through to get their money.
Frank, my blind was triangular. It measured eight feet to a side and the plywood
walls were sunk in the ground three feet. With the awful weather we’ve had this
week, I was glad it was covered, too. And it wasn’t a problem sitting still for a couple
days when I could sit in a bucket seat out of a car. How did you learn to build such
We started with pit blinds. Although they were hard to dig, they worked well; but they
don’t work for just anybody. You’ve got to be a dedicated hunter and willing to sit still, because
you just can’t make a pit blind concealed enough for someone who hasn’t bowhunted
much. Then we went to blinds made from hay bales. They were naturals and they held your
scent in, but they were hard to build. It took about a pickup load of hay per blind and, as a
rule, you lost half the hay. You lost more than half the feed value of the hay while it was just
sitting there exposed to the sun, too. And hay bale blinds deteriorate pretty fast. People get
excited and knock the sides down when they get something, or cattle knock them down.
So, I wanted to go to something easier to work with and something more permanent.
After a lot of trial and error, we eventually went to solid wall panels and then buried
them. They had looked bad when they were totally above ground. So, it was trial and
error. And a bowhunter here a couple years ago suggested the bucket seats – $5 from a
junk yard in Casper! These blinds are easier to maintain and a lot more comfortable than
anything else I know of.
You have 10 years in the business of outfitting bowhunters. What should a bow-hunter ask when he books a hunt here or elsewhere?
l’d say, just talk for a while about the general hunting situation and get a feel for the
outfitter to see if you like and trust the person first. Then ask about the quality and about the
distance of shots. Ask about the percentage of people getting shots, not about the percentage
of kills, because kills depend on the quality of bowhunter you’ve got in a blind. Get some references and then call them. Find out if the outfitter is telling the truth, if he’s honest. That’s really all you’re booking the hunt on. If he doesn’t tell you the truth, you’re going to get a bad hunt. To me, that’s the most important thing.
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