Continued from Jan 14, 2015
I’ve bowhunted for antelope many times, in Wyoming, Montana and New Mexico. Though I’d taken several record-book bucks, one of my lifelong bowhunting goals was to harvest a Boone and Crockett antelope. But when you look where all the Pope and Young pronghorns that scored above eighty inches were taken, you find that 46 bucks came from Arizona, 34 from Wyoming, 17 from Colorado, and 16 each from New Mexico and Nevada. Alberta is 12th on the list with only three animals listed in Pope and Young that would meet Boone and Crockett minimums. (I might add that since this bowhunt, the word is out and many big antelope from Alberta are now in the record books). However, after talking to a number of friends, Billy Franklin’s name came up several times. Southern Alberta was also mentioned by several friends. So, I called Billy and discovered that he scouted for big mule deer and pronghorns almost every day, covering hundreds of square miles. Five of six bowhunters he took in 2000 harvested animals that scored more than seventy-eight inches. This got my attention, and so I booked the hunt.
I arrived on September 3rd, and on the drive from the airport Billy discussed the fact that he had two B&C bucks spotted that we could hunt. The biggest was coming to one of the water holes on a regular basis, and we decided to try for him. Billy had watched this buck for four years on a private farm west of Brooks, Alberta. From the blind it was thirty-nine yards to the water on the right, and forty yards to the left. It was only thirty-one yards to the water straight in front of the blind, but a steep hill and the few tracks indicated that animals seldom watered there. This whole part of southern Alberta was in the middle of the worst drought in one hundred years; bad for the farmers, but great for antelope hunting.
Day one started out a bit chilly, but warmed up considerably. As is typical for the first day on any hunt, I was wired, and watched the horizon attentively all morning. At 10:05 A. M., the buck and seven does came over the far ridge about one-half mile away. They fed and bedded there for several hours, then moved toward the water. As would become the norm, the does watered first. The buck came in slowly, keeping a close eye on his does. Between chasing and feeding, it took him thirty minutes to cover the last one hundred yards. My view of the final approach was blocked by a small ridge. I watched both ends of the water hole thru the two panels that were open. He didn’t show, but then I could hear him drinking . . . darn, he was straight across from the blind, where antelope weren’t supposed to water. By the time I scrunched around and made my draw, the buck was leaving. No shot, but at least he was coming to this water hole, so I was optimistic that another opportunity would follow.
Day two was a bit cloudy and for most of the day I watched the pronghorn herd in the distance. The buck now had eight does with him, and he was constantly chasing, and making sure they didn’t wander too far. The antelope never watered and after another fifteen-hour day in the blind, I was ready to leave. As Billy and I drove from the blind, we saw the herd in the headlights around two hundred yards behind the water hole.
Day three was just a miserable day in the blind. When the buck finally came to water, his doe herd had grown to ten. At least things were getting better for him. After the miss, I hung in there until quitting time. As I got in the truck, Billy laughed. No wonder. I looked like I’d been rolling in the dust. A hot shower and some food, and I was ready for another day in ‘jail’. During the night I awoke knowing that I’d eaten some bad food. Billy had also spent a bad night, but there was no question about hunting on day four. As we approached the blind, Billy reminded me to put up the orange flag behind the blind if I wanted to leave or if I got lucky and scored. “As always Dave, I’ll be in the neighborhood, with my spotting scope. Just put up the flag and I’ll come a running.”
It was a beautiful day; no wind and crystal clear. At 8 A. M., the bad food led to a nature call. Now some nature calls can be done in a blind, but bad food nature calls cannot. I scanned the horizon in front of the blind, searching for the antelope. Nothing. Then I crawled up the small hill behind the blind and spent five minutes surveying the rolling hills in that direction. There was not one tree for cover, so visibility was good. Nothing. I scampered down the hill, dug a small hole and did what you do when you’ve eaten bad food. I was back in the blind within five minutes.
Apparently the antelope had been very close to the water hole when I left the blind, because within three minutes, there they were, off to my left. Today there were twelve does with the buck, and as usual, he was busy chasing stragglers while most of the herd watered. Finally, he came to water, but straight across from me, where it was very difficult to shoot through any of the open panels. No matter, because a doe caught his attention and he ran off within a few seconds. Now that the does had watered, they wanted to leave the area, but the buck herded them back. They fed at one hundred yards, and the buck bedded. He had to come in for water.
After an hour, a few does returned to water, followed by the whole herd, and finally the heavy-horned buck. Again he came to the left of the pond, running the last twenty yards. He stopped near the pond, forty-two yards, broadside, watching the does. I took my time, felt confident, and released the arrow. The shot was perfect, and he ran straight away, veering left to round up a wayward doe. ‘Had I missed him?’ I mentally asked myself. No, because just as he turned her back to the herd, his feet gave way and it was over.
Within an hour, Billy saw the orange flag and came driving up, not knowing whether I was sick from the night before, or whether I’d scored. My smile gave it away and Billy, his friend Dick Paitsch, and I celebrated. On the way home Billy described the buck as an old friend. He was a bit sad to see the buck go, but thrilled that we got him. The paradox of hunting. And the circle of life goes on. Old Benthorn, another smaller, but dandy, buck in that area would now reign supreme for a few years. And in two-three years, another one of Billy’s bowhunters would be out there meeting the challenge in trying to take a Boone and Crockett pronghorn, Old Benthorn, with the bow.
I left my bowhunt to fly home from Alberta a few days early, and lucky I did, because 9/11 changed border travel forever. Had I stayed, all flights to the states were cancelled for a week after 9/11 and I would have been stranded there for a week or so. For most of us, September 11, 2001 was one of the saddest days of our lives. All the needless deaths, and the beginning of terrorism beyond anything we could have imagined. But I try to block that all out when thinking back on this bowhunt. The hunt went just as planned. Billy had the big goats scouted, and blinds in the right place. He knew exactly what needed to be done to have a chance at success.
I went into that hunt mentally prepared to shoot a Boone and Crockett animal. I was mentally ready when crunch time occurred. Hunting can involve setting goals and then working to achieve them. In this case I was able to achieve the goal on the first attempt. Had I not succeeded, I would have returned to bowhunt with Billy until I got a big antelope. It was a challenge, and I was up for the challenge.
Bowhunting antelope is not a strenuous hunt though long days in hot blinds can be tiring. Still, antelope hunting is something anyone can do, and that is why I recommend such a hunt to bowhunters. They are great animals, living in 90-degree heat in the summer and below zero cold in the winter. They have great eye sight, and few weaknesses. Bowhunting the desert areas of Wyoming taught me a lot about that dry country, and I came to love being there even though it wasn’t the friendliest of environments. Alberta isn’t as dry and there are fewer animals, but they do have some great antelope. This buck green scored more than 82 inches and officially netted 80 6/8″. This made him the fourth largest buck from Alberta in the latest Pope and Young record book (since that time several bigger bucks have been taken including a dandy taken by Dick Paitsch), and in the top five for Alberta’s record book. People get fooled on scoring antelope horns, because they are always concerned with length.
My buck had 15-inch horns, but when scoring an antelope for the record book, on each horn there is only one length measurement. However, there are four circumference measurements, including the prong. Thus, the more black you see at the base of the horns, the better the antelope. This one was a great animal.
Early September is a great time to hunt southern Alberta because the bucks are rutting hard. You can water-hole hunt, but if that doesn’t work, you can also decoy. The weather will require warm clothes and light gloves in the early morning and late evening, but it warms up into the sixties and seventies in the day time. Hunting antelope requires longer shots, so practicing out to fifty yards can be useful. Good optics help, and a rangefinder is a necessity. If blind hunting, you need a good chair, food, plenty of water and a pee bottle. A good book will help pass the time. My bow was a Parker, set at 63 lbs., and I used Easton aluminum arrows, three-fletched feathers, tipped with Rocky Mountain Titanium 125 grain 3-blade broadheads.
You fly to Calgary and rent a car for the two-hour drive to Brooks. Going through customs is now a bit trickier since September 11, but with a bow, rather than guns, it presents no problems. You must have a clean arrest record. I do not wear any camo, nor carry a camo back pack (as I used to) when going through customs; it seems to speed up the process. Don’t forget your passport. There were times when you could go through customs with a driver’s license, but those days are gone.
As I edit this in November, 2012, I can tell you that the antelope are still up there. I bowhunted this September with Billy for mule deer. It was great being back in that farm country, though the drive from West Virginia was a killer, and Billy gave me a super hunt, as he always does.
For a great bowhunt, contact Billy Franklin at Silver Sage Outfitters, PO Box 533, Duchess, AB T0J 0Z0, 403 501-1205. He uses the decoy method now almost all the time, and has great success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. David Samuel spent 30 years as a professor of wildlife management at West Virginia University. He is now in his 44th year with Bowhunter Magazine, where his Know Hunting column still appears. He currently writes the Know Whitetails column for the Whitetail Journal, The Future of Hunting column on www.bowhunting.net and writes a weekly outdoor column for WV newspapers. His activities on behalf of wildlife are diverse: from initiating the West Virginia Bowhunter Education Program to helping get bowhunting legalized in many European and African countries.
He has won honored lifetime achievement awards from the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, the Wildlife Society, the Quality Deer Management Association, and Whitetails Unlimited. He is in the SCI Bowhunter’s Hall of Fame, and his greatest honor was being inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 2007. He has written 9 books, with his three most recent books being Whitetail Advantage, Whitetail Racks, and the one being presented here, An Empty Quiver – A Lifetime of Bowhunting Adventures. You can find the table of contents for the two whitetail books, and get autographed copies of all three of these books on Dr. Dave’s website, www.knowhunting.com.
For more also go to: Straight Talk Interview: Dr. Dave Samuel