Hunting antelope in Wyoming is always fun, but helping to pass on the hunting tradition makes the experience even better.
The first week of October is my favorite time to be on the high plains of central Wyoming. The cottonwoods in the creek bottoms have turned golden, a few low shrubs are showing their fall colors, and the weather is generally beautiful. Best of all, though, are the hundreds of antelope (in Wyoming, they don’t call them pronghorn) spread out across the sagebrush-dotted landscape. This time of year, the big bucks are jealously guarding their harems of does. When you spot the towering horns and black cheek patches of a mature buck in your binocular, you know that this is what you came for.
As my friend Kristie and I stood on a rimrock cliff overlooking a magnificent swath of Wyoming ranchland, I could see by her expression that she appreciated the experience of being in this landscape as much as I did—perhaps even more so, since this was her first antelope hunt. Kristie didn’t grow up hunting, but she caught the bug in her early twenties and began actively seeking mentors and advice. The two of us are fishing buddies who have spent lots of time together on our favorite rivers in northern Colorado, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to help her realize her newest outdoor passion. Like me, Kristie has a strong interest in knowing where her food comes from and in taking the responsibility of acquiring meat from its most natural source.
There’s a lot to figure out when you start hunting. The first order of business was finding her a rifle. During our initial trip to the range, I realized that at 5 feet 2 inches tall, Kristie had a hard time shooting most of my standard rifles because the stocks are too long; she was always struggling to get into a comfortable shooting position. But when I had her try my Savage 11 Lady Hunter in 6.5 Creedmoor, it was love at first shot. The short, high-combed stock fit her perfectly, and soon she was shooting impressive groups off the bench at 100 yards. I let her borrow the rifle for a mentored mule deer hunt with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and she used it to bring down her very first buck.
Last year, Kristie expressed a desire to go antelope hunting, which happens to be one of my favorite things to do in October. I booked us a hunt with SNS Outfitter and Guides, based in Casper, Wyoming, one of the country’s most antelope-rich regions. At that point, Kristie realized she needed a rifle of her own. There was no doubt it would be a Lady Hunter—but what caliber? Because elk are on her eventual hunting wish list, she decided on .308 Winchester—a great do-it-all caliber for big game in the West.
After her rifle arrived, we spent many evenings at the range getting it dialed in. Despite a high-pressure job and a demanding travel schedule, Kristie prioritized her hunting preparations, dry-firing her new rifle at home and testing several different loads at the range. We found a 168-grain factory load shooting Berger Classic Hunter bullets that her new rifle loved, and on our final range trip before the hunt, Kristie shot a one-inch group at 200 yards. She was ready.
We drove to Casper, enjoying glorious fall weather and spotting lots of antelope along the roadside, which added to Kristie’s (and my) excitement. On the first morning of our hunt, we explored the large ranch, spotting an impressive number of antelope. Our guide, Marc, patiently showed us numerous bucks, explaining their behavior and how to judge their horns, and this helped us get a feel for the lay of the land. When we spotted a nice buck hanging out with a single doe on the far side of a small rise, he parked the truck on the ranch road and asked Kristie if she was ready to stalk an antelope. She was!
We hiked several hundred yards through the sagebrush, taking advantage of the rolling terrain to screen us from the antelope. As we got closer, we dropped to hands and knees and I handed Kristie my leather gloves, a necessity for crawling pain-free through the abundant prickly pear. She and Marc belly-crawled to the top of a small rise and glassed the buck, which was bedded below them. Marc set up the shooting sticks and Kristie rested her .308. The antelope stood, and Kristie wisely waited for it to turn broadside before squeezing off her shot.
Her first shot landed a bit too high, and the antelope began to move off. I could only watch as she and Marc moved to reposition for a second shot. I was a nervous wreck, but Kristie remained remarkably calm—a crucial skill for any hunter–and executed a perfect follow-up shot at 230 yards, dropping her antelope in its tracks. As the adrenaline rush subsided, all three of us overflowed with excitement as we walked up to her buck and admired its striking tan-and-white coat and impressive horns.
The next day it was my turn, and Kristie tagged along on a fun stalk as Marc and I played cat-and-mouse with another nice antelope buck who was busily tending a herd of does. I finally got a shot from the top of a small rise and dropped the buck with one shot from my 6.5 Creedmoor.
We headed home the next day with the big cooler in the back of my truck loaded with prime wild meat, a couple of lovely antelope skulls for our walls, and memories of a magnificent adventure on the high plains of Wyoming. For me, though, the best part was seeing my friend take a giant step in her journey as a hunter, a journey I know will provide her with a lifetime of memorable and rewarding experiences.
For information on guided antelope hunts in Wyoming with SNS Outfitter & Guides, go to huntwyo.com.
Learning to Hunt
Learning to hunt as an adult, especially if you have no hunting-savvy family members to guide you, is not easy. The learning curve is steep, and it can be especially tough to find places to hunt and people to hunt with. I have great admiration for people like my friend Kristie—highly motivated and determined to learn, she sought out information, advice, and mentors from numerous sources. Through her experience, I learned there are many organizations providing mentorship opportunities for aspiring “adult-onset” hunters. Here are a few great resources:
State game agencies: The year before our antelope hunt, Kristie shot her first mule deer on a mentored hunt with Colorado Parks & Wildlife Hunter Outreach Program. Many states offer similar programs, and most offer opportunities for adults as well as kids. Check your state agency’s website or give them a call.
Conservation organizations: Most of the major conservation and hunter-advocacy organizations have mentoring programs and organize in-the-field opportunities for new hunters. Contact the national offices or your local chapters of organizations such as Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
Field-to-Table courses: Field-to-Table and New Hunter courses can be pricey, but there is no better way to learn to hunt, since these several-day workshops teach everything from shooting to hunting skills to field-dressing, butchering, and cooking your wild game. Two I can personally and very highly recommend are run by Outdoor Solutions: fromfieldtotable.com; and Sportsman’s All-Weather, All-Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM): ftwsaam.com.
NRA’s Hunter Ed program: For working adults, finding a hunter safety course that fits into a busy schedule can be a real challenged. In an effort to help with this, the NRA has developed an excellent and very comprehensive free online hunter education course. It’s currently approved to certify hunters in thirteen states. Check it out at nra.yourlearningportal.com
About Savage Lady Hunter Rifles
Both of our antelope were taken with Savage 11 Lady Hunter rifles; Kristie’s in .308 and mine in 6.5 Creedmoor. Savage developed these rifles specifically to fit the female frame,with an oil-finish American walnut stock with a raised comb custom-tailored to a woman’s contours, as well as a shortened length of pull and slender grip and fore-end. The balance point of the 20-inch, light-taper barrel has been shifted, making it feel lighter, yet it provides enough weight to absorb recoil. These are good-looking and great-shooting rifles that are also light and handy to carry in the field; mine shoots sub-MOA at 200 yards and I have used it to take both deer and pronghorn. Learn more at savagearms.com.