Tod's Blog

Adventures with family & friends and other things I'm passionate about…

Archive for August, 2008

Killer Antelope Soup

Posted by todblog on August 17, 2008

August 17, 2008

If you remember last September, Jacob and I hooked up with a great group of guys and drove over to Wyoming for an antelope hunt. It was a terrific experience and we did it because our chances for drawing an antelope tag in Oregon were pretty slim. There are a lot of Oregon hunters who have been waiting for 14 years just to get a chance to hunt them. The way it works is you apply for a hunt and if you don’t get drawn, you get a preference point. So, there are hunters with 14 preference points (14 years of applying) waiting to get drawn. There is a slight chance of getting drawn without the preference point system and that’s where 25% of the total tags available are given out randomly. In June, I found out that I was random enough to draw an antelope tag for Southeast Oregon. Wow…what a shock to draw a tag with only 4 points! Some of my friends told me I should’ve bought a lottery ticket that day instead…

Needless to say, I was pretty happy about being a victim of a random act of kindness. My plans were to get some good maps and talk to people who knew the area and where I could find some antelope. People were very helpful and shared their information with me without too much bribery. Part of that generosity is based on the fact it takes so many years to draw a tag and people are willing to share a location that they won’t be hunting for a longggg time to come.

Jacob and I planned to take a weekend off and do some scouting prior to the hunt. However, gas prices and busy schedules got in the way so, we opted to go a couple of days early and look around before opening day of the season. I spent one night at Sherm’s Thunderbird in Roseburg getting all of our meals for the trip. It would be mainly things that could be stored without refrigeration. This would be a repeat of last summer’s canoe adventure in Canada where we subsisted on instant soups plus whatever fish we caught. Only this time, there would be no fish, just canned goods or maybe a rattlesnake or rabbit.

We left Roseburg early Thursday morning and made the seven hour drive to the Pueblo Mountains with plenty of daylight left to see some gorgeous countryside. Crawling along in 4-Low wheel drive we climbed some steep faces and loose road beds to get to our campsite. Having a second spare tire gave me some peace of mind on these roads with lots of sharp rocks. Jacob’s childhood fascination with rocks returned to him as we drove by huge bowling ball sized quartz and smaller agates. We saw coveys of chukars, big horn sheep, and antelope. We pitched camp near an intermittent stream with lots of greenery around us. The beautiful quaking aspen trees reminded me of Hawaii’s olapa trees with the same dancing leaves as they caught the slightest breeze.

As we pitched our canopy and made our campsite ready, I could hear a single engine plane buzzing around the mountain ridgeline nearby. The plane was scouring the hillsides looking for big horn sheep in the last hours of daylight. It was probably a big horn sheep hunter trying to locate the sheep before the Saturday sheep season opener. The sheep tags are once-in-a-lifetime tags. You get drawn once and that’s it. For those who would rather not wait on luck and with much deeper pockets, there is the auction route. A handful of sheep tags get auctioned each year and go for 10’s of thousands of dollars. So, what’s a few more hundred to charter a plane and go locate some sheep.

Once the plane left the area, I returned to my duties as camp chef. Tonight’s special: tuna helper, tuna, mixed vegetables, powdered milk and water gently tossed in a pot. It must’ve been good because just as it was finished cooking, the coyotes starting yipping in the distance. As the sun disappeared the shadows grew long but, were soon chased away by the rising full moon. We had some of the best seats in the house for a spectacular evening show. As a matter-of-fact, we had the only seats in the house, we had the place to ourselves. We lay on cots in sleeping bags under the stars with a belly-full of some mighty fine cuisine. While we relaxed and digested our dinner meal, we took in the vastness and raw beauty of an evening in the high mountain desert.

Early the next morning I left Jacob in his sleeping bag and was up on a rock glassing the flats and hillsides around us looking for antelope. I could see nothing for miles. Where could they all be? I picked apart the scenery and could find nothing. The small plane returned to resume its search for sheep. If the sheep hunter were going to hunt the opening day of sheep season, today would be the last day to fly a scouting mission. Oregon law prohibits hunting the same day if using aircraft to scout game.

Back at camp I started our breakfast meal by boiling a pot of water for the peaches and cream instant hot oatmeal, pop tarts and hot cocoa. As soon as that meal was gobbled down we broke camp and opted to head for different hunting grounds…Plan B, another area with circles drawn on the map by hunters before me.

It was much easier driving to Plan B. Flat land for the most part with dusty roads. When we got closer to our destination we met up with rolling hills and natural springs at the head of draws. There were no shady trees to be found, just endless views of sagebrush and grassland and antelope! It was 11 o’clock and we were seeing antelope in draws and walking across hillsides. There was one lone buck on a rocky point and he looked like a good one. There’s a good chance he would be there tomorrow using that same area. There was one big drawback however, we were not alone. There were other hunters cruising along with trucks and ATVs scouting the area. What were they finding? Were antelope numbers better in other places or was this the “promised land” that they would be converging upon. It was nerve-racking not knowing who was going to hunt where and if you had a plan would it be spoiled by someone else in the area. The one thing we had going for us was that we were the only ones camping in the area the day before the season opener…so far.

We staked our claim on an open hillside with a short dead end road on it. We would be visible to others cruising the area and it was a good vantage point for glassing the area below. We tried to set up our tarp canopy but, the strong gusts had other plans for our whimpy set up. So, we made do without the comfort of overhead shade and sat in the truck with the sun to our back and breeze blowing through the cab. We made one more sneak peek of the area around us and saw more antelope and some wild horses. Things were shaping up to be a good opening day tomorrow. We got back to camp and got our gear ready for the next morning’s big hunt.

We would need to refuel ourselves with some good nourishing dinner a la pot: chicken noodle soup, canned chicken, and cut green beans plus 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, let simmer and eat! I had two big bowls and Jacob had three. As we enjoyed our fine dining experience, we were treated to another repeat performance of the sunset and moon rise with coyotes harmonizing nearby. We finally got all the hunting stuff squared away, alarm clock set, and jumped into our sleeping bags on top of our cots. With no tarp overhead, we had an unobstructed view of the sky, we watched satellites traverse through space and an occasional falling star race across the heavens. Everything was perfect, except Jacob said his stomach was upset and he was having a hard time getting to sleep.

The next morning found me waking to a faint orange tint on the eastern horizon. What time was it? Why didn’t my alarm go off? Jacob still didn’t feel well and during the night he got into the truck to try and find a better sleeping situation. There was a footprint on my alarm clock and it disabled the alarm! I scrambled to get my things and with half a banana in my mouth I could hear the distant drone of an ATV getting closer to our area. My heart sank as I put things into high gear and realized Jacob wasn’t doing well at all. He was curled up in a ball on the cot and I told him I’d have my 2-way radio on and when he felt better to give me a call and I’d be right below camp near the rock where the big buck was spotted yesterday. That was the plan.

As I headed out of camp the ATV passed our spur road and kept driving by our area. I was slightly relieved that the hunter wasn’t going to be hunting below our camp where I was going. Then something caught my eye in the distance…it was a group of 11 antelope running down towards the rock I wanted to be on. The antelope were spooked by the ATV and were putting some distance and dust between them. This wasn’t shaping up to be a good season opener at all. I headed back to camp to put on some sunscreen for the long day ahead of me and to slow things down a bit. I checked on Jacob one last time before heading out again. He was not a happy camper but, was trying to be upbeat about our adventure together. I turned a 2-way radio on and placed it by his side as I left on my quest to find a buck antelope willing to go home with me.

I slung my pack frame over my shoulders and started out again. It was 6 o’clock and I was frustrated at my morning so far. I started to crest the hill I was on and I saw 11 antelope directly below me at about 100yds. I hit my knees and got out my binocs to check them out. It was the same group spooked by the ATV and there was a buck trailing the group as they fed slowly to the west across my field of view. How did they not see me skylined as I came over the hill? I can’t believe they didn’t spook. Every now and then a few of them would look up and stare in my direction and then go back to feeding. I slipped my pack off and put on my knee and elbow pads and heavy leather gloves for stealth crawling mode. There were a couple of sagebrush bushes in front of me that gave me some cover and I eased up toward them. After five yards of crawling I slowly raised up to relocate their position. I couldn’t see them. Did they spook afterall? Where did they go?

No sooner had I dropped back down to rethink the situation, when I saw three does watching me. The antelope were feeding quicker than I thought and had come around to my right. They were about 80 yards away, staring at me and very nervous. I was on my belly with my left arm partly extended and frozen to the point where it was falling asleep and fingers tingling from the loss of blood flow. The does eventually turned around and fed away from me. I quickly shed my heavy leather glove to free my trigger finger and got the rifle’s bi-pod legs extended and locked into place. The herd of antelope were much closer than I thought and that meant Mr. Buck had to be close by too.

My eyes searched through the short grasses and sagebrush for any sign of Mr. Buck when I saw a set of “dark sticks” inching over the top of some grass. They were his horn tips moving through the grass. He was following up on the does and investigating what caused them to be so nervous. I brought Jacob’s Ruger .260 Remington into position and snuggled up to the stock. I peered through the Burris scope and zeroed in on the “black sticks”. Inch by inch he exposed his ear tips, eyes, nose, throat and neck. He stood and glared at me as I hugged the ground waiting for him to take a few steps closer and clear the grass. He took another step and I could see part of a shoulder and the outline of his back. I clicked off the safety and awaited one more step for an open shot. My head was spinning with what ifs…

Should I fill my tag and end this hunt on the very first day of the season? Will Jacob be in any shape to stay out for a few more days or do we need to get him to a doctor? What if other hunters show up and all my plans go out the window? Mr. Buck took one more step and gave me a clear shot at his vitals.

Mr. Buck turned his head in a nervous manner and I took the slack out of the trigger. The quiet early morning was broken by the crack of the .260 Remington and Mr. Buck wheeled out of sight. I quickly got my legs under me and stood up to see him down a few feet from where he stood. As I walked over to him a large sage grouse thundered as it took off almost underfoot. My hunt was over at 6:15am on opening day of the 2008 Oregon rifle antelope season and I was less than a couple hundred yards from camp! I tried to radio Jacob several times but, got no response. I headed back to camp to see how he was doing.

Upon my return to camp, I found Jacob was still bundled up in the cot and he never heard a thing. He slowly got up and dressed complaining of an upset stomach. He said he needed to visit a sagebrush and relieve himself. It would be the beginning of a very long day for Jacob. He met me down the hill where Mr. Buck lay and helped me bring him up to the end of the road. After an hour of taking care of the meat and caping Mr. Buck, we were back at camp breaking things down. I told Jacob to lie down and rest while I packed the truck and got us ready to go home. We left camp at 10:15am and had to stop sometimes every 1/2 hour when Jacob would have aching stomach bouts and beg for relief from the nearest clump of sagebrush. Luckily we had a whole roll of TP to accompany us on the road and there was lots of remote places to pull over. That could be a future book,… “Best Places to Go When You Gotta Go”.

We are still wondering what Jacob got into that caused him so much pain and discomfort as we both ate the same things and luckily I didn’t get sick. I’ve always been told that I have a cast iron stomach and if that’s the case, Jacob surely doesn’t have my genes in that area. He did make a good recovery the next day with lots of rest and slowly increasing his food intake. He started teasing his sister again which means he’s well on the way to recovery. He says he doesn’t want anymore instant soup mixes but, I think it’s all in his mind. To me, that instant chicken noodle soup was not only good for my soul, it made for a successful antelope hunt recipe.

On the road looking for antelope

Glassing for antelope the day before season opens

Our first night camping out in the Pueblo Mountains

Moon rise from our second campsite

Sunset from our second campsite- after the evening death dinner.

6:30am Opening Day- 2008 Oregon Rifle Antelope Season Over

Scariest part of the whole trip, junior boy driving in the desert…

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