- May 2, 2010
A shot from the pit blind...notice the burlap edges.
Around June of 1990 I was thinking about how to go about harvesting an animal that would qualify for the Pope and Young Club’s record program. I could envision a trophy animal in my den, with the great looking certificate mounted below it. It is often said by those who are paid to be motivational speakers…. the first step of any goal is the mental envisioning of acquiring it. It seems rather silly, but there must be something to it because my mind kept seeing that certificate hanging on the wall!
I was the MBA magazine editor at the time and we were trying a new publication called “Eastern Bowhunting” to be our communication piece to the membership. The owner of this publication was a fellow named Roy Goodwin and he was a dedicated bowhunter with several P&Y recorded entries. One of the things that he did at Eastern Bowhunting was to promote his “Tag Along” hunts. He did all the research to find the best trophy hunts and would allow a certain number of readers to go on his hunts at a discounted price. No doubt he was working a discount for himself in the process; but regardless it was a concept that worked well.
In the June issue of Eastern Bowhunting, Goodwin had authored an article about an experimental hunt on some prime antelope lands near Maybell Colorado…arguably the antelope capital of the world! It was experimental in the fact that the Colorado DNR was going to allow this particular property to be open in July… when the rest of the state was closed to antelope hunting. In return for the early archery antelope opener, the property owner would allow public access later in the year for some controlled hunts. It sounds a great deal like Colorado’s “Ranching for Wildlife” programs that operate on a similar basis today. The antelope outfitter was a fellow named Phil Phillips (yes… the same guy that is on the Outdoor Channel with his show, “Phil Phillips Unleashed”) but he was an unknown at the time. That said, Goodwin’s article promoting the hunt indicated that 70% of all antelope harvested on the property had qualified for the P&Y record book the year before. I mentally wrote the $1100 check at that point, yet my wife was less than thrilled at spending the money for a hunt so close from my return from the Alberta bear hunt. I have long forgotten what she bartered out of the deal, but she got what she wanted and wrote the check!
A picture of a few horns ready to go to the taxidermist!
I was a frequent visitor at a certain sporting goods store and after a few discussions about the hunt with the staff, some wanted to go. Later those bowhunters had some friends that wanted to go as well and within a week, we had taken just about all the slots for the hunts. Of the ten hunters in antelope camp, we had five of them coming from Mississippi. The names of those going with me have to remain anonymous for reasons that will become self-evident later!
It was strange travelling out to Colorado in July as we were the only people that looked like hunters. Usually when you fly, you see several others on a similar quest as yours. This made us somewhat conspicuous and more than once we had to explain what we were doing to airline officials. The trip, other than a few more questions than normal, went fine and our final destination was Steamboat Springs Co. where we obtained transportation to the antelope camp. An event happened at the airport that I found odd and I couldn’t understand it at the time. As we were in the parking lot preparing to leave, a car went by us and the driver threw an empty milk jug out the window. The jug clattered to a stop near me. About that time, a fellow from the airport staff starting yelling at me! He was under the impression that I had thrown down the jug and he was really loud and vocal about the matter. About a 30 seconds into his verbal tirade, one of the 5 of us that I didn’t know (he was a” friend of a friend” of one of the hunters in our party) stepped in front of me and told the airport guy that he was going to whip his (bleep), and that if he had any further problem that he would be going through him! He then went into a profanity faced tirade about what he was going to do to the airport guy if he opened his (bleep) mouth one more time. Dang! I didn’t know who this 250+ pound monster was, but I called him “Big Red”…at least mentally due to his red face and hair. I was glad he was on my side though I thought his behavior was a bit bizarre to say the least!
We arrived mid-afternoon at the antelope camp and Phil Phillips wasted no time in getting us to the pit blinds on the same afternoon of the arrival. We madly stashed gear, slipped into our hunting clothes, and shot a few arrows before going to the blinds. Apparently, the use of a recurve was causing concern with Phil as he said that only a windmill stand and one pit blind would allow enough interior space to shoot my longer limbed bow. It wasn’t that my 72# 60” Black Widow was all that long; but it was longer than the shorter axle compounds that were common (back then as well as today) and the blinds were designed for. I asked if I could hunt the pit blind as it seemed safer and quieter than a grating windmill. I was having a hard time understanding him as his mouth was partially wired shut and he was wearing a neck brace; the result of a bar fight in Craig the week before. I was glad when one of the guides took me in his truck to the blind; though he reminded me of Charles Manson by his looks. Thankfully, his disposition was much better than his looks as I had begun to think that everyone in this part of the country lived to have a good time fighting!
Picture of Phil Phillip's antelope camp
I got in the blind that was positioned about 25 yards from the nearest water’s edge and maybe 35 yards to the farthest side. The water source was a cattle pond and it looked to be drying up pretty fast in the semi-desert heat of July. I had only been there a very short time before the antelope started coming to the small water source. The terrain was hilly and I would see them ½ a mile out when they topped a ridge…. and then about 10 minutes later when they would come over the ridge closet to me. They would then head straight for the water. I must have seen this pattern repeat itself over a dozen times in the three hour hunt, while seeing likely in excess of 40 animals come to water. The activity at the hole reminded me of a dove hunt with the constant action. The only real problem was going to be selecting ‘which’ antelope that I was going to shoot. I certainly didn’t want to shoot a small one when there was so much potential for a real trophy to be taken. I guess I was still thinking about that P&Y certificate!
The guide came back through quite some time before sunset as the antelope action slowed with the dropping temps of the late afternoon. When we got back to camp everyone was excited about seeing so many antelope…except the poor guy that hunted the windmill. He hadn’t seen an antelope all afternoon and the frustration showed both in his expression and words as he listened to the glowing reports of others. I knew I needed to make the most of the pit blind because I sure didn’t want the windmill stand! It was decided by Phil that we would hunt the same stands the next day other than the fellow in the windmill, and he was moved to another location.
The next morning I was in my pit blind a daybreak and my intention was to hunt all day. I had brought a couple of paperback books and lots of water for what I suspected would be an endurance of will. I hadn’t been in the blind 5 minutes before the first antelope began to water. They were just does and fawns (is that what you call antelope?) but I felt good about the days hunt. Over the next couple of hours, I lost count of all the animals coming in to water. There were some good bucks that were coming in, but I still didn’t have the ‘warm and fuzzy’ about just how good they were. I continued to wait and watch the comics of a small mouse that had gotten into the blind and couldn’t get out. I eventually took my shirt off and hung it from the shooting window down to the bottom of the pit. The little feller eventually climbed out of the blind with his new makeshift ladder! The entire episode did make me wonder if rattlesnakes might gain entry the same way….
Late mid-morning, I noticed some darker clouds to the west and the thought occurred to me that this wonderful place might be as worthless as a confederate dollar bill if it starting raining. This put a little more urgency in my hunt! As the clouds grew closer, a real nice ‘lope came to water. He had good prongs that curled backward and had reasonable cutters. Based on the guidelines that Phil had given us about what a PY buck would look like, this one seemed to meet the criteria. I had to be careful with my draw; but the 72# Black Widow (loaded with a Zwickey Eskimo broadhead) launched the cedar arrow quickly across the 35 yard distance to the far side of the water hole. The arrow hit with a resounding ‘plop’ and I instantly felt anxiety as knew I had made a poor hit in the paunch. The animal reacted much the same way a whitetail does and I saw him slowly walk away. Perhaps an hour later I caught sight of him crossing the top of the most distant ridge a ½ mile away…but he was going very, very slowly. It wasn’t much later when my guide showed up to see if I wanted to go in for lunch. He said he had seen the animal after I shot it and he said we would find him. He knew the best thing to do was to wait and look for him after lunch.
After lunch, I was not surprised to head out with the guide to look for my buck; but was certainly surprised at the dirt bike the guide was going to employ in the endeavor! Somewhere in life’s journey, I missed the fascination with dirt bikes and I was amused (if not indeed startled) at the development. However, the Charles Manson look alike that served as my guide, relished the opportunity…. as if to run every antelope out of the country with the devilish noise of the spit and crackle from the two stroke engine across the prairie! I watched in horror as I saw likely 150 antelope clear the distant ridge top as he zig and zagged across the countryside to find my wounded ‘lope. I had a bad feeling that if he didn’t find my buck, the animals would be in the next county and my hunt would be for jackrabbits for the remainder of the trip!
To the guide’s credit, he found my antelope in a ravine about ¾ of a mile from where I shot him. I delivered the ‘coup de grace’ to finish off the animal and then admired the beauty of the buck. Much like a deer, the antelope does not lose its grace and beauty post-mortem. Antelope are spectacular animals and make very nice mounts. I had no more than completed tagging the buck when a Colorado conservation officer drove up. Apparently, someone from a nearby road had seen the motorcycle being driven in what appeared to be in pursuit of antelope. When used to pursue game animals this is called ‘hazing’. I (along with my guide) explained that the buck had been wounded and the bike had been used to locate the animal. After checking my license, the CO carefully looked at my trophy and asked me when I had shot the animal… and I told him 5 hours before. He then said that most hunters would have given up and he commended me for staying on the animal. With that, he got back in his truck and drove away.
Soon we were back at the camp and the buck was green scored at 64 6/8’s…. slightly higher than the 64 point minimum required for entry into the P & Y record books at the time for the species. It seemed that unless the buck shrunk more than 6/8’s in the 60 day drying period that I might actually have my first P & Y entry! (the buck eventually scored 64 4/8’s) I was elated and thrilled with my traditional bow harvest!
My first PY class animal!
Later that afternoon, Phil asked me if I would like to chase some jack rabbits given that I had already filled my tag. Of course being a new adventure, I immediately said yes! It wasn’t long before I was hunting rabbits that looked like small dogs in the sage flats. I would think they weighed in excess of 6 pounds! It was common to get within 30 yards; but no closer. I took several shots and eventually took a couple of the mega-sized rabbits. The size of these rabbits simply defied the imagination! Regrettably I took no pictures of this.
At the end of that hunting day, quite a few of our group had been successful on antelope. One person in our party that had flown from Mississippi with us harvested a real gagger! The exact score escapes my memory; but it was in excess of 70”….that is a huge ‘lope! Comparable to a whitetail, this would be the equivalent of a whitetail that scores better than 150. There was a great deal of talk about this animal back in camp. Another one of our group took another P & Y class animal that was only slightly smaller. It was a wild day of antelope hunting, but that is what Phil Phillip’s operation was known for.
This story might have very well ended here except for a small incident that occurred later that night… which ties back in with the milk jug incident earlier at the airport. The fact that I mention it at all illustrates my ability to look back and have a good laugh about it. After all, I do write these stories merely for the purpose of adventure and reader enjoyment...right? Strange things can happen when you’re far from home. Later that evening, I was taking a shower before turning in for the night. As I showered, I heard the curtain open beside me. As I cleared the Selsun Blue from my eyes, I was horror stricken to see BIG RED in his birthday suit standing beside me. Now let me make this perfectly clear, the sight of a 250+ pound naked man that looks like a human Brillo pad (with all the hair on his body) was not exactly my idea of a great adventure! I’m almost 6 ft tall and at the time weighed about 180 pounds so I was not a small guy myself….but he looked like an Amazon descendant! I calmly asked him ”What are you doing, ____?” He just stood there grinning at me and I told him that he needed to turn around and leave. After standing there for just a while longer, he turned around and left. I guess that I really don’t need to go further down the path with this story, but I have watched the movie Deliverance and I wanted no part of either the “squeal like a pig” or burying the evidence later as I extracted my revenge . I cut my vacation short and caught a bird back to Jackson the very next day….all the time contemplating how to project a more ‘manly’ demeanor in the future!
As an interesting side note, I left my buck to be mounted in Colorado and to be shipped to me later. Several months later, UPS called me to come to their warehouse in Jackson to pick up the crate. When I got there, they couldn’t find my mount! They told me that they were sorry and they would let me know just as soon as they located it. They eventually disclosed it was lost and paid me $2,000 for the hunt. Imagine my surprise when two years later they called me to come pick it up!!!!!! “All’s well that ends well” is often said; and with that statement this story concludes!