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October 23, 2008

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Heavy-weather antelope

AMprong I reported yesterday on Jon Lacorte’s mule deer hunt in Wyoming. We followed it up today with a hunt for pronghorn antelope with Table Mountain Outfitters out of Cheyenne, Wyo.

The weather forecast promised gale-force wind and strafing snow by noon, but we planned to be done hunting before the weather turned on us.

Lacorte, marketing manager for Nikon’s sport optics division, made it clear when we loaded into the pickup before sunrise that I had the first shot. That meant I got to ride shotgun, and take my pick of pronghorns. It also meant I had to open what seemed like dozens of ranch gates.

Every antelope we saw in the morning was wearing track shoes, running full-tilt at our approach, even at a distance of a half mile. One of the hundreds of pronghorns wore a handsome heart-shaped pair of horns, the tips of which almost touched. That was the antelope I wanted.

We put together a pair of great stalks, but both ended the same way, with flared white rumps of fleeing antelope tearing across the prairie.

JLprong Then the wind picked up, whipping the antelope into an even more alarmist frenzy, but if the weather put them on edge it also concentrated the animals on the lee sides of higher ridges. We hiked into a sheltered bowl and spotted two dozen pronghorns. A belly-crawl across the flats put us in a rock garden where we could glass the herd. A few good bucks, but nothing I wanted to shoot. So we crawled closer, and as we edged over the last rise we spotted not two dozen, but closer to 60 head of antelope, grazing and bedded on the facing slope, between 200 and 300 yards away.

A heavy-horned antelope caught my eye, and I settled into my .308, a Remington R-25, one of the company’s new semi-auto “modular repeating rifles” built on the AR platform. I forgot all about the heart-horned antelope as I squeezed off a shot and the black-horned goat fell.

Then it was Jon’s turn, but just as we were figuring out our plan to approach another big herd, the sky opened and heavy snow pelted us, most of it flying horizontally with the speed – and face sting – of BBs.

But Jon and guide Angie Denny spotted a good buck and used the whiteout conditions to stalk within rifle range. Lacorte used his company’s BDC reticle to make a 330-yard shot with his .300 Rem. Ultra Mag. We high-fived in the winter squall with mixed feelings. We had both taken great antelope, but neither of us were ready to be finished hunting.

The consolation? Table Mountain’s ranch is filthy with coyotes, and the fast-shooting R-25 should be tough medicine for some heavy-coated predators tomorrow.

- Andrew McKean