Wyoming Pronghorn 2012
19 October 2012, updated 4 April 2018
[PLEASE NOTE: In 2012, WeatherWool was not yet even even offering garments for sale, although we were wearing garments made from our true production FullWeight Fabric.]
Very quickly, regarding WeatherWool, we had a wide variety of conditions, from about 20F/-7C up to about 70F/21C. We had calm and wind, clouds and sun, good snow and a touch of rain. I wore Fullweight DRAB pants or Fullweight LYNX Bibs each of the 5 days, and Fullweight LYNX All-Around Jac or Fullweight LYNX Hoodie each day. For base layer I wore briefs and summerweight top. Conditions did not matter, I was perfectly comfortable in all of it. Same story with Alex. All of us were extremely pleased with the performance of our wool, both as protection from the weather and terrain as well as with its camo properties. All really top notch. Another really nice aspect is the softness of the wool. We went all out to make wool that will be tough but still soft. And our wool felt as comfortable as good cotton on bare skin. Everybody who has worn it likes it. A Lot!
This is me just loving the wide-open spaces of Wyoming. In my entire home state of New Jersey, there is no place you can see so far!
It made me laugh when someone pointed out how well the LYNX Camo matched the dirt and gravel road. LYNX Pattern is versatile!
We'd actually figured to draw Wyoming elk tags this year, but we didn't. Given that our elk hopes would have to wait another year, we decided to try for pronghorn tags. It would be totally different from the elk hunt, of course, but we'd be in Wyoming, and we'd have an opportunity to wear our WeatherWool and have some fun together. Plus Debby really loves the ultra-lean antelope meat.
In 2008, Alex and I and our friend Aaron from Montana had hunted pronghorn in Wyoming Area 32, South of Casper. It was a nice, friendly, fun hunt so we decided to do it again in 2012.
We applied as a group for general Antelope (any antelope) tags, and we applied for doe/kid tags contingent upon being drawn for the buck tags. Our party drew the buck tags. And Alex and I and Alex's friend Rich all drew two doe/kid tags.
Alex and Rich and my other son Zack loaded up the truck and left our New Jersey home, headed for Wyoming on Sunday, 30 September, 2012. Zack had not been part of our original plan. He'd been busy studying and doing some financial work here in New Jersey. But he'd become interested in America's Energy Boom. A few days before Alex and Rich were scheduled to leave for Wyoming, I got a call from an awful nice fellow who needed some wool. We got to talking, and it turned out he was working in Wyoming's gas fields. When I told him Zack was interested in doing the same, he said to bring Zack along and that he could probably hook him up. So just like that, Zack packed some clothes and decided he was in for the trip, and he'd stay in Wyoming if he got a job. And that’s just the way it turned out! Three years later, Zack still hasn't ‘come home’, except for a few visits! THANK YOU WILLIAM!
I took the easy way, and flew out to Denver where we rented a vehicle and drove up to Casper to meet the boys Tuesday night. The five of us had a great time over dinner and drinks!
On Wednesday morning we drove South up over Casper Mountain and onto public land. As soon as we were legal to hunt, a couple of young doe antelope presented themselves to us for easy shooting, but we weren't even hunting yet, and we hadn't verified our rifles’ zeroes after traveling. So we just admired them for a bit and continued on to pick a spot where we could shoot a little. All the rifles were pretty well ON, and just a minor adjustment or two had us ready for the goats. It was a little bit of a pleasant surprise how gently my new .300 was on the shoulder.
Wyoming is in the midst of the worst drought in 50 years … and the difference between this year and our 2008 trip was extreme. From our limited experience, game populations were way down …. Way, way down. Except maybe for turkeys, we saw far fewer animals than in 2008. But, the animals that hang on until better times will be in great shape once the drought situation turns around.
We began our hunt at a spot Alex and I knew from 2008. But there was a huge difference. In 2008, when you glassed over the miles of plains, you could see normally a hundred antelope or more at once. They were scattered in groups of 5 or 10 or 20, but they were out there, and visible. Not this year. You'd eventually spot a few here and there, but nothing like 2008. This first day was warm … people in Casper were wearing shorts and T-Shirts, we were wearing FullWeight WeatherWool, and were comfortable. We'd invested in some of the best wool fiber we could find, and it was paying off now, with our FullWeight wool against bare skin.
Here, Alex and I are both wearing DRAB and LYNX, and both choices were very effective in the sage.
Alex is testing a MidWeight Hoodie that performed very well, but the wool was kind of scratchy, and somewhat lighter than we wanted.
We did see numerous antelope that first day, but none of us took another shot.
The Wyoming High Plains South of Casper have a beauty that is nothing like what we see here in the East. First of all, of course, the plains seem just gigantic to a person who is used to hunting in spots where you usually cannot see 100 yards. And there is not much water, so the only real trees are the cottonwoods growing along the creek bottoms. Mostly it’s pretty gently rolling land with some folds and some hills, covered with sage and grass and tiny, nasty cactus. This was a drought year, the worst in 50 years we were told. Based on the differences in what we saw between 2008 and 2012, that seemed in line. Antelope were not hard to find, but we saw only a SMALL fraction of what we saw in 2008. This year I think we saw only one live cottontail and no jackrabbits. In 2008 rabbits were everywhere. When the rains return, whatever animals are around will be enjoying the high life. But for now, not easy.
Day Two brought more mild temperatures. We wore the same FullWeight WeatherWool all week, but we did have one Hoodie in a much lighter wool that Alex wore. This test Hoodie performed very well in the mild (almost room temperature) and sunny weather, but we had already rejected the fabric because we did not like the feel of it … too scratchy. And actually, the weight of it was lighter than what we wanted for our MidWeight, but it did give us the idea to eventually pursue Summerweight. Pretty much as soon as we began today's hunt, Alex used the terrain to get within about 220 yards of a band of does, and one shot from his Tikka .308 did the trick on a large fine doe.
This picture really shows how dry the sage was in 2012.
And how well the LYNX matches it.
Day Three saw temperatures continue on the mild side. Alex and Rich walked off a couple of miles from the truck and set up near a waterhole. Rich wanted a nice buck. Alex and I were more thinking of the great antelope steaks. So Rich held his fire for quite a while until a good buck presented him with a shot, and he made it count. Somehow it seems nobody took a picture of Rich's buck ... but, he is having it mounted.
Rich follows a cow path out onto the plains. The cows walk single-file, and create some serious trails. They are a little too narrow for a human to walk in them normally. But they do enforce the old woodsman-style of walking with one foot directly in front of the other. Hopefully next time we will have enough WeatherWool for everyone!
An interesting feature of the plains is the scattered dry creek beds. There was a large one in the area, and I was using it as a means of relatively concealed movement. The bed was very winding, so it seemed necessary to walk a mile to net ¼ mile. But the nice thing was the bed was generally deep enough that I could walk upright and still remain hidden by the banks.
So I moved along like that for two or three hours, waiting for some goats to come near. Eventually I spotted a small band out in the sage that slowly worked its way out into the open. They were about a half-mile off when they cleared the sage and headed across in front of me. I dropped down below the bank of the creek and made my way in the direction they were headed. After a few minutes I peeked up over the bank and was surprised the goats were gone.
One of the few places there was any greenery at all available was in the creek bed. Not that there was much of it; barely enough for me to notice. But enough to attract the antelope, and I'd seen them feeding in the creek beds the day before. So now, it was time to work my plan in reverse! The goats were somewhere in this long winding creek bed, and I was up on the plains in full view of any goats that were not hidden behind the creek banks. Kind of funny. It didn't take too long to find them … about 10 goats, all with their heads down feeding. It took 10 or 15 minutes to crawl to a point where the terrain gave me a nice solid rest. I picked the biggest antelope and figured it was likely the herd buck, but his head was invisible behind a bulge of dirt. Buck or doe did not matter, I had one “buck” tag, and one tag good for doe only. The range was only about 130 yards, and this was child's play for the Terror. At the shot, the goats scattered, but two of them didn't go far. Then animal I'd shot went down, and a nice doe was hanging around at about 150 yards. However, I still did not know if I'd shot a buck or a doe. And, due to my ignorance about exactly what kind of tags I held, this was a little bit of an issue! I had a golden chance to take another fine meat animal, but I was not sure it was legal. If the animal that was down was a buck, I knew I could put my doe tag on the doe standing broadside at 150 yards or so. But if the downed animal was another doe, was my buck tag good for a doe? I pulled the tag out of my pocket and quickly read it over. Yessir, the “buck” tag is actually any “any antelope” tag. By this time, the doe had moved off a little big, maybe 175 yards. She was facing directly away from me, and I settled the crosshairs on the back of her neck. Everything felt really solid, but I hesitated. Even tho I seemed locked in, a neck shot taken from a kneeling position at 175 yards was something I wasn't comfortable with mentally, regardless of how well the Terror seemed to be holding the target. Actually, the previous day I'd had the crosshairs on the neck of a bedded goat at a ranged 320 yards, and it seemed like the shot would be a piece of cake. I had no doubt the gun could do it easily, and at 12 power, the goat's necked seemed plenty big. But I'm just not used to taking a shot that takes a real measure of marksmanship, and so I held my fire. And so again ... although locked in for a neck shot, I decided to wait for something broadside, but the doe just trotted straight away and I let her go. As it turned out, my antelope was a very plump young buck, as suspected from the size of the body.
As a group we were doing right nice … 5 goats so far. Great company, great scenery, and we all loved Wyoming. The mild weather was a little bit of a disappointment, considering we wanted to stress our wool some. But the weather was about to change!!
We woke up to temps of 20F/-7C with a little wind, too. But the main thing was the snow. A couple of inches and still falling. Each morning at the start of the hunt we'd drive up over the mountain South of Casper, thru the forested area on top, and then down a little bit onto the rolling plains beyond, which is pretty much all public land, crossed by dirt roads of varying quality. This morning, just after we crossed the mountain top and reached the public land, we spotted a really nice pronghorn buck standing on a knoll above the dirt road. We pulled over and Alex, driving my pickup, stopped next to us. Alex and Rich hadn't even seen the antelope yet. Alex pulled over, the buck ran across the dirt track and stopped about 260 yards away. Alex put on his blaze orange, uncased and loaded his rifle, and moved off a little. The pronghorns had thus far generally been very, very spooky, but this buck just stood broadside while Alex ranged him, then dropped to one knee and took a shot. The buck ran off into a fold of the plains, but did not go far, as Alex's bullet had taken him in the heart. Great shot! Later, the taxidermist/butcher looked the buck over and proclaimed him an ancient. His teeth were gone and his hip joints had no cartilage left, perhaps explaining why he didn't run. Maybe he was thinking to himself that he didn't want to face another Wyoming winter, the ladies no longer favored him, and he'd had enough. We had him made into sausages and similar!
Although I tried pretty hard and nearly got a shot, Alex's early action was the only shot we'd take all day. But what was special for us was the performance of the WeatherWool. Even wearing the same summerweight base layers I'd worn in the balmy days we had at first, I was still perfectly comfortable in the sub-freezing snow and breeze. Also, the LYNX was very effective camo in the snowy sage. Later in the afternoon, the temp warmed up to maybe 40F/4C and I found a spot in the dry creek bed where the sun had melted the snow and the dried grass looked pretty inviting. I dropped below the rim and dozed off and on for an hour, every so often prairie-dogging up above the bank and checking around for pronghorn. Eventually I did spot some goats and spent an hour stalking them. I got within about 250 yards, but was not in a position to shoot. I noticed one of the goats staring at me, but only my head was visible above the bank, and I did not move. When the goat seemingly lost interest in me, I continued my stalk. When I reached what I thought would be a good spot to shoot from, I slowly worked my way out to where I expected to see the goats. But they were not where they were supposed to be. Finally I spotted them … a good half mile away now, standing on a little rise in the sage, staring at me. WOW, they have sharp eyes!!!!
LYNX disappears among the lichen-covered, weathered rocks, dry grass, old trees and snow.
The next morning the weather continued cool, but the day was sunny. With 6 goats already at the butcher, we were feeling pretty satisfied with the hunt, and really happy with the WeatherWool, and with spending some time together in this great place! We were just tooling along enjoying our last day when we spotted some goats at a distance, in what seemed a perfect spot for stalking. We pulled over and glassed them for a while, then decided to drive the truck out of sight and stalk from behind a hill. Once we cleared the hill, we were surprised to see Alex striding down toward another goat he'd just killed. This made our 7th goat of the trip, and we decided that was enough. We still actually had more tags, but we had enough meat, and Alex and I came home with a great load of antelope meat and it is FANTASTIC. Great job done by Pat's Game Processing (307-237-3045) in Mills, WY, just outside Casper.
We are likely to do this trip again when the drought lets up and tags are more readily available. If Zack is still working in the area, maybe Debby will want to go too! This is a relatively affordable hunt and the pronghorn meat has earned a lot of fans.