Since 1996 my dad and I have been talking about going on a hunt out west together. That year, he bought me a rifle as a gift that was “perfect for western hunts.” Last October we finally got our chance. After a long drive across the prairie, all the while listening to the Lewis and Clark Expedition book on tape, we arrived at our destination in Southwestern South Dakota. We set up camp on the open prairie in the Oglala National Grasslands the day before the Antelope Season opener. We drove around the area scouting out where we would hunt the next day. We drove through ghost towns, an abandoned WWII era military facility, along cattle trails, and through more barbed wire gates than I could count.
Pretty much the only signs of life anywhere we went were the cattle and the nonstop freight trains carrying coal out of Wyoming.
Even though we were in South Dakota, the area really felt like it was in the desert. It was hot (about 90°), sunny, and dry with sagebrush, cacti, and rattlesnakes. Eventually we decided that the best place to hunt was right where we set up our campsite.
After stepping outside the tent the next morning (the start of the antelope season) I started making some coffee while my dad went to use the “facilities.” He brought his rifle with him just in case, and while en-route he spotted three antelope just over the hill from our camp. He snuck up closer to them from behind a ridge while I ducked behind the van so as to not scare them off. I saw my dad shoot and miss and the antelope take off running. Hoping that I might be able to cut them off, I ran as fast as I could in the ravine behind our tent to the place where the antelope were headed. Just as I got there, they came around the corner and saw me. As I took aim, the buck in the group stopped and then charged right at me. This was surprising because the normal defense mechanism of antelope is to run away as far and as fast as possible. I got a shot off as he was running toward me, and while still in my pajamas, got my first antelope.
We spent the next several days hunting primarily around where we were camping. At any given time you could scan the plains with binoculars and see antelope on the horizon in every direction. We made many unsuccessful attempts at sneaking up on the antelope we saw. A few days into the hunt, my dad bagged a nice buck too.
Around that time the van started making some engine noise so we decided to pack up camp early and bring it to a mechanic. On the way to the nearest town (Hot Springs, SD) the engine gave out and we were stranded in the middle of nowhere. It was a little scary since we didn’t have cell phone coverage and there was no shelter from the sun and heat. Eventually a local couple drove by and stopped to check on us. They gave us a ride to town where we arranged for the van to be towed. It turned out that the van wasn’t really repairable so we were now stuck in Hot Springs. We rented a car from a nearby campground and drove to Rapid City to find a way to get home. Since I had to be back at work the next day, I caught a Greyhound bus back to Minneapolis while my dad waited for reinforcements from Wisconsin. Eventually, we all made it back safe and sound, and it was indeed quite an adventure. Thanks Dad for the hunt of a lifetime – I will always remember it.