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Challenges await in New Mexico

(First of two parts)

After drawing the lone non-resident disabled hunter’s pronghorn antelope permit on my first try in New Mexico’s Area 13, I was naturally excited about the mid-August hunt with friend Randy.

It was Randy who convinced me to apply for the permit in the first place with the expectation of filming the hunt for his Sportsman’s Channel show, “Fresh Tracks.” When his schedule showed that it might be too crowded to film my hunt, I happily shot my custom .25/06 on the range, pleased that I wouldn’t have the added pressure of a camera rolling during the hunt.

But then the plan changed, and once again Randy was going to have the hunt filmed by a young Wisconsin cameraman named Mike. And since the Howa Co. is one of the show’s chief sponsors, I would have to use a Howa .270 rifle with Federal ammunition. I was not happy about that, but it isn’t every day that someone invites me on a hunting trip, so I went along with things.

It is a 1,200-mile drive from Bozeman to western New Mexico’s Plains of San Augustine where we would be hunting. Randy drove his Nissan pickup, and we traveled through Utah’s canyon country on the way, taking us by Ship Rock, the Boar’s Tusk and other enchanting places where I had never been before. Randy and I exchanged stories and had each other laughing for most of the trip. (The best stories came from Randy, who is a semi-retired CPA and native of Big Falls, Minn. His outrageous tales of trips with his crazy uncles would make a best seller.)

We checked into the only motel in Magdalena, N.M. — the motel personifying the adjective “seedy” in a most profound way in an equally broken down town. (I found a dead fly between my sheets; Randy was surprised by a flying ant and a dung beetle in his bed.)

The Plains, as locals call it, is 7,000-plus feet above sea level, an ancient sea bed, an expanse of several hundred square miles of state land, BLM land and private holdings. The Plains is level grassland with minimal amounts of rabbit brush and sage.

“Not much for concealment,” I say as we leave Magdalena for an afternoon scouting trip two days prior to the opening of the three-day season.

“That’s why I brought along the cow decoy. I’ll hold it up in front of us and we’ll make our way forward on a stalk. I hope that will get us to within rifle range.”

We leave the pavement, and I swear, the very first antelope we see is one of the biggest pronghorn bucks I ever have seen in my life … maybe the biggest. He is standing almost half a mile distant. Randy sets up his Leupold spotting scope and we have a good look at the buck.

“That buck probably will go 82 to 85 inches,” Randy says. Then he takes pictures with his camera and a telephoto lens, later transferring this photo, along with other pronghorn shots taken during the trip, to his laptop computer when we get back to the motel. (As one who still types letters on an IBM Selectric III typewriter, this whole “techy” business is way beyond me.)

The second day we drive the backroads on The Plains of San Augustine, glassing more pronghorns with Randy taking more pictures. I learn a couple things: The antelope are much wilder than what I had expected, and there are nine other permit holders — most of them New Mexico residents — so we are going to have plenty of competition.

With my limited mobility I worry about walking with my trekking poles, and just how will I get into position for a shot? There are no trees, rocks, stumps … nothing to use for a rest. I’ll have to rely on a tripod and my folding chair. Or maybe just the tripod … this might be tougher than I had feared.

The conclusion of this New Mexico pronghorn antelope hunt next week!

Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for The Sun since 1974