Airports have never been my favorite places, but the Casper, Wyoming airport is as laid-back and friendly as one gets. I flew in last Monday and met a few guys that I'd be hunting with. Others I would meet at the ranch. This is always one of my favorite parts of any hunt, getting to know new folks in the industry. This hunt was sponsored by one of the very best sports optics companies on the face of the earth, Leupold
There were antelope browsing in grassy areas between parking lots leaving the airport, and we saw hundreds of them on the way to the ranch we would be hunting, an hour or so away.
The free range cattle ranch was about a hundred square miles of sage and cactus and mountains, with countless hidden valleys and cliffs that held thousands of mule deer, antelope, elk, coyotes, prarie dogs, and jack rabbits. There are also oil wells, uranium mines, and lots of petrified wood on the land. Recently some large dinosaur skeletons were unearthed there and were donated to a museum. Stark and rugged with air so clean it started purging the Chicago soot from my lungs immediately. Decompression from the daily routine was imminent, with no phone service, internet, or even a TV or radio in the comfortably appointed ranch hand's bunkhouse, where we stayed.
I would be shooting a bicentennial model Ruger 77 rechambered for the excellent .270 Weatherby magnum
cartridge. The gun was born in 1976 and was given to me by a former employer and compatriot as a wedding gift, and it is an old and seasoned friend. The glass I chose to mount on the gun for this hunt was the superb VX-3 4.5-14×40 with Duplex reticle
with a custom made CDS (Custom Dial System) dial
. When you purchase one of the CDS dial
variant scopes from Leupold
, you simply inform the Leupold Custom Shop
the ballistic information
of the exact factory load
of your cartridge (or handload) including name of cartridge, bullet weight and type, ballistic coefficient, and velocity, along with the temperature and elevation where you'll be using the scope. Your dial will be engraved with most of these specifics. My 130 grain Nosler Partitions were scooting along at 3340 fps out of my 21 inch barrel, and the dial would be set for our ranch elevation of 5000 feet, and an average temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit. I sighted in at home with the 1/4 inch dial that comes with the scope upon purchase for an inch and a half high at 100 yards, as far as my local range allows.
Monday night gave us an opportunity to check zero at the ranch, also at 100 yards, and I was still pretty close at the higher elevation, so I left it alone. I always start my hunts with a fouled barrel so there wasn't the possibility of a change of impact with the first shots through a clean tube. Three set screws were loosened from the 1/4 inch elevation dial, and I replaced it with the CDS dial that my hunting partner John brought with him from Leupold. My thanks to his co-worker, Jason, for having it built for me. One super nice attribute that the CDS dial gives you, is that wherever your zero is, it acts as a zero stop. Therefore, my dial would never go below my 200 yard zero. You may dial in and shoot at any distance, and when you need to return to your predetermined zero, just turn it until it stops. You don't even need to see it to know you're there. This will work perfectly every time, as long as you remember to turn the dial back from whatever distance you were shooting at. My dial went to a full 900 yards.
These dials buy you skill! I made two one-shot kills on a football-sized rock at 475 yards, and one at 600 yards on a backpack-sized rock, both off a reasonably stable rest on top of my backpack placed on the hood of a pickup. I did the same with my guide's suppressed Ruger in .223. Being a flatlander living East of the Mississippi, I had never even shot at 600 yards before. What a confidence builder.
This gun gives a healthy bark, weighing only 8.1 pounds fully accessorised with scope, lapped Ruger medium height factory rings (my favorite ring choice of all options), Butler Creek Comfort V-Grip sling
, and Uncle Mikes Buttstock shell carrier
. I removed the Shooter's Ridge Pivot Bipod
I installed, and instead carried a Stoney Point Polecat Bipod
with the all-important Tripod Kit
. The eye relief on the scope is plenty for a gun that recoils so much, and this is the first time I have used the Leupold Alumina Flipback Covers
. They are the best, most innovative, cleanest and unobtrusive covers I have ever seen, and I will use them from now on all my Leupold scopes. Butler Creek Flip-Open covers
will stay on my other scopes, if I deem covers are required. Another thing that is so nice about the Leupold Alumina covers is that you can leave them open and they can fold flat along the scope so they don't catch on anything, and you may still see over the top of the scope. Closed scope covers have saved more animals than PETA, taking precious time to open.
The first day we glassed, and there were lots of goats to choose from, but we wanted to wait for a trophy animal. Early morning and evening is best because the antelope really glow in the slanting sunlight, making them more visible than other times of day. I was able to test the CDS dial
again when Jay Lesser
, our affable and worldly experienced guide located a few prairie dogs. He shot a couple with his suppressed Ruger, and I was able to adjust my CDS dial
to 275 yards and obliterate one. He exploded like red paint in a balloon. The prairie dog population used to be great there until recently, when bubonic plague ruined all the towns. These plague events are cyclical and expected.
The food provided that night by Kim our cook was great, and the hunters became more familiar and comfortable with each other after various and copious amounts of libations and hunting war stories.
The high temperature the next day was an unbelievable 90 degrees, and the heavier clothing that took up most of the room in my luggage went unused. My favorite garb on this trip was my desert camo Propper
pants from my local surplus store that I bought used for five bucks. When I got them home I found a dollar bill in one of the pockets. That's how 20% discounts really should work. My heavy boots went unused also, and instead I opted for my 5.11 Tactical Trainers
. They were lightweight and ideal. They turned cactus well, and had plenty of ankle support.
We saw some good antelope with trophy qualities. Two of the best trophy qualities are stupid, and by a road.
We jumped a coyote, and Jay stopped him with a squeal. I left my dial at 200 yards, and still set at the lowest power of 4.5, where you're supposed to keep your scope, dropped the hammer on him at about 150 yards and turned him inside out with a 130 grain Nosler. Absolutely unwrapped him. Jay cut off the ears to collect a $25.00 bounty in effect. Coyotes eat sheep, and I'm always glad to help ranchers with predator control. John and I were using the excellent Leupold RX-1000 TBR Compact Digital rangefinders
, while Jay used an extraordinary Leica Rangemaster
. Our binoculars were Leupold Northforks
, and for the money, one of the best values in a binocular comparable to the European imports. Just a lot less cash.
We spotted a really nice antelope and went after him. We stalked for quite a while, and we tried to beat him around a hill. We stopped and sat and I was set up on the tripod, and Jay said not to shoot because he wasn't sure it was the right one. That goat was a three pound trigger pull away from being dead meat at about 150 yards. After he ran, we saw he was the right one, so we had to try again. We had another stalk, but it didn't work out. We had a third chance later, and he ranged at 385 yards. I set up on the hood of the truck on top of my pack, dialed in the CDS dial, and squeezed the trigger. He died, and it was the longest shot I personally have witnessed in the field up until that time. I always dress my own animals, but Jay insisted, and he said to mark my watch, because it should be done in under a minute. He was a bit disappointed because it took him a minute and seven seconds. Probably because he was talking the whole time. Jay is engaging and full of humorous colloquialisms and hunting war stories, having guided around the world for over 28 years. It is an honor to be schooled by such experts, no matter what occupational field it may be in. Thanks again, Jay.
John insisted that I take the first shot this hunt, so it was his turn next. We looked for a while, but it was getting late, and we went into town to drop off quite a few animals from the other hunting parties, and lots of capes for the taxidermist. The taxidermist is in Glenrock, Wyoming, and is one of the best I have ever seen. His name is Stan Taylor
from Wildlife Creations International
, and he had already done a nice European mount for me a couple of years ago when I was hunting in the area. I highly recommend him. I opted for another nice European mount, since I already have a couple nice antelope shoulder mounts.
We stopped and looked at one of several innovative bowhunting blinds made out of water tanks they have on the ranch, situated close to watering holes. They are half in the ground, and the tops are covered with earth to ease temperature extremes. There's plenty of room to shoot a bow from, and you can expect shots of under 40 yards most of the time.
We had great steaks that night, great conversation, and maybe a few too many drinks, but when in Rome…. I also had time that night to remove the inevitable cactus needles from my knuckles and knees I got while taking trophy pictures. Sometimes you have to let them puss up for a week or two to get to them, similar to porcupine quills. Note to hunters…don't forget tweezers.
The next day I could've slept in, but in for a penny, in for a pound, and I wanted to help Jay and John with an extra set of eyes to glass for John's animal. John is an experienced long range shooter and competitor, and after a long stalk on "Grasshopper", a unique antelope with large antlers that flared somewhat forward, we sat and caught our breath. John set up on the tripod at 492 yards. The animal was calm and browsing, never knowing we were there. Just listening to John control his breathing told you he was no novice. His Weatherby Vanguard
in .257 Weatherby Magnum
barked, and the loads that his dad built up for him with 110 grain Accubonds
worked perfectly. At just under 500 yards, John make an absolutely perfect shot and dropped him like a lightning bolt. It is the longest shot I have ever seen in the field. It was truly a testament of skill. Great job, John, great shot. The CDS dial
gives you an opportunity to shoot so far away that it should come with a package of salt to sprinkle on your bullet so the meat doesn't spoil by the time you get to it.
Now we had to drag this goat out. We all took turns, two at a time, resting and switching sides frequently. I think we had to drag him something like just under four billion yards to get to the closest road. I am in similar shape to a pound of warm butter, and the Thursday before I left to hunt I had a series of shots in my spine for another disc problem I've been dealing with. Dragging dead critters is not part of therapy, and if my doctor knew what I was doing he would shoot me. I'm paying for it now, but hope for the best. I don't advocate Old Number Seven and prescription drugs to anyone, but it's worked for me.
I met some great folks there, and have a tentative alligator hunt in Florida next year that I'm already looking forward to and wondering how I'll pay for it. My Howard Leight earplugs
worked well to blot out my snoring bunk mate, and I'll try to get the antelope blood out that dripped on my boots. All my equipment worked well, and there were no issues travelling. I was once again honored to take part in a hunt with experienced and professional gun monkeys like myself, and know that I am blessed for the opportunities. I highly recommend an antelope hunt as the first big game hunt for anyone, as well as for folks not as physically able as required for elk or other game. The Leupold CDS dial
can buy you some long range skill that you otherwise may not have, but you still must be familiar and comfortable with whatever shooting platform you choose.
Thanks again to John and Jay and everyone from Leupold for this opportunity!
I must say that my favorite part of any hunt, though, is coming home and having My Shirley and Rad meet me at the garage door! Aim hard!