After picking up my gear from the carousel at the airport in Douglas Wyoming, and being met by Connie Werner we were soon traveling to the famed Werner Ranch for a week of bowhunting Antelope. Although I was stoked to get to the ranch as soon as possible, I was enjoying the drive. The barren windswept but beautiful landscape instantly grabbed me and stirred my hunter’s soul.
The closer we drew to the ranch the more antelope we began seeing. Scattered here and there were singles, small groups and groups of up to 10 or so.
To a bowhunter from Eastern Canada they were a welcome sight, almost exotic. Even from the truck my heart began to race. I had to pinch myself occasionally just to make sure it wasn’t just some fleeting dream only to be interrupted by a blaring alarm clock. Before long we were at the camp and I met the other hunters. All were great guys and before long we were settling in for our first dinner around the camp table. I’m sure we drove JJ crazy with our non stop questions about antelope hunting and what to expect. Like the true pro he is though, he took the time and graciously answered each and every question. We also met Mark at that first meal. Mark would be one of our guides for the week along with JJ. After a long sleepless night, despite a comfy full sized bed and private room, it was time to get up and get ready for the first morning. The camp was bustling with everyone getting their gear together. The smell of fresh brewed coffee accompanied by the sizzling of bacon, the warm smell of eggs and hotcakes on the grill soon had our minds off of antelope. At least temporarily! After breakfast we were each given a cooler and directed to a side table that had about every type of sandwich and bread combo you could imagine. Next to this were all the chips, chocolate bars, granola bars, and fresh fruit you could ever wish for. At the end of the table were boxes of juice and bottles of water. The idea was to pack enough to last the entire day. The best chance of killing a nice antelope was from the blind and not back at camp for lunch. Of course, it’s really the hunter’s trip, so if you just wanted to come out because of the heat or whatever, all that was required was to contact either JJ or Mark on the two way radios they provide each hunter. Likewise, if you hit an animal you used the radio to contact help. It’s important to note here that under no circumstances do they want you to get out of the blind to look for arrows, blood, or whatever. The antelope are use to seeing the farm trucks around the waterholes but if they see a human around the water without a truck they will avoid it for several days. So once you shoot, just get in contact with the guides and stay put. One fun thing before hitting the blinds was the drawing of the names to see who would hunt where. All the blinds are named and each hunter randomly selects a ticket out of a hat. Whatever blind you draw is where you will be hunting, at least the first day or two.I enjoyed it. It was fun. Mind you, all the blinds that are thrown in the hat are active. There really are no bad draws in the hat. As the week wears on, changes can be made of course, but I thought that was a fun and fair way to figure out who goes where.
My first sunrise on stand in Wyoming did not disappoint. The Eastern sky looked like a wildfire was burning out of control just below the horizon. Sitting there, black widow recurve in hand, I would have been hard pressed to think of a place I would have rather been right then and there. It’s hard to believe that an entire day can slip by as fast as it did in the Wyoming heat. But it did. Before long the sun had made its graceful arc across the sky and was settling in the west. Back at the ranch house over supper, I learned that 2 of the 7 hunters had scored on nice antelope. We were off to a good start! I was back at the same blind just at daybreak the following morning. It was another picture perfect post card sunrise. The sun had only been up for perhaps an hour or so when out in the distance I see a group of antelope. I could only hazard a guess at how far. I’m betting 700 yards or so. Despite the distance I couldn’t help but notice the tiny spots out on the horizon were getting bigger. Time seemed to stand still. But minute by minute, half hour by half hour the herd made its way towards water. At about 200 yards they hung up. They just simply stared at the waterhole. They wanted to drink but were not about to rush in. After an hour or more they advanced another 50 yards or so. They stopped again but this time for only about 15 minutes.
The antelope closest began approaching. The others soon began to do likewise. I reached for the widow, double checked to insure the arrow was nocked snugly on the string and peered out toward the animals. To my relief they were now only 75 yards away and still coming. I took a couple deep breathes to calm myself and went over the shot process in my head. Pick a spot and follow through. I stood up ever so slowing. To my immediate right was a small female. The distance might have been 10 feet. She seemed relaxed though, which relaxed me! She approached the water’s edge and began to drink. That was almost like a signal. Within minutes there were several at the water’s edge.Moving only my eyes I looked around for a shooter. One caught my eye. He was not huge, but he was very respectable. And, he was broadside and relaxed way inside of my sure shooting range. I raised my bow arm and began a slow methodical draw all the while telling myself to just pick a spot. Conveniently a tuft of hair caught my eye at just the right location behind his shoulder.
The arrow was gone in the blink of an eye but not before I saw the black and yellow fletching/nock appear and instantly disappear right through the selected tuft of fur. I knew two things instantly. The shot placement was good and it was a pass-through. My confidence was tested when I watched the antelope run at breakneck speed completely out of sight over the rise of a little hill. I replayed the events of the shot over and over and was sure the shot was text book. The one nagging doubt was how far that antelope ran. I reached into my pack and got a hold of Mark on the radio. He asked me how I thought the shot was. “Good” I replied, but added “I saw him run for a couple football fields though”. “That not all that abnormal” the radio crackled back to my great relief. “Hang tight, we’ll be there shortly” Before long I saw the white F-250 bouncing along the road towards me. I let him pull right up to the blind before getting out. We looked for the arrow as I was sure it had passed completely through the antelope without success. Looking for blood is tough in that dry dirt but we did find a few dark stained splotches on the dirt. We more or less just continued on the path I visually saw the animal run. Topping the rise where I last had a view of the antelope before he disappeared, I was disheartened to see an antelope walking away from us perhaps 100 yards out. I couldn’t believe the ‘lope was not dead yet. It had been about an hour or more since I drew and released on him. Perhaps my shot was not as I thought. Had my eyes played a trick on me I wondered? A double lunged animal would be long since dead by now. While kneeling down Mark thought maybe I hit it too far back. He advised we just watch it for a few minutes. The antelope stopped and just stood there. I silently prayed for him to go down. No luck. He just stood statue like. After a few minutes Mark lowered his binoculars and whispered “I don’t think that buck had been arrowed, I can’t see any blood on him anywhere, you sure you hit him?” Fighting off the doubt that was beginning to creep into my head I said “Yup, I’m positive, and I think it was a good shot” “OK, let’s give him some more time” Kneeling there, deep in my own thoughts Mark interrupted the silence with “Well I’ll be, that’s not your antelope! I see yours and he’s stone dead 50 yards straight ahead!” I jumped to my feet. Sure enough, right where mark was pointing I saw my buck. After a quick high 5 we went over to have a look. If anything he was a little better than I thought. He was a beautiful antelope. A quick inspection showed my shot had been true.
While taking a few photos on that windswept starkly beautiful landscape I think I fell in love with Wyoming right then and there. For any bowhunters looking for a top shelf ranch to hunt antelope, the Werner Ranch ranks near the top. They specialize in archery hunts. Most of the shots you will encounter are 20 yards and under. Many will be at 15 yards. They know antelope and they know how to successfully bowhunt them. They have a great set up on their ranch for hunters. Near to their own house is a well appointed modern ranch house just for the hunters. They have a full time cook who prepares delicious meals each breakfast and supper. Losing weight is not an option on this hunt. The ranch also offers mules deer hunting and some limited elk hunting on their mountain property. They kill some outstanding elk and it’s on my bucket list. I would highly recommend them if an archery elk is high on your list. The Werner ranch only is a premiere destination for bowhunters. In fact, that’s all they offer is bow hunts. This ranch will definitely not disappoint! As we were finishing up with the photo session, I paused and took one last look back towards the blind. The big sky, the smell of sage, the grass swaying in the warm steady wind, all combined to make a lasting impression in my mind that no camera will ever capture. With today’s escalating prices for out of state guided hunts quickly putting them out of reach for many of us blue collar type hunters, it is reassuring to know that hunts such as this “top shelf” antelope hunt are still affordable with a bit of planning. The wild harsh Wyoming landscape is a place you cannot only visit once…..I will return. You should check it out yourself