Matt Church shot this mature buck on a solo hunt in Wyoming.
It was the middle of October when Matt Church decided to explore a new piece of public ground near Lander, Wyoming. It is a dry part of the state that is best described as a desert, with large expanses of sagebrush growing in the flats. It is typical mule deer country, and although Matt had never been there before, he had a hunch there had to be mature bucks in the area.
Matt had been in the general area a few times and saw lots of promise for finding a big deer. Two months earlier he found a nice mule deer buck that had been killed by a mountain lion. After seeing that mature bucks were being taken by lions, he decided to return to the area.
With a backpack loaded with supplies for a day in the field, he headed out through a section of state land along a creek with steep coulees and draws leading to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ground. Leaving the truck in the dark, the hunter picked his way along with his headlamp, sorting out the trails.
By the time the sun broke above the horizon, Matt had reached the backcountry he hoped to hunt. The solo hunter hiked for several hours before he found a place to glass. It didn’t take long to find a nice buck, and a plan was quickly devised to get within shooting range.
The deer was feeding 500 yards to the south, with cattle behind it. To get a shot, and avoid any livestock, Matt had to drop into a drainage, and once in the creek bed he paralleled a two-track until he was forced out into the open. Painstakingly, he crawled on his hands and knees between sagebrush clumps to slowly close the distance. He knew if he could get to the north side of a big rock he saw from his earlier vantage point, the deer should feed out in front of him. The plan worked flawlessly – the stalk took 45 minutes. Getting to the rocks, he used one to support his rifle and line up on the deer at 40 yards. At the report of the rifle, the deer dropped.
The buck sported a large, heavy frame with tall tines. Matt had wanted to find a mature buck on public ground, and there was little doubt the deer he found would garner the attention of any hunter. Because he was on his own, only a few photos were taken of his buck.
Matt was 21⁄2 miles from his truck, and hunting solo meant extra work. The successful hunter went to work, quartered the deer and hauled out the front half and head on the first trip. It took a total of three trips to get the whole deer out, but a positive attitude and steady hiking allowed him to get everything back to the truck before it got dark. With clear skies and the thermometer pushing 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it was a perfect day for a hike.
The back reaches of the BLM ground were close to the public and private boundary, and Matt was approached by a local who told him he was on private ground. Producing a map with clear boundaries, Matt reassured the man he was on BLM ground and had every right to be there.
Pronghorn Double Down
Dan and Vanessa Vastyan traveled from Pennsylvania to northwest Wyoming to hunt with good friends who live in the area. It was going to be a quick hunt, and with little time in their schedule they booked flights and dedicated a day and a half to hunt, starting on the October 1 opener. They had good information that the piece of public ground they had in mind was sure to produce on their spot-and-stalk hunt.
Dan took a moment to admire the heavy horns on his first pronghorn antelope.
On opening day, the couple was dropped off, and they hiked into antelope country, setting up to glass as the sun was rising. Vanessa was supposed to get the first opportunity, and it didn’t take long to locate nice bucks. The couple stayed together, and at roughly 7:30 a.m. on the first day of the season they were glassing three good bucks at about a half mile.
A plan to get close to the pronghorn bucks was being discussed when Vanessa whispered, “Look, right there!” A great buck and several does crested a hill about 100 yards from where the couple was glassing. Dan wanted Vanessa to shoot, but she wasn’t comfortable shooting without her bipod. The sage was too tall to allow her to shoot from prone, so Dan quickly tossed his rifle on top of the spotting scope, found the buck in his scope and touched off a round. The impact of the bullet toppled the buck backward.
No sooner had the Vastyans finished field dressing Dan’s buck when a group of 30 pronghorn worked past them at 200 yards. None of those bucks were considered shooters, but the three larger bucks they had spotted earlier were still in the same place. Vanessa patiently waited for the close group of antelope to pass so as not to spook them toward the other bucks, then she started stalking the bachelor group.
Vanessa is all smiles with her Wyoming public-land pronghorn buck.
It took about 10 minutes to get to where the couple thought they would see the antelope bucks, and they found themselves laying on the ground looking for the dark horns above the sage. Unfortunately, the trio of bucks could not be found, but another dandy buck was spotted tending about a dozen does at 300 yards. Vanessa got ready to shoot, but a smaller buck appeared, and the big buck gave chase. A buck will run a mile or more when chasing a challenger, only to return to its does in short order, and that’s exactly what happened.
Dan told Vanessa to get ready for the buck to once again emerge from a draw near its does. Vanessa anticipated where it would appear, adjusted the turret on her scope for 275 yards and also adjusted for a half minute of windage. Everything fell into place when the buck returned as expected. Vanessa waited for the buck to stand still and took a prone shot. The pronghorn fell to the ground.
The Vastyans took photos and headed to Devil’s Tower to watch the sun go down. The Wyoming hunt was the first time that both Vanessa and Dan had ever hunted pronghorn. “Pronghorn hunting was even more fun than I had anticipated,” Dan said. “I would rank it as gratifying as anything else I’ve ever hunted.”