My cellphone rang early in the morning of July 11. It was my hunting buddy, Mark Braley, who is the Internal Affairs captain at the Norman Police Department where I work.
It wasn't hunting season so I was hesitant to answer it. I figured nothing good could come from the call.
I was wrong. Mark called to remind me to check the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's website to see if I had drawn any of the bonus hunts offered by the agency through its controlled hunts program.
Mark had drawn a tag for an archery deer hunt at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant and another friend of ours had drawn a tag for doe antelope gun hunt in the Panhandle.
I was wishing for an elk tag for the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and had forgotten that I also had applied for one of the 50 either sex antelope tags for Cimarron County.
I checked my computer at work later that morning and began to hoot and holler when I realized I had drawn one of the coveted antelope tags for a four-day gun hunt in early September.
Finding a place to hunt
But what was I to do with the tag? Most of the land in Cimarron County is privately owned, and I had to find a place to hunt.
After some research online and from Wildlife Department literature, I decided to try and get permission to hunt on private land rather than rely on the public lands of the Rita Blanca Wildlife Management Area.
I remembered that a large ranch west of Boise City was operated by Tracy Brown's father-in-law. Brown was a state trooper I had met in Guymon several years ago.
I tracked Tracy down and he secured for me one of three hunting spots allowed by the ranch at the cost of a trespass fee.
In August, an assignment took me to Guymon so I took advantage to go scout the ranch.
I discovered that the Santa Fe Trail had wound its way through a portion of the ranch and Autograph Rock was on the property.
Autograph Rock was a location on the creek where wagon trains would stop. People would camp at the site and would carve their names in the rock and the dates they were there.
Tracy guided me to see the antelope on the ranch. One group had 14 bucks in it with at least 4 shooters.
It was easy to see why so many antelope were there. Because of the ranching practices, there was plenty of water and grass, even in the drought.
After Tracy had shown me the ranch, he introduced me to his in-laws, Dan and Carol Sharp. Dan's love of the land became apparent as he talked about the ranch and some of its history.
Dan is a steward of the land and doesn't complain about the antelope eating the grass for his cattle, even when he had to scale back ranching operations because of the drought.
The hunt for prairie goats: Day one
I returned for the hunt earlier this month with my father. We patiently sat in a blind near a watering hole near the top of a long ridge where the antelope liked to travel up and down.
It was not long after first daylight when would see antelope in the distance. Within an hour, we had our first encounter with a great buck.
I decided to pass on the buck but then began second guessing myself as soon as it was out of sight.
During the next three hours, several antelope came by for a drink, including a large group of does and the big buck I had seen earlier. They were so close I could hear them slurping.
As I watched the big buck, I kept asking myself how could I pass on him again? But as luck would have it, I was never presented a decent shot.
Soon after, the big buck left and two more small bucks appeared and chased two does around the blind for several minutes.
The biggest buck actually made a scrape in front of the blind at 55 yards. The antelope finally wandered off.
After seeing nothing for the next couple of hours, we decided to get out of the blind and walk over the ridge.
Once on top, we witnessed several antelope in the distance. With the temperature soaring, we decided to head in for lunch
On the ride in, I could not help but think what a great morning it had been. I had seen at least 20 antelope, at least six different bucks and had spent a great morning afield with my father.
The hunt for prairie goats: Day two
We returned to the blind later that evening. Although we saw several antelope, no bucks of any size came by. But we did see a great buck at a water hole ½-mile away.
Day two found my father and I back in the same blind an hour before daylight. As the sun came up, the wind shifted to the north and began to blow like only an Oklahoma wind can.
By 8 a.m., the temperature dropped several degrees. The dust was blowing so bad it made it difficult to keep our eyes open.
The antelope were not moving either, with the exception of three antelope in the distance.
About 8:30 a.m., we saw the first buck of the day but it wasn't a shooter. By 9 a.m., my dad nudged and excitedly said, “Right there.”
I looked in the direction he was pointing and there, not 200 yards away, was a dandy buck. I looked at him through my binoculars and it only took a few seconds to determine this buck was a stud.
The buck then suddenly trotted over to a large cactus and began raking it with his horns. By now, I was on the rifle and all I could see were his head and horns sticking up from above the cactus.
I was trying to concentrate on my breathing and holding the rifle steady, but the excitement was building and my heart was pounding. The buck finally began to walk away from the cactus.
I shot from 166 yards and the buck disappeared. My dad, always the wise guy, immediately quipped, “You missed.”
“No way,” I said, but I could not see the buck. Only when I stood up did I see the white belly and a black horn sticking up from the grass.
After pats on the back from my dad, we walked toward my once in a lifetime Oklahoma antelope buck.
As I held his horns for the first time, I felt grateful for the opportunity to hunt antelope with my dad, and more importantly, thankful that I live in a state where I can.