When Waterholes Work
Some outfitters use waterhole blinds exclusively. This tactic offers the advantage of a close, known-distance shot. On the other hand, weather conditions often dictate how often antelope need water. A tiny mud hole and dew on grasses will suffice unless the weather is really hot. “I think conditions are perfect for the waterhole blind,” advised Schearer. “Ordinarily we don’t put fellows in the blind until about 3 in the afternoon, yet the temperatures will be near 90, and we haven’t had rain for a week. That big buck and several small ones have been hanging around in the upper pasture and may come to drink earlier than usual.”
Having had excellent success taking Schearer’s advice before, I never hesitated, despite the challenging nature of the decoy scenario. We slid the decoy in the back seat and headed off to the blind. Although I could have sneaked the mile and a half to the ambush point, accessing it by vehicle was the least intrusive, since antelope are used to mechanized equipment on a cattle ranch. A thumbs-up to my guide sent him on his way.
I climbed in, sat down, rocked the seat to be sure it didn’t squeak, and then organized my gear. I hung and re-hung the bow to assure it was in easy reach and that I could perform important tasks silently. Next I nocked the “No.1” arrow and practiced drawing and swinging throughout the shooting window. Range was important also. A well pipe formed the center of the water source and made an excellent ranging object—22 yards. I found clumps of sage at 30 and 35, just in case. As time passed, I’d mentally quiz myself until the landmarks were committed to memory.
The first real test of my camo and effectiveness came, not from a pronghorn, but a magpie. When the colorful bird lit on the well casing, I carefully removed the bow and came to full draw. Nary a flutter. My total camo clothing and the darkness of the blind allowed unnoticed movement and the chance to take advantage of every second of an animal’s presence.
Finally, one never knows when game will approach. Like in a treestand, you want to have your gear organized. I had a bottle of water within grasp, the rangefinder on my soft backpack, and a pair of binoculars in easy reach. Judging antelope is difficult and quality optics aid greatly. Although I’m not a passionate trophy hunter, if two animals showed up, I’d opt for the bigger one if shot opportunities were equal.
The previous year I had been in this same blind just 30 minutes when a group of does came to drink, followed by a nice P&Y buck. Doing all of the things mentioned above, I shot it quartering away at 25 yards. The 30-minute mark had just passed when déjà vous suddenly “nocked.” A small buck approached the well nervously, watching intently to the north. Anticipating that other animals were approaching, I lifted the bow from the hanger and fastened the release to the bowstring. Several does and fawns entered the picture, yet more animals were on the way.
Having animals at an ambush site is important, even if they aren’t shooting size. The does and lesser males gave the signal that “the coast is clear,” and older, more wary animals approached without caution. Also, the half-dozen prairie speedsters provided a dozen extra eyes. When one or more stopped drinking and stared in a certain direction, I could anticipate more were on the way. The same holds true for rabbits, birds, even coyotes. Let drinking animals be the eyes in the back of your head.
These animals drank and left promptly as Schearer had predicted. “Antelope won’t hang around a waterhole like deer,” he had advised. “When you get a good shot, take it.”
Excited by the closeness of the animals and my seeming invisibleness, time zoomed by. Twenty minutes later another small buck came to drink, followed by another small herd half an hour later. Apparently, the hot, dry weather and the rut-motivated exertion of racing and chasing created quite a thirst.
Next: Enter Mr. Big