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  • Writer's picturePeter Maggenti

The First Annual Buffalo Bill Adams Memorial Antelope Hunt

Kaycee, Wyoming

October 2019

I had been friends with Buffalo Bill Adams for about 8 years. Bill was one of those larger than life figures. He stood tall and was a slightly imposing figure. Always wore a cowboy hat, always. He had big belly, skinny legs, wore red suspenders and had a big grey (probably wasn’t always grey!) handlebar mustache. Those who knew him saw through his gruff exterior and knew him as a kind and caring man. You could see his smile light up in his blue eyes. He lived to serve and help others, even though was kind of grumpy sometimes. When I met Bill, he was Treasurer and then President, of the California Hunters Education Instructors Association. while I eventually became his Vice President. He had hunted everything you could hunt in the US pretty much, but he loved hunting Pronghorns in Wyoming the most I think. He had been hunting the same ranch for 18 years and had gotten his Pronghorns, a buck and a doe, on opening morning every year it seems like. He had taken many Hunter Education instructors and friends over the years. I had hinted for some time how much I would love to go and bring my daughter with me. It took 7 years, until I got the nod.

Bill was almost as excited I think for the hunt as I was! He put together a folder with maps and an itinerary, Wyoming regs and other brochures he found interesting about our trip. He would call me every few weeks to go over things and make sure all was in order. He was excited to share Wyoming with a new person, and he loved teaching kids so taking my daughter was his favorite part I think.

So I was more than a little concerned when I didn’t hear from him for nearly three weeks during the month before our hunt. I called him and got his answering machine. A few hours later his wife, Shirley called me back as I was leaving work. She told me Bill was in the hospital and wasn’t doing well, in fact, she wasn’t sure he was going to be coming home. Shirley asked if I would call the ranch and tell them he wouldn’t be going hunting this year, but that he wanted me and my daughter to go anyway. I was still in shock at the news of Bills condition. I knew he had been struggling with health issues, which he always played down and wouldn’t tell the truth about, but he assured me we were going no matter what.

I called and spoke with Bill a few times while he was in the hospital. He really wanted me to come break him out, but he knew that wasn’t a real possibility. He was more encouraging than I was on the phone I think. I wanted to be able to say something to him that would make a difference, but I was at a loss for those words.

We ended up not going to Wyoming that year. Bill passed away on what would have been our second day there. I called Clay at the ranch in Wyoming and told him the news. Bill had told him, I am sure, of bringing me and my daughter and Clay told me that my daughter and I were welcome to come the next year in Bills spot.

Having never been Antelope hunting, or to the ranch in Kaycee, I was hesitant to go on with just me and my daughter. I called my childhood hunting mentor Mike to see if he wanted to go. Mike had moved to Oregon some time past and we hadn’t seen each other in over 20 years. We had been inseparable practically for a large portion of my life. He taught me how to drive off road, how to fish for bass, how to really shoot a shotgun and how to hunt big game. Nearly every deer I had shot till I was in my 40’s he was there. He and I lived together on a hunting club, we fought forest fires together and were consultants for the NRA with our own company Outdoor Marketing Consultants. We managed the NRA’s Great American Hunters Tour for three years in the 90’s criss-crossing the country. He has shot plenty of Pronghorns, putting more than one in the record books. I could think of no one I would rather hunt with again. And no one I would want my daughter to be around for a major hunting trip. I just hoped he didn’t tell too many wild stories of our past in front of my daughter!

We met at his uncle’s house in Reno, NV, which is roughly a three hour drive from our home. I had been watching the weather every day for weeks and it looked to be clear for us the whole week, no snow in the Sierras yet, so my wife drove us up there and dropped us off wishing us well! We stayed the night in Reno before taking off for Wyoming in the morning. Mike and I stayed up till I don’t know how late talking and catching up with each other’s families and lives. I can’t express in words how good it felt to sit and talk to him again. Just being in his uncles house brought back floods of memories.

We slept in a bit in the morning before loading the back of his truck like a puzzle to fit all our gear in. As usual, we had way more than we really needed, and actually left some things at the house we either decided we didn’t need or that we had duplicates of. We finally got loaded and Tana made herself at home in the back seat for the duration, and off we went. We drove to Salt Lake UT, roughly half way, and got a hotel room there for the night.

As if on cue, when we crossed into Wyoming we started seeing Antelope! We stopped in Casper and got our Conservation Stamps for our licenses and headed north to Kaycee. Going north from Casper, the land just gets more and more impressive in its sights. I have always loved this part of the country. The first time I was in Wyoming in 1990 was with Mike when I we were the managers for the NRA Hunters tour. We did a show in Casper and I can remember they had plowed the snow out of the parking lot for us and there were Pronghorn Antelope eating the bare grass that had been uncovered in the lot! The next time I was in Casper I was by myself negotiating the facility for the following years Hunters Tour. The manager at the facility told me the day before our show was scheduled Chris LeDoux would be playing a concert there and if I came in early she would hold box seats for me and my crew. 6 months later when I was on the road for the shows, I forgot that and missed that concert! I saw Chris perform 6 times, but I wish it had been more. He was really something on stage, the first time I saw him sing, was in a tiny bar and I got share a few libations with him. I met him several more times over the years

and got to know him a little, he was a cowboys cowboy for sure.

We were running a little late so I made sure when I had service to text Clay with updates on our time line to be able to meet up with him before dark. We met at the Sinclair gas station in Kaycee with about an hour of light left! I recognized him right away when he smiled. His eyes twinkle the same his dads did when he smiled. Did I mention Clays last name is LeDoux? We followed him and his wife about 20 some miles out of town to the ranch were we would be hunting and he showed us all the gates to get in. On the way we crossed the famed Powder River and saw tons of Antelope and a half dozen or so mule deer too. One can easily see that this country has hardly changed since the time of the Johnson County war in 1989, also known as the War on Powder River. Their family ranch runs from the edge of some broken badlands, across rolling prairie and up into the pine covered hills. We drove up into the hills and parked at a turn out on the highway, and finally got actually talk face to face for a while. I felt like I had made new friends instantly. We talked until dark and it was getting pretty cold so we decided to head back into town and find some dinner. Tomorrow we would hunt.

When we got back into town we checked into our hotel, the Cassidy Inn. Mike parked the truck and I went into the office. At first I wasn’t sure if I went in the right door because I thought I was in a living room, turns out I was, and it was the correct door! It is a nice little family run hotel and the office is in the living room! The accommodations are not fancy, but they suited me right down to a tee, the bed was comfortable, the bathroom and the heater worked, what more do you need? We went next door and had dinner at the Country Inn Restaurant. We were kind of surprised there wasn’t more people in there having dinner. The food was great, the prices were good and the people were friendly and treated us like family. I later found out it was because everyone and their brother were at the bar on the other side of the hotel. After a good meal, we headed back to our room to try and get a nights sleep before the hunt officially began.

I actually did manage to sleep that night. We woke leisurely in the morning and got our things together. We were in no real rush to get there before day break since we were hunting private land and would be the only people out there. There is a road that runs along the North boundary of the ranch and we drove in there first and sat for a while glassing what we could see from there looking south. We spotted some antelope in the distance and decided to go back out along the main road and poke in thru the last gate heading south and see what was on that end of the ranch. Again we spotted a few Antelope in the distance, but weren’t sure if they were on the property we were hunting or not. Tana and I got out and hiked over a few of the rolling hills covered with sparse sage brush, to see what we could see. It was cold and the wind was blowing down off the mountains to our south. Typical of all the westerns I have read over the years about the Wyoming prairie. We did see some Antelope, but they were on the other side of the fence, probably a thousand yards or so. Clay had told us this piece of the ranch was continuous with no internal fences. If there was fence, that was the boundary of the ranch. So those Antelope were not for us. We drove around a few of the roads on the ranch and saw Antelope, usually on the far side of fences. We found the carcasses of the two antelope killed by other hunters two weeks prior. I was amazed that they appeared to have not been touched by scavengers at all. They probably froze every night, and looked to be only a few days old, but I knew who had been there and when, and these were right where they said they had shot them. We walked and drove over much of the ranch. Stopping to glass and being amused by the antics of the prairie dogs who inhabited the patches of ground sparse of sage brush. The bigger ones were much bigger than I had expected, at least they looked that way when they would run, waddling, from hole to hole!

We went back out onto the main road and headed back to the north end to go in there and see what we could see. We drove in and parked and glassed as before. This time however we spotted a nice buck about 600 yards away feeding along by himself. There was a big meandering draw in front of us that looked to wander close to where he was feeding. We decided that Tana and I would get out and go into the draw to try and close the distance between us and the buck, hopefully undetected by the cover of the draw, while Mike would go back out on the road and come back into the ranch south of us a mile or so and try to cut off his escape if he spooked. I grabbed my rifle and shooting sticks and Tana brought the camera. We got down in the draw and started to quietly make our way towards the buck. As we crept thru the bottom of the draw, I was thinking of all the hunting stories I had read, and how I was living a dream on the prairie with my daughter with me. I wondered if Indians or mountain men had wandered this same draw stalking an antelope a hundred or more years ago.

The draw was clear of sage in the bottom and was roughly 10 feet deep for the most part. We walked thru several turns for a couple hundred yards and decided to climb up and peek out to see if he was close or had moved farther off. I climbed slowly up and looked thru some sage brush at the edge. The buck was still roughly where we had first spotted him, but was still 300 yards off. As soon as I saw him, he saw me too, at least he looked right at me, but he didn’t spook. I briefly panicked, worried he would bolt and be out of range in a blink. I backed down into the draw slowly. My heart was pounding out of my chest, not sure if he would take off running or settle down and stay put. I decided we should continue towards him staying in the draw and being as quiet as possible. We went another few turns of the draw and I figured we were roughly a hundred yards from where I had last seen him and it was time to try for a shot if he was still there. I climbed up the bank while Tana waited in the bottom for me. This bank was a little steeper than last time, but there was a spot near the top carved out by rain and erosion and some sage brush right on the edge so I headed for the hole as some cover. I got up there and could see him feeding about 125 yards from me. I got my sticks positioned and put a round in the chamber. It rough getting settled on this spot on the side of the draw, but I was afraid to try and get a better position for fear he would spot me. A million things were going thru my mind and my heart was pounding so hard I thought he would hear it! I tried to get the scope to settle on the bucks shoulder but with my breathing and heart pounding, the scope was moving all over. I finally settled myself, and then I squeezed the trigger. The rifle boomed and I felt the familiar push of the recoil. I looked and now the buck was running. Crap. I missed. A million things were going thru my mind. I thought about how this was my first real rifle and I had shot all my deer with this rifle I had gotten as a Christmas present when I turned 15, I thought about the ammo I was using which was loaded for my by another of my shooting and hunting mentors. I literally thought to myself ‘I can’t let my rifle down’. I scrambled up a bit more got to a better position and the buck stopped at about 250 yards to look back like mule deer often do. I wasn’t so unnerved this time. When I pulled the trigger and heard the boom, it was followed by that sound rifle shooters know, the ‘whap’ of impact. I watched for a second as he fell in his tracks, and the emotion of the moment swept thru me like flash flood. Tears filled my eyes as I looked at the brilliant blue Wyoming sky and said out loud, ‘that was for you Bill’. Tana had heard the hit and came up the bank to me. I was shaking. I gave her a high five and managed to say ‘I got him’ through my chocked up throat.

I radioed Mike and told him the buck was down. He said he couldn’t see it, but he heard the miss and then the hit. I told him which way to come and that he could probably drive right up to him. Tana and I walked up to my first Antelope buck. It was a very surreal feeling, and I am ever so thankful that she was with me, and Mike was there, and so was Bill.

I tried my first attempt at a ‘gutless’ field dressing using my new RaptoRazor knives. They worked well and the method is actually rather simple. It took me a while because I had never done it before and have only seen videos of the method. Now that I have done it, I learned a lot and think I will loose less meat the next time I do it, which will hopefully be on a hog soon! The knives worked well and I will write about them and the lessons learned in another story!

After a few more hours of glassing and walking the rolling hills, we headed into town and called Clay to give a report of our days activities and invited them to join us for dinner. We met them at The Invasion bar/restaurant next door to the hotel. We had a great dinner with Clay, his wife and two daughters (their son, little Chris, stayed home). Many stories were told and events regaled. Clay and I talked a bit about his father and how I had known him thru the years. We also talked about Bill and how he will be greatly missed. The LeDoux’s are super nice people and we all got along famously.

The buck antelope was skinned and in the ice chest. It was cold enough that we pulled the ice chest out of the truck and set it outside our hotel room with the lid propped open for him to continue to cool further over night as it was in the mid 30’s that night. We spoke with some other Antelope hunters staying at the hotel. The hotel was full and I think they were all hunters. Several of them were lamenting that they had been for the most part, unsuccessful while hunting on public ground in the area. It sounded as though some of their hunting tactics were not so well suited for the animals with extraordinary vision. It was late, and tomorrow was another day, we still had Mikes buck tag and two doe tags to fill the next day, so we headed for bed and slept soundly once again.

We again arose leisurely and followed a similar pattern for our hunt beginning on the North end of the ranch. This morning a stiff wind was blowing out of the south and it was bitter cold. The wind was a pretty steady 20 miles per hour or so, and the Antelope didn’t seem to like it much as they were no where to be seen! We searched the rolling landscape with our binoculars from the comfort of the truck as much as possible. We spotted a few here and there, but they were mostly on the wrong side of the fence again this morning. As we drove towards the south, we finally spotted two does and a small buck feeding from a waterhole southward up a hill. We quickly formulated a game plan to put a stalk on them, but the wind would not be in our favor when we got in front of them. Our hope was the wind was blowing hard enough and swirling around the rolling hills, that they would not be alerted by our scent until it was too late!

We drove out onto the main road and headed for the next gate south of them where we would try to use the fence line to make our sneak as I had done the evening before. We got the truck parked at the gate and prepared ourselves to go out into the cold biting wind. We looked to the north, and they were just cresting the hill in view about 600 yards away. We knew if opened the road gate and stepped into the sage we would be spotted immediately. Our only chance was to sneak thru to the second gate and use fence line as a sort of blind and hope they would continue their path towards us. If they happened to drift to the east, they would go over a small ridge about 300 yards out and then maybe we could sneak on them using the ridge for cover, but they could cross that ground much faster than we could.

As luck would have it, I stood at the fence post on the north side and Mike was at the post on the south side, Tana was standing at the truck behind us with the camera, and the three antelope continued their path heading directly in front of us. They would come within a 100 yards or so on their current line. We steadied and waited. The decision was made to try and double on the does with Mike taking the first shot and me following immediately after. The wind was howling and making it difficult to stay on target, but I did my best and waited for Mikes shot. I forgot about how loud Mikes ported 300 Win Mag would be with him standing 15 feet to my right and upwind. When his shot went off, I thought I still had the cross hairs on the doe in the back, but when I fired she ran. I immediately chambered another round and looked to see if Mike had connected. All three Antelope were running however, and rather quickly I might add! They were running quartering away across in front of us. I saw the doe in the back thru my scope as she went up a small ridge and took my shot. She disappeared over the little ridge, and I saw the other two come out of the small draw they had gone into, mine didn’t come out and I was surprisingly confident I had connected. Mike was still looking thru his scope as I walked behind him. I saw the buck skyline and look at us briefly and then the doe Mike was shooting for started her climb up the little hill towards the buck. He took his shot and I could hear the bullet connect. We had both missed our first ‘easy’ shots and then connected when they were on the run! My doe was about 250 yards out and Mikes was about 350! Two does down and our tags were filled. Tana standing at the truck had managed to get the two misses and the two hits on video as well! Did I mention that Mike had fallen the week before while deer hunting in Oregon and had broken his left shoulder! He still made a fantastic running game shot, virtually one handed!

We drove in and loaded the two does into the truck and went over the ridge to a small bowl to try and get out of the wind. We found a good spot and parked with the truck facing into wind for a little more wind block. We filled out our tags and took photos to help remember the occasion. After the congratulations were done, Mike and I set up his gambrel and game hoist off the hitch and prepared to clean and skin the does. He made short work of the gutting and I worked on the skinning, and we were done before dark and headed back into town for another great dinner with the LeDoux’s.

The next morning we visited the Hoofprints of the Past museum and stopped in the Rusty Spur Saddle and Tack store, which is also owned and run by the LeDoux family where Tana and I bought some Chris LeDoux memorabilia before visiting Chris LeDoux Park and taking some photos with the Statue and remembering Chris. We headed out of town with a full truck and lifetime of memories, one more stop to make before getting back to home, Piedmont Wyoming.

Mikes great grandfather had lived in Piedmont and ran the charcoal kilns for the railroad in the 1800’s. He has several relatives in the small graveyard there and we stopped to visit and take some photos for Mikes mom. It is a pretty neat place and worth the drive on the dirt roads thru the cow pastures to get there and see what is left of the town and the Kilns if you are ever in the area. We arrived there just before sundown and got some great photos of the remains of the log homes that once stood tall on the prairie where men and women no doubt suffered and toiled to create a life in a harsh and unforgiving land.

We drove on thru to Salt Lake and once again stayed the night before continuing our journey homeward.

I have been on many hunts over the past 45+ years of my hunting life. I have created some wonderful and incredible memories with friends and family which I hopefully will never forget, but this hunt will forever stand out in my mind as one of the most moving experiences I have had. Hunting with my best friend and mentor again after 20+ years was amazing and having my youngest daughter there with us to experience it all was more than I could have hoped for, and we made some new life long friends who I intend to visit every year that I am able to. Like my old friend Buffalo Bill who started this adventure for me, Wyoming calls to me, and I will answer.

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