Never Seen Such Luck

A Boone and Crockett antelope with a muzzleloader

We were bouncing along a rutted New Mexican four wheel drive track when Jeff Winn said, ” antelope!.” He pointed with his chin, cowboy style, and continued, “t’other side of the big tank.”

I followed his gaze to a small antelope in plain view on the far side of the big tank we’d driven past just that morning. “Looks like small doe, I said, ” I think she’s looking down at some critters in the bottom of the tank”

Chester, the guide and driver of the old yellow pickup, slowed the vehicle to a crawly stop. We all whipped up binoculars for a closer look. I could see that the antelope was indeed female, and small, and she was gazing intently into the tank. It was obvious that something else was down here. Chester voiced my thought, ” Betcha there’s more goats down in that tank.”

I stepped out of the truck,, easing the squeaky door open and lifting out my .451 caliber White Sporting Rifle. I placed a percussion cap on the nipple, knowing it was already loaded with 80 grains of Pyrodex P and a 490 grain lubricated SuperSlug. I sensed Jeff easing out behind me and heard the quiet click of the video coming on. I glanced back and caught the flick of his hand as he motioned me on. He would follow behind, ready for any action he could capture on tape.

Let me introduce myself. I’m Gary White, physician and sometimes inventor. Jeff Winn ranches for a living, shoots and rides like a true son of the soil. We were hunting with Steve Jones’ High Country Outfitters on their Ontero County New Mexico ranches in the 1992 two day New Mexico antelope Muzzleloading season.

We had arrived on Friday, just two days before, accompanied by David Gumucio, also known as ‘Gumby’ who captained White Systems at the time. We’d met Steve and Chester after flying into El Paso, Texas, then taking a long drive across rolling, cactus studded country. We’d also met Rodger Raglin, head of BKS Productions, who was on hand to do a muzzleloading antelope video, plus several of Steve’s other hunting guests. To my delight, the cook turned out to be John Goodwin, famed raconteur, writer and occasional story teller, and one of New Mexico’s great outdoor cooks.

We spent that Friday afternoon sighting in our rifles. We had brought along White rifles shooting .450 caliber Superslugs. New Mexico law dictates a minimum of .45 caliber for antelope. Gumby had his prize Whitetail throwing a 490 grain SuperSlug. I was shooting the same bullet but out of the prototype Sporting Rifle, a traditional side-locked, pistol-gripped sporting-target rifle of decidedly English linage. Jeff Win was carrying a Super 91, but was shooting the 460 grain version of the White SuperSlug.

I had previously sighted in my Sporting Rifle to hit 4 inches high at 100 yards, putting the big bullet 14 inches low at 200 yards with the 80 grain Pyrodex P load that I was using. This combination produces well over 1200 ft lbs of energy at 200 yards, plenty for antelope. I had also marked the tall graduated vernier peep sight at 400 yards, where the bullet fell about 60 inches. I knew that I’d never try for an antelope at that distance but I had shot some paper targets with it, finding it capable of 6 inch groups on a windless day.

The opening Saturday dawned bright and beautiful under an almost cloudless New Mexico sky. Chester took Jeff and me on a long jaunt through miles of tall Chorro and bayonet cactus. We saw a ton of antelope, and a few good bucks, but found them spooky and difficult to approach. Jeff won the toss for first shot so I managed the video, getting some great footage of him crawling through thorny bushes and over sharp rocks, then rising out of the cactus, camo draped over shoulder, looking disappointed and forlorn.

Late in the day, a good 14 inch buck made the mistake of racing the truck then turning across our path. I’ve long claimed that all neck shooters are liars, but Jeff made me eat those words with a tricky 100 yard shot from a cowboy crouch that took the buck in the back of the head.

“Why did you shoot him in the head”, I protested, “you ruined the horns”. “That’s all I could see of him,” he said, protesting the implied criticism. As if a 100 yard running head shot was easy stuff.

When we arrived back at camp, we found that Gumby had busted a terrifically tall, almost straight horned goat with a 110 yard heart shot. He was pretty calm about it all, but Rodger Raglin was ecstatic. He’d never dreamed that a muzzleloading rifle could be so effective. All the other hunters, including me, came home empty handed.

Before the evening was over, and all the tall tales told, Raglin had put aside his T/C rifle and borrowed Gumby’s Whitetail and Jeff had loaned his Super 91 to a well muscled hunter from Ohio, who was out West on his first antelope hunt. He’d also loaned an extra Super 91 to a father-daughter pair who’d had some shots but had some trouble with their own rifle’s performance.

The next day was again bright and pretty with a few clouds. The morning sun was almost dazzling. Chester took us to a different part of the country. I couldn’t see much difference from what we’d seen before as the tall cactus looked just as spiny and the rocks just as sharp. We did run into the corral and tank that I spoke of earlier but only stopped for a few moments to stretch legs and check radiator fluid levels before continuing on.

We didn’t see but a few does and small bucks before turning back towards the corral and tank. And this is where the story started.

After capping the nipple and checking on Jeff, I walking quietly towards the tank. We were well hidden by the high bank on our side. I eased up the slope, using the binocs to spot for movement on the far side, about 140 yards away.

I was halfway up the slope when the small doe reappeared. To my surprise, she immediately spooked, running up out of the tank and onto the sidehill. She was closely followed by three more does. All stopped after a short dash and turned to look back into the tank. There had to be another antelope coming out. There was a good chance it would be a buck.

Sure enough, it was a buck and a pretty good one at that. I could catch flashes of early morning light off ear high eye guards as he turned to look my way, slowing to a prancy stop. I decided that this was the one. After all, today was the last day and I might not see another buck this good. I had no idea how really good he was.

I had forgotten all about Jeff and the video. I fell forward onto the bank, using the rifle’s buttstock to break my fall. I was quickly into a solid prone shooting position. The does were 150 yards away and getting awfully nervous. The buck was ten yards closer, further up on the open hillside than before.

I caught a quick sight picture through the peep, the front sight swinging onto his chest. The rifle fired and I heard the almost instant, ‘Whump,’ the SuperSlug makes with a good hit. I saw the buck tumble and roll down the hill. I heard a whoop and rolled over to see Jeff doing a dance with camera held high over head.

“Jeff”‘ I hollered, gesturing in the direction of the downed buck, “get the buck” I could see right then that I had overestimated his steadiness as a cameraman and underestimated his enthusiasm as a hunter.

The buck hadn’t moved as we walked up on him, the big SuperSlug haven taken him squarely in the neck..” Well, better lucky than good,” I thought. Jeff questioned, “all neck shooters are liars?”, a twinkle in his cowboy eye. I could see there was no chance of bragging my way out of this one.

The buck was huge, much larger than I’d originally thought. I hadn’t been able to see the long curve of upper horn, 18 plus inches of it, slanting around and to the front, typical of Ontero County bucks. I was humbled by this big buck’s magnificence. I knelt at his head and thanked him for the sacrifice of his life as I touched his forelock. I promised him a prominent place on my wall and that I would enjoy him for many more years than he would have naturally lived.

18 plus inches high, near 83 B&C points, best antelope of many that I’ve taken. Rifle is the #1 prototype of the eventual White Sporting Rifle, 451 caliber, 80 Grains PyroP under a 490 grain slip-fit SuperSlug. I aimed at his shoulders and hit at the base of the neck, just forward of the shoulders, for an instant kill. All neck shooters are liars.

We were met with delight when we arrived back at camp and I got a chance to tell just how ‘hard’ I worked for this trophy of a lifetime. We found that Rodger Raglin had scored on a pretty buck with Gumby’s rifle at 165 yards and managed to get it all on tape. The weight lifter had taken a good one with the rifle he had borrowed from Jeff and the father-daughter combo had taken a buck apiece with their borrowed rifle at better than 100 yards each. The amazing thing was that they hadn’t even bothered to sight the rifle in. The first buck came just at daylight and there was no time for a sighter. The kill was so easy that they felt they didn’t need a sighter for the second. More amazing, the rifle had never been fired before, just collimated at the factory, It was brand new, fresh out of the box. Once again, better lucky than good.

My buck finally scored 83 plus B & C points, enough to get him into the B & C record book and more than enough to score in the then first five of the Longhunter book of muzzleloading records. Gumby’s buck was a close 80 points, also high in the Longhunter record book with two of the others ranking lower in the book.

Rodger Raglan’s tape, titled, ‘One For The Record ,Book’, turned out ‘exemplary’ as Rodger would say, (write to him at 4413 West Toledo St., Broken Arrow, Ok, 74012, phone 918-252-3134, for a copy,) and Jeff’s buck was delicious.

John Goodwin again proved himself a winner with spicy concoctions with Mexican names and flavors and Steve Jones proved to a gracious host and knowledgeable outfitter.

We ended the hunt with everyone in camp taking a good buck, all one shot kills, two luckily taken without the rifle being sighted in, four qualifying for the muzzleloading record book and a B&C entry, too.

“Never seen such luck” said Steve Jones.

Me, neither.

Gary White

Roosevelt, Utah