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As a kid, a bike provides ultimate freedom. It gives the ability to roam all over town, hitting up candy shops, dirt jumps, and fishing holes without the oversight of parents. It provides the means to get around and excites the nerves when goaded to hit sweet jumps by an older brother. Though no longer a kid, I’m still tempted by the places a bicycle can take me, though I’ve traded candy shops for breweries, and am mostly concerned with how they can help access hard to reach destinations like summer steelhead runs, blue grouse hideouts and open ground containing antelope or caribou. I used to fill my pockets with Airheads and Big League Chew. Now I’m after backstraps and shanks.
Similar to the ability to recall every steelhead I’ve brought to hand, I can remember each of the bicycles since the grey and white 16 incher I first threw a leg over as a child. There was the chrome BMX with checkered foam top tube padding and a plastic seat. Later, gears showed up in a six-speed I rode to elementary school, and eventually a red Raleigh mountain bike I could barely straddle. After mowing enough lawns to save up some cash, my first big purchase was a Haro BMX that took me all over town. At sixteen years old, my first job was in the Scheels service shop where I learned (largely through trial and error) how to work on bikes, and quickly spent all my wages on outdoor gear. All those bikes were unique in their own way, but one thing united them all: the feeling of freedom and self-reliance that a bicycle gives its rider.
Hunting also left its mark on my childhood. The pastures, food plots and sloughs of central South Dakota were a big part of every fall and winter as I cut my teeth chasing pheasants with my Grandpa, Dad and brother. But, in the western part of the state, we targeted mule and whitetail deer. I still laugh, thinking of myself as a twelve-year-old kid, being trusted with a firearm, and heading out alone to the designated meet-up point. The vague descriptions dad gave about where to hike and wait for him taught me to pay attention to the lay of the land. A bounding whitetail showed me that my favorite pair of wind pants were probably not the best choice in outerwear. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing.
In reality, Dad was probably never more than a mile away, but the responsibility and trust he put on me made it feel like a big deal. I wasn’t able to put the feeling to words as a kid, and I’m sure I can’t do it justice now, but walking through the woods with the purpose to harvest an animal is primal. The weight, seriousness, and challenge provide a connection to our ancestral past. You’re shaping your own destiny and making decisions that will affect the world around you. It’s how we’ve survived as a species, and it’s no surprise that many of us feel more alive for a few weeks every hunting season than we do the rest of the year.
Now that I’m older and planning my own trips, I often search for opportunities to combine my two passions, biking, and hunting. Sometimes I just like to head out on the mountain bike with the intent simply to ride. I’ll strap a single shot 12 gauge on the bike, hoping for a fun day in the woods and possibly a blue grouse or two. Other times the hunt takes precedence, and the bicycle provides the transportation. One of my favorite hunting memories is a solo hunt where the bike took me all over the Wyoming high desert and hauled out an entire antelope buck. There’s something about using a bike to access hunting and fishing spots that really appeals to me.
Bikes are relatively fast and quiet. In the right location, one can easily triple walking speed on a bike. Cargo can be carried on racks or trailers that take the weight off the shoulders and backs. Most importantly, it’s downright fun! On unsuccessful hunts, I’ve been rewarded with grin-inducing cruises down trails on the way to the truck. On occasion, I’ve harvested animals and carried an entire quartered antelope in bags attached to the rack. Regardless of the outcome, the experience of bike hunting or fishing makes me supremely happy. I’m not saying bikes are the solution to every hunt, or that they belong on every trip or location. They’re simply another tool that enables the savvy hunter to travel farther, quicker and maybe even enjoy some swoopy singletrack on the way back to the trailhead. Both purveying wild game and traveling by bike impart a sense of freedom, self-reliance, and adventure. It’s something I think about all year, and you can but I’ll be pedaling after caribou across the Alaskan tundra this fall.
Photo Ambassador Brian Ohlen lives in Alaska and runs the Spoke 'n' Fly, an adventure blog centered around biking, hunting, and fishing.
“Matt, there’s some in a decent spot”
We pass a buck and a handful of does grazing in the tall grass about 150 yards from the road. We continue to a turnaround a couple hundred yards ahead and make a U-turn.
“You know the plan: slow down, I’ll jump out, you keep going.”
We approach the pronghorn again, this time with the critters on the driver side. Matt quickly slows the truck to a crawl as we draw up to the group and I carefully hop out the passenger door. As the vehicle accelerates away, I dodge around the rear of the truck and throw myself in the roadside ditch. Hopefully, the pronghorn didn’t particularly notice me as the truck rolled past and I settle in to let them forget if they did; all in all a well executed “duck-n-roll.” Time to start crawling.
* * *
This ploy is only one of many wonky, unconventional and occasionally successful tactics employed in the pursuit of antelope with stick and string. Welcome to high country speed goat archery season. This valley is not stereotypical pronghorn range; a major river runs down its length, fed by numerous creeks flowing out of the surrounding, timbered, snow-capped, mountains. It’s not even entirely open; stands of lodgepole pine creep down from the surrounding ranges.
The pronghorn congregate in the abandoned pastures and broad sage flats of the valley floor; an area referred to as the “antelope arena.” Though there are tons of animals, the unit is largely closed to firearms. The outcome is a unique hunt with scores of opportunities and few harvests. It is not unusual to get in five stalks in a day. The usual strategy might be described as “drive, spot and stalk.” Essentially, one cruises the valley’s roads or glasses from one of the higher hills or the roof of a truck, looking for pronghorn within some reasonable distance of some reasonable piece of cover. Then the game is on.
What constitutes “reasonable” in this context is very much up to interpretation. Some attempt a two hundred yard crawl through six inches of grass (the question of how one actually rises and gets off a shot is always left to the future). Others lurk in the willows along the river waiting for rare instance when the goats show signs of thirst and head towards river (the issue of where exactly they will water along miles of creek is also typically left off for later). Still more quest for the elusive “timberlope,” pronghorn that, seemingly against their better instincts, habitually loiter around the broken patches of lodgepole.
Other methods of attack include but are far from limited to, decoys, calls, pronghorn costumes, ground blinds, pop-up blinds, layout blinds, tree stands, flagging, two-man cow suits and general lurking. Many are uncomfortable, some are humiliating and most are hopeless. All are entertaining.
* * *
Its August 18th at 5:30 am and I’m all the way in my sleeping bag in back of my 2003 Yukon. Freezing temps are more than possible in every month of the year in this high country. I’m awake before the predawn alarm will tell me to get up. I roll over and unpack my pillow pulling my puffy and mid layer out of my stuff sack and put them on, trying to stay in my bag the whole while.
After sitting as long as possible in the bag, I pull the bandaid, yanking my legs out of the bag and shoving them into my nylon guide pants. Then I open the door and hop out of the truck. Hungry already after a gourmet dinner of cold canned black beans and gas station tortillas, I munch a pop tart and I organize the day in my mind. Then I grab my bow and daypack and walk down the dirt road out into the dark.
As soon I turn off the track into an open field of short grass. I make for the center. Soon a square shape begins to materialize in front of me. Upon, reaching the blind I snuggle into a tired sleeping bag to wait for dawn and antelope.
* * *
According to conventional wisdom the blind is the best strategy to for arrowing a speed goat. But its also the coldest, (then later) the hottest (and always) the most boring way to kill a pronghorn. As an ex-easterner I have little trouble waiting for critter, but most of my friends and co-workers would sooner stick themselves with a broadhead than sit still for a couple hours.
And I can hardly blame them. Almost constantly being in the presence of these awesome animals and making tons of exciting (if unfruitful) stalks is damn fun. And seeing as their behavior changes little as the day goes on, you can pretty much hunt from dawn to dark. All things considered, it makes for a pretty good way to spend a weekend even if actually killing an antelope often seems utterly impossible.
Ford Van Fossan is the Retail Sales and Content Manager at FLHQ. He will be spending a lot of time stalking speed goats, eating canned dinners and sleeping in his Yukon this month.