Covered by clover

Antelope season starts this weekend. Courtesy photo

Hunting season starts again this weekend with the opening of archery antelope. 

Two weeks later elk opens in the Hills along with dove. I had to explain to a long-time client that it might not be the best year for him to come back out. 

Earlier this week, my wife and I were sharing our evening walk with the dog. 

We try to stay fit by strapping on weights and packs, I in anticipation of packing out game, Leslie in anticipation of carrying our granddaughter. 

The dog loves the excursions because we take along a training dummy fitted with a cord and sling it often into the hay fields for him to retrieve. 

Once again, this season’s record levels of moisture have left the fields dense with high growth and abundant and round bales of hay. 

There are times when the dog can’t do his job, no matter how fast he runs or high and acrobatically he leaps. 

The cover is so dense that you could hide a bedded bull elk. I know because I watched them disappear. Five bulls were descending from the timber half-a-mile to our south. 

There is enough contour to the area that we could keep mostly hidden in our walk and they were far enough away that we were of little concern and went unnoticed. 

A timbered butte protects our house from southern storms, and after our return, I kenneled the dog, kissed my wife, and slipped  up the ridge unnoticed with camera and spotting scope in hand to see how far along the velvet-covered bulls had come in their development. 

The field below catches moisture from two ridgelines. At their bases, the vegetation surges. 

All the bulls were branch-antlered and past their teen years with two being of good size and point count. 

A seven by six held the greatest mass, two others were only a tad smaller, and the group was filled out with young five points. 

Even though there was plentiful alfalfa regrowth in the meadows, the elk were in no hurry.  

The yellow clover that was horse-high a month ago is still in bloom and the animals were browsing the tender buds without ever having to lower their heads to the ground. 

A few hot weeks could change all of that, but for now, an inch of rain per week is enough to keep all the critters content. 

I moved my spotting scope from bull to bull, carefully examining each one and estimating maturity.

Frequently I would take a tally just to ensure that more had not entered the group, but repeatedly lost an animal as it lay down to graze without even having to walk.  

Where once I had seven, as the evening light began to fade, only two remained visible. The others lay down and were swallowed up by the wall of clover. 

It was remarkable since I was a hundred feet higher in elevation and looking down on them. 

For archery antelope hunters, this poses an unusual and challenging season opener. 

Normally bowmen set up at infrequent water holes and swelter away the day awaiting a thirsty buck that meets their standards. 

The grass is normally ankle high and you can see them coming for hundreds of yards from across the prairie. This year all bets are off. 

Water is everywhere. 

Drainages that are normally dry are flowing streams that have been at flood levels within the last week. 

Every dam and depression is at capacity and the animals have no reason to become habituated to one source. 

Good luck using one of the numerous permanent stands set up by outfitters, this year, we can’t guarantee a thing. A small pool that has yielded trophies at under thirty yards for years now has a shoreline that can stretch far beyond an ethical shot. 

Herds have uprooted from their historical ranges to gain advantage in pockets of land that haven’t seen them for many seasons. Places where they can use their eyes and speed to advantage. 

Antelope are not designed to plow through thick cover or see above tall grass. After having their fawns this spring, they left our valley and headed north. 

Then again, they could just be hiding in the clover.  

The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.

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