Shielding for Antelope

By Mike Slinkard

 

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The three small pronghorn bucks seemed relaxed and content as they lounged atop a small knoll that was situated in the center of an otherwise tabletop flat piece of Eastern Oregon real estate. The only vegetation taller than a jack rabbit was a small group of three-foot high sage brush, that were growing at the foot of the knoll, less than 60 yards from the bedded antelope.

 

It was midday and my father, and best bowhunting buddy, Bob Slinkard, and I had tried all of the traditional antelope hunting tactics, but none had provided even so much as an exciting moment. Water was over abundant in our hunting area, and the second of two rifle antelope hunts had concluded only a week earlier. Although it was early September, due to the prior two weeks of intense rifle hunting pressure, the antelope were as skittish as a P.E.T.A. member at a hunting convention. This helped to cause the usual rutting activity to be very slow and decoying had proved ineffective. These factors coupled with the local elk starting to exhibit some rutting activity (calling bull elk into bow range is the totally incurable addiction of both my father and myself, and Oregon's archery elk season runs concurrently with the antelope hunt) made tagging an antelope seem unlikely. With pronghorn failure in mind, any of the bucks that were focused in my spotting scope, although not impressive in the horn department, would certainly satisfy our craving for antelope steaks. The obvious problem was the more than 600 yards of flat, open terrain that separated us from the bucks. We had watched the animals for about an hour, and it became quite apparent that the pronghorn had no intentions of leaving their perch. That's when dad suggested, "Let's try and stalk them with that new mirror of yours."Having absolutely nothing to lose, I agreed, and the stalk was on.

 

The "mirror"my father was referring to is a product called the Stalker Shield from Sport Climbers, Inc. 2926-75th St Kenosha, WI 53143 1-800-877-7025. This device consists of what essentially is a lightweight flexible vinyl mirror. It is supported by a light fiberglass pole frame that is easily disassembled and stored along with the rolled up "mirror" in a case made from two-inch PVC pipe. The PVC case also serves as a stand when the shield is in use by attaching to the handle section of the frame with a supplied Velcro strap. The shield is designed to be carried in front of the hunter, with the top pointed at such an angle as to allow only the ground immediately in front to be reflected by the shield. The result, when used correctly and under the right circumstances, is near total invisibility. What camouflage could be better than the actual reflection of the surroundings?

 

We erected the shield and headed off across the prairie toward the antelope. We were pleasantly surprised after the first 200 yards of the stalk that we were still totally undetected and moving along at a fairly rapid pace. The shield had a small view area in the top portion of it. All I had to do was keep the shield at the proper angle, and the pronghorns visible through the view hole. Dad stayed low, and directly behind me, thus staying completely hidden from those eight power eyes. Everything was going like clockwork, and we were rapidly narrowing the gap between ourselves and our quarry. Then suddenly, when we were about 200 yards from the bucks, I learned lesson number one about "shielding."The small view hole only allowed me to see what was in front of us at a distance of about 15 yards and further. There was no way to see where we were walking closer than this distance. The undetected edge of a three-foot deep dry wash left dad standing there feeling like a nudist in church, and left me with bruised knee caps and a very surprised look on my face! Luckily, I did not completely drop the shield and was able to successfully stand and get dad back behind the shield without being detected by the bucks. (Now, my shield has another view area in the bottom part of it to enable me to see the ground immediately ahead. This has helped to avoid any more surprise crashes!) With about 100 yards to go, one of the bucks gave us some tense moments when he rose from his bed and stared in our direction. We considered erecting one of the decoys dad was carrying, but just then, the buck slowly turned around, scratched his hind leg with his horns, and laid down facing away from us. That convinced us. If that buck could not see us at 100 yards, there would be no need for a decoy. With the other two bucks still bedded and facing in our direction, we slowly stalked on. Before we knew it, the shield was rubbing against large sage brush at the bottom of the knoll. Incredibly, we had stalked across over 600 yards of wide open prairie, and now were within 55 yards of three pair of the best eyeballs in nature, and we were still totally undetected.

 

I slowly eased the shield down on its stand and Dad and I had a quick discussion about which buck each of us was going to shoot at. A hopeful thumbs up and we drew our bows and came out from behind the shield. The pronghorn spotted us instantly, but instead of bolting, they just stood there and stared at us in what must have been total disbelief. The dull thud of our bows was almost simultaneous. I watched my Easton Superslam arrow arch slightly then drive the 100 grain Thunderhead through the buck, just behind the last rib, angling forward through the vitals. The antelope instantly sped away over the knoll, but my buck was already slowing down before he left our sight. We were actually only a few inches from collecting a double kill, but unfortunately dad's arrow had just missed the buck he was shooting at. We wasted no time in getting to the top of the knoll, where the pronghorn was last sighted, and we were rewarded by the sight of my buck already down 150 yards away. The awesome beauty of the pronghorn antelope cannot be overstated. Even one with less than record class head gear is a great bow trophy. Sharing this hunt with my father, plus the exciting and unusual way in which this buck was harvested made him an extra special trophy for me. This hunt also uncovered for us a completely new and effective way to hunt big game, especially open country animals.

 

I have since used the Stalker Shield to successfully harvest coyotes, and am looking forward to trying it next spring on wild turkey. The shield also makes an excellent stationary blind and I see no reason why it could not be employed in a wide variety of hunting situations, where conventional camouflage falls short. The shield will blend perfectly in any type terrain, because it uses only the reflection of the actual surroundings. I know one thing for sure: next antelope season shielding will be at the top of my strategy list. It will not work every time or in every situation, but it will offer an exciting alternative to traditional tactics.

 

Author's Notes

 

Although shielding can seem foolproof at times, there are some limitations and considerations to be aware of. Besides obvious common sense safety concerns, probably the most important factor to be considered when using the stalker shield is the position of the sun. You must plan your stalk so the sun is not directly in front, or behind you. The front of the shield becomes shadowed and much darker than the surrounding terrain. This is especially true on bright sunny days. I have found sun position to be less critical under overcast skies. As a general rule, the hunter must keep the sun to one side or the other. It presents a challenge sometimes to keep the wind in your favor while keeping proper sun position, but with the proper planning and maybe just a little luck, these obstacles may be overcome. Another thing to keep in mind is that high brush can limit mobility while stalking. I have found the open desert country and prairie country provides the best terrain for shielding.

 

View holes can be placed anywhere on the shield by rubbing a small area on the shield with a soft cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol. Care should be taken not to put too many viewing holes in the shield. Small view holes will not be noticed, but too large or too many view areas will diminish the effectiveness of the shield. It should be noted that the applied rubbing alcohol simply takes off the mirror finish on the vinyl, making the affected area transparent. There are not actually any holes in the vinyl.

 

I own a small archery pro shop and retail the Stalker Shield for $59.95, which is considerably less than a set of quality camouflage clothing. The Stalker Shield may be found in any quality pro shops and sporting goods stores. If you would like more information on the Stalker Shield or have any questions on shielding, feel free to contact me at: M-S Archery, 155 N.W. First Ave., John Day, OR 97845or call (541) 575-0818 after 4:30 p.m. Pacific time. Other equipment I used on my '95 hunt include my Alpine Tomahawk bow (set at 80 pounds), Easton Superslam 2512 arrows, and Thunderhead 100 broadheads.

 

Note: Since this hunt and article was published the Stalker Shield has been improved. See Improvements on "Instructions" page.

Sport Climbers, Inc. | 2926-75th Street, Kenosha, WI 53143 | TEL: 1-800-877-7025  FAX: 262-652-3188 | sales@sportclimbers.com

WARNING: Not a toy. May cause serious or fatal injury. Read instructions carefully before using. Keep out of reach of children. Purchaser assumes all responsibility for maintenance and safe use of this product.

U.S. Pat. #4,153,139    Canadian Pat. #1104617