His black and white mask stared deeply in our direction, the anorexic desert scrub brush we attempted to hide behind barely concealed our silhouettes. I raised the muzzleloader to my shoulder and pulled the hammer as Aaron said “Take him square in the chest”. Even at a distance of 98 Yards the frigid cold north wind pushed my bullet off its mark, grazing his shoulder. We were hunting oryx and the chase was now on…
Oryx Hunting Bucket List
Oryx hunting has been on my to-do list ever since I found they are a free-ranging population in New Mexico and permits were available. For years I tried the lottery route trying to luck out and draw a tag on the White Sands Missile Base where most of the managed hunting takes place. This year I found an opportunity for private lands hunting off the base and quickly booked the hunt with Aaron Bauer. The dates of the hunt are very flexible as far as the state of New Mexico is concerned and once you buy a tag online you can hunt for the entire month you choose for your permit. I had a hunt for Pronghorn in northern Colorado in early October so Aaron and I agreed if I could tag out early I could drive down to New Mexico and get a few days to hunt before Aaron had to leave to guide elk in the western part of the state. October couldn’t get here fast enough! I made sure my Thompson Center Omega .50 Cal muzzleloader was sighted in and I was comfortable out to 200 yards. Not knowing what to expect for distances, I felt like I could stretch that range if conditions were perfect, but as always I know I have to rely more on my stalking abilities since I shoot a limited range weapon.
Early October found me wrapping up a work week and driving the 1100 miles to where my Pronghorn hunt was in Colorado and detouring to pick up my 2016 Whitetail mount in Kansas. All my scouting in July paid off in huge order as I was able to put down a Boone & Crockett pronghorn 15 minutes into my hunt on the first day as he was in the same valley as I’d patterned him in for 4 days in July. Things couldn’t have worked any better and I was able to hang and cool him for a day and then butcher my buck and get the meat frozen. An early blizzard was blowing into Colorado so I started driving the 700 miles to meet up with Aaron. I had a hotel room ready for me so I grabbed a quick dinner and repacked my gear so I’d be ready when Aaron picked me up in the morning.
Now you see them, now you don’t
The property we were hunting was a short 30-minute drive so we grabbed some snacks and drinks for the day and timed it perfectly to arrive shortly after sunrise to give ourselves the opportunity to glass Oryx on their feet. For some reason, the 35-degree temperature felt much colder in New Mexico than it did in Colorado and we were both shivering after our first couple of glassing sessions. The desert scrub brush was different than I had experienced before. Truly everything either grabs you, bites you, pokes you, or stabs you down here and I could see I was about to tolerate some painful knees and hands if it were going to be necessary to crawl on our stalk.
After our first few glassing sessions yielding nothing more than cattle and songbirds, we took a two-track to the West side of the property and found a high spot along the fence-line to glass again. Almost instantly Aaron spotted a band of Oryx numbering 10 animals about 1.5 miles out. He can sure spot them and after directing me where to look they seemed to just pop right out of the desert brush. One thing I noticed quickly was how they could evaporate into the same stunted vegetation and cactuses in an instant. We watched that group for 5-10 minutes and devised a plan to stalk in on them. I grabbed my gun and gear and we started to close the distance dropping into slight drainages and utilizing the topography to make our approach as stealthy as possible. About 800 yards into our stalk something went awry as the group of Oryx started lining out in a cloud of dust straight away from us! After a few minutes I realized two things, 1.) They weren’t stopping 2.) These guys are truly afraid of their own shadows! Being a passionate muzzleloader hunter I felt a huge pressure coming down on my shoulders and I shook my head as a bit of confidence started to slip away. I knew hunting oryx was going to be a challenge, but how was I going to get within muzzleloader range when these Oryx spooked at 1 mile?!
Enter stage left
As we were standing there freezing in the cold north wind contemplating our next move next to the only bush over 12 inches tall Aaron whispered “Get down, there is an Oryx coming right at us!” With the banter and conversation, we’d had so far that day I thought he had to be pulling my leg! Sure enough, a cow Oryx came into 80 yards and slammed on her breaks as she noticed our silhouettes. I got the gun ready on my shooting sticks awaiting direction from Aaron when he said “Here comes a bull, he might be too small” I waited, not knowing much about judging Oryx but thought to myself ‘how many chances am I going to get at under 100 yards with a muzzleloader? And he looks plenty good to me!’ Just then Aaron said “He’s really heavy, he’s a mature bull!” The deep-chested bull was intently staring in our direction when Aaron said “Take him square in the chest”. I should’ve known better however in the heat of the moment I forgot to take into account the cold north crosswind. The bull trotted off a couple hundred yards and stopped and stared in our direction. I knew he was hit however we were absolutely pinned down and couldn’t close the distance until he lost interest or bedded down. As he stood there I could see the entry and exit wounds and knew the shot was not fatal. After 35 minutes he and the cow ran off another 100 yards or so and bedded down. Closing the distance wasn’t going to be easy so we slowly slithered through the desert using every available bush and cactus to conceal our stalk. The cow finally lost her nerve and took off to parts unknown however the bull stayed bedded in the scrub brush. 150 yards out Aaron let me continue alone and close in to 45 yards. The hardest part was finding a shooting lane through the cactus and brush and I knew if I raised my head any higher he would spook and flee so I sat and waited him out. Expecting him to just stand, I was completely out of position when he burst from his bed in full sprint! My rushed shot failed to account for his speed and the bullet gave him a Forrest Gump flesh wound piercing his butt cheeks just below his tail. I was a bit dejected and frustrated as I sat and watched him run off, thinking I’d just spent an hour low crawling through cactus spines and cat claw and I’d just blown my hunt as he was going to cross over to the private property and be gone forever, however, he stopped and looked as if he was going to bed again!
Wait! Where are my reloads?
Searching my pockets I realized I left my other reloads on the seat of Aaron’s truck, now over a mile away! Aaron kept watch as the bull bedded in some thick yuccas and I made my way back to the truck to get my reloads. As I crawled my way back to Aaron he directed me to drop into a small drainage to my right where he met up with me. The bull had bedded in a perfect spot to circle around to the far side and get the wind in our favor. For the next hour we crawled from cactus to cactus and cat claw to cat claw on our hands and knees. I was now close enough I could watch him breathe, I could see his ear tips twitch and felt like I could reach out and grab him, 22 yards separated us and we were at a standstill again until he stood. The brush that allowed us such a stealthy stalk also prevented me from having a shot at any part of his body. After some hand signals back to Aaron I decided I’d take the aggressive move and raise up above the yucca to get him to stand. Fully prepared for him to blow out of his bed like an Olympic sprinter I knew it was going to be an instant reaction on my part to make a successful shot. What I didn’t plan on was him dropping into a low spot concealing all but his horns as he fled. At 45 yards he turned right and came up on my level as the 250 grain T/C Shockwave was already sent. His head dropped as he ran the final 25 yards and curled up against a bush.
Paying my Respects
Oryx are such a beautiful animal and a quarry worthy of the hunt. As I walked up on my bull a flood of emotions raced through my mind as they do when I approach any game I’ve harvested. This is how it ends with hunter and hunted. I reflected on the chase, the fact we’d spent more hours crawling on our hands and knees in the cactus and thorns than we had walking or driving that day. We butchered the bull in the field and bagged up 120 Lbs of some of the finest table fare I’ve eaten. I was so overcome with the oryx and the desert that I instantly committed to returning next year looking for a world-class bull with my new friend, and guide, Aaron. My goal this first hunt was a great bull with the muzzleloader and I have accomplished that, my goal for next year is that magic 39”-40” mark if mother nature determines I’m deserving enough.
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