THE HUNT FOR BRUISER: ANTELOPE HUNTING IN COLORADO
Article and Photos by: Gavin Masciantonio-Brady
Every hunter has that one animal. The one that got away one too many times. The one that took years to finally kill. The one that constantly invades your dreams of a trophy you truly earned. Bruiser, as my dad liked to call him, was no exception to this. The first time we had ever seen him was three years ago. I knew he was a good buck when my dad said, “oh man he’s a bruiser” looking at him through his binoculars. It was an easy decision at that point which buck me and my Dad were going to hold out for. Little did I know, Bruiser was going to take me on a chase spanning multiple heart breaks.
Knocking on Doors
It was really luck of draw stumbling upon Bruiser. My best friend and I were desperate to hunt after just moving to Pueblo, CO to play baseball on scholarship at the local University. Being unorganized college students, we decided to buy left over deer tags for a unit we knew nothing about. The fact that it was all private made it that much worse. After realizing our dire mistake we came to the conclusion that we might as well go knock on some doors. We took that following Saturday to drive around and make our best sales pitch as to why these land-owners should let us hunt. One person led us to another until we met our guy. The landowner was more than willing to help us out and pointed us to a small portion of land on a map and said, “have at it”. We were stoked. After all day playing our best salesmen persona, we were in. Arriving at the spot, we had our doubts about its potential for deer. However, we strapped on our packs, grabbed our guns, and started hiking anyway. To no surprise we didn’t see one deer. However, we did see A LOT of pronghorn. Our deer hunting area just turned into a goldmine for antelope.
The First Attempt
The following year it was planned that I was going to put in to draw the unit that held our hard earned hunting property. My buddy was unable to hunt so it was going to be me and the old man grinding it out.
Bruiser was a regular in the area. There wasn’t a day that didn’t go by that we saw him. However, seeing him and killing him are two completely different things. He seemed to constantly out-smart us. Bruiser’s signature move was to run onto property we weren’t allowed to hunt every time he caught us on a stalk. On the last day of the season we finally had a legit chance at him. Tucked away in a little bottom, on the back corner of the property, we glassed Bruiser from an adjacent road. Bruiser had put himself in a bad spot and it was our chance to capitalize.
This was an endeavor that I was going to undertake myself. My Dad didn’t want to tag along and have any chance of blowing it. The old man dropped me off at the road and I began my hike using hills and rises in the terrain to keep out of sight of the herd. About 45 minutes later, I crested a small rise on my hands and knees to where I could see into the bottom. There he was, completely oblivious to me. I actually was fairly calm. I didn’t want to get my nerves worked up because that’s when things can really go wrong. I slowly moved into a solid shooting position. Sitting down and the bi pods firmly in place I estimated him at about 300 yards. Lifting the gun I pressed the butt firmly into my shoulder and found my cheek weld. Being patient I waited for him to present a broadside shot. After a couple minutes he positioned himself broadside continuing to feed. I placed the crosshairs right behind the shoulder and squeezed the trigger. I couldn’t believe it, a total and complete miss. The does bolted towards the front side of the property towards where my dad had dropped me off about an hour before. Bruiser on the other hand headed for his safe haven; land I couldn’t hunt. Disappointed, I figured that was the end of the hunt and made my way back towards the road. After reaching the road I explained to my Dad what had happened. As the sun made its way below the horizon we decided to eat tag soup. Suddenly, I spotted some quick movement way out on the prairie. There was a pronghorn on a dead sprint. I quickly snagged my binos and put them to my eyes. “ Holy crap pops it's him! He is running right at us!” I am going to take a guess here and say that Bruiser didn’t like being away from his does. Being the first week of October I figured all rut activity had died down, we hadn’t seen him running does one time all week. I immediately ran off the road to my one hundred foot boundary. Slightly out of breath I placed my grandfather's Winchester 30.06 on the top of a t-post to get steady. Bruiser stopped his sprint and looked right me, another 300 yard shot. The crosshairs were floating like crazy but I pulled the trigger and let another Hornady bullet blaze across the prairie. Is it any surprise to anyone that I missed…. AGAIN! Bruiser high tailed it right past me and across the road never to be seen again.
When I say he was never to be seen again I mean that I maybe saw him one more time but it wasn’t for sure. You couldn’t miss him, his wide horns were too distinguished to mistake him for another buck. The next two years I hunted out there we never saw him. I proceeded to take a little buck the following year and a good mature buck the year after that. Bruiser still loomed in my mind. Was he still out there? Did someone kill him? I didn’t know, and I probably never would.
Fast forward to Pronghorn season 2019. I decided to take my hunting partner Charlie out for rifle season and my father was bringing two friends as well. The year before Charlie had helped with my hunt and we harvested a great buck. I wanted to return the favor. I had gotten an archery tag for August and September and went hunting a few times on my own. Safe to say I was unsuccessful for the general archery season due to absolutely no rut action. However, one thing did happen during that general archery season that I didn’t expect. Bruiser was back and I knew for a fact it was him. The wide horns were unmistakable. I was overcome with joy. This had to be the year, but it wasn’t going to be me to kill him.
October 5th was the opening day of the pronghorn rifle season and I had spent much of the week before preparing for the hunt. I had put three blinds on the property in areas I knew the pronghorn were moving. Bruiser was in his typical spot, the back corner of the property, in the bottom where no one could see him. I decided I was going to put my hunting partner Charlie in that blind closest to the far corner.
As the sun rose from its slumber Charlie and I were tucked into the blind patiently waiting for an opportunity for Bruiser to present himself. A couple hours into first light Bruiser was right where I thought he would be. However he was slowly pushing his does towards the property we were not allowed to hunt. We had to act quickly. I game planned that I would circle around on him and try to push him and his does right towards the blind. Charlie agreed and as I left the blind I just knew this was the stalk Bruiser wasn’t going to win.
The plan worked like a charm and I got into position to get the herd moving in the opposite direction. As I presented myself to the herd, a lone doe lost her nerve and took off towards the blind. With a little help from a late rut, Bruiser bolted after her. Little did he know he was putting himself within 200 yards of Charlie’s Remington 300 ultra mag. I heard the shot and knew it was done.
As I approached Charlie and Bruiser a bittersweet feeling came over me. Although I was not the one to finally harvest Bruiser, I still felt as though I had won our years long battle of wits. All the years of disappointment had finally come to an end. However, knowing that I had provided a great opportunity for my friend to get his first pronghorn, I was content.
To some it may not look like Bruiser is very big, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me, Bruiser is a monster of epic proportions simply because of the challenge he presented to me for so many years. Hunting is not easy. The challenge is what keeps us coming back. The challenge is what keeps us out in the field for hours upon hours. The challenge is what we pass down to the next generations. I hope to find my next Bruiser and I hope that every hunter will, as well.