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Chapter Hunter Tags New Mexico Oryx

Fun, challenging and rewarding are a few words that describe my exciting oryx hunt purchased at SCI Lake Superior Chapter banquet March 30-31, 2012 in Hinckley, MN.  It was booked with Tierra Encantada Outfitters and Guides of San Antonio, NM, a family operation with more than 40 years of experience and two generations of guiding.  Roger Gabaldon is the founder. His wife, Teresa, manages the operation. Their two sons, Jude and Pete, were my guides.  They exceeded my expectations for a successful hunt.

It was a five-day hunt on Ted Turner’s 354,643 acre Armendariz Ranch in southern New Mexico near the town of Engle.  After purchasing the hunt I visited with Jude about adding a pronghorn.  The ranch has a history of many good pronghorn, an animal I love to hunt.  By setting the dates for the first week in October, my pronghorn hunt began on the opening day of season following my five-day oryx hunt.  Oryx are on the ranch following their escape from the White Sands Missile Range.  In 1969, oryx (the African animal is called gemsbok) were introduced on this huge parcel of land.  The herd is large and is doing very well.  I wanted to bring the meat home, so I drove 1500 miles from my home in Cresco, Iowa to the ranch.  It is always helpful to have extra gear that may be needed, and sight seeing through six states is a bonus.

pronghorn antelope 2 112112The oryx hunt proved to be challenging. Jude described them as “pronghorn on steroids.” Over seven days, we hunted approximately a 100-mile area of the 600 square mile ranch.  We glassed and stalked many small herds, pairs and individuals. These animals are spooked by anything unusual, even a jet airliner at 20,000 feet. It was not uncommon to do a mile or more stalk, including some low crawling, to get a closer look or an opportunity to shoot.  We did see some shooters, both cows and bulls, but nothing that I felt would be a good, clean shot.  I was looking for a shot at less than 300 yards on a mature, respectable animal.  We travelled by pickup on ranch roads with much of the glassing done from the bed of the truck.

Fortunately, I purchased the pronghorn hunt because after five days I hadn’t tagged an oryx, but I had two extra days to hunt. I was confident that we had these oryx figured out and still had plenty of ground and animals to hunt.  Jude assured me that while hunting oryx we would be scouting for pronghorns.  This was correct as we glassed several nice bucks and noted their territories.  One buck stood out and I saw him a few times. When Saturday morning rolled around, we needed to find him.  This was a short hunt because the boys quickly spotted him in his range and the stalk was on.  Pete did a great job of guiding and had me within 200 yards, but we couldn’t see the bedded down buck. Pete did a pronghorn warning call and the buck stood up for a well-placed shot with my 7 mm.  Two hours into the hunt, I had an 80 score buck.  After getting the meat hung in their first class cleaning facility, it was back to oryx hunting.

Everything came together Sunday morning, October 7—the same day as my wife, Sara, and my 24th wedding anniversary.  She’s a great wife for letting me go on a 12-day adventure.  The boys spotted a 36-inch tall matriarch in a herd of about a dozen animals.  We decided not to try to cut any distance with the truck so the “sneaky” stalk was on.

oryx 1 112112Typically these animals are well hidden. Soon after sunrise they move into the thicker brush where they can easily become spooked.  We were waiting in the thicket when they started to move in.  Jude did the guiding and a great job of locating the cow as she moved through the tall mesquite shrubs.  I was able to get a comfortable 240-yard shot.  My first shot was low.  Being the matriarch, the rest of the herd became confused as she dove into the tall cover and out of sight.  She couldn’t bolt and since she was the leader, the rest of the herd became nervous.  We carefully stalked the mesquite looking for her.  We knew she hadn’t run out as the other guides were watching the whole thing unfold.  Within minutes, she presented herself about 120 yards out.  Jude quickly put up the sticks and I placed the second shot high behind the shoulder.  The kill zone on these animals is different than typical North American game, and only a well-placed shot will drop them.  I was also warned that oryx are tough animals that may require multiple bullets, so I made sure to pump in another bullet after that shot that went through the hindquarter and out the front shoulder.  The next thing I saw was a big cloud of dust as she dropped.  What a great experience to reflect on and it will help prepare me for hunting in Africa, which is on my hunting radar.

The amount of wildlife I encountered each day was truly amazing.  The ecology is diverse, natural and close to undamaged desert.  Every day we saw mule deer and large bison herds that are maintained all over the ranch.  An interesting note, blood is drawn and tooth aging is done on all pronghorns killed.  One animal on the ranch was 17 years old. While I was there, they were doing their first Desert Sheep hunt, thanks to the efforts of SCI, New Mexico Fish and Wildlife, the Sheep Foundation and Ted Turner.

The accommodations were first class. The ranch house has several private bed- and bathrooms.  Teresa served delicious meals and the hospitality and company was second-to-none.

The great stories and daily experiences on this unique ranch and desert hunt are something you will have to experience for yourself.  I recommend the Armendariz Ranch if you are looking for one of the few places to hunt oryx and a great pronghorn or mule deer.  I will always remember this hunt and reflect on it as a great Southwest experience.– Gary D. Gooder

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