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On the second day of the hunt, I spotted the heavy-based antelope buck that had eluded me on opening day. He was with a dozen does that acted as his security system. I tried a couple of stalks on him the day before but was busted both times by the does. They’re amazing at detecting the slightest movement on the horizon. This time the buck was laying with the does in a south facing depression to get relief from a strong and cold north wind. My presence didn’t alarm them so I made a big circle around their resting spot and then waited near the top of a small ridge. 

Manyberries CPR station.
After watching them for a couple hours, they finally got up and started grazing towards me. It was a great set up until a coyote spooked them, at which they headed out at a brisk trot quartering away from me. A leisurely stalk just turned into a rushed running shot. I was lying on my belly with sagebrush in my face. There was nothing left to do but get on my knees and attempt to locate the buck in the fast departing herd.

Hunting antelope in Alberta reminds me of the old expression, “hurry up and wait.” It took 10 years before I was drawn again in the Manyberries area of Alberta. That’s a long time and you would think that things might have changed down there just a little bit after a decade. Well, not much has changed except the old buildings have gotten older along with their inhabitants. The old wooden automotive garage where Harold pumped fuel is now gone. If you need fuel while in Manyberries, you might want to bring some jerry cans. If that isn’t appealing, your options are to head west to Foremost or north to Elkwater. Sadly, the gas station I used in Orion (named after the constellation of the Hunter) burned to the ground on December 25, 2016. I was lucky to have met Boyd Stevens at his garage one last time during my hunt. Stevens Garage was, to say the least, an iconic piece of southeastern Alberta history and a cornerstone of a vibrant and colourful ranching community. I took a photo of the exterior of that old garage but what I saw inside was far more interesting. Boyd was a bit of a hoarder and had memorabilia stacked in all possible places in the building. After he pumped your gas, you’d have to navigate your way through the numerous piles of paraphernalia to his antiquated credit card slider. That wasn’t a problem though since I needed some time to marvel at his old and original pin-up posters of calendar girls from the 50’s. I had to remind myself that I was hunting antelope and not on a museum adventure.

The Sweet Grass Hills in the distance.
Despite a few minor inconveniences, I really enjoyed this year’s return trip to Manyberries. I’ve taken quite a few antelope in the area in years past. I hoped the things I like about the area were relatively intact. I wasn’t disappointed. The famous Southern Ranchmen’s Inn is still standing. Its new owners are working on some upgrades and doing their best to keep it running. Colin and Michelle Beirbach cater to hunters and make a considerable effort to make it an enjoyable visit. Not for the rooms, since they’re mostly in their original 100-year-old décor except that time has taken the shine off  most everything. The rooms are tiny and the heat is adequate—if you pile on the blankets and wear your socks. There are about a dozen rooms and the guests get to share one bathroom. No worries though, since there’s another bathroom in the restaurant/bar on the main floor. The Inn was reportedly built in 1916 when the CPR pushed the railway through the area.

The best part of the Inn is the hunters and other people you’ll meet there. The rooms were all rented and the hunters gathered in the bar every evening for food and beer. Colin does the cooking in the evenings and slings beer for the hunters. The next morning, you’ll get a hearty breakfast well before the sun comes up along with a packed lunch. The bar is reminiscent of a western movie set. Lots of big game heads, brands from the many ranches surrounding the town and all kinds of interesting decor to check out.

The hunters came from all over Alberta and were a very friendly bunch. I got to know several of them and heard many great hunting stories. One common thread among most of them is that they were also sheep hunters.

We often remarked about the many ways that antelope hunting is similar to sheep hunting. That must sound a bit crazy. How can chasing an antelope rocketing across a sagebrush prairie be anything like stalking a bighorn ram in the majestic Rockies? For starters, my standard antelope gear includes 10 power binoculars, a spotting scope, a backpack, raingear, food for the day and a GPS. Then there’s the 270 Winchester featherweight rifle with handloaded flat-shooting ammo. Add in the many miles of walking and glassing and you’ll think you’ve turned into a flat land sheep hunter. If you’re lucky enough to bag a trophy antelope, chances are you’ll be backpacking out the cape and the boned out meat.

My first antelope hunt at Manyberries was sometime around 1980. I had just bought a brand new International Scout II and was looking forward to trying it out. In those days, you could drive anywhere you wanted in the sagebrush pastures. Today, there likely isn’t a single ranch or grazing lease in the area that allows you to drive anywhere on the land except to the ranch house to get written permission to walk on it. Forget about bringing your quad or pickup truck with 36-inch tires since they’ll just be sitting by the side of the road while you’re out there burning up calories in the sagebrush. It’s all worth it though. If you walk even a mile away from the gravel roads, you’ll see antelope that can’t be seen from the road where you parked your truck. The ranches are so large the odds are slim you’ll see another hunter while you’re on your walkabout. That gives you plenty of time to plan and execute a stalk on the nice buck you’ve just spotted in the distance.

There’s one exception to the walking only rule. You can bring a mountain bike if you have one. I’ve done this on several of my previous antelope hunts and can say it works very well. If the ground is dry and hard, you can put on several miles in relatively short order. Just follow the old ranch roads and try to stay off the cactus. Easier said than done. The first time I used my mountain bike I ended up with 25 cactus spines in my tires. After the hunt, I heard about Mr. Tuffies. They’re a very strong flexible liner that goes inside the tires. They work great most of the time. I didn’t get a flat on the two previous trips but did get one on the way out on my recent trip. The sagebrush pastures were very soft and wet this year. My bike didn’t work that well on the trails so I ended up pushing it around most of the time. It was still worth taking though since I used it to carry my rifle and backpack.

After a few anxious seconds, I found the trotting buck in my scope at about 200 yards. One lucky shot and the buck was down. Not my best shot, since I hit the buck in the left hind leg. One more shot and the ten-year wait to harvest an Alberta antelope was over.

Watch out for the cactus!
The mature buck was lying in a several acre moon-like depression that was mostly mud that had eroded from the hill I was hiding on. Not much of a spot to cape and de-bone the buck for the journey back to the truck parked several miles away. I took my time, knowing it might be a long wait before I might again have the privilege to hunt antelope in Alberta.  

Manyberries has lots of other game besides antelope. Some great mulies and elk are on draw, as well as white-tailed deer in some locations. If you’re a bird hunter, you’ll find Hungarians, sharptails, pheasants, ducks and geese. The only (tiny) population of Greater Sage Grouse that live in Alberta might be observed not far from the Inn if you know where to look. Check out this unique area of Alberta some time. It’s worth the drive. ■

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