Column | Kingman woman cashes in on rare antelope tag
Drawing any antelope tag in Arizona today is a tough task. And one of the hardest units to get a tag for is Game Management Unit 10. This massive unit is located north of Highway 66 with the western boundary being the Hualapai Indian Reservation. The northern boundary is the Supai Reservation. The eastern boundary is Highway 180 at Williams.
Information on the numbers of applicants who applied for one of the 85 tags offered by the Arizona Game and Fish Department in 2019 aren’t available, but past application/bonus point data shows that typically between 4,800 and 5,000 sportsmen and women apply for tags there. That means a super-low draw success of between 1.5% and 1.6%.
Kingman resident Page McDonald is one of many sportsmen to apply for a coveted Unit 10 antelope tag for a very long time. McDonald said she had 19 bonus points going into this year’s draw. That means she has applied, unsuccessfully, for a tag there for 17 years! She also had a loyalty bonus point and a hunter education point.
Earlier this year, Lady Luck smiled on the 78-year-old and she was the recipient of tag No. 46 of the 85 issued for Unit 10. For many sportsmen, it is considered to be a once-in-a-lifetime draw.
McDonald was pleased to hear that she had finally drawn a tag. But then she got some life changing news.
She was diagnosed with lung cancer, and in March she underwent surgery to remove a portion of her right lung. After surgery, she started chemotherapy and that didn’t end until late July.
There were times when McDonald wasn’t sure that she would be physically able to go on her hunt; and she explored the option of turning in her tag and/or donating her tag to a non-profit organization.
But slowly, and little by little, this feisty lady got better, and as the season approached, she decided she was going to try to do the hunt, which for all intents and purposes, was going to be the only antelope tag she would ever have. The decision didn’t come easily. McDonald knew it was going to mean that she had to carry oxygen in a bottle on her back, and even then, she could probably walk only very short distances.
When some of McDonald’s friends heard that she had drawn the tag, and knowing how difficult the hunt would be for her, a number of calls came in offering to be part of her team for the 10-day hunt.
Initially Page’s team would be made up of Jay Chan, Mike Hulsey, Andy Musacchio, Marc Schwartzkopf and I. Hogan Roberts would join us later. These friends would turn out to be vitally important to the eventual outcome of the hunt.
The plan was to hunt antelope on the 750,000-acre Boquillas Ranch. Those who want to assist on an antelope hunt on the Boquillas Ranch must pay a fee of $80.
It was well worth it in my opinion, as these guys are the best in the business when it comes to glassing and helping with the everyday chores that come with any hunting camp.
With assistant permits paid for and in hand, the next order of business was to locate a spot for a camp near where we planned to hunt. We decided for logistical purposes, not to camp within the ranch boundaries.
I have hunted antelope, deer, elk and even desert bighorn sheep on the Boquillas Ranch since 1972 and I know the unit very well. I had several other friends who had drawn Unit 10 archery antelope tags and whose hunts would be right before Page’s hunt. Those folk generously and readily shared useful information.
One thing Page needed to do before the hunt started was make sure the scope on her rifle, a Remington Youth Model 7 Mountain Rifle, in .260 Remington caliber, was sighted in.
But that presented a potentially very serious situation. McDonald had a port for medicine implanted on the same shoulder that the rifle rested against that went straight to her heart! She figured out a pad that would prevent the port from being hit or damaged, and off to the Seven Mile Hill shooting range she went. McDonald has always been a good shot, and getting the rifle sighted in for the expected range didn’t take many shots.
One of the first orders of business on opening day was Page telling me and her team that she was not going to hold out for a huge buck. McDonald said she wanted only a good hunt and a mature buck. On this hunt, the size of the horns wasn’t going to matter. The age of the buck was what was important to her.
Right away we met another guide who was from the Pronghorn Guide Service. He asked if we were being particular as to a buck we were seeking, and I told him “No, we were only looking for a mature buck.”
He smiled and said he would show us one. We followed him a short distance and sure enough there was a single mature buck walking and feeding in a wide open drainage 600 yards away! Jay, Page and I went after this buck, which seemed to be on an aimless walk about, but we never did catch up with him. Over the next few days we would end up having several encounters with this same buck that Page named “Mr. Curious!”
We located several more bucks that day, but were unable to get McDonald close enough for a shot! We had determined that she would only shoot at a buck if it was less than 300 yards away.
We were up well before daylight and the plan was to locate some antelope we had seen the night before.
But the plan changed when Andy and Marc found a doe and a mature buck feeding almost a mile away. Jay, Page and Marc went on a long stalk while Andy and I watched from a long ways off with spotting scopes. They got to within 600 yards of the now bedded animals when somehow the sharp-eyed doe spotted them and away the antelope ran.
Andy and I had heard a couple of shots north of us and he soon saw a huge antelope buck running across a flat. We last saw him almost two miles away, still running!
As we were heading back to camp that evening I spotted three antelope on a hillside less than 200 yards away. The group turned out to be two does and a very unusual buck. It was a true non-typical; his horns grew flat against his head and were probably 24 inches between the tips. Unfortunately, Page wasn’t able get a shot before the group ran out of sight.
The plan was to split up, with Marc and Andy going to one area to glass, while Jay, Page and I went to the area where we had last seen the big buck and a doe.
It didn’t take Jay long to find the same doe and buck that they had stalked the day before. But once again the doe saw something she didn’t like, and off they ran. We never did see them stop.
We looked at a few more antelope, including one herd of nine that had a nice buck with them. Once again Page, Jay and I made a long stalk after we watched the herd bed down on a hillside almost two miles away. Unfortunately, the herd became alarmed when we were just over 600 yards from them.
We had heard about other hunters being successful in the northern part of the unit, so we decided to head up there the next morning.
We were up at 3 a.m. as we had an hour and a half drive to the area we wanted to hunt. We arrived well before sunrise and while Andy and Marc moved to another area to set up their spotting scope, we took a quick power nap. Sleep comes in spurts when you are running and gunning!
Andy and Marc found some antelope, but told us the bucks they saw were all young ones. I glassed up a herd over a mile away with a big buck and tried to get Andy and Marc on them while we tried a stalk. Despite our efforts, we never saw the herd again.
Later that morning, Marc and Andy drove to another spot where we had seen antelope in previous years. Suddenly, Marc spotted some movement in some brush and it turned out to be a large male mountain lion, just 55 yards away. It stayed around long enough for Marc to get photos of the big cat, and it really made the guy’s day!
Marc and Andy told us about a group of antelope that we needed to check out. We found the group of three but determined the buck in the group was too young to take.
Andy had to go home, but Hogan Roberts came up to join us.
Jay would glass up two herds of antelope and both had mature bucks with them. However one group was 880 yards away and the other over 1,000. Unfortunately, there was no way for Page to get close enough for a shot.
Some time later we had an unexpected surprise when we drove over a rise to see a doe and huge buck just 150 yards away. Unfortunately, Page wasn’t able to get out of the truck and get set up for a shot. The buck and doe actually ran up to within a 100 yards of us and stopped, but Page still wasn’t able to get a shot. The buck eventually stopped and stood broadside one more time at 300 yards. Page shot, but the bullet sailed harmlessly over the buck’s back. It was by far the largest buck we had seen so far.
We had decided to go back to the same area up north where we had seen plenty of antelope. Marc would be on one glassing spot and Hogan on another, while Page, Jay and I looked in the area where we had seen the big buck that Page had missed.
I found a herd of 12 antelope on a hillside at 1,440 yards. The buck that was with them was a dandy. Tall and wide, it was a buck we were hoping to make a stalk on. However, we were going to need Marc and Hogan to keep an eye on them while we made the stalk.
At this point, Page was worn out and almost out of oxygen. She told me she had one more hike in her and then she’s done!
Then I get a call from Hogan. He had found a doe and mature buck about a half mile from where he was at. He watched them go into a small drainage and thought they bedded down.
Jay and Page decided to try for this buck as he was much closer than the one I had found on the hillside. Marc, from his position on top of a mesa, could also see the antelope.
We met Hogan and he explained what he had seen. It was decided that Jay and Hogan will go with Page on the stalk. I will stay at the trucks and be an extra set of eyes during the stalk.
As they leave, I noticed that Page seemed very tired, and that this would indeed be the last stalk she could make. Low on oxygen, and worn out from all of the previous days of lack of sleep and stalks across rough terrain, she had given it her best.
All I could do was watch. It turned out to be a three-hour stalk but with carefully thought out planning, Jay and Hogan were able to get Page to within 176 yards of the bedded buck, who had no idea that the three were close by.
Jay set up the Harris bi-pod on her rifle to the correct height, and Page was steady and rested when the buck finally stood up.
At the shot, the buck ran less than 10 feet and dropped. The shot was perfect and Page had her well-earned antelope after five days of tough hunting.
After the photos were taken, we all worked to field dress the old buck and get him back to the trucks.
We turned in the jaw of the buck to the Region 3 AGFD office, and learned the buck was between 6 and 7 years old.
Page decided to have Henry Aguilar at Henry’s Artistic Wildlife in Kingman do the taxidermy on her once-in-a-lifetime trophy.
In checking on several Arizona hunting sites we learned that Page may have been the oldest lady hunter in Arizona to have bagged an antelope this year.
Page had shown tremendous courage and desire, in completing this hunt. She is understandably proud of what she accomplished, but said she will not put in for an antelope tag again.
All she wants now is a late Kaibab mule deer tag!
Page wanted to thank all the friends who worked extremely hard to make sure this lady sportsman got exactly what she wanted when she drew the tag – a good hunt and a mature antelope.