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Thread: Rifle/Antelope Unit 53A-49

  1. #1
    Two23 Guest

    Default Rifle/Antelope Unit 53A-49

    I look forward to a specific date every year. No, it's not Christmas. It's not my birthday (not any more, LOL!), not even duck season opener. It's not even my wedding anniversary with my Long Suffering Wife (LSW.) The date is South Dakota Rifle/Antelope season, the first weekend in October. I've been going every year since about 1993, almost always to the same ranch out in Perkins County which is the far northwest corner of the state. It's a 500 mile one way drive. The way it works is every year I drive out along the old Milwaukee line which follows U.S. 12 to Hettinger, ND which is the closest town to the ranch. I stay at the Mirror Lake Lodge, eat at the Past Time Bar & Grill, and crawl around the shortgrass prairie until I'm close enough to take a shot at an antelope or two. I then take photos of whatever catches my eye in the area, and follow the tracks back to I-29 and then head home on Sunday evening. It's about the most fun I have all year!

    Abandoned pioneer ranch home,
    Perkins County, SD
    Last edited by Two23; 10-23-2006 at 05:24 AM.

  2. #2
    Two23 Guest


    I spent Friday driving out and then scouting for critters around the ranch. The ranch consists of about 36 sections and is adjacent to around 8 more sections of BLM. (1 section = 1 sq. mile.) I have plenty of ground to hunt and roam around on and cover it in my Chevy S-10 4WD truck. I spot no antelope along the little river; ranch hands advise me that they are up on the buttes this year due to recent rains greening up the graze. I head back to Hettinger for dinner as the sun is setting. Hettinger is a crew change point for BNSF and the local crew is friendly. Over the years I've got to know a few of them at the old freight depot.

    Below shot:
    E/B grain train stops for crew change at
    Hettinger depot.

  3. #3
    Two23 Guest


    Morning came all too soon, and I was out before dawn. I spotted some antelope as the sun came up, but they spotted me too. They have eyes that are the equivalent of my 8x binocculars. Easily! Off they went like a pack of bottle rockets. Antelope can run ~60 mph on flat level ground (most ground where they live is flat level!) Their fastest predator, the coyote, can run half that for moderate distances. Mountain lions might hit 40+ mph in short bursts. So why are antelope so much faster than they need to be? Back between the last ice ages, their main predator was the American Cheetah, which likely matched the antelope for speed.

    Most ranchers have a deep hatred for coyotes. The Lakota People admire coyotes for their cunning and see them as "lucky," sort of like we see a rabbit's foot. Some coyotes are luckier than others though.

    I finally spotted a small herd of antelope a mile and a half away, and set off on foot to intercept them as they walked around a butte. I crawled along a dry wash and managed to get within 80 yards, unseen. I carefully set my rifle on the edge of the wash and took aim on a doe's neck. First antelope down, one to go. The remaining antelope took off for the next county. They ran like flowing water. I've always admired antelope; they're one of my favorite critters. They taste good too!
    Last edited by Two23; 10-23-2006 at 05:29 AM.

  4. #4
    Two23 Guest


    The BNSF line has moderate traffic on it, something like 4-8 trains per day. A few years ago there was talk of stubbing it off at Aberdeen, then talk of turning it over to the DME. In the past couple of years BNSF has seen value in it though. It takes pressure off the mainline in Bismarck. BNSF began replacing the old jointed rail with welded last month. There are some low bridges on the line which inhibits double stack trains, but they do run piggy backs on it now along with the grain and occasional coal train. The line goes through mostly tiny, dying towns.

    Below photos:

    Manifest train approaches White Butte, SD,
    a dead town that once was a railhead for
    cattle drives up until 1948.

    At one time grain was loaded into boxcars. I
    have many photos of this dating to 1900 and
    according to a retired elevator owner the last
    he saw grain loaded into a boxcar was 1975.
    I was surprised it was that recent.
    Last edited by Two23; 10-22-2006 at 06:44 AM.

  5. #5
    Two23 Guest


    After dropping the first antelope off at the locker near Lemmon, SD, I headed back to the ranch to look for another one. It was hot, over 80 degrees. Last year I crawled through a foot of snow. I spotted a large herd of antelope a couple of miles away, but by the time I worked my way within 400 yards of them, some dipshits started shooting at them from over 600 yards away. The antelope were gone like a puff of smoke. Three hours lost, and it was starting to get dark.

    Back in town, I managed to catch a late sunset with a train at the depot. I was pretty lucky! I went to the motel and cleaned up, putting on fresh clothes before heading to the Past Time for dinner. The Past Time is one of those truly great small town institutions. It has great food, mostly steaks from the rancher I was hunting on, and is the meeting place for the locals. After the perfect steak dinner I went over to the bar area to hang out for awhile. A woman about my age came over and sat down on the stool next to me. As she began talking I realized she was simply desparately lonely more than anything. She was moderately attractive despite the lines that years of hard living on the Northern Plains had etched into her face. Small towns like Hettinger are rough for single people. The "dating pool" is pretty small and the distance to other towns is great. When she put her hand on my leg, I advised her I was married and intended to stay that way. She laughed and said most of her boyfriends were married. I asked her why she didn't simply move to a bigger town like Bismarck or even Fargo where she could find somebody of her own, and she replied she was thinking about it. I asked her if it might be better to have a chance to find a man of her own rather than staying in Hettinger and engage in dangerous "husband rustling," and she said she had been coming to think that way. By "dangerous" I didn't have to remind her that many women out that way can handle a deer rifle as well as the guys can!

    I left the bar (alone, LOL!) and went back to my room to get some sleep.

    Below photos:

    Train at twilight,
    The Past Time
    Last edited by Two23; 10-22-2006 at 04:33 PM.

  6. #6
    Two23 Guest


    The next morning my luck changed and I quickly spotted a herd of antelope milling around in the sun. I drove around a butte to head them off and climbed it. Even though I was nearly 400 yards away and lying down on the top of the butte, they acted like they had spotted me and were about to bolt. There was no wind, so I decided to take the shot before they spooked. Antelope are very fast, but they can't out run my .30-06! I took the shot, and four seconds later the antelope was knocked over. My season was done. The 150 gr. Nosler Ballistic Tip had hit the antelope in the heart. I walked back to my truck, drove out to the antelope, and took it to the locker in Lemmon. By then, it was noon. Time to chase trains some more!
    Last edited by Two23; 10-22-2006 at 04:36 PM.

  7. #7
    Two23 Guest


    Heading east along the BNSF line I had two trains to choose from and was told by the folks at the depot that one was also headed west. McLaughlin, SD was once a major railhead for grain and cattle, but now only loads grain (wheat.) There is still a stockyard there but cattle are trucked. I caught the train as it headed past the stockyard in a shot reminiscent of an old photo I have showing a ten-wheeler pulling a cattle train by those stockyards. McLaughlin is still a more or less viable town with schools, basic businesses, and churches.

    At Mahto, SD, yet another dead town, I caught a train crossing the road by the old elevator. At one time the Great Plains was full of buffalo. Early passenger trains in the 1870s would stop to allow passengers to shoot them out the windows of the coaches with their .45-70 rifles. Today, this is the only spot I know where you can get a train with a herd of buffalo.

    I made it to Mobridge and set up on the east bank of the Missouri River and waited for either the e/b or w/b train to come. The sunset light was gorgeous and the steel girders of the bridge were shiney. An e/b train would make a perfect shot! It never showed up though, and by the time the w/b rumbled through the light was gone. Rather than take a "nothing" shot, I just let it go, packed up, and walked back to my truck. I came SO close to getting a cool shot!
    Last edited by Two23; 10-22-2006 at 04:42 PM.

  8. #8
    Two23 Guest


    Antelope season is over and winter is closing in. I look forward to winter and the dramatic photos I can take of trains battling the cold and the drifts. Duck season usually comes to a wild end about the middle of December when even the biggest lakes freeze solid enough to drive on. My rifle is cleaned and might come out for Missouri deer season, but maybe not. I've shot so many deer that they bore me. I am already looking forward to Rifle/Antelope 2007 though! Back I'll go to the buttes, Hettinger freight depot, the ranch, dinner at the Past Time, and my room at the Mirror Lake Lodge.

    Below photo:
    Self Portrait.

    Kent in SD

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Zanesville, Ohio


    An odd essay. A bit ramblin' and shamblin', it covers a lot of ground, both geographically and photographically. It is an interesting combination of two hobbies, and while many draw the paralell between railfanning and hunting, I am glad you don't, as it is tired, overused, and cliche. Doing so with photographs is much better than actually saying so.

    The first image sets the scene nicely, although technical issues plague it, and the other images throughout the essay. I will blame it on crappy scanning, rather than crappy photography .

    The second image the crew change is cool, but falls a little short. That familiar triangle of headlights gets lost in the hideous green of the building, and the light pole. I am not one for distraction, but the pole is rather distraction.

    To be honest, I think the first paragraph about trains would be stronger with just the final image, with the boxcars and grain elevator. The two of the approaching train are just kind of bland, the third tells more about the place for me than the other two. And is a cooler picture.

    The night shots of the town are cool, but the color balance isn't even close. Any color but that nasty baby-poop (and I know baby poop) yellow kind of blunts the image.

    I don't like hunting, and I found the dead animal images difficult to look at. But since it is not about what I like, I will talk about the pictures instead. I think the one of the cayote is as much a scene setter as the abandoned homestead. Of the two dead antelope images, I think the first one is gore for the sake of gore, whereas the second combines the animal and the land it used to inhabit, and shows what you face when hunting; ie, the wide open area with little or no cover, and an animal built for that land. It even shows a little more respect for the animal that you profess to admire.

    Of the next three train pictures, I like the second two more than the first. A little more wild westy, while the first is trying to connect the railroad to the town, but succeeds only awkwardly.

    That last picture almost ties it all together, but you ain't Brandenburg yet.

    I think it would be stronger if you tightened it up, but obviously that is your call. It would also be stronger if you could do it HTML style, as in put the images in the text. I guess I would give it a thumbs 3/4 up? There are ways to make it stronger, but I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand if you didn't.
    Chris Crook

    pictures and yap

  10. #10
    Two23 Guest


    Like much of my writing, it comes from my general approach to life. Instead of putting different parts into little "compartments," it all flows together, just as a trip does. You are right that I am still learning how to scan, and learn PS in general.

    The small town bar at night photo was one I couldn't get to color balance at all in PS due to mixed lighting. I turned it into grayscale, but didn't really like that either. The weird color cast sort of grew on me as I looked at it though. What I'm trying to do with this shot is establish a sense of place. Small, one story buildings make up the Main St., and it's full of pickup trucks instead of cars. It's typical of small towns in the Dakotas, and the West in general. There's two bars in this town. One for the "rowdy" people, and one for the "respectable" people. The Past Time is the latter.

    The coyote is a scene I see often enough out here. Ranchers hate them and often display them on a corner fence post by the side of the road. I was attracted by quite a few elements in the image. I used fill flash to chase shadows off the face. The one antelope lying in the grass is exactly as you say, placing the animal in its environment. The other shot is more than "gore for the sake of gore." It's a satire, a parody. All of the other "hunting photos" you see are of a guy with a rifle sitting behind a dead critter. About the only variant is sometimes the rifle is leaned against the critter. They carefully clean away any blood and don't photo the side of the critter with the exit wound. They don't want to stir up any anti-hunting sentiment. I take a different approach (obviously!) I HATE cliche photos, so I went for the opposite. My photo says, "This thing is DEAD--got it?" It is designed to raise strong feelings/emotions because to me a photo that can't do that is generally boring. I have been shooting images of dead critters for a number of years now, partly because I'm bored with all the beautiful images of wildlife I see on nature photo boards, and partly because it's an honest documentary shot of what I see. I'm aware that many people don't know what to make of shots like that. Note that I grew up on a farm where we would often go out and kill something to eat for dinner (such as a chicken.) I don't see animals as "pets" or whatever, but rather as food.

    The last series of train shots are mostly trying to establish the train in its envirnoment--small towns along the way. These are some of my favorite kinds to do. I intend to go back and reshoot the buffalo one because I was really too far from them. I want to get permission to shoot from the edge of the fence because that will allow me to get rid of a lot of the brown dirt that the animals blend in with. NO WAY I'll get in with them. Those things will kill you, and I'm not kidding. I've had two run-ins with herd bulls out here that scared the pee out of me. They can outrun a horse! I also hope to someday get a great shot of an eastbound train at sunset crossing the MO River at Mobridge, but it hasn't happened so far.

    The final shot is the one I am actually most proud of. I carefully parked my red truck where it needed to be. It was weird composing a photo in an eyeball, I have to say. I might try it again, using the Nikon 105mm micro which has a closer focussing capability. A number of years ago I took a similar photo of a road kill deer using my Bronica 645, 75mm lens with ext. tube, and tripod and cable release. It was basically a photo of me peering into the eye of the freshly killed animal. I showed that shot to Jim Brandenburg when he had a booth at the summer art fair in my town. A couple of years later he had a similar photo in his "Chased by the Light" book. Did -I- inspire -him-? I don't know, but he personally signed my copy of the book and put in an engimatic comment.

    Anyway, I don't like making photo series that are purely one subject. It's not how I see life. I'm also obviously not stuck on trying to only make "pretty" images. I mean, I love strawberry shortcake but if that's all I had to eat I'd soon be sick of it. You need to sometimes eat broccoli and brussel sprouts to better appreciate the sweetness of a good dessert, I think.

    Kent in SD

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