Combo Hunts-Part I

Posted on October 25, 2013

First part in a two-part story. Make sure you check back next week for Part II- Planning A Combo Hunt, tips for success.

Combo Hunts-Part I

Some hunts are filled with meaning, others with frustration. This one was just plain fun.

By Zeke Pipher


The author and his guide, Lance Johnson, show off the first day's kill—a nice antelope buck that came to the decoy.

The author and his guide, Lance Johnson, show off the first day’s kill—a nice antelope buck that came to the decoy.

I’d never gone on a combo hunt before. I did go to Alaska a few years ago to bowhunt grizzly bears. I carried a black bear tag in my pack in case we filled early. But we didn’t, and a big brown bear was such the priority, I didn’t think about the black bear tag all week.

This hunt in Montana was different. When I crossed through Wyoming into Big Sky Country, I was equally excited to hunt both mule deer and antelope. And that’s exactly what I did…and with great success.

I hunted with outfitter and friend, Lance Johnson (, near Lewistown, Montana. I’d driven all day and night to get to Lance’s house by six in the morning. His wife, Nicole, put an earth black cup of coffee in my hand, and I was hunting by 6:30.

When we pulled into the first basin to glass for animals, we saw scores of antelope, several mule deer does, and about a dozen elk. One herd bull was hauling about 350-inches of bone on the top of his head. Forget the strong coffee…watching that guy woke me up quickly.

We parked the truck and began walking. Throughout the morning we spotted several nice mule deer and antelope. About mid-morning, we crested a hill and saw a lone antelope buck. He saw us first, ran to the next hill and then stood and stared. We waited about 15 minutes, giving him time to bed down in a patch of sagebrush. Lance and I belly crawled to the top of the hill, raised our decoy and he took the bait. He barked his laser-like bark at us, and then slowly worked his way in our direction.

I hid behind a sagebrush bush, about the size of a large pumpkin, and Lance stayed behind the decoy. The buck finally came to within bow range and when he looked away for a few seconds, gave me a 70-yard broadside shot. I released my arrow and it struck him in the chest. It’s the longest shot I’ve made on any game, and he fell without taking a step.

Tag #2

Here’s the ridiculously fun part of this hunt: after you fill, you keep hunting. It’s hard to describe, but I always have mixed feelings when I fill a tag. I’m 100 percent thrilled and thankful for the chance to hunt and find success. But I also feel a sense of finality that makes me feel a little blue about being done.

This time, because it was a combo hunt, that feeling wasn’t there. I wasn’t done yet.

By the time we had this antelope buck hanging and cooling in Lance’s shed, we were making plans to hunt the large mule deer buck we’d seen earlier that morning. That evening, the next morning and the following afternoon, we chased that tall mulie around the hills east of Lance’s house.

The afternoon on the second day we got him. Lance saw him first, and called me over. I’d been chasing another decent buck that hid in an erosion area on a different hill. When I reached Lance, he whispered, “There’s a group of deer on the side of that hill right there (pointing to the hill just north of us). I’d guess that the big one’s in there…and if you can get to the top of the hill, you should be within range.”

I took off my boots, nocked an arrow and belly crawled to the top of that hill. There wasn’t a bush or rock within a 100 yards—this was going to be an open country shot, if I got a shot at all.

As I crested the hill, I lifted up my head and saw a doe standing at the bottom of the hill. She was staring right at me. Why she didn’t bolt, I have no idea. But I realized that it was go time, so without knowing where the deer were bedded, I stood up and drew back. I kept the string away from my cheek so that I could look for the deer. When I saw the large buck, I estimated the shot, put my 40-yard pin on his side and squeezed the trigger. Lance, who couldn’t see the deer, heard the arrow strike the buck’s side. The entire group of deer bounced over the hill, and we recovered the big buck just 70 yards from where I shot him.

Two days, two strong pots of coffee and two long shots sums it up. My trip to Montana lasted just 48 hours, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had on an archery hunt.

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