Native Antelope, Exotic Caliber
Buckmasters headquarters can be a pretty hot and hectic place during the summer months. Just like you, the staff here begins planning for and dreaming about fall adventures when the heat index creeps above the “too-hot-to-fish” mark. It was on such a day when I began cooking up an autumn hunt in Texas.
In the shade of Buckmasters’ front porch, GunHunter Editor Larry Teague and I were taking a much-needed break and doing a little “October dreaming.” I told him about my longtime desire to take a blackbuck antelope, which is a beautiful little critter, originally from India. I asked Larry if he had any new guns that needed field-testing for the upcoming year, especially a versatile caliber that would be effective in Texas where I might shoot anything from a 1-ton buffalo to a 30-pound coyote.
The temperature seemed to drop a tad as Larry told me about Remington’s plans to expand chamberings in the Model 673 Guide Rifle. They reintroduced this old favorite in 2004, chambered in 6.5mm (.264) Rem Mag. It was one of the first short-action magnums and was originally introduced as the Model 600 carbine.
For numerous reasons, the rifle and its successor, the Model 660, was removed from the production line in the 1960s. Poor sales could probably be attributed to its design, which was too radical for that time period. The popularity of other calibers all but washed away the ballistic evolution of what I soon found to be the most versatile and user-friendly rifle I’d ever shot.
I was intrigued when Larry explained that the 6.5mm was ideal for mid-sized game. It would work well on everything from sheep to blackbucks, especially now that Remington had upgraded its features and improved ballistics.
I was even more interested when Larry said that he had chronographed the 6.5mm at a smoking 2,944 feet per second, using Remington’s Express Core-Lokt 120-grain PSP ammo. It sounded perfect for my trip.
Larry and I abandoned our dueling rocking chairs for his air-conditioned office, and he let me hold the Model 673. There was something both exotic and nostalgic about the rifle’s manly design. The more I ogled it, the more I could not wait to get it out into the field. Its machined-steel, ventilated rib and iron sights are a tribute to the bear guides of old, who often had to shoot quickly when following up on a wounded bruin or mountain lion - purely an aesthetic tip of the hat from Remington. But with that added weight and ample recoil pad, there would be no risk of accidentally joining the “half-moon club” from heavy recoil. They’d turned this magnum into a kid-friendly firearm!
The Model 660 had a laminated stock, perhaps a little too advanced for the time, so the designers tried it again using today’s superior materials. Remington had obviously taken special things from the old Guide Rifle and meshed them with ballistic improvements and technological innovations to make a firearm worthy of another chance. I looked forward to giving it that chance on a Texas blackbuck!
I believe it’s time to remove the blackbuck antelope from the “exotics” category. The little immigrant from India isn’t hunted in its country of origin anymore. But the procreational feats of blackbucks are giving jackrabbits a run for their money in central Texas.
Since 1932, the year the blackbuck was sworn into U.S. citizenship, this tiny antelope has proven itself a quarry warier than the whitetail, as tasty as beef, and it has blessed us with perhaps the prettiest taxidermy ever to grace our trophy-room walls. That’s 73 years of being denied “native” status. I argue that the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders have only been in Texas since 1972, and they aren’t called “exotic” ... well, maybe sometimes.
The blackbuck seemed exotic when I first discovered their existence sometime in the 1970s. I’d requested a brochure about hunting deer in the Texas Hill Country. When the brochure arrived, my eye was instantly drawn to a photo of a tiny antelope with long corkscrew horns. “That’s the coolest animal in the whole world!” I thought.
I even brought the brochure to school and drew a picture (which I still have) of the enchanted creature. “I’m too little, but someday I will go to Texas and get me one,” I hoped.
In 2004, this 42-year-old kid was finally getting his chance.
The Diamond V Ranch
With Remington’s field-testing assignment in the works, I called my good friend and well-known wildlife consultant Jessie Jimenez about a good place to collect a sizable blackbuck. He described an immaculate ranch near Kerrville, Texas, which has an extraordinarily large population of blackbucks from 20 to 24 inches - exceptional trophies! It didn’t take much arm-twisting for me to agree that the Diamond V would be a great place to test the 6.5mm.
In November 2004, my boots finally hit Texas soil, and I saw firsthand that Jessie’s description of the Diamond V was accurate. It’s a gorgeous piece of property with ponds, grassy pastures, miles of oak trees, cactus, yucca and game at every turn. The lodge, bunkhouses and facilities were all new, and the cook, Butch Mize, was former president of the Lone Star Dutch Oven Society. I smiled upon realizing that I would not be losing weight on this trip!
The foreman, cook, guides and owner had anticipated my arrival and were anxious to cradle the 6.5mm only seconds after shaking my hand. After wiping their drool off it, we took the Remington to the range where my two test shots were touching at 100 yards. It was time to hunt!
Jessie and my buddy Stan Boone accompanied me on the back of a pickup, and we hurried to squeeze in an afternoon session. We immediately began spotting axis, sika, fallow and big white-tailed deer.
Soon, I saw my first blackbuck. He ran alongside of the truck, springing, playing and shaking his 20-inch horns. Stan said, “Get us to the stand!” We only had about an hour of blind time, but we saw several huge sika bucks, 10 whitetails and finally a lone blackbuck.
Jessie judged the ram to be 24 inches - world class - but the animal had approached from downwind and soon wagged his wary old tail “goodbye.” The next morning, we headed back to the same blind in hopes that “Mr. 24 Inches” would reappear.
Fog and tepid temperatures greeted us as a storm front approached. Somewhere in the pre-dawn fog, a sika bugled, and I held hope that the animals would not bed up all morning. By 8:30, we had seen several almost-shooter white-tailed bucks and an exceptional chocolate fallow deer, but no blackbucks.
While waiting, Jessie told Stan and me how aggressive and territorial blackbucks can be. He said the younger males usually force the older rams out of the herd, thus lone animals usually make the best trophies. Jessie also told us about the Diamond V’s foreman witnessing two young rams fighting. He later found them both dead, lying side by side.
Jessie was in the middle of explaining to us how most hunters settle for younger 18- to 19-inch rams when I suddenly spotted a shadow moving in the fog. We raised our binoculars and saw an old blackbuck ram materialize, ambling straight toward us. Jessie whispered, “Man, that’s a big one . . . not quite as long as the one yesterday, but he’s got much better mass!”
There was no need for Jessie to tell me that this was a keeper. I steadied the Guide Rifle on a brace and waited for a shot. Several times, with either sika or whitetails directly in the line of fire, the ram stopped to feed. He finally cleared at 110 yards and paused just long enough for me to hold midway up his shoulder and center the vertical reticle on his foreleg.
Animals scattered, but the blackbuck never took another step.
Stan said, “Great shot, dude!”
The creature from the 1970s brochure was finally mine, and I spent as much time as possible photographing and admiring the old warrior. Numerous scars were evidence that a younger ram had revoked his harem privileges. I realized that the Model 673 had performed perfectly, and Remington’s ammo didn’t blow a hole in my trophy. Although I’ve since received multiple offers to buy the rifle, I have to say sorry, boys. This one’s going in my gun cabinet.
Reprinted from the August 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine.