THROUGH THE BINOCULARS I see them: nine tiny men in bright jerseys running in formation across the vast short-grass prairie of eastern New Mexico. They're chasing a tawny pronghorn antelope through the crackling stalks of late summer's fading wild sunflowers. The buck weighs about 130 pounds, like the men racing after it, but that's about the only thing they have in common.
The pronghorn is the second-fastest animal on earth, while the men are merely elite marathon runners who are trying to verify a theory about human evolution. Some scientists believe that our ancestors evolved into endurance athletes in order to hunt quadrupeds by running them to exhaustion. If the theory holds up, the antelope I'm watching will eventually tire and the men will catch it. Then they'll have to decide whether to kill it for food or let it go.
"I've harvested a ton of pronghorn," bellows Peter Romero, a camo-clad, 260-pound New Mexican big-game guide who's standing next to me, squinting into a spotting scope. "But never this way." Romero, who speaks in the calibrated tongue of the modern sportsman, has "harvested" nearly every species in the New Mexico big-game handbook and isn't shy about showing off cell-phone pics of his trophies. He's also Outside's former building manager, and when he heard we wanted to see if a group of marathoners who live and train near 7,000-foot-high Santa Fe could catch an antelope, he offered to help.
Among other services, the tireless Romero showed the runners where to find antelope-hunting permits—they paid $985 for a tag on Craigslist—and explained a few laws the men would have to obey. They'd be required to stay within the roughly five square miles of ranchland we'd received permission to use, and they could pursue only a male antelope with horns taller than its ears. Assuming they actually succeeded in chasing a buck to the point of exhaustion and still felt the resolve to kill it, a licensed hunter would dispatch the animal with a pistol shot. The use of a gun or bow is required, since New Mexico doesn't allow human-hurled projectiles, sticks, or bare hands to be used as hunting weapons.
Andrew Musuva would have preferred a fist-size rock. That's what the 40-year-old Kenyan—who starred in a Subway commercial that aired ahead of last year's New York City Marathon—used to coldcock a kudu after a long chase 20 years ago in his home country. Because he's the only runner with experience in this enterprise, which is known as persistence hunting, he's become the group's unofficial leader. With him is his friend and co-conspirator Marc Esposito, a 33-year-old physical-therapy technician who's carrying his hunting license and Romero's handgun in his backpack.
"Not looking good," says Romero, eyeing the men. Perhaps sensing something suspicious, if not entirely threatening, the wary buck guns it, accelerates to 30 miles per hour—about half speed—and disappears into a wrinkle in the landscape. A few minutes later, around 1 P.M., three hunters from Hereford, Texas, drive up. Romero and I explain what's going on.
"I'm taking the four-legged son of a bitch with the white ass," one of them wagers.
"Give me ten to one and I'll take the Kenyans," says another, chuckling.