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By Jace Bauserman
William Clark called them “fast and fleet” when he first spied them along the Missouri River in September of 1804. Since that time, the pronghorn has been branded the spirit of the American West. If you haven’t hunted them, you need to plan a trip. Antelope are the perfect animal for a first-time westerner. If you have, a return trip is in order. You know your heart longs for optics filled by black horns, the sight of cedar-covered plateaus and sunsets that paint the horizon shades of orange, red and purple.
The logistics to pull off a successful pronghorn hunt don’t require a Harvard degree. States like South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming have solid numbers of speed goats. New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada have great populations as well, but tags can be a touch harder to pull due to trophy potential in some areas.
Visit state game and fish websites and start digesting info. Many states have hunt planners as well as maps showing public lands. Combine your game and fish research with some social media time. Look for those who live out West and have pictures of antelope on their pages. Don’t be afraid to message them and ask for some info. My advice is to have something to offer in return. If they are willing to provide some public-land pronghorn haunts, you should return the favor by pinning a few whitetail or turkey spots. I’ve developed some great friendships over the years using this technique.
Once you’ve narrowed your search, dive deeper. Look for population counts, harvest data, draw odds and the like by area. This information can be found, again, on state game and fish sites. It’s also a great idea to develop questions for the local biologist and give them a ring. Ask about predation, recent fawn counts, winter mortality and similar factors. These people are a bank of knowledge and they love to share. Most will turn you on to a good spot or two as well. If they don’t answer, leave a message and they will call you back.
Get the full western experience. Don’t go the hotel route. Pull your camper, use a tent or sleep on a cot under the stars. Not only will this save you some coin, but it adds to the authenticity of the experience. You can also keep costs down by staying out of town. Trips to town lead to restaurant eating, and restaurant eating boots the costs of the hunt. Plan all of your meals and snacks ahead of time and cook for yourself.
Side of good optics including binos, a spotter and a quality scope, you will need knee pads and leather gloves. Most western landscapes will prod and poke you, and the ground is often covered with skin-removing shale. I also recommend a good pair of snake boots. I’ve encountered plenty of prairie rattlesnakes, even in late October.
Now that you have the right gear, you need to shoot, and shoot and shoot some more. The West is open and vast, and cover is limited. Being able to reach out and pound hide at 400 yards is a staple to consistent success on the plains.
Get on a bench and spend time shooting at distance. Know how your rifle performs at distances between 100 and 400 yards. If you want to push the envelope and shoot farther, great. When you can regularly put a trio of rounds inside the circumference of a softball at 400 yards, you’re good.
After you’re grouping well on the bench, start practicing at distance off shooting sticks and from a pack while lying prone. Another great exercise is to run to the top of a hill, drop your pack, get prone and make a shot. You also need to know how your rifle/ammo combo performs in wind. The wind whips hard out West, and you need to know your wind holds.
Antelope aren’t hard to find. Once you locate a buck you want to go after, exercise patience. They have exceptional eyesight and can hit cheetah-like speeds. Tip your hand and your stalk will be over before it begins.
Use a combination of glassing from the vehicle as well as from small rises in the terrain. During most rifle seasons, trophy bucks will be with does. Breeding is still occurring, which means you’ll need to beat a bunch of eyes.
Watch the group until a few of the does bed. The more the better. If the buck beds, you’re really in the chips. When animals start to bed, it means they found a locale they want to hang out in for a while and are relaxed. Get the wind right and use any available cover to plan your approach.
Don’t get lazy! If the stalk requires you to crawl on your belly and not on your knees, do it. The eyes of a pronghorn miss nothing. Go slow, and if possible, wait on passing clouds to cast shadows. Shadows seem to really mess with the eyes of a pronghorn.
Only peek with your binos if you’re certain you won’t be seen. If you’re not certain, don’t peek. Just trust the stalk and believe in your heart and mind the herd will be there when you reach your destination.
You’ve just made a great stalk, don’t blow it now. Gather your composure, settle your crosshairs and make the shot. This moment can be reality. All it requires is planning, a little bit of specific gear and practice.
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