Jagged pinnacles and rolling parapets of the Davis Mountains rose from shimmering plains before us. Grumbling and fitful black thunderheads snuck up from behind. Beneath, timeless desert prairie whizzed below a rumbling state-of-the-art four-stroke. Coveys of blue quail dashed and buzzed at our approach, and a regal bald eagle drifted on the edge of stall just above man-tall mesquite, trying to catch a jack-bunny in mid-fatal-mistake.
We were frustrated hunters, too. Then, beside me at the wheel of the Rhino, Mr. Martin Ross stomped on the binders, shot his left arm off the port bow, and barked “Pronghorn!”
I yanked three solid pounds of the genius of Carl Zeiss from the dustless depths under my shirt and slammed them into my goggles. Just as the West Texas plains came into 10x focus, a tawny and white blur disappeared over a berm. We were off to the races!
Ross knows these sprawling cattle ranches and dug out, describing a looping two-track arc to a place of interception maybe a mile ahead. Fellow hunter Ron Canfield, who had been shadowing us for 10 miles, pulled up on his 550 Grizzly. I drew a rifle from its rack-mounted boot and moved into position, doing and thinking 10 things at once, including working the bolt handle, rehearsing my strategy, wiping vagrant drops of rain from the scope lens, and watching for rattlers.
From behind a clump of cacti, the antelope appeared.
Moments like this are why we hunters live, of course. The countless dollars, hours, and miles we invest in our hunting come down to fleeting seconds of exhilaration, the proverbial moments of truth. My heart pounded harder with every yard the stately pronghorn approached. I tried to control my panting with little success. The safety seemed to snick off from a mile away as the wavering crosshairs slowed, and settled, and locked in.
And then I heard — not the booming report of the 6.5mm Ruger in my hands — but my own voice. I said, “Nah.”
Texas-Size Field Test
My adventure had begun months ago with discussions among several of us to field test gear in the not just real, but real demanding conditions of a safari to West Texas. There would be Yamahas, Rugers and Zeiss in the ATV, rifle and binocs departments; new camo duds from Under Armour, sizzling new ammo from Hornady, scopes by Trijicon and lighting courtesy Surefire. Six veteran outdoor writers and several company reps would run the stuff through its paces, have a good time, and hopefully collect some horn.
Excitement was high as we gathered at base camp, consisting of a rustic chuck wagon setup in rare shade beneath a sprawling live oak against one of the Davis Mountain goliath monuments of stone. We wasted little time gobbling breakfast, then fired up the machines.
It didn’t take long to see this hunt was custom-made for four-wheelers. All around, sprawling mesquite flats seemed to extend forever until suddenly coming up hard against the distant buttes. Our hunting area had been described in terms of square miles, and Ross, our guide, said we’d start out in one particular “pasture.” This pasture was 10,000 acres!
There was ground to cover and we were doing it with Canfield on the Grizz, Ross skippering the Rhino, and me at shotgun with game-spotting duties. Ten miles into the “empty” desert we had experienced an amazing amount of life. Those quail, that eagle, and occasional jackrabbits. A trophy-class mule deer buck, bedded beneath a mesquite bush, had tried to stick it out and let us pass, then lost his nerve and sprang suddenly in front of us. He was awesome!
We rumbled along another couple of desert miles. Then came “Pronghorn!”
This was our objective, but after careful studying I reluctantly passed; he was not quite trophy caliber and who wants to end a hunt in its second hour? Canfield declined too and we turned our rigs back west, into a spitting rain and rising thunderhead.
Rain that would set local records increased into the afternoon, diminishing our ability to spot game, soaking us to the skin. I was getting cold enough to affect my shooting, but not enough to run for camp, when a distant patch of white caught my eye. In antelope hunting, white is what you want. We headed for it.
Too Many Pronghorn
On our approach, the white patches slowly transformed into the attractive markings of pronghorn. But it was too much of a good thing. This was a big herd, and as with most game, the larger the numbers the spookier they are, and they disappeared into the mesquite woodwork.
After some maneuvering we got them back in sight, circled out front, and set up.
“There’s at least five shooter bucks in that bunch!” Ross said from under his binoculars. I pulled out my Zeiss and tried to sort them out while planning my moves. I was watching two of the big ones start clashing horns when another decided to watch, too. Nice one. Broadside. I found a rest for my rifle, settled in, and touched off.
The buck toppled in his tracks. I walked over. I knelt to touch his ebony horns and admire his handsome coat, then looked up across the stormy West Texas Plains, and smiled into the pouring rain.
Our Desert Safari
Along with elk and mule deer, pronghorn are among the Big 3 big game animals of the American West. “Speed goats,” so called as they are the fastest runners on the continent, are the favorite of many hunters, so visible, yet so challenging, and strikingly beautiful.
It was funny to hear several hunting experts in camp say, “Up till now, I didn’t even know they had pronghorn in Texas.” We found they were not only here, but in remarkable numbers, largely protected by vast private land hunted only by a few clients of our outfitters, Desert Safaris.
Click here for more info on hunting with Desert Safaris.
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Mike Strandlund is the late editor of Bowhunting World Magazine and bowhuntingworld.com, and is a member of the National Bowhunters Hall of Fame. We continue to run his insights into bowhunting to help others, which Mike would have loved.