Antelope By Bow: Part 1

I’ve had a long love affair with the king of the prairie — the pronghorn antelope. I’ve come to believe that the singularity of the creature, the spectacular scenery he inhabits, and the fascinating hunting methods employed to pursue him are among the best things going in bowhunting.

Best of all, there are several intriguing ways to bowhunt the prairie speedster. In Part 1, I’ll describe some blind-hunting tactics, and in Part 2, get into the more aggressive approaches to bowhunting antelope.

Waterhole Watching
If you endeavor to acquire one of these handsome trophies, chances are you’ll make your effort from the edge of a waterhole.

Waterhole watching is a pleasant, easy means of hunting. On a good range with the right conditions, hunting water for antelope is the easiest way in bowhunting to get a buck in the book.

The best way to bowhunt waterholes is from a pit. Constructed correctly, it will keep you cool, comfortable, and totally out of sight.

In an area where water sources are scarce, locate a pond antelope have been using. Judging by the freshest goat-like tracks, pick a spot in a sloping bank within bow range of the place they prefer to drink. Sun direction is more important than wind direction; the afternoon rays must not shine into the pit.

If the bank is nearly vertical, you can just dig a “cave” with the opening facing the direction you want to shoot. If it’s flat, you’ll have to cover the top and back of the pit with a framework and vegetation such as sagebrush.

Make A Pit Blind
A right, tight pit blind will be dark inside and impossible for antelope to see into, because their eyes will be adjusted for the bright light of the open prairie. With complete, dark camouflage, you’ll be able to move slowly, even with no cover in front of you, 20 yards from antelope without being seen.

If digging is prohibited or impossible, you have a couple other options. You can build an aboveground blind, or maybe hunt from a windmill over a stock tank. Even though antelope are preyed upon regularly by eagles, they are nearly oblivious to danger from above. Some hunters even set up their own windmills — either actual windmill towers or a tower stand — and find the new structure with a hunter on top doesn’t bother the animals one bit.

Sometimes you’ll find that a large pond antelope have been using is a great blind site in all respects except that the animals don’t funnel to any particular spot; they may water at any point on the perimeter. To set up a sure, close shot, you can build a simple funnel to guide them into range. Set up your blind on the side of the pond antelope seem to approach from most frequently. Using a few stakes or steel fenceposts and rope such as clothesline, build your “fence” out from the waterhole 100 yards or so and ending at the edge of the pond 20 yards from your blind. You’ll find antelope are reluctant to cross any fence-like obstacle unless it is absolutely necessary; they will tend to follow it right into range.

While waterhole hunting can be a pushover, sometimes it’s impossible. If it’s been raining, antelope will much rather drink fresh rainwater from puddles than risk their necks on treks to choke down the algae soup at waterholes, where they know danger lurks. In that case, you’ll have to find another way to hunt them.

Mark Byers with a beautiful antelope he took at a waterhole in Wyoming.

The Shade Stand
One of the most novel ways of hunting antelope is the shade stand, a method that, as far as I know, a friend and I invented. The concept is based on the principle that there is only one desirable commodity on the arid prairie scarcer than water, and that is shade. Anyone who has spent any time watching antelope in the hot days of August and early September will notice that during the day, they gravitate to any type of shade that does not compromise their eyesight advantage. While they stay away from trees because that makes them more vulnerable to predators, they crave the scant shade provided by structures such as windmills and utility poles.

A friend of mine and I were scouting a Colorado ranch and, upon noticing this behavior, got the idea of hunting near the shade of powerline poles. Because antelope could choose from any of hundreds of poles, we improved one by attaching a few sheets of plywood to the angle-iron supports 20 feet up. Immediately below it, we attached an elevated stand, knowing that if the hunter was in the shade, too, he would be harder to see and more comfortable.

I knew it would take awhile for the antelope to get used to using the spot. Regretfully, I had to leave for home before I could try the new hunting method. But last I spoke with my friend, he reported the shade attracts antelope like a magnet in hot, sunny weather. He shot a record book buck midmorning on the opening day. The very next day he checked with binoculars and the shade was again being enjoyed by a bunch of big bucks!

Fence Crossings
Strange as it may sound, another occasional rarity for the prairie goats is a place to walk. Rangeland may look like wide open spaces to us, but to a traveling antelope, a good fence is like the Great Wall of China. Some antelope jump fences; most don’t. They prefer to go under or through, and get in the habit of using certain spots where crossing is easier. These, then, make good stand sites.

Find crossings by walking fences and looking for a concentration of tracks and scuffmarks. You’ll usually find this sign at points where there is a gap in the wire, a washout beneath the bottom wire, or maybe a strand or two missing. Since tumbleweeds and dead sagebrush blow around on the prairie and tend to get stuck in fences, a fenceline blind built of this dead vegetation can be inconspicuous. Place it within sure shooting distance of the crossing with sun and wind in your favor.

Even at a good crossing, action can be dead slow. Sometimes a drive of sorts will work; hunters team up, one alerting the antelope and trying to encourage them to use the fence crossing being guarded by a companion.

This action-type of antelope hunting is the approach I prefer. I like the excitement and challenge of hunting antelope aggressively. There are several other action-oriented alternatives to hunting antelope that we’ll get into in Part 2.

Please read more tips in Part 2.

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