Most every hunter from the Eastern United States dreams of a big game hunt in the West. You can certainly go for the big guys such as elk, mule deer and moose, but to my mind a good species to start with is the pronghorn or antelope. Licenses are relatively easy to obtain, success rates are high, and you only really need two or three days off work to enjoy a great pronghorn hunt!
Here are 20 tips I’ve learned from hunting antelope throughout the West for more than 30 years. Hopefully they’ll help make your introduction to pronghorn hunting a smooth one.
1. Choose a location with lots of animals. Wyoming has the most antelope. Montana and Colorado are also tops spots, followed by New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Nevada, and South Dakota.
2. Try to avoid areas with endless stretches of flat terrain and also regions with sparse antelope populations. The most enjoyable and exciting hunts are in areas with some hills and broken stalking cover and lots of animals.
3. If you have time, scout the area before the season to pinpoint where water holes are. Those are great spots to set up a blind for an ambush hunt with a bow or crossbow.
4. Ridges and rough hills are good places to start your search for a stalk hunt. Antelope use these areas regularly, and once the shooting starts, even more of them move to this craggy, broken habitat to escape pressure in flatter, more open terrain. These elevated areas also offer a tactical advantage of increased visibility for spotting game.
5. When glassing from high locations such as ridges and plateaus, be sure to stay slightly below the peak so you’re not sky-lighted and easily visible to the antelope. Stay just down from the top, and then glass all the territory you can see. Use binoculars, then a spotting scope for more detailed analysis if you find animals. I like 10 or 12 power binoculars for the vast country you have to scour to find a good pronghorn buck. If you have 8 power binoculars, though, those will certainly work.
6. When searching for pronghorns, pay particular attention to draws, swales, small bowls, and coulees. These are features you can’t see with a casual glance, but they stand out clearly with good optics. Every one of these spots can be good locations to locate an isolated band of pronghorn or a lone buck that was chased out of a more accessible area by vehicle hunters.
7. After you spot a good buck, take time to plan your strategy. If the antelope are moving towards you, just hunker down, find a good rest and wait. If they’re moving away, calculate your stalk to try to head them off. Plan a circling route that puts you near an ambush spot slightly ahead of them.
8. Try to find animals that are feeding leisurely and ready to bed down or already bedded. That way you can be pretty sure they’ll be in that spot after you sneak into range out of sight. Use dry creek beds, small knolls and ridges to slip around and get within range where you feel comfortable shooting, typically around 100- to 300 yards.
9. Always work into or across wind, so the animals don’t smell you. If you have to make some of the stalk in sight, get down low, kneeling or crawling on your belly if necessary. Wearing knee pads helps protect you from cactus and stickers. When you get close, check the distance with a rangefinder, take a rest and carefully squeeze off.
10. Pace yourself if you’re hunting on foot. Don’t try to cover too much territory. Moving too fast is a sure way to spook antelope. Slip up carefully to each new area you approach and glass it thoroughly before moving on.
11. The best hunting for antelope occurs during the first and last two hours of daylight. Pronghorns are moving then, easy to spot and less wary than they are during midday.
12. Get in shape before your hunt with lots of walking and a thorough exercise program. If you’re more than 30, have a physical before the hunt.
13. If you’re driving through your hunting area and see a good buck, don’t stop the truck to look it over or try a stalk. Rather, keep driving until you are out of the pronghorn’s sight. Then park the rig and slip back to where you can get a better look or plan a stalk. If you stop the truck in view of the animal, it will become suspicious and probably leave the area or at least be more wary and difficult to approach.
14. Break in your boots before the hunt so they won’t chafe your feet or cause blisters. Bring a fresh pair of socks in your pack to change to at midday. It does wonders for the feet.
15. Get maps and apply for licenses well ahead of time. Most states have drawings for different areas, but leftover tags are sometimes available right before the season opens.
16. Sight in your rifle for 200 yards and practice long distance shooting at the range, out to 300 yards. Also pack a bipod or shooting sticks to steady your aim. There won’t be any trees to lean against out on the prairie.
17. Pack a rangefinder or buy binoculars that have one built in. It’s hard to judge distances in flat open country.
18. While they are physically capable of jumping fences, pronghorn don’t like to and will tend to crawl under at certain spots on a regular basis, often where low strand of wire is missing. Look for hair on the lowest wire and fresh tracks. Take a stand downwind and out of sight as far away as you can shoot with your firearm or bow and wait patiently. A buck or whole herd could show up at any time. If you’re hunting with a partner, this is also a good funnel spot for him to “bump” a herd in an open area towards, so you can get a shot.
19. Carry these essential extra gear items: compass, GPS unit, plenty of water, a non-perishable lunch, cell phone or two-way radio, sunscreen, survival kit.
20. When trying to judge the score of an antelope, consider all of the elements that are included. Measurements are taken of the length of the horns, the length of the prongs and the mass or circumference. That last item is measured at the base and three other locations, making it particularly important. An antelope that measures in the 70s is considered an exceptional buck by most hunters.
Good luck with your hunt and if you have some success … please submit it to our Trophy Gallery!
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