The unique, all-American pronghorn “antelope” is the perfect subject for anyone’s first western hunt. Pronghorns are common to abundant on private and public range lands. They are active all day in open country, so they are easy to find. Licenses, tags and hunt fees are among the least expensive in all of North American big game hunting. And, if you plan right, your western hunting adventure can include grouse hunting, coyote hunting, varmint shooting, and fishing.
More years ago than I care to admit, two friends and I indulged an early October Wyoming hunt for pronghorns. We bought our tags, knocked on a few ranch house doors, and gained permission to camp and hunt on private ground. Tom climbed atop one of those toadstool buttes, gazed west toward an endless horizon, and said “It’s so far I think I can behind me.”
At night our campfire sparked up to mingle with a billion galaxies. It snapped and crackled in counterpoint to a cacophony of coyotes. Woodsmoke perfumed the air with primal memories. No manmade lights, no traffic hum. It could have been 1805. We had rediscovered our hunting heritage, returned to the wild world from which we’d sprung.
At dawn we heard bucks snorting their territorial calls from distant ridge lines. Binoculars and spotting scopes revealed tall-horned bucks standing guard over flickering white herds of does and fawns foraging amid yellow grasses, gray-green sage. Short-horned younger bucks lurking on the edges tried sneaking in. The herd bucks charged them, startling the does into starbursts of white and tan.
“How can we get close enough?” Bob asked.
“We could hike way around and get behind that ridge, come at them from above,” I suggested.
“What about that draw we crossed driving in here last night?” Tom asked. “Some of those banks were six feet high. We get in the bottom of that and we’re as good as gophers, underground.”
Tom and Bob did just that while I stayed on a sidehill, back against a sage, watching with binocular and 30X telescope. The herd continued feeding along, spreading out, coming back together. Young bucks regularly tried cutting does out of the herd. The boss buck regularly ran them off. Two coyotes trotted through, trying hard to look overfed and disinterested, but the does watched alertly, skinny necks stretched high, fawns beside them. One rushed the nearest coyote, threatening him with a hoofing. This was the perfect distraction for Bob and Tom. By the time the herd knew two hunters were within 270 range, the shot was echoing out of the basin. The young bucks had the does all to themselves.
Too soon it was over. Within two days we’d shot tall-horned bucks, called in a few coyotes, picked off several dozen prairie dogs, and hooked a bunch of trout from a ranch pond. The quantities of cottontails we saw suggested we should have brought our 22 rimfires, too. The weekend hunt was as rewarding as a week or two in most other venues.
That’s typical of a well organized pronghorn hunt. Done right, it can be a wild west all-you-can-hunt buffet. Done wrong, however, it can be a major disappointment. The good old days of knocking on doors to gain trespass permission are gone. You don’t want to waste time spinning your wheels. You must either map out a hunt on public land (where you’ll have more company than you might want,) pay a rancher for the rights to hunt, or hire the services of a guide and outfitter. The latter is the easiest for first-timers. A guide will have the best hunting spots mapped out, the biggest bucks located, and the accommodations line out. They’ll also know the easiest way to get tags. Tags to hunt private land are often easier to obtain than public land tags.
Compared to an elk or even a mule deer hunt, a pronghorn hunt is relatively inexpensive. When planning a trip, here are things to consider:
1. Choose your kind of outfitter. Do you want to hunt from a tent camp and do your own cooking? Or stay in a rude cabin, old bunkhouse, ranch house or even in town at a motel? All are options.
2. Choose your kind of hunting. If you want to hike, glass, and stalk, don’t book with a guide who prefers to drive and scout from a vehicle. It’s important to match hunting styles.
4. Choose your terrain. Some pronghorn country is dead flat with short buffalo grass. Stalking there is tough. You might prefer more broken country with rolling hills, breaks and draws. Get a description from your potential outfitter and confirm it via Google Earth or topo maps.
5. Choose your habitat. Pronghorn thrive on wheat and alfalfa fields, but these add an atmosphere of civilization you might not welcome. Make sure your outfitter isn’t limited to hunting small parcels of farmed fields if you’ve a hankering to roam big, open country.
Since most first-time pronghorn hunters use a modern rifle, let’s quickly list some of the better options in rifles, cartridges and optics. Flat-shooting cartridges are useful in big, open, windy country. The 270 Winchester, 25-06 Remington and .243 Winchester are three of the best options. Any similar are equally good. The 7mm Rem. Mag. and 300 Win. Mag. shoot as flat, but both provide more power and bullet mass than is absolutely necessary. Don’t rule out the old 30-06 or 308 Winchester. Truly, with today’s superb long-range scopes and laser rangefinders, it’s possible to make nearly any rifle reach far enough in pronghorn country.
To defeat those big, western winds, shoot the highest B.C. bullet your rifle will stabilize. Then drive it as fast as safely possible. Considering getting and using a little anemometer — a wind meter that registers wind speed. Kestrel makes good ones. Take the time to learn and practice its proper use. Finally, stalk closer. The best way to minimize wind deflection is to get closer. A careful stalker can usually crawl within 200 yards of a pronghorn — and often much, much closer.
A 3-9x40mm riflescope is plenty for this work, but if you want more power, something that zooms as high as 18X can be useful. Huge objective lenses aren’t essential since most hunting will be done in bright daylight.
This is classic habitat for a 10X binocular, but an 8X can suffice and a 12X isn’t ridiculous. The binocular is for finding animals. If you want to size horns for trophy quality, you’ll need a spotting scope. The versatile 20-60X eyepiece is perfect. The larger the objective lens diameter the brighter the image, but a 65mm is usually sufficient.
Much pronghorn habitat is carpeted in rough gravel, spikey grasses, sharp weed seeds, and prickly pear cacti. None of this encourages good, low-level stalking. Leather gloves, knee pads, and tough, stiff canvas pants and jacket can really help you get close.
Bring a sharp skinning knife and flexible, fish-fillet boning knife. Shoot a pronghorn that is calm, skin it quickly, cool the meat immediately and you’ll find it — as I do — the finest venison in North America.
The North American Pronghorn is…
… not an antelope, but the last surviving member of the ancient Antilocapridae family.
… the only true horned animal that sheds and regrows its horn annually.
… the fastest land mammal in North America and second fastest, behind the cheetah, in the world.
… a browser more than grazer.
This post was written by Ron Spomer exclusively for this blog. Ron is an awesome outdoor writer, a great person, and a good friend of BookYourHunt.com. He had a great Russian spring bird hunt last year with an outfitter he had found on our online marketplace, and he wrote a very thorough and detailed story on how BookYourHunt.com works and why it’s a good idea to use it for booking hunts. And if his stories fire up your desire to pursue the pronghorn, the capercaillie, or just plain go hunting, remember that with BookYourHunt.com the hunt of your dreams is only a few mouse clicks away!