Solutions For A Successful Pronghorn Hunt
When I watched my first archery pronghorn, scramble away from the waterhole at full speed and fall at the top of a low prairie rise, I couldn’t have been more excited. To a longtime whitetail bowhunter, the sight was as exotic as arrowing an impala in Africa – new prey against a new backdrop. Since that day I’ve taken pronghorn by bow from behind decoys, in spot and stalk, and at waterholes, and each time the antelope have taught me something new.
Pronghorn hunting with a bow can be tough, yet ridiculously easy, all in the same hunt. There certainly are mistakes to be made, I know, because I’ve stumbled over most of them. Most of my mistakes came from a misunderstanding of the pronghorn’s habits and behaviors, as well as what it took to bag a trophy goat on open prairie.1)Overestimating The
Pronghorns have tremendous distance vision suited to their wide-open country. Their speed and ability to cover long distances is remarkable. Many hunters might think the pronghorn is impossible to hunt in the open, but antelope do not possess any magical abilities. They can be hunted by spot and stalk methods, and are particularly vulnerable to decoy hunting during the rut. Their own confidence on open ground often proves their greatest weakness. Solution: Take advantage of the pronghorn’s relaxed nature on open ground, by getting in position with spot and stalk tactics or decoy hunting
during the rut.
2)Thinking Like A Whitetail Hunter
Because pronghorns are most commonly shot over waterholes, it’s easy to think of the ambush in the same way we think of tree stand or ground blind hunting for whitetails. Whitetails are preoccupied in most trail hunting scenarios, while pronghorns coming to water are extremely focused. Pronghorns expect danger at the waterhole, especially a waterhole with a blind present. A buck may be alone, but more commonly he will be in the presence of does and fawns, lots of extra eyes and ears. Patience is key here because the buck needs to be committed to drinking. From first sighting to actual shot opportunity may span a nerve-wracking period of time, sometimes the better part of an hour. Solution: Remain well hidden in the shadows of the blind. Wait for a buck to put his head down and commit to drinking for the best shot-opportunity. A quick aim and steady shot must follow.
While it is true that pronghorn are vulnerable at water, the waterhole hunter needs dry weather for success. Dry weather forces antelope to drink at one of only a few water sources. On the other hand, wet weather will spread pronghorn over wider areas and eliminate the need for waterhole visits. Pronghorn can find sheet water, seeps and even water formed in tiny pools on rocks to quench their thirst in wet times. Many hunters still insist on wasting time at waterholes during such periods, and unscrupulous outfitters may sit hunters in waterhole blinds giving false hope rather than doing the real work of spot and stalk hunting. Solution: When wet weather comes, don’t bother with water, get right out and scout for spot and stalk opportunities. 4)Overlooking Good Country
When viewing the Great Plains, it’s easy to see the land as vast, flat and unproductive for bowhunting. Endless short grass and unbroken vistas are daunting to the bowhunter. But the flatness can be an illusion. In truth, most of the western plains and prairies contain rises, shallow valleys, cuts, dry creeks and low hills. Plenty of places to hide pronghorn as well as bowhunters who view the landscape from only a few feet off the ground.
Solution: Learn to pick apart the subtleties of the landscape from a distance with good binoculars. In good antelope country, dive in and start hiking to look for a potential spot and stalk. Animals may be hidden behind contours closer than first imagined.
Most of the shots I’ve taken at pronghorn average about 45 yards. I killed one of my nicest bucks at a range of 30 yards on a windy spot and stalk hunt, but I’d call that unusual, and lucky. Many bowhunters don’t prepare properly for pronghorn hunting ranges, or the awkward positions they might find themselves in when shooting. Solution: Practice should be at 50 to 60 yards at a small kill zone. This added distance makes the 45-yard shot much easier. Practice shooting from one knee and from both knees, as well as from a squatting-on-the-knees position, the
same way you might find yourself shooting from behind a decoy or at the end of a stalk.
Most hunters tend to think of pronghorns as bigger than they actually are, thus making them seem farther away than they really are. Snap shots made without rangefinder information often send the arrow OVER a pronghorn’s back. Solution: Think of a pronghorn doe as about the same body size as a coyote. Bucks are only slightly larger. When estimating the distance to a pronghorn, take about five yards off your best guess. 7)Leaving The Decoy At Home
Many hunters venture into pronghorn country with waterhole hunting in mind and spot and stalk hunting in reserve. Because it may not be the pronghorn rut, they fail to bring a decoy. It is a fact that the best time to decoy an antelope is during the pronghorn rut, beginning during the third week of September in most of their range. But spot and stalk hunters can benefit greatly from a decoy. Imagine this scenario: You’ve just watched a group of does and a big buck bed on a prairie rise. You see an easy end-around stalk up the backside of the hill, but once you get there, how are you going to rise up for a shot without spooking one of the many animals. Solution: Pop up a decoy anytime you get within range of a herd and have to make a move. The decoy will alert the herd, but should not alarm them. Now just rise to one knee and shoot from around the decoy. 8)Misjudging Bucks
Most bowhunters would like to see their pronghorn buck make the record book. Unfortunately, hunters may fail to look with a discerning eye when a buck finally does show at a waterhole or approaching a decoy. The minimum archery book score for a pronghorn is 67 inches. Solution: Bucks that have horns about twice as long as their ears with strong prongs and well-turned hooks at their tips should easily make the archery record book. 9)The Wrong Decoy
Antelope decoys come in buck and doe forms, but many hunters simply use only a doe decoy at all times. A doe decoy will attract bachelor or satellite, bucks, but is less likely to bring in a herd buck. Solution: Some older decoys like the Mel Dutton model (sometimes found used on the internet) can be rigged with a folding horn to represent buck or doe. When challenging a herd buck, it is best to use a buck decoy. When intercepting a satellite buck, a doe decoy is best. When used as a stalking tool for last minute pop-up (only when absolutely necessary to save a stalk), I prefer a doe decoy. 10)Misunderstanding
The Herd Buck
A pronghorn herd buck very often has trophy potential and owns a complex set of rut behaviors not fully understood by some bowhunters. When a herd buck is seen disappearing over the rise chasing an intruding buck, some hunters give up the cause and move on, just when their best opportunity may be presenting itself. Solution: Herd bucks, with their fleet feet, can cover a mile in less than a minute and will often do so in pursuit of a lesser buck. This is a prime opportunity for the bowhunter with a decoy, because the buck will always return to his does. Locate yourself and the buck decoy, between the does and where the buck was last seen. When he returns there is a good chance he’s going to charge within range of the perceived interloper
11)Shooting Too Quickly
Because of modern rangefinders, guessing distance to a buck is no longer necessary in most situations. As a result, the most common shooting error today is the rushed shot. It is true that a buck at a waterhole is only going to hold for so long, but the hunter should have time to place his pin and make a well-rehearsed shot. Spot and stalk bucks require a timely shot also. The most daunting is the decoying buck that stands and looks directly at the decoy (hunter). A most common reaction is to loose the string too quickly. Solution: Bowshots at decoying bucks do not require rushing. Surprisingly, movement behind or just outside the margins of the decoy, seems to only make the buck more curious. Being in the open, the buck is not threatened by the “other” buck, the decoy. In this situation, take the time needed to be sure the correct pin is on the animal and that your form is perfect. If the buck does move, he’s likely only going to move a few yards horizontally, right or left, before standing again. Take your time.
A Strange New World
Entering the prairie domain of the pronghorn is like entering a strange new world for whitetail and elk bowhunters, but antelope hunting with bow and arrow is much less difficult than it first appears. Patience and persistence are rewarded for those who take the time to learn the habits and behaviors of pronghorn.
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