Most Midwest and Eastern hunters want to travel West to hunt something other than whitetails at least once in their lives. They usually choose elk or mule deer and an awful lot of them only go once. This might be partly due to the time and expense, but also tends to result from a physical butt-kicking that only a mountain can deliver.
Those same hunters might have been better off planning an antelope hunting trip first. Pronghorns allow you to ease into the western hunting experience, which is not a luxury elk afford us. Antelope also happen to be some of the most fun to hunt because they are usually easy to find and once found, exist in solid populations.
Anyone who has sat on the side of a near-vertical mountain basin and stared across a sea of quakies and dark timber and wondered if there is a single elk within hearing distance knows what I’m talking about. Antelope don’t play that game. They live in the open and they are confident that even if you see them, you’re really no danger because they can see you better, and run way faster.
If you’re considering an antelope excursion, rest assured that you’ll have fun. You’ll also have to recalibrate the part of your brain that makes the hunting decisions and stows away all of the years of deer hunting experience into usable memories. An antelope hunt is nothing like a whitetail hunt.
A New Level Of Boredom
Imagine sitting in an upper-level college course on the finer aspects of business accounting while wearing a straightjacket and as soon as the class ends, a new one begins. Now imagine that the class is being taught by a monotone-speaking geek who spends his days thinking about tax code. Imagine that this scenario is going to play out for, say, 14 hours.
That’s what sitting in an antelope blind can be like. Torture. Pure torture. Popping a blind up next to a waterhole can be a great way to get a sweet 25-yard shot and kill a goat, but it’s generally a pretty horrible way to spend the day. If you think sitting in a whitetail stand listening to squirrels run around in the leaves is boring, I’m here to tell you that that is like Mardi Gras compared to an antelope blind.
If hiking miles isn’t your thing and you have a huge capacity for boredom, go ahead and park your butt next to a stock tank. If not, don’t fret. Antelope will give you a chance for excitement.
The Belly Crawl
Pronghorns spend a lot of time living in places where there is no cover. This is no accident and makes spotting and stalking them really difficult. The good thing is, they are usually visible. This means that although you’ll blow nearly every stalk you attempt, you’ll probably attempt a lot of them.
I would say that I might get a shot once out of every 15 or 20 times I try to crawl into range of a goat. It’s reality, but you might get five good stalks in during a single day. And although the terrain will look pool-table flat and just as featureless, you can bet there are folds in the landscape that will hide a belly-crawling hunter. There is also the chance they might bed on the far side of a patch of wild sunflowers or in the middle of some knee-high sage brush.
It’s not easy, but it sure is fun. And if you happen to arrow any goat this way, you can breathe easy knowing that you’ve got far more skills (or are luckier) than most bowhunters out there.
If you plan an antelope trip right around the beginning to the middle of September, you’ll have a chance to put a decoy to use. There are few things more fun than when antelope are rutting hard and willing to charge a decoy. The key to this tactic is to get fairly close to a buck before popping the decoy up. Close with antelope is anything under about 200 yards. An interloper that shows his spindly horns 1000 yards away is no threat to steal a real goat’s girlfriends, so you need to get closer.
When they do come charging in you’ll need two things — a rangefinder and a willingness to shoot two or three times as far as you would in the whitetail woods. Accuracy out to 50 or 60 yards is a necessity when decoying antelope. There’s no way around that if you’re on limited time and hunting anything but primo ground. The good thing is that once a goat commits, he’ll most likely get within your effective range and stick around long enough for you to pop a reading and draw your bow.
Naturally, this is much easier to accomplish when hunting with a buddy. Simply switch off as the shooter for every other opportunity and you’ll realize that the average decoy setup is more exciting than about 97-percent of all deer hunts.
Good Goats Versus All Goats
If you’re heading out on your first antelope trip, don’t trophy hunt. You won’t like it, and you probably won’t kill one. Pronghorns are hard to arrow, and holding out for a 78-inch beast is a recipe for a crappy trip. I live in Minnesota, which means the nearest antelope opportunities are at least eight to 10 hours from my house. That also means I might get four or five days a season to hunt them.
I stalk every antelope that is legal and in a position to be stalked. I also try to decoy every buck I can. I’d decoy does as well, but they don’t seem to tolerate decoys at all. In fact, my favorite antelope are young bucks in groups or solo. They are dumb and curious, which are two traits I prefer in my quarry.
And I like to eat antelope, a lot. Some people claim they are no good as table fare, but those folks most likely didn’t take care of their antelope correctly. If you make a good shot and get the animal pieced out and on ice relatively quickly, it’s pretty hard to find better wild game short of axis deer.
If you’re a whitetail hunter looking for western adventure that won’t require the expense, physical conditioning, and time of a mule deer or elk foray, consider antelope. Just remember that pronghorns are nothing like whitetails. They are different and should be hunted so. If you do, you just might find that you’re enjoying all-day hunts crawling amongst the prairie rattlers trying to trick any antelope.