August 31, 2022
By Frank Noska
The very first Pope and Young animal I ever harvested was a pronghorn antelope in Wyoming, in 1994. After that, I bowhunted pronghorns somewhere in the Southwest nearly every year. It became a “starter-type” hunt, prior to longer elk and mule deer hunts.
When I moved to Alaska in 2001, I had arrowed 11 P&Y pronghorn bucks. Alaska would keep me immersed and busy, researching and learning all the difficult logistics necessary to bowhunt there, and many seasons would pass before I would get back to the sagebrush country that the pronghorn calls home.
In 2021, I managed to put three pronghorn tags in my pocket: One for Oregon, one for Colorado, and a third for Wyoming. I planned to hunt the farthest destination first, and then hunt my way back eastward. Leaving Kansas City, in the F-250 truck I use for my Midwest Kansas whitetail hunting, I headed to Oregon first. On that long drive to my Oregon unit, I could not help but be excited about all the pronghorn hunting I had ahead of me.
There was a particularly large buck I was after in Oregon. A local farmer there had told me about this buck and had committed to helping me find him. This was Plan A for my Oregon hunt. The farmer and I spent more than a week together covering all of the big buck’s range, trying to find him. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. Before the search for this phantom buck had begun, I had set up a pop-up blind on a waterhole in another part of the unit as a backup plan. This watering source was being heavily used by several antelope, so after not finding the big buck, I switched to Plan B.
As I walked to the blind for the first time, just after daylight, I could see several antelope off in the distance. I had barely settled into the blind when the first antelope started coming in to drink. The action continued throughout the day, and I eventually lost count of the number of pronghorns that came in to drink from the waterhole. A couple of good bucks came in, but as luck would have it, they watered at the farthest spot from the blind. I knew that it would be only a matter of time before a mature buck would show up and present me with a good shot opportunity.
Finally, a buck came into view that got my heart rate up, and he was headed in my direction. Instead of watering at the close spot I had hoped he would, he continued walking and chose to drink a bit farther away. The buck was still well within my effective bow range…or so I thought.
I don’t really know what happened when my arrow left the blind. Either the antelope moved, or I made a bad shot. I suspect it was the latter — “operator error,” as I like to call it. When that big buck ran off unscathed, I couldn’t help but have a case of the bowhunter blues. However, as I walked away from the blind that evening, the number of antelope I’d seen over the course of the day gave me high hopes for what the next day would bring.
On Day Two, it wasn’t long before the antelope action started. It was the kind of action I experienced during my first pronghorn hunting days back in the mid-90s. Watching multiple antelope coming in and out of bow range throughout the day is a total blast!
Around midday, a mature buck with beautiful heart-shaped horns materialized. By the time I got myself positioned with my bow in the blind, he was watering directly in front of me, broadside. I already knew the exact yardage from using my rangefinder on prominent markings around the waterhole.
Settling my sight pin behind the buck’s shoulder, all I had to do was execute a good shot. As I focused at full draw, my arrow left the shooting hole of the blind in a flash. When the pronghorn moved to start running away, I could see my arrow buried in the mud of the pond. It had been a good shot with a complete pass-through. The buck only went about 150 yards before piling up dead. I had my first Oregon pronghorn, and the first leg of my three-legged adventure was complete. After taking care of the meat, taking down the blind, and packing my truck, I was ready to start driving east to Colorado. It was August 11, 2021.
While driving to Colorado, so many bowhunting memories came to mind. It was exactly what I used to do every year when I lived in Texas — take off with a loaded truck, a pocket full of licenses and tags, to bowhunt multiple states and species. As the miles rolled by, I reminisced about past bowhunts…but I also was thinking about how and where I would hunt pronghorns in Colorado. Based on previous scouting and past hunts in this same unit, I had a good idea where I wanted to start.
Once I got settled into my camp, I quickly went to the best waterhole I knew and set up a blind. I wanted to put it up as early as I could, so the antelope could start acclimating to it.
Next I went to explore and look for other waterholes I had identified from looking at maps at home. The first couple of waterholes I went to either already had a blind on them or were dry. Then I navigated down a small two-track road that I had never been down before and discovered a great spot. It was a small waterhole that would present a close-range shot, no matter where the antelope watered, and it had plenty of antelope tracks around it. As a bonus, it also had some trees and brush that would provide a little shade for my blind.
I got another blind out of my truck and staked it down under some overhanging tree branches. While driving out, I spotted a herd of antelope in the sagebrush, not too far away. Stopping my truck and focusing my binoculars on them, I could see that there was a mature buck in this group of about 10 antelope. The waterhole where I’d just put my blind was the only water around for miles, so I knew that there was a pretty good chance that this herd of antelope would eventually show up there to drink.
I prefer to set up my blinds a few days before I intend to hunt them, but with the way that this last blind tucked nicely into the shadow of trees and brush, I figured the antelope wouldn’t notice the blind. That evening, I finished out the day shooting a few practice arrows at camp while anticipating the first hunting day in Colorado.
Having sat in lots of antelope blinds in my life, I have to say that this one was a dandy. The closest water was only 10 yards, and the farthest was 28 yards. The shade and concealment provided by the trees was ideal, and there was no other water close by.
After getting in the blind that next morning, I arranged my bow and gear the way that I always do, and the wait began. At least a dozen antelope came to water, but no shooter bucks.
The second day was much the same, but I could see dark clouds forming off in the distance. Next came the thunder, and shortly after, heavy rain was falling in the desert — exactly what you do not want on a waterhole hunt for pronghorns! I just barely made it to the asphalt road without getting my F-250 stuck in the mud. With standing water all over the ground, waterhole hunting was over for at least a few days.
So for the next two days I traveled the asphalt roads in the unit, looking for bucks to stalk. It is amazing how fast the sun can dry up the desert. Just three days after that heavy thunderstorm, the roads were dry and dusty again. It was time to go back and hunt my shady blind setup.
I was reading a book when I was suddenly startled by the sound of hooves on ground. Looking out of the blind, I saw antelope running in from every direction to drink. Quickly grabbing my bow and scanning the waterhole, I could see that the mature buck that I had seen the first day was in the herd. There was no mistaking his long, black horns.
The antelope were moving around so much, that it was difficult to keep them all straight. Finally, my target buck stopped to drink. Antelope were standing all around him, so there was no way to shoot. Once antelope drink, they often exit the area in an instant. Everything happens fast on these waterholes, so I knew my window of opportunity would be narrow.
At full draw now, I concentrated on the mature buck’s vitals, while also watching and waiting for the other antelope to move and give me a clear shot. They finally moved just enough to give me the small opening I needed.
I promptly released a good arrow, which entered the buck and lodged in his offside shoulder. When the buck ran over the dam of the pond at 30 yards, I could no longer see him, so I quietly got out of the blind and slowly stalked up the rising terrain of the dam. It was there that I quickly spotted the buck lying dead, only 30 yards away. My Colorado pronghorn tag was filled with an action-packed ending on August 18, 2021.
While success is usually high on pronghorn bowhunts, there are definitely no guarantees. Driving into Wyoming, I wondered if my luck would continue. This part of Wyoming, around Casper, had experienced some above-average rainfall, so the waterholes were not being used as much as normal. Some antelope were still coming to drink, but not as consistently as they would have been in a dry year.
As I approached my hunting area, I saw several antelope from my truck, which was comforting.
Throughout the first day of my Wyoming hunt, the antelope moved across the landscape, in and out of sight. From one direction, a single pronghorn buck appeared and was keenly interested in the water where I was sitting. Closer and closer he came. I studied him through my binoculars and decided if he came in and gave me a good shot, I was going to take him.
The buck slowly fed closer to my position. It took a while, but eventually he was drinking in front of me at less than 20 yards. When I released my arrow, I had no doubts that I’d just taken my third and final pronghorn buck of the 2021 season.
Spending time in the sagebrush, in three states, was a lot of fun. It was good to get back to my roots in the high desert and bowhunt pronghorns again. It brought back pleasant memories, and I fulfilled my goal of completing a “tri-state triple” in one year.
The author is one of the most accomplished bowhunters in North America, having completed two full archery Super Slams, and he’s working on his third.
I am accustomed to bowhunting a lot out of pop-up blinds and enjoy it. I did it early in my bowhunting career and continue to do it to this day. While it is an extremely effective method for pronghorns and other big game, I also know that it is not for everyone. Just this past season, I spent 26 full days hunting from a blind for Coues deer in Mexico, which I’ll admit is a bit excessive, even for me.
On these hunts I used a Mathews bow, Victory arrows, Rage broadheads, Schaffer sight, B3 Archery release, Primos Double Bull blinds, KUIU clothing, and Kenetrek boots.