August 18, 2015
Antelope hunts can take many shapes for the open-minded bowhunter. Watch Tony Peterson put an arrow through an antelope while horse hunting in this clip from Bowhunter TV.
I partially blame outdoor television for the general lack of interest in antelope hunting. It's far easier to arrow an antelope on camera from a pop-up blind on a waterhole than it is to crawl into bow-range, so we are subjected to the same type of antelope show over and over.
And no matter how much fancy editing is done, it's still pretty boring to see a bunch of cutaways of some dude sweating in a blind and telling the viewers how hard he is working at killing an antelope. Then the goat shows up, slurps some water, and catches an arrow in his chest. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This also leaves plenty of first-timers on the antelope prairie thinking they too need to sit in a blind to kill an antelope. This belief leads to a couple of quick speed scouting missions where pond edges are scoured for heart-shaped antelope tracks. It also leads to a lot of frustration as far as antelope hunting is concerned. Water-hole hunting is mentally draining and often unproductive, especially if you don't have the means to scout before your hunt.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to kill a goat. And if you're dead-set on shooting one on a prairie pond, that's okay. We'll cover that method too.
A Desert Oasis
Okay, let's get it out of the way. Water-hole hunting depends on a few things. The first is finding water the antelope are actually using because not all ponds are created equal. Tucked away seeps or small ponds, well away from the visibility of road-traveling scouters, are ideal. Both can be found by scouting via aerial photos
Large ponds will also draw thirsty goats, but they are much harder to hunt. I've spent limited time in ground blinds hunting antelope, but I can say this — if this is your chosen method start working on your mental fortitude now. A good method for this would be to sit in your room and stare at the walls for roughly 10 hours or so without interruption. To make it more realistic, shut the air conditioner off and put on a snowsuit.
A couple of years ago I hunted public-land in South Dakota for antelope and had vowed to sit in a blind since I only had three days to hunt. After 12 hours the first day, a large prairie-dwelling spider crawled up the side of my blind. Then a garter snake slithered in and tried to eat him. I took that as a sign that it was time to spot-and-stalk, and I've never looked back. Plus, I had devoted WAY too much time to thinking about just how the hell muskrats and turtles find tiny ponds in the middle of the prairie.
I know bowhunters who have climbed windmills or found alfalfa fields to set treestands on for antelope. Pronghorns can be ambushed via aerial perches, and they can be ambushed by natural ground blinds set in the right spot. Antelope are very predictable, and if you see them go through a gate or under a busted fence today, they probably will repeat that pattern tomorrow. This requires observation, but can result in a close-up encounter with an unsuspecting goat.
If your other attempts fail, this can be a good plan but it can also be as boring as waterhole hunting. Hunters traveling west from the midwest or the east, who have grown up on whitetails, would always be wise to at least consider an ambush style hunt. It's not as intense as decoy or spotting and stalking, but can get fun in a hurry when an antelope breaks the horizon and starts walking in your direction.
If you time your hunt in say mid-September, you might be able to decoy an antelope into range. When things are really heating up, bucks will spend a lot of their day rounding up does and chasing off interlopers. A portable small-buck decoy that suddenly shows up 150 yards from a ticked-off goat might elicit a charge. This is best conducted with two hunters so one can handle the decoy and a rangefinder and the other can shoot. When it works, it's some of the most fun you'll ever have while bowhunting.
If your mid-September schedules calls for whitetails or maybe elk, and doesn't leave room for antelope don't fret. You can bust out decoys during August as well, or even October if you can find a state that is still open to bowhunting.
Cow decoys can work as well, but in my experience, they are best used to cover open ground at a distance like those times in a stalk where you just need to cross 50 yards of open ground to get to the next cover. Antelope put up with that well enough, but not so much when a cow gets too close. It can be done, but don't expect to be able to march right up on a feeding goat with a cow decoy. Use some subtlety, play the angles, and you might be able to squeeze into shooting range.
If voluntary blind confinement is not your thing, and you're not sold on your stalking abilities, finding an outfit that offers horse hunts might be a good option. I've done this twice and can say that it might be the easiest way to earn a shot at a goat, and I use the word 'earn' loosely.
Antelope that spend their days cavorting with horses get awful use to them, and don't pay them too much attention if you sneak behind a horse into range of them. It's a truly unique experience. I spent a total of two days hunting this way and killed two antelope, so I'll probably never do it again but it's a great way to embark on an inexpensive, guided hunt, that will get you flinging arrows across the prairie.
The Belly Crawl
My favorite way to hunt antelope is by spot-and-stalk. The reasons for this are many, but two stand out. The first is that it's a true bowhunting challenge. We don't often hear about how hard it is to hunt antelope this way because most hunters don't do it, but I'm here to tell you it's no joke. Plan on plenty of stalks before you're anywhere near arrow-launching range.
The second reason I love to spot-and-stalk antelope is they are terrible at hiding, much like my three-year old daughters. They stand right out in the open, or bed on open hillsides (antelope, not my kids), and they are visible from a long ways off. You're always in the game, at least from the angle that finding antelope is not difficult at all. Planning a route that will lead you to them undetected is a much different story. And then, of course, keeping your head together throughout the shot should you actually belly crawl your way into range is another story. But man, it's fun.