September 29, 2014
There is a reason that most outdoor television shows feature antelope hunts filmed from the confines of a hub-style blind positioned on a water source. This is by far the easiest way to kill an antelope, especially with a hunter and a cameraman. There is nothing wrong with hunting this way; however, if you're into challenging yourself to see just how good of a hunter you really are, there is a better option — spot-and-stalk.
Going one-on-one with pronghorns on their own turf is a serious challenge. The bowhunter who can consistently get into shooting range of any antelope in this manner can rest confident that any time he inhales, what fills his lungs is nothing short of the most rarified of air.
This is not to say that spotting and stalking antelope is impossible; it's not. It's just difficult — really difficult. Of course, it's also far more enjoyable than sitting in a sweltering blind counting the beads of sweat dripping down your butt-crack while vultures volplane from the sky hoping to get their beaks on your bones as soon as the heat finally sucks the last bit of moisture from your skin.
If you like the idea of matching wits with antelope amongst the sage, consider the following tips for increasing your odds of success.
Bow-killing a speed goat on his own terms sans the use of a box blind on a water hole is a tough proposition. You'll catch a glimpse of retreating diaper-butts far more often than you'll launch an arrow lungward. That's the nature of this particular beast and it's a bad idea to dwell on the failures because they will stack up quickly.
For every successful stalk, expect at least a dozen failures, maybe more. Maybe many, many more. Fortunately, stalking antelope is a lot of fun and if you keep the attitude on the positive side, you'll get it right. Let the goats get to you and it may never happen.
Avoid The Roads
Antelope hunters are road hunters. This is due to the fact that antelope are the easiest of all big game animals to lay eyes on. Most hunters don't see any reason to leave the truck unless a good goat has already been spotted via the cab of said pick-up.
Antelope, especially public-land dwellers
, know the truck trick well and will start to use areas where the constant creeping of 4x4s doesn't exist. Find spots where good ol' fashioned boot leather is necessary for hunting and you'll find good numbers of antelope.
For some reason, about one out of every 20 antelope will do something really stupid when they spot you. Instead of flashing a white derriere, they'll walk or run closer to get a better look. Whenever you get busted during a stalk, or perhaps while simply walking across the prairie, nock an arrow and get your rangefinder
in your hand.
It's a low odds deal, but you never know when the antelope that lays eyes on you at 600 yards will sprint in to 50. If he does, you need to range him and get ready because he might turn and give you a chance.
Got Cover? Use It
Antelope are notorious for living where the best cover is a sage bush here, a slight depression there
. In other words, they shun most places where predators can get close. That doesn't mean they don't make mistakes, because they do.
Antelope can be found in areas with terrain relief, or cover more suited to mule deer
. Locate the goats living in such places and you've given yourself a better chance to get close. Antelope, being antelope, are still hard to approach but the right plant growth or terrain feature can give you an edge.
Getting into bow range of any antelope
involves beating the best eyes in the business. Because of this, the more eyes you have to beat, the lower your odds will be. This means that it's always a good idea to look for a loner. Sure, he may not be the 15-inch tall monster
hanging out with a dozen ladies, but the respectable 12 incher that spends his days friendless is a much better bet.
Find him, watch him and move in when he beds, or feeds into a position where his vision will be obstructed enough for an approach. Loners are the most killable antelope on the prairie
Like a 25-year-old Goth devotee still living in his parents' basement, some antelope are lost causes. This is not to say that there are pronghorns out there bemoaning their existence, but that some of them just spend their time in places that are virtually unapproachable to the bowhunter. Rifle toting hunters, sure. Bowhunters and their need to get truly close, not-so-much.
Be honest about the lay of the land and the chances to creep in close. It doesn't take much to encourage me to stalk an antelope but there are just some situations where it's not going to happen. Recognize this and move on to a better stalk.
Being a native Minnesotan, I've never met an antelope that I didn't want to shoot. Okay, maybe the young-of-the-year goats fit into the category, but any antelope that has already had his first birthday looks awful good to me. Because of this, I stalk nearly every legal antelope I see.
Trophy is in the eye of the beholder, and besides a few of your buddies, no one cares what you shoot besides you. Hunt for fun and give yourself a shot at success. Any antelope taken through true spot-and-stalk is a trophy anyway, and a hell of a lot harder to come by than many of the mature whitetails I've killed over the years.
The Right Prep
If you've spent all summer shooting at typical whitetail shot distances while standing flat-footed in Crocs and khaki shorts, you're going to miss your antelope. Before heading west spend hours shooting at long distances from your butt and your knees.
Some zen master bowhunters will claim their shots are always close on antelope, but for most of us, the average distance will be double that of your average whitetail opportunity. Prepare yourself for that reality and you'll be much more confident when it comes time to settle your pin on the brown-and-white hair covering an antelope's vitals.
Understand The Eyes
Antelope eyesight is the stuff of superheroes. Eight to 10 times magnification, which is to put it simply, binocular vision, means they'll spot you before you can get close nearly every single time you stalk them. There is a blind spot in those super-charged peepers though, and that is when you get close.
Antelope aren't use to predators being inside of their comfort zone and they'll often look right past you once you get close enough to fling an arrow. Because of this, if you should happen to crawl in close, take your time with the shot and make the most of your hard-won opportunity.
Wait For It, Wait For It...
Antelope, unlike deer, are content to mill around and feed all day long. This doesn't mean they are on their feet the entire time the sun is shining. They will feed for extended periods of time and then bed down for a while. The times when they bed down give the stalking bowhunter his best chance of closing in.
Just like when stalking mule deer, a bedded target animal removes a very important variable in all stalks — the continual position of the animal. If you take your time to watch an antelope or small herd
, wait until they bed. That could be by far your best chance of army crawling within bow range.