August 08, 2022
The glow of the morning sun made the green vegetation around the waterhole shine. I had just taken off my long-sleeve black shirt as the temperature was steadily rising for the third day in a row, and I was seated comfortably in the shadows of my blind with a good book when I heard a slight splash of water. Leaning forward, I saw the unmistakably massive horns of one of the best antelope bucks I’d seen in the area.
My new longbow sat waiting with an arrow nocked. Slipping out of my chair and onto my knees, I quickly got my hand on my longbow’s grip and raised it for the shot. The buck was broadside, the bright sun illuminating his beautiful white-and-tan hide. For some reason, I was not rattled by the size of his dark-black horns. As I started to put tension on my string, something didn’t feel right, so I let up. With only 17 yards between me and my dream buck, I drew my bowstring back again with purpose and watched my white-fletched arrow fly.
For anyone traveling from parts unknown to the West, nothing says you’ve made it to this wonderful part of our country like the sight of a pronghorn antelope dashing through the sagebrush.
Mountain lions and bighorn sheep are rarely observed by the public, but everyone has seen an antelope. Yet there’s no state or national organization that honors or supports them. The elk and sheep get all the glory. Even ducks and pheasants garner national support by millions of hunters.
The pronghorn is one of a kind, only found in North America, and with no known relatives. I probably haven’t hunted them enough due to my desire to hunt other game in late-August and early September. So over the years, I’d squirreled away 12 points for antelope in Wyoming. I really wanted to hunt a spot with a chance at one of those coveted Wyoming monsters. The genetics of Wyoming are hard to beat, and I stumbled into a ranch with a history of having Boone and Crockett-caliber antelope, but the area had suffered an 80-percent decline two years prior due to a tough winter.
However, the ranch manager encouraged me to put in, as there were still a few big ones running around, so I kissed my 12 years of points goodbye. It was time to hunt Wyoming pronghorns again.
Larry Hanify, of A&H Archery, had crafted a lightweight longbow for me that I’d wanted for winter practice and archery shoots where I’d be shooting over 100 arrows a day. I never used it until the Colorado Traditional Archers Society High Country Shoot in 2021. The new bow was smooth, and several friends commented that I was shooting well. It was pleasant not to be fighting the poundage of my heavier bows, so I decided to carry it on my antelope hunt.
Antelope have long been considered the stepchildren of other Western big-game species. You almost never hear about someone saving for years to go on their dream hunt out west for antelope. As a result, over-the-counter licenses for antelope have been available in most Western states for most of my life. In the past, public lands had good pronghorn numbers, and securing permission on private ranches usually involved little more than a $50 trespass fee, or a bottle of the rancher’s favorite adult beverage. But things have changed, and draw tags in Wyoming and Colorado are now considered common.
In trophy areas, bowhunters now need as many points to hunt antelope as they would to draw an elk tag. Going antelope hunting every 10 or 15 years doesn’t sound so great. Nebraska, South Dakota, and Eastern Colorado still have OTC tags, but the numbers and trophy quality are not on par with the better units in Wyoming, Arizona, or New Mexico.
Unlike most species, you never read articles about the varying body sizes of antelope in various parts of North America, and I’ve never read about differing colorations or subspecies. They are a good-looking animal, and any well-traveled bowhunter should have an antelope shoulder mount on the wall. Just like mountain goats, their horns alone are not overly impressive — unless a hunter has spent considerable time hunting them. A couple of inches makes a big difference in the record books.
If a hunter is really into scoring and entering animals in the Pope & Young Club records, field-judging a pronghorn viewed through binoculars is a challenging feat. A quick examination involves estimating the length of the horns, guessing the mass in four locations, and figuring the length of the prongs. It may sound easy, but huge mass makes the horns look short, straight horns look longer than they really are, and heavily curved horns look short. Prongs higher on the horn may result in better mass measurements.
Antelope have one thing in common with black bears: If you can’t decide if it’s a big one, it’s not. However, if a goat or black bear makes you think or say, “Holy crap!” then you’d best nock an arrow and get ready.
The Wyoming draw for antelope currently starts on June 15. I had failed to draw several tags, so I went all in with my 12 points in an attempt to draw a tag on the private ranch I intended on hunting. Did I mention that points are purchased annually for only $31? I’d been buying points for years in hopes of drawing a tag in a trophy unit. I put in with my friend Tavis, and our combined points got us both tags. It doesn’t hurt to have a wingman when hunting the remote high deserts of Wyoming.
On opening morning I was carrying my virgin longbow to a hideaway overlooking a remote spring. The low light of predawn was just bright enough to complete a visual check of my blind for rattlesnakes. And in short order I was seated in my fancy new swivel chair. Comfort is king for an all-day sit.
A mule deer doe was the first visitor, with several more after her. It wasn’t until 9:25 a.m. that the first antelope buck came to water. He looked good, but with a full week off work and 12 points gone, I was determined to be patient and assess the situation for a few days.
The first-day jitters kept me busy — estimating yardages to various spots around the pond, trimming reeds in the water, adjusting windows, and deciding screen or no screen on my blind’s two major shooting holes. Once the antelope started coming in, they were fairly steady all day long. The temperature climbed by the hour to the low 90s. I read a book but was frequently disturbed by the sights and sounds of drinking antelope — a good problem to have. I saw a buck late in the afternoon that looked good, but I was convinced I hadn’t seen either of the two big ones I’d observed while scouting.
The alarm went off at 5 a.m. again the next day, and I was soon driving in the dark to the same blind. I had two other blinds, but opening day was so fun, I was hoping for a repeat. The deer watered first again, but the antelope activity started around 8:20 that morning.
Along about 10 a.m., two mature antelope bucks faced off 25 yards to the west of my position. They locked horns and went flat-out bonkers on each other. The only thing I can compare it to is two whitetail bucks in the middle of November. They pushed back and forth, dirt flying, snapping their locked horns left and right. When they separated, the buck on the right was missing a prong. I would have thought mid-August was too early for the rut, but these two bucks apparently already had a score to settle.
Every mature buck that piqued my interest got examined with my 10x50 Zeiss binoculars. The ranch manager said the horns were consistently short compared to New Mexico or Arizona bucks but had great prongs and mass. That was proving to be true, but not being an expert, and having been in the blind only two days, it was hard to evaluate just how much mass I was looking at. But as the sun moved to the west and lower in the sky, a fine buck came in with five does and fawns.
He looked to have excellent prongs that angled outward. With little thought, I got situated to draw on the buck. As is often the case, he was quartering to me at about 45 degrees. When he finally stepped away and hesitated on the bank of dirt above the pond, I drew; however, an angling window seam covered a portion of his upper body and I had to lean back in my chair to see his chest. It didn’t feel right, so I let up and watched the buck walk off. There is always another day, and he was too nice a buck for me to risk an awkward shot.
The Tuesday morning forecast was for rainstorms on Wednesday and Thursday. Tuesday was to be clear and in the 90s for the third day in a row. I eased my truck to my hidden parking spot, pulled out my Block target, and then shot eight practice arrows in the early light of the day. It never hurts to loosen up and go through the mechanics of the shot. By now, I had a favorite trail down the ridge to my waiting blind. The reeds were just right. I took down the screens on both the left and right shooting holes.
The mental game gets better a few days into a hunt. The routine and focus on the ultimate goal develop, and a hunt plan with ample days means there’s no rush, so it’s possible to live in the moment. I am not a big-time trophy hunter, but knowing that I may never have the opportunity to hunt such a coveted unit in Wyoming again had me focused on killing a truly great pronghorn buck.
As in prior days, the mule deer trickled into the spring early. Surprisingly, the antelope, including several decent bucks, started to show up at 7:30 a.m. I stuck to my routine of glassing every set of horns that showed merit.
At 8:30 a.m., I was just getting settled in and starting to read a book when I heard the water splash. As described earlier, I soon was on my knees picking the spot on the sunbathed hide of an excellent buck with several companions.
The white fletching looked as if it had flown straight to the exact spot I’d focused on, and water sprayed everywhere as the buck exited the spring. He barely made it 35 yards before going down. I sat quietly, shaking with adrenaline-filled veins. The now non-virgin longbow had proven itself on my biggest pronghorn buck ever. Apparently, a 47-pound draw weight is plenty…
The author is an attorney in Colorado, and he’s the first and only bowhunter to complete the Super Slam of North American big game with a longbow.
On this hunt, I shot a 47-pound, 64-inch ACS takedown longbow (aharchery.com), Carbon Express Heritage 150 arrows, and Razorcap broadheads. Other important gear included a Primos The Club XXL blind, Browning Huntsman chair, KUIU Tiburon clothes, and sandals for long, hot days.