As this writer discovers, the biggest pronghorn isn't always the biggest trophy.
My 2007 pronghorn, while not as big as many of the other bucks on the ranch, was unique, with horn tips that almost touched.
HE WAS A WEIRD ANTELOPE. His odd appearance immediately grabbed my attention while I was out scouting for bucks with Conrad, the landowner. In the past, I had bagged some dandy Pope and Young pronghorns on this ranch, located only 45 minutes from my Colorado Springs home. Although this old boy was not huge, he was unique. Right from the start, I wanted him, regardless of his potential score. I estimated his horns at only 13 inches, but he was quite striking, with tips that flared inward and nearly touched.
"There are bigger goats around this year," Conrad assured me. "That one won't rank high in the record book."
I shrugged. We had been driving around for several hours and had seen some nice bucks in the 14 to 15-inch range. But this was the one I wanted. There was no doubt in my mind.
"He's cool looking," I responded. "I'd love to take him."
All of the antelope I'd taken on Conrad's property were similar -- they all had heavy horns, 14 to 15 inches long, with broad prongs. They were all big, classic bucks. This year, I was thrilled to find something different.
In my youth, as a budding archer, I looked up to older, more experienced bowmen. They always seemed to have knowledge and wisdom that could teach me things about life. And, generally, over time, this proved to be the case. But there were exceptions, and on rare occasions, my elders disappointed me. One very early encounter, in particular, had a lasting impact.
At the impressionable age of 11, I was strolling around my hometown of Mil-waukee, Wisconsin, on a beautiful autumn morning when I noticed a whitetail deer carcass hanging from a tree in someone's backyard. I paused for a minute to admire the buck from a distance, and as I stood there, an old man stepped out of the house.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
I shook my head. "No, I was just looking at that deer. He's really nice."
The guy was friendly enough, and he invited me into his yard for a closer look. He told me the story of how he had arrowed the deer by sneaking around the dense woods of northern Wisconsin. Then he started skinning the critter.
"Someday," I confided, "I'd love to get a big buck like that."
"Nah, he's just a small 8-pointer," the old man said, smacking the deer carcass and making the gambrel sway. "He's a runt. Next year he might have been something decent."
I was appalled. To me, that buck was awesome, but the old man irreverently diminished its value. Shame on him, I thought. Even at my young age, I understood that every animal should be shown appropriate respect. The old man, I figured, was not setting a very good example for youngsters like me.
We've all heard the expression, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and that definitely holds true for game animals. What one person considers a trophy might be unremarkable to another person, and vice versa.
Not every head on my wall qualifies for the Pope and Young record book, but each mount tells the story of a memorable hunt and a unique animal. As far as I'm concerned, that's a big part of what makes a trophy -- enshrining one specific animal as a representation, a reminder, of a great outdoor experience.
On any pronghorn hunt, glassing is the first and most important step in locating and evaluating bucks.
Conrad is a terrific guy, and I consider him a true friend, not just another landowner. He likes to see me succeed. But we don't always agree on what constitutes success. Whenever I hunt his ranch, he wants me to take the biggest pronghorn out there.
In 2007, it was clear that plenty of nice bucks roamed his property. For whatever reason, he disapproved of the peculiar, narrow buck I had targeted. Maybe it was the way the buck's horns tipped inward, the very quality that fascinated me.
Undeniably, he would not score high, and the narrow spread made him look all the less impressive. If I killed that particular buck, Conrad obviously would not be too enthusiastic about it. Still, I've never been one to succumb to peer pressure. So if I got a chance at the oddball buck, I would definitely try for him. However, since he acted pretty spooky and was probably unstalkable, my chances of getting him were small. Luck would have to play a big part.
DURING MY FIRST DAY on the ranch, Conrad and I continued to scout until dusk. We found numerous mature bucks, and one of them really impressed my friend.
"Check out those prongs," Conrad urged me, squinting through his spotting scope. "And look at the mass! His bases must be seven inches!"
I raised my binoculars. Indeed, this one was a real beauty, but he did not deter me from thinking about the oddball buck. Conrad nudged me with his elbow.
"He seems pretty calm," the cowboy said. "I think you could slip up on him right now, if you wanted."
I shook my head. "Let's look around some more."
Conrad was adamant. "You won't find a better one. That buck's horns are at least 15 inches long."
"I'll pass," I said casually. "It's early in the hunt. There's plenty of time."
After assessing several more bucks, we called it quits for the day. Bedding down in my tent that night, I had one thing on my mind. Would I ever find the unique 13-incher with the narrow spread again?
MOST YEARS, MY COLORADO pronghorn hunt starts out the same way. After arriving at my destination, I set up camp and begin glassing as soon as possible to evaluate my prospects. I spend hours driving ranch roads and looking at antelope through binoculars and a spotting scope. The only way to size up potential targets is with quality optics. Once I have a good idea of the type of animal I'd like to go after, I then plan my strategy.
Well, in 2007, I had just begun considering possible strategies to make a play on the oddball buck when events suddenly unfolded and took me by surprise.
It was the second afternoon of my hunt, and I was hiking over a small hill behind camp when I noticed the oddball buck off in the distance, standing on the other side of a cattle fence, posing there like a statue. I flopped down onto my belly, hoping he had not seen me. Every now and then, he swiveled his head to survey the pasture around him.
My mind started racing to devise a possible stalking route. If I could crawl to the fence without being detected, I might be able to stay hidden on my final approach behind a wall of tumbleweeds lodged against the fence, by the wind.
Good gear always helps.
I started slithering, and after reaching the fence I crawled behind the tumbleweeds for about 200 yards. The pronghorn maintained his regal pose. His sharp eyes did not detect me.
Drawing even with him, I peered through the fence, estimated the distance, nocked an arrow, and took a deep breath. Slowly I drew my bow to full draw and rose into shooting position. The buck remained facing away. Holding the sight pin tight behind his shoulder, I let the arrow fly. The buck piled up in no time.
In general, while antelope hunting, I have sat in blinds for days or executed countless stalks before my efforts have paid off. But on this hunt, luck was on my side. How else could my hunt have ended so soon, and without a single hitch? I was flabbergasted.
"I'm just a lucky guy this year," I said to myself. Things had played out perfectly.
After field-dressing the buck, I did something I don't usually do. I dug a tape measure out of my fannypack and took some quick measurements. The buck's horns were only 13 inches long, his prongs were nothing special, and most importantly, he had almost no tip-to-tip spread. But in my eyes, that uncommon feature was exactly what made the buck a trophy.
"Only two inches," I whispered to myself, amazed. This buck was indeed a unique specimen.
Just then, Conrad drove up in his flatbed truck and jumped out. He was about to rain on my parade, but that was okay. I wouldn't mind a little drizzle.
Conrad was gruff and seemed disappointed as he spoke. "He's much smaller than the other goats we found yesterday," he said.
"That's right," I admitted, putting away the tape measure. Then I smiled broadly. At that moment, I felt like the luckiest man alive.
Author's Notes:For this hunt, I used a Hoyt Vectrix set a 65 pounds draw weight, Easton Axis arrows, Fuse Kumasi broadheads, Pentax 10x50 DCF ED binoculars, a Pentax PF-63 spotting scope, and Rocky boots.
The author is a true antelope fanatic from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has had several features published in the pages of Bowhunter Magazine.