Bowhunting pronghorn antelope out West
By Amanda Caldwell and Abby Atol
Summer is here, and that lingering thought in the back of our minds rises to a whole new level of anticipation because we know hunting season is near. In Montana, archery season for deer and elk opens on the first Saturday in September, however, if you are among the rising number of applicants that put in for an archery pronghorn tag, hunting season starts even sooner, on August 15. It could be the excitement of getting into the field more than two weeks prior to the September opening fiasco, or the fact that you are stalking after one of the most challenging animals to get within archery range on. Either way, those who pursue antelope in the scorching August heat are passionate about the pursuit.
Pronghorn, also known as “antelope” or “speed goats,” are commonly known as the most difficult North American animal to spot and stalk archery hunt and for good reason. In this article, we will discuss the challenges of archery hunting antelope and go through a few steps we believe you can take to improve your chances of landing this beautiful animal.
The advice and tips you will read is what we have found to work for us in the field. You should do whatever works for you if you are successful that way. Circumstances are different every time you go out. The wind, time of day, animal wariness, lighting and weather conditions all play a part in how to approach the hunt. Yet while these variables are ever changing, certain things should stay the same and can help get you into lethal range.
Both sexes of pronghorn possess horns; however the horns developed by a doe will seldom exceed ear length while the average horn length of a buck is around 15 inches.
Facial markings of a buck include a dark brown stripe down the face with a dark, nearly black, patch on either side of his jowl, while does only have a small deep brown mark on lower half of their face.
A mature buck will weigh around 120 pounds with a height at the shoulder of just over three feet while a mature doe will scale around 90 pounds and stand less than three feet in height. Pronghorn have oversized windpipe, heart and lungs, which allows them to breath in an abundance of air when they are on the go. Having these features, along with their light bone structure, is why antelope are capable of reaching speeds of up to 60 mph. With their exceptional lung capacity, antelope are able to maintain speeds of 40 mph for several miles.
Before the Hunt
Practice shooting from a variety of positions such as sitting, leaning and kneeling, as well as holding your bow at full draw for an extended length of time. Also get comfortable shooting from longer distances. Your biggest supporter in the field is your confidence.
If hunting with a partner or group, agree on a plan and some hand signals before the hunt. Solo antelope hunting is fine, but having a partner is great when you get in close to shooting range.
There are two main challenges of spot and stalk antelope hunting. Antelope can see very far (8-10 zoom) and have wide peripheral vision. This makes sneaking up on them extremely difficult. Also, the terrain where antelope reside has low to no cover. Many antelope in Montana contain themselves to open fields so that they can see any danger.
You are not likely to shoot an antelope with a bow on your first, second, third and so on time out. This does not mean you are failing, it just means you are gaining the experience necessary to conquer your hunt.
First off, it is easier to hunt the lone buck than it is to hunt the buck with a herd of does. With antelope having great eyesight, hunting a herd of them is just adding more and more (unnecessary) difficulty into your spot and stalk hunt.
If you miss a chance at a shot, that means you succeeded in getting close enough to shoot. Good on you! That is not a failure; again, it is just more practice. If you spooked a herd, it just means you learned the hard way how easily these animals spook.
Crawling through prickly bushes in the blazing heat with rocks digging into your knees is tough. Be ready for that as well as an aching lower back from creeping along open terrain. It is all worth it to get in position for a shot on your pronghorn.
With that being said, if there is no chance of getting close to an antelope, instead of spooking it, consider it a lost cause and move on. There will be more antelope, and if you really need that one, leave it until circumstances are leaning more your way.
Sagebrush is my friend during antelope season. Combined with the right camo (we wear Sitka Gear), and your skill to be still, to the antelope, you are sagebrush too.
Antelope are unlike deer because they are not on a schedule. They wander around throughout the day, bed down whenever they want and drink whenever they want. As long as you do not spook them, most likely they will not go anywhere. Take your time. Move with purpose.
Binoculars are an extremely necessary tool in locating your antelope, and if you can use cover and keep an eye on the antelope that is great; however, when you get within shooting range, forget the binos and watch their movement through your rangefinder. We suggest this even if you are great at estimating distances.
After the Hunt
As soon as you shoot an antelope, the most important thing that needs to be done is getting the skin off of the meat – after that, the meat needs to come off of the bone. Antelope will taste gamey and sagey if not properly taken care of. Because pronghorn archery season takes place during the summer heat, the meat needs to be put in a cooler as soon as possible.
We hope the advice from this article gives readers some extra confidence going into the field, and raises excitement for women in the sport of bowhunting. Good luck on your antelope hunts this season!
Amanda Caldwell and Abby Atol are the cover girls of this issue! Check out more about them on page 8.