As a lifelong hunter and outdoor enthusiast, I’m always game for an adventure into wide open spaces. And for me, there’s nothing more thrilling than pursuing pronghorn antelope across the rugged sagebrush prairies of the American West.
These speedy creatures, often called “American antelope,” seem custom-designed for life on the plains. With their incredible vision, lighting-quick reflexes, and ability to sustain speed over mind-boggling distances, pronghorn is a challenging (and extremely rewarding) animal to hunt.
Over the years, I’ve learned a ton about how to hunt pronghorn successfully and ethically. Whether you’re a total beginner hoping to bag your first pronghorn or a seasoned veteran looking to sharpen your skills, I’m excited to share everything I’ve picked up.
In this guide, we’ll cover things like understanding pronghorn behavior patterns, choosing the right gear, mastering spotting and stalking techniques, using calling strategies, making accurate long-distance shots, and practicing ethical, sustainable hunting methods.
So come along as we venture into pronghorn territory! I can’t wait to break down this thrilling pursuit step-by-step. Let’s saddle up for an adventure in the wild west and experience the adrenaline rush of the pronghorn hunt!
Intro to Hunting Pronghorn Antelope
Before we dive into tactics and techniques, let’s get familiar with the unique animal we’ll be pursuing out on the plains. Here are some key facts about pronghorn antelope:
- Scientific Name: Antilocapra americana
- Size: 3-3.5 feet tall at the shoulder; weighs 90-140 lbs
- Identifying Traits: Stocky body, tan to reddish-brown coat, large white rump patch, black cheek patches, and horns on males
- Habitat: Grasslands, plains, prairies, and sagebrush deserts of western North America
- Diet: Grasses, forbs, shrubs, cacti
- Lifespan: 7-10 years in wild
- Notable Features: Incredible speed (can run 60 mph), keen vision, impressive jumping ability (up to 20 feet high)
Pronghorns are the fastest land mammal in North America and live in expansive open terrain. Their speed makes them notoriously challenging hunting targets. Compared to whitetail deer hunting, successfully taking a pronghorn requires different strategies and skills.
By understanding their habits, habitat, and behaviors, we can get a leg up in our pursuit. Now let’s jump into planning a proper hunt.
Planning Your Pronghorn Antelope Hunt
A successful pronghorn hunt starts with careful planning and preparation. Here are some key steps to plan out your hunt:
The western plains encompass a huge area, so first, decide which region best suits your hunt. Good options include:
- Wyoming – Abundant public land and high success rates
- New Mexico – Trophy-sized bucks in excellent pronghorn habitat
- Colorado – Large numbers of pronghorns and limited draws
- Montana – Varied terrain with prairies, badlands, and foothills
- Texas – Private ranches offering guided hunts
Ideally, plan your hunt during the peak of the pronghorn rut in September and October. Bucks are more active and visible during the breeding season.
Make sure to secure all required hunting permits and tags for the area you choose. Deadlines for drawings and lotteries can be early in the year.
If possible, visit your chosen hunting grounds in advance to scout and become familiar with the terrain and patterns of local pronghorn herds.
We’ll cover optimal gear for pronghorn hunting shortly. Make sure to test and prepare all equipment ahead of time.
Monitor weather reports closely as extremes can impact pronghorn movement and your ability to spot them.
Understanding Pronghorn Antelope Behavior and Habits
To hunt pronghorns successfully, you need an in-depth understanding of their behaviors, movement patterns, and habits. Here’s what you need to know:
Pronghorns migrate long distances between distinct summer and winter ranges. In summer, they graze at higher elevations and move to valleys and plains when the weather turns cold. Tracking these seasonal movements is key.
Outside the breeding season, pronghorns gather in same-sex herds—bucks in all-male bands and does in nursery herds with fawns. Lone pronghorns tend to be older, territorial males.
Pronghorns spend most daylight hours feeding on grasses, shrubs, cacti and other vegetation. They bed down to ruminate during mid-day and resume feeding by late afternoon.
Severe cold or heat alters pronghorn movement patterns. Bitterly cold weather forces them to seek shelter, while extreme heat limits feeding to morning and evening.
With eyes offering a 270° field of vision, pronghorns can detect movement 3-5 miles away! They prefer open areas with clear sight lines and rely on super-fast running to escape threats.
Pronghorns are easily alarmed and will rapidly flee from strange noises, scents, or sudden movements. Stealth and care are required when stalking close.
Now that we understand their habits and nature, we can use this knowledge to our advantage in the hunt.
Optimal Gear for Pronghorn Antelope Hunting
To match wits with pronghorns on their home turf, having the right gear can make all the difference on your hunt. Here are my top recommendations:
For pronghorn, I prefer high-velocity rifles in flat-shooting calibers like .25-06, .270 Winchester, or .300 Winchester Magnum. Bolt actions provide good accuracy.
Quality variable 3-10x or 4-12x scopes optimize visibility at long ranges. I suggest an objective lens of 40-44mm for optimal light transmission.
Carry shooting sticks or a bipod to stabilize your rifle for long shots across the prairie. They are essential gear.
A good laser rangefinder helps immensely with estimating distances for accurate shot placement. Don’t leave home without one!
Waterproof boots with ankle support are ideal for trekking the prairies. Choose muted hunting clothes in camo suited for the terrain.
Carry essentials (ammunition, binoculars, rangefinder, first aid kit, etc.) in a comfortable, durable backpack. Keep your hands free for shooting.
You’ll need a cooler and meat bags for transporting pronghorn meat after a successful harvest.
Spotting and stalking are vital skills for getting within shooting range of keen-eyed pronghorn antelope. Here are proven strategies:
Using quality binoculars or spotting scopes, systematically scan 360° around your vantage point to spot pronghorn movement. Their white rump stands out on the landscape. Spend at least 30 minutes perching and glassing in a promising area.
Once spotted, plan your stalk route using terrain, vegetation, or micro-features as cover. Keep low and move slowly, stopping frequently to scan and listen. Stay downwind and watch for their alert behavior. Take at least an hour to close the distance.
Decoys placed near water or food sources can draw in curious pronghorns for closer shot opportunities. Use decoys sparingly to avoid habituation.
Alternate glassing and stealthy stalking to methodically close the distance to pronghorn herds grazing or bedded on the plains. This takes patience, persistence, and care not to spook them.
With practice, you can master the spot and stalk approach.
Now let’s talk about utilizing calls to pull in wary pronghorn bucks during the exhilarating rut.
Calling in Rutting Pronghorn Antelope
During the September rut, calling becomes an extremely effective technique for attracting lovesick buck pronghorns within shooting range.
Pronghorns use unique vocalizations to communicate and locate mates. Calls that imitate breeding does or challenge rival males intrigue them.
Here are proven calling strategies:
Bleat calls mimicking an estrous doe grabs the attention of eager bucks looking to mate. Use estrus bleats very sparingly to avoid overusing them.
Grunt calls that sound like competing males challenging territorial boundaries often incite curious bucks to come to investigate the threat.
Nothing gets a mature buck’s attention faster than the distress call of a fawn. Use these cautiously, as bucks may hang up and not fully commit.
For best success, use a series of different calls in this order: estrus bleats, challenge grunts, distress fawn bleats. Allow time between sequences for responding bucks to close distance.
With the rut raging, calling can pull roaming pronghorn bucks within bow or gun range. But you still need razor-sharp shooting skills to make the most of these close opportunities when they present themselves.
You’ll likely have mere seconds to steady, aim, and squeeze the trigger once a sharp-eyed pronghorn steps into view. Mastering long-distance shooting is crucial. Here are my best tips:
When you spot one, consciously take slow, deep breaths while you ready your shot. This oxygenates your blood, steadies nerves, and prevents muscle tremors that impact accuracy.
Pronghorn often appear 200-400 yards away. Use your rangefinder and scope adjustments to account for bullet drop at long distances. Aim slightly above the center mass.
On the open plains, wind can strongly impact your shot’s accuracy. Observe flags or grass to gauge wind speed and direction. Adjust your aim accordingly.
Carry and use shooting sticks, bipods, or backpack rests to stabilize your rifle for the best accuracy at extended ranges. Don’t risk a hasty shot offhand.
You may only get one chance for an ethical shot, so make it count. Wait for a broadside or quartering away shots with a solid backstop and ranging under 300 yards.
With repetition and experience, you can become proficient in making long shots count on speedy, faraway pronghorns.
Field Care of Your Pronghorn Antelope Harvest
You’ve successfully harvested your pronghorn trophy after an intense spotted-and-stalked pursuit. Now it’s time to properly care for your hard-earned meat and antlers in the field. Here are the key steps:
Field dress the pronghorn immediately after the kill to cool the body cavity and prevent spoilage. Hang upside down if possible.
For a shoulder mount, carefully cape the antelope, leaving the horns and hide attached up to the bases. Keep the cape dry.
After skinning, quarter the carcass into sections small enough for packing out. Place in game bags to protect from dirt and debris.
Get quarters into a cooler with ice as soon as possible. Proper cooling preserves the quality of the lean venison.
Using a saw, remove the horns at the bases so you can pack them out whole for display. Avoid damaging the delicate prong tips.
With care and preparation, you can enjoy both trophy antlers and delicious pronghorn meat as rewards for your efforts.
As pronghorn antelope populations face habitat loss and other challenges, ethical and sustainable hunting practices are essential for their continued survival. Here are some key principles to uphold:
Fair chase means only taking shots you are capable of making and giving pursued animals a reasonable chance of escape. Avoid any perception of unfair advantage over your prey.
Follow all laws related to licensing, season dates,Tags rules, and limits. Practice restraint with your harvest, only taking what you reasonably need.
Minimize habitat disruption and pack out all trash. Use non-lead ammo to protect scavenging wildlife. Coordinate with landowners to access private property responsibly.
Get involved in habitat conservation efforts by volunteering, lobbying politicians, or donating to nonprofits working to preserve western lands and wildlife.
Lead by example, promoting safety, patience, marksmanship, and care for the quarry to instill ethical hunting values in younger generations.
By embracing fair chase and stewardship, we ensure exciting pronghorn hunts for the future.
To wrap up this guide, here are some final tips and resources to better prepare for your western plains adventure in pursuit of pronghorn antelope:
- Practice shooting at life-size pronghorn targets at 200, 300, and 400 yards to ensure accuracy at typical distances.
- Use topo maps, aerial imagery, and onX digital apps to scout hunting areas and identify terrain features to utilize.
- Talk to biologists from state wildlife agencies for insights on local pronghorn herds.
- Join Backcountry Hunters & Anglers for info on conservation, mentors, and public land resources.
- Be in top physical condition—you may need to trek 10+ miles a day spotting and stalking pronghorn.
I hope this guide has equipped you to head out into pronghorn territory ready for an amazing hunt. From optics and shooting skills to field care and ethics, you now have the insider knowledge to make your western hunt a rewarding, memorable experience. Good luck spotting and stalking those speedy pronghorn bucks!
Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.