July 26, 2021
Pronghorn are my passion, and for the past 20-plus years, I’ve chased these fleet-footed plains dwellers across the West. During my prairie tenure, I’ve killed speed goats with just about every method possible — waterhole, spot-and-stalk, fence crossing, and decoying — to name a few. Water is, without question, the most efficient way to get the job done, but you arrived at your pronghorn hunting grounds and found summer rains were generous to the region. Or, perhaps, when you reached your destination, the heavens opened, water spilled, and the following days' forecast looks dismal.
Don't panic. You're just going to have to get it done another way, and when it comes to the prince of the plains, there are numerous techniques you can put to practice.
Spot & Stalk
Don't waste a single minute sitting water if the prairie's drowning in it. It's time to spot-and-stalk, and the great thing about this tactic, side of being an absolute blast, is you can do it from dawn to dusk.
The West is full of hills, rises, and plateaus, and this is where you'll want to be that first morning. Be sure a quality pair of binoculars are around your neck — nothing under 10 power — and have a good spotting scope. As the sun comes up, your job is to grid the prairie. Pronghorn often standout like a sore thumb, and if you've done your homework and put yourself in a populated area, you should have multiple bucks insight in no time.
Stay patient, but remain aggressive. Let me explain. Shadows and lowlight conditions hinder a pronghorn's vision a tad, and if you can make an early move, you may get away with more than you think. If a buck moves into a dip, rise, or small gully and you believe you have a window, go. I've killed a lot of pronghorn by getting ultra-aggressive.
Another time to press, especially during periods of a lowlight, is if you catch a roamer buck trolling between doe herds. This is common pre-rut, and if you can predict his path of travel, move quickly, and use the terrain to your advantage, you can get in a position to make a shot.
Those are aggressive situations. However, when spotting-and-stalking pronghorn, you have to know when to hold em' and when to fold em'. If your target buck is with a group of does in the middle of a bald, open space, don't push it. If you have your eye on a lone buck, but the cover between you and him isn't suitable for a stalk, stay patient. Pronghorn move and bed often throughout the day. They aren't like high-country mule deer that select a bed and usually stay in that bed for hours on end. I've watched herds bed for five minutes during the heat of the day, then, for no reason, stand up, walk two miles and then bunk down again.
Chances are good if you stay on a herd, bachelor group, or lone buck with your glass, they will wander into a stalkable area. Once they do, use your binos to take a good inventory of the terrain between you and the goat(s). Next, pull up a digital mapping app like HuntStand or OnX and mark your current position as well as the position of your target. Zoom in on the aerial image and give it a scan. Drop a few pins in locations you know you need to get to. All of this data will be crucial once you start your stalk. You can watch your map instead of being like a prairie dog, poking your head up every few seconds. Now slip on some knee pads and leather gloves — cactus suck — and start your stalk.
During the stalk, stay positive. Believe it's going to work out, and don't take a single shortcut. If you have to belly-craw for 100 yards, do it. Don't simply hunch over. Shortcuts lead to you getting busted and the sight of diaper butts sprinting away from you. Put in the work. If it's hot and the stalk is long, stop to rest and hydrate. Stay sharp. Anytime you get passing clouds to cover the sun, move. Remember, shadows are a good thing.
Once you get within effective bow range, slow down. This is where lots of stalks get blown. If the buck is alone and bedded, wait for him to stand. Don't whistle or throw something. You've done the work. Who cares if you have to bake in the sun for a few hours. If you get the buck up, he's going to stand and face you. Pronghorn are tawny creatures, and you shouldn't take a frontal shot. After he stands, he will stomp his foot, blow at you — possibly walk a few yards in your direction — then run. Let him stand on his own and draw in one fluid motion. Settle your pin and execute.
If you're in range of a bachelor herd or a group that is up and feeding, stay low in cover and relax. Wait for heads to be down feeding or looking away from you before you try and draw. Antelope have 300-degree vision. That leaves you 60 degrees to play with. That's not much, but if you stay calm and patient and wait for your moment, you can get it done.
Lastly, when it comes to spot-and-stalk, stay positive. Most stalks will fail, and that's just part of the game. Your goal should be to average three quality stalks per day. If you do that, eventually, the stars will align.
Early-Season Decoy Dupe
Perhaps spot-and-stalk isn't your game, and you know it, but you don't want to waste your hunt sitting over water watching birds and bugs. Here's your play.
Spend a full-day glassing goats in your area. Take special note of the pastures they're in and where they like to go lay down. Pronghorn are creatures of habit, and will often bed in the same general areas each day. Your job is to identify a few of these areas, and when the goats move out of them to feed or wander toward an adjacent pasture, go check them out. The areas should be littered with tracks, droppings, scrapes, and shallow beds. The smell of urine should be pungent. Mission accomplished. Mark the locations on your digital map and get out.
The following day, long before the sun crawls over the eastern horizon, tote a 3-D or silhouette buck decoy to your choosen location and set it up. Now slap a bow-mounted doe decoy — those from Ultimate Predator Gear and Heads Up Decoy work great — on your bow. Now, sit and wait. You're part of the decoy setup. The goal is to gain the interest of bachelor herd, lone buck or a buck with does. Often, they will see the group in their core area and come in for a look. This is an exciting way to hunt. Don't be afraid to move around a little with your bow-mounted doe fake. Flicking an ear is sometimes all it takes. Another great tactic — don't think I'm crazy — is to cover your rump with a towel and crawl around a little.
If your hunt falls during the heat of the pronghorn rut, which is typically running at full tilt by mid-September, use a bow-mounted buck decoy, or if you have a partner hunting with you, a 3-D or silhouette decoy.
If you can close the distance to 200 yards or less and get the decoy up without the buck seeing you deploy the fake, there's a solid chance he will boil out of the herd to run you off. If you get the decoy up and he doesn't see it, wait. It won't take him long to spy the intruder. If he doesn’t make an immediate move, stay patient. Wiggle the decoy a little and toss some dirt in the air with your hand. This simulates a buck pawing the ground to make a scrape. If the terrain won't allow you to get within 200, take a chance and set up anyway. I've had bucks come from over 600 yards.
Always keep an eye out for a buck that runs another buck out of sight of the does he's guarding. He will come back to his does, and if you're able to get a decoy between him and his herd, it's almost a guarantee he's going to charge.
There you have it. How to kill a pronghorn when water isn't working. Enjoy the process, and remember, stay positive. If you stay after it, you'll be hauling a cooler of meat with a set of ebony horns home.