It was mid-September as we rolled into the sagebrush-crusted country of eastern Montana. My two uncles and I timed our arrival with high hopes that rutting pronghorn antelope would be ready to rumble. Carrying compound bows, we relied on ground blinds and decoys to get within lethal range of love-sick speed-goats. Our ultimate goal was to test the dominance of ornery bucks with the assistance of pronghorn decoys … and get a buck or three to charge our setups. It worked.
If you’ve ever considered hunting pronghorns with a bow, you’ve probably found yourself on YouTube watching a small supply of videos showing pronghorns charging decoys with excited bow hunters hiding nearby. Obviously, the potential thrill of being charged by one of the fastest land mammals on earth was ultra appealing, but I figured it was mostly a pipe dream. Frankly, I thought a few wise companies had capitalized on the hype of a rare antelope/hunter interaction and used it as a way to sell decoys to adrenaline junkies like myself.
Just a couple of hours into our first day of hunting, we spotted two bucks and a harem of does 300 yards from the road in an alfalfa field. We kept driving until we were out of the herd’s sight and then stopped the truck. My uncles prepared their gear and grabbed the Mel Dutton pronghorn buck decoy. Within minutes, I dropped them off and they were belly crawling to a small hill between them and the herd. Once they reached the crest of the hill, they popped up the decoy. All of the pronghorns stared for a few moments, but then went back to their business of grazing and basking in the alfalfa. One of my uncles blew into an antelope call and all hell broke loose. The two bucks bristled up, locked horns and began fighting; the does fled from the scene. When the fight was finished, the victor sent a death stare at the waiting decoy and began marching in. When his steady gait turned into a run, the other buck decided to join the battle. Within seconds, the two bucks had closed the distance from 300 yards to 50 yards. One of my uncles loosed an arrow and shot low. The bucks ran off.
Throughout the next 3 days, pronghorn decoys proved to be a serious advantage in our quest for an archery antelope. We were charged several more times and the decoys allowed us to stalk amazingly close to numerous animals in the wide open. At one point, we walked directly across a 1,000-yard field to within 80 yards of a breeding buck and doe. It looked ridiculous—two grown men walking behind a small decoy. But it worked. Again, a lightning-fast shot opportunity surfaced and my uncle missed.
By the end of our hunt, we had all taken shots … and never drew blood. The shots were fast, far or a combination of the two. Our months of meticulous shooting practice leading up to the hunt made us all better archers, but we left Montana with empty coolers. Regardless, all three of us were hooked.
If you’re planning to bow hunt for rutting pronghorns with a decoy, here are six tips to consider from my experience:
1. Carry a lightweight, mobile antelope decoy with stakes.
First, you’ll need to choose an antelope decoy. Many options exist and you’ll need to get a buck, doe or both. I recommend both. If you’re strictly trying to challenge bucks and pick a fight, then a buck decoy is your best option. If you’re hunting at waterholes, stalking or hoping to lure-in a buck for a date, a doe decoy might not be a bad choice. Pair a buck and a doe and you could tempt another competing buck into range for a fight. If I was to carry only one decoy, it would be a buck.
A friend was kind enough to loan me his collapsible Mel Dutton buck, but this model is no longer in production. Overall, the Mel Dutton is a solid decoy … if you can get your hands on one. It’s easy to carry, set up and stake into the ground. The downsides are that its plastic material can be loud, and its metal hinges can give way in high winds and cause the decoy to collapse unexpectedly.
Another friend graciously loaned me some Montana Decoys—a buck, doe and moo cow. Montana Decoys are generally great. They’re lightweight, packable and impressively realistic for 2-D decoys. The downsides to Montana Decoys are that they’re somewhat cumbersome to carry fully assembled, and they’re so lightweight that strong winds can cause them to blow around like a flag.
Pronghorns thrive on the wind-swept prairie, so it’s basically impossible to build a “perfect” antelope decoy—one that’s lightweight, yet rigid. Montanas and other 2-D decoys are probably the best option. I’m tempted to try a SpeedGoat hat and shirt from Be The Decoy; I’m convinced this system would work, but I’m admittedly hesitant to use it because of safety concerns.
2. Use the buddy system to decoy antelope.
If you’re trying to decoy a speed-goat, it’s extremely difficult to run the entire operation by your lonesome. One person should handle the decoy and a rangefinder, while the other person should be the designated shooter. The odds are good that you’ll need to tweak your setup or reposition when you’re working a buck, and managing a bow/decoy/rangefinder alone is tough. Trade off decoying duties with your buddy throughout the day.
3. Close the distance on long-range antelope.
It probably won’t feel right, but don’t be afraid to crawl or walk behind your pronghorn decoy and close the distance on bucks. If they’re rutting—fighting, defending a harem, breeding, etc.—their hormones are likely to keep them distracted enough for you to move in. Remember, you’re trying to hone-in on bucks that are willing to defend their territory, so if you go after a buck and it runs away, it’s not worth your decoying effort anyways. During our hunt, we realized the best time to close the distance is when you find two bucks fighting. If their horns are locked, approach the animals as fast as possible while hiding behind your decoy. If you’re lucky, you’ll be within bow range and ready to shoot before the battle ends.
4. Use the terrain to your advantage when decoying antelope.
Pronghorn country is typically flat enough to see into the next county. But remember, your view from the pickup truck window can be deceiving. Once your boots are on the ground, you’ll often find subtle rolls in the land that you can use to approach antelope. When it comes to decoying, hills can be your best friend. If you see an antelope on one side of a hill, approach from the opposite side, creep up to the peak and pop up the decoy. But you’d better be prepared, because the buck you’re after might charge your decoy instantly. It happened to me … without enough time to range my shot.
5. You can decoy antelope all day, so hunt all day.
Rutting pronghorns will be active from dawn to dusk. Pack a cooler full of snacks and drinks and spend as many hours in the field as possible. During our 3 1/2 days, we were able to fit in approximately 20 different decoying setups. The action was intense and almost nonstop.
6. Combine your antelope decoy with a call.
Antelope talk frequently. Nearly every animal we encountered was uttering some type of vocalization. I was amazed. Learn the basic language of pronghorns and pack a call to use in combination with your decoy. We packed an Antelope Talk call from E.L.K., Inc. It’s easy to use and sounds super realistic.