The rising sun cast an arrow of bright light through an opening in the blind’s window. “Better fix that,” I thought as I pulled the flap down so I could peek out the back window of the blind. A large pronghorn buck was standing 30 yards away, staring intently at me. The bright sun behind him sharpened his outline and the next image I saw was a cloud of dust as my ill-timed motion sent the buck running away. I was both shocked, and disgusted. I’d snuck in under the cover of darkness to deceive this buck, and had huddled in a portable blind for the better part of 4 days, trying to make my first archery pronghorn a trophy. And now, before I was even ready to start expecting company at the waterhole, it looked like I’d blown it.
Having killed several pronghorns over the years with my rifle, this past fall I decided to try to increase the challenge by pursuing them with my bow. I was encouraged the previous year when I took my two young daughters with me on a hunt and came surprisingly close to killing a fine buck with my bow. A careful stalk on a pair of bucks would have produced meat had it not been for a range miscalculation on my part. But if a casual effort like that, which was little more than a glorified camping trip for the girls, could nearly payoff, then surely some dedicated time in the field this year would put a pronghorn in my freezer.
Sharing my love and appreciation for the outdoors and hunting with my daughters is important to me. They’re too young to hunt themselves, but they have fun hanging out while Dad chases critters. I try to make it fun for them with the hope that maybe when they’re older they’ll have some interest in hunting—or at the very least, some fond memories of our hunts together. And it was with that hope that my 6-year-old daughter, Rachel, and 7-year-old daughter, Sarah, spent a few mornings with me during the 2006 archery pronghorn season, watching the world go by from the inside of a dark ground blind. And there was plenty to keep them entertained as every morning a badger would emerge from its burrow and snort and grunt around every hole and grass clump, looking for a bite to eat. We laughed when it stopped short of our pronghorn decoy, eyed it suspiciously and then circled warily around it to continue on with its business.
There was another time when a decent pronghorn buck came so close to our blind that we thought he was going to look directly inside the window, a few feet from our faces. I was ready to shoot that buck, if only he had stood broadside. Instead, he wheeled around and trotted off, uneasy though not alarmed. Several smaller bucks provided additional excitement and shot opportunities that I ultimately passed on.
A New Plan Of Attack
I was putting my portable ground blind up every morning within feet of a fence surrounding a windmill and a well, a livestock watering feature common on the Plains. I figured the blind, though a new element to the landscape, would be less foreboding if it appeared to be part of the existing tangle of human development. Using that same logic, I was also parking my truck alongside the fence on the other side of the enclosure. That assured a comfortable and pleasant hunt for my girls. However, when the buck I decided that I wanted failed to come within 100 yards of the waterhole, and the novelty of sitting in a ground blind wore off for the girls, I decided to remove my truck from the equation. I would now come alone in the dark and park my truck out of sight, one-quarter mile away.
After spooking the large buck on the way in the following morning, I formulated a plan to hunt from the blind until mid-morning, and then set up an ambush away from the waterhole with my decoy. I knew I had to try something different, and perhaps the decoy would entice the buck within shooting range if used in a different manner.
As the morning wore on, I could see the buck calmly feeding in the distance—to the naked eye, he was little more than a small dot far away on the short grass flats. When he disappeared for a few moments, I decided it was time to make something happen so I slipped out of the blind, grabbed the decoy and moved toward the buck while staying low to the ground.
As I crested a small rise, I spotted two smaller bucks bedded in the grass. I knew they’d see me if I tried to get around them, and I didn’t want to alarm them and have them spook the bigger buck at the same time. As I considered my options, I spotted the big buck walking directly toward me and the waterhole. When he temporarily dipped out of sight again in a shallow depression, I dropped down and scrambled back to my blind.
It seemed to take forever for the buck to get to the waterhole, but in all actuality, it was probably less than 15 minutes. And as I looked carefully over my shoulder through a tiny opening in the blind’s window, the buck came in to the waterhole just as he had at first light. This time, however, I knew he was there. He was close now, perhaps 35 yards, but he was moving behind me where I had all the blind’s shooting windows closed. I needed him to be out in front of the blind where I had shooting windows open for a shot at or near the water tank.
The blind was getting hot from the late-morning sun and my palms were wet with sweat, which was funny because I didn’t remember shooting my bow with wet hands during my many practice sessions and my heart certainly never beat this quickly when I practiced, either!
By the time that I could see the buck from my open shooting windows, he was 55 yards away. Then, incredibly, I watched him lay down 30 yards beyond the waterhole and well outside of my sure-kill shooting range. The initial excitement I felt watching him rivaled the close encounters that I’ve experienced with rutting bull elk over the years, but now I had an opportunity to calm myself down, dry my palms and prepare to wait for a shot opportunity. And I didn’t have to wait long, because within 10 minutes the two smaller bucks came trotting in to the waterhole. Not to be beaten to the water, or perhaps emboldened by their lack of caution, the bigger buck jumped to his feet and started walking directly toward the tank as well. And when he got there he couldn’t have positioned himself better as he turned broadside to me at 25 yards before lowering his head to drink. And when he dipped his head to the water, I released my arrow.
I watched as the arrow passed cleanly through the buck, and I watched as the buck ran off 65 yards, paused and then fell to the ground. Watching the buck through my binoculars, I could see my arrow had entered behind his front shoulder, a wound that would surely prove fatal. The buck lay with his head up for a few moments and then dropped his head to the ground and was still. At that moment, I had not only collected a fine trophy, but at the same time I’d also collected many fond memories of pronghorns, the prairie and my two young daughters.