I grabbed the dash of Kevin Hall’s Silverado a millisecond before he hit the brakes, and his pickup skidded to an abrupt stop. “Good buck!” were the only words I needed to get me grabbing for my rifle. J. Wayne Fears leaned forward from the back seat, and promptly agreed with our guide’s assessment. “Yup!”
The herd buck was a dandy—tall, dark and handsome—and hanging to the rear of a small band of pronghorns nervously milling around a shallow depression in the rolling Wyoming landscape several hundred yards out. Even as Kevin eased the truck back out of sight, the buck and his current “girlfriend” were on the move, splitting off from the herd—sneaking out the back door.
J. Wayne had already taken one of several nice bucks we’d seen on this, the opening day of the Cowboy State’s pronghorn season, so I was up to bat. And, so far, my morning had not gone as well as my hunting partner’s. After a 300-yard spot-and-crawl up a shallow drainage that put us within shooting range of a nice buck, I’d missed … twice! This was my chance at redemption, to get the bad taste out of my mouth and finish the morning with a double-header.
Pronghorn hunting on the vast Western landscape is precisely what you make of it. It can be as easy as a leisurely 4x4 cruise in the country, stopping occasionally to glass, making a short stalk to get into range and taking the shot. Or it can be as difficult as spot-and-stalk hunting gets—an all-day footrace with a paranoid prairie creature that has telescopic eyes and runs as fast as the wind. Most hunts fall comfortably in between.
My somewhat limited experience hunting pronghorns has been an exercise in extremes. My very first pronghorn hunt several years ago was a punishing spot-and-stalk affair that left a lasting impression. I was hunting in Wyoming and carrying a .45-70 Gov. Remington Rolling Block replica. Getting within effective shooting range proved difficult, and I spent 3 long days hoofing across the vast Wyoming plains before finally killing a buck at long range. My next pronghorn hunt was a yin to that yang—a short drive in the truck, a shorter stalk to the top of a hill and an even shorter shot.
Other hunting methods include staking out ground blinds at waterholes and food sources, using decoys to entice rut-crazed bucks into range—usually reserved for archery season because of the danger involved in masquerading as a pronghorn buck during rifle season—or even waving a white flag, which appeals to a pronghorn’s inherent curiosity.
No matter which method of hunting you choose, you’ll typically begin your day riding around in a pickup truck. The West is vast, and getting from one hotspot to the next requires putting on lots of miles. One of the neat things about pronghorns is that they’re daytime creatures, meaning you can pursue them all day. Even when they bed down during the heat of the day, they generally do it out in the great wide open.
Slumped over, Kevin and I sneaked around the base of a small hill, hoping to intercept the pronghorn buck. Crawling to the skyline, Kevin peeked over the top, slid back out of sight and motioned me forward. “I could see the doe but not the buck,” he whispered. “She’s moving to the right. The buck’s got to be bringing up the rear but I couldn’t see him.” I slipped off my daypack and, pushing it and my rifle in front of me, crawled up to take a look.
I crested the hill just as the buck rounded the corner, presenting a broadside 200-yard shot. Quickly planting the rifle on my daypack, I rushed the shot a bit and hit the pronghorn hard, but a little off the mark. The buck spun around and put some distance between us as I chambered another round. It was evident the buck was mortally wounded as he pulled up and looked back at us from 400-plus yards. A shot to the vitals put him down for good. “He’s done,” Kevin said as he gave me a hand up. I dusted myself off and we walked down to check out my buck.
Whether you’re an old hand at hunting pronghorns or considering it for the first time, these prairie cruisers have a lot of offer any level of hunter employing almost any hunting method. The theme here is versatility and improvisation. You can employ the hunting methods and choose the level of difficulty that matches your skill, desire, physical ability or attitude. However you decide to pursue them, this is Western hunting at its finest—a pursuit that needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated.