“Are you sure you want your hunt to be over so quickly?” Outfitter Doug Miller, Swarovski’s Dean Capuano and I hadn’t driven more than a few miles from Doug’s house on the first afternoon of our hunt and we were already in serious discussions about a pronghorn we’d just found.
“He’s got decent height,” Dean said. “His prongs aren’t bad, either,” Doug added. “But his mass could use work.”
Dean and Doug analyzed the buck from every possible angle as I sat in the passenger seat with my hands gripped around my .243 Win., just waiting for one of them to give me the green light. I’ve never been much of a trophy hunter, but when you’re hunting in a state with more pronghorns than people, I guess you can afford to be a little picky. And after watching the buck for several minutes, Doug finally decided that we could do better so he put the truck into gear and drove us down the road to look for more pronghorns. It didn’t take us long to find some.
“My god, it’s the mother lode of antelope,” Dean leaned forward from the back seat of Doug’s truck and said the exact words I was thinking as we came to a high point in the landscape outside Gillette, Wyoming. Below us, bands of pronghorns fed across the rolling landscape for as far as the eye could see. Accented by the soft glow of the late-afternoon October sun, it looked like something straight out of a Dusan Smetana photograph.
As we watched the animals from our elevated position with our high-powered Swarovski binoculars and spotting scopes, Doug gave me a crash-course on field-judging pronghorns.
“You want a buck to have three main things,” he said. “Horns that are approximately twice as long as the ear, thick bases that carry their weight all the way up the horn and prongs that are above the ears. Find a buck with all three and you’ve found a good one.”
There were several bucks in front of us that I thought fit that criteria, but Doug apparently didn’t agree because after a few minutes of glassing, he abruptly announced, “There’s nothing here. Let’s move on.”
We had approximately 1 hour of daylight left so we drove to another part of Doug’s hunting area, and as soon as we got there we had our binoculars and spotting scopes out again. But according to Doug and Dean, the pronghorn bucks that we were looking at now either had “length, but no mass” or “mass, but no length.” Nevertheless, we glassed the animals until darkness robbed the last sliver of shooting light from the sky before starting the short drive back to Doug’s house where his wife, Mary, had a hot meal waiting.
The next morning, we were joined by Mark Spinale, a friend of Dean’s who’d flown in for the hunt the night before from his home back East. This wouldn’t only be Mark’s first pronghorn hunt, but also his first hunt “out West” and his enthusiasm for what was to come was highly contagious.
Dense fog had settled in overnight and when we walked outside, Doug set the tone for the day by saying, “This should make things interesting.” He was right.
We drove through prime pronghorn habitat for the next 2 hours, fighting the fog the entire time. Things got so bad that at one point in the morning, Doug parked the truck on the side of the road, lifted his binoculars and said, “There could be a million pronghorns out there, and we’d never see them.”
We continued going through the motions for another hour before the sun finally began burning through the fog. When it did, we decided to backtrack through the area we’d just driven through just in case we’d missed a buck hidden by the fog. We hadn’t.
It was shortly before noon when we crested a knoll, looked down into the field below and stopped the truck.
“Now there’s an antelope worth looking at!” Doug said as he pushed hard on the brakes.
The buck was with several other pronghorns in a field several hundred yards away, but even at that distance his thick, black horns were clearly visible. It didn’t take us long to come to the consensus that he was a shooter, and 10 minutes after spotting him we were inching the truck into the field he was in. Given the fact that this was Mark’s first Western hunt, I’d tried to convince everyone that he should be the one to take the first shot at a pronghorn, but when things finally got serious I was the one being pushed out the door.
I could feel my pulse quicken as I slowly opened the passenger-side door of Doug’s truck. Once outside, I bent low to the ground and snuck my way around to the front of the truck and into a prone shooting position. The buck was in the middle of the herd and moving from left to right across the field, 200 yards away. It took me a few seconds to find him in the scope, but when I did the Swarovski 4-12X50mm gave me the crystal clear sight picture I needed to make the shot. All I needed now was for the buck to separate from the others in the herd and stop moving. And a few seconds later, he did.
The shot was a little lower than I would have liked, but the bullet still found enough of the buck’s lungs to be fatal. And after running full speed for a short distance after the shot the buck’s legs finally gave out from underneath him, forcing him to the ground. After making sure he was dead, I took a deep breath and gave myself a few seconds to enjoy the moment before putting the gun’s safety back on and climbing back into the truck.
“Good shot,” Doug said as he slapped me on the shoulder.
We spent the rest of the day glassing dozens of different bucks in dozens of different locations, trying to find Mark one that was to his liking but we ran out of daylight before we could make that happen. But our luck changed early the next morning as Mark eased himself out of the back seat of Doug’s truck, snuck around to the front and took his first-ever shot at a Western big game animal. His shot was perfect as the impact from his .270 Win. caused the buck to rise up on his hind legs and flip over backward as the bullet pierced his heart. Seconds later, Mark—with cell phone in hand—was on the highest point he could find and calling everyone he could think to call as Doug, Dean and I took care of his buck. It was a moment I doubt any of us will soon forget.