Written by: Eric Stanosheck
Every year my dad and I hunt antelope in at least one western state, and if we get lucky and draw tags we add a second prong chase to our fall schedules. If there was only one western big game animal I could hunt, it would definitely be pronghorn antelope.
Challenge, as defined by Google, means “a demanding or stimulating situation.” Being in my 40’s I find myself looking for a challenge when I go on a hunt. Gone are the days of going out and just filling the tag so I had meat in the freezer. The camaraderie of hunting with family and friends and the thrill of the chase will never fade regardless of how high I set my goals. After my first 11 years as a rifle hunter, a challenge is what led me into hunting with muzzleloaders and a bow for the past 14 years. Challenge is also what has raised the bar in the size of animals I attempt to take each season.
Pronghorn have always been one of my favorite big game animals to hunt. It is rare to not see them while on a hunt, but their speed, amazing eyesight, and the open country they call home make them a very worthy opponent in the game of outdoor chess they force you to play.
Family & Scouting
Family has always been a key component in enjoying any hunting trip for me, and this particular trip was no different, especially since my good buddy and father also held tags. This year my dad decided to archery hunt the pronghorn prior to the firearms season (Wyoming allows you to hunt with a bow prior to the firearms season using the same permit). Our hopes were that he could identify the bucks we wanted to target and learn their habits and territory. We like to take a very detailed view of every buck and analyze his scoring potential. We first look for mass since this is THE major scoring component on pronghorn, then we look for length of prongs, and finally the overall length of horns. Our goal is always 80” or above even though we only hunt archery or muzzleloader.
By mid-summer, we had a half dozen 80”+ bucks located and patterned. One massive, gnarly buck stood out from the rest and my dad was granted the first opportunity at him. My dad watched this buck for 5 days before the opener and knew where he should be on opening day. As is typical on public land a vehicle was parked where he had bedded the monster. Dad ended up backing off hoping that the other hunters had bumped the herd. His hunch paid off and 5 minutes after legal shooting light his muzzleloader bullet passed through the chest of the new #2 muzzleloader buck in Wyoming; only second to my state record buck. His buck was ancient and the mass, lumps, and projections on his horns showed his age. Even though his length is just 14” he gross scores 85 B&C with 6” Prongs which had always been a goal of ours to take a buck that hit the magic 6” mark.
My dad watched a few of the remaining target bucks for a few days but then had to head to northern Colorado for his second antelope tag before Kevin and I arrived in Wyoming for our hunt. His hunt in Colorado was a tough one and after 3 days and 400 miles of scouting he’d only turned up one 80” buck, which seemed content living on private land. So, he decided the next day to crawl in on the funny prong buck at first light out in the middle of some vast BLM land. As the sun rose he was 32 yards from the buck and his bedded harem. He stood up and readied the Hawken. On cue, the buck stood and stared at him for a split second before the smoke erupted from the octagon barrel. In less than a week he had dropped 2 bucks whose prongs hit the magic 6” mark. This buck was really sneaky in length and mass and exceeded his estimate hitting 79-6/8”.
Wyoming Part 2
After a 1000 mile drive, I arrived in Wyoming and met up with my Dad. Unfortunately, most of the 80” bucks had been taken in the first 10 days of the season including a freak that dad had taken a number of photos of during scouting. Kevin and I had our work cut out for us and the search began. We spotted dozens of mid to upper 70” bucks but none that would hit the 80” mark. Kevin only had a couple days to hunt and ended up taking a very respectable 74” buck before heading back to Nevada. I had more days and really was searching for something special. I passed a solid 16” buck that I estimated at 81” but his prongs were just not what I wanted. As the days passed I wondered if this would be the first time in my last 21 pronghorn hunts I would choose not to fill. My dad had placed the bar very high and I kept searching for something that would at least be in the same category.
As I rolled out of the tent on day 5 I couldn’t help but notice the parade of white and tan a mile away. During the tail end of the rut, pronghorn bucks travel miles outside their territory to find the last doe to breed, and that is EXACTLY what was happening! In total there were 9 bucks and 3 does. A couple of the bucks I had seen the night before 3-4 miles further north. This poor doe didn’t stand a chance and between the constant running, violent fighting, and chasing I was able to belly crawl well within their danger zone. One would think being 60 yards from 3 shooter bucks was a good thing but the truth is there were too many bodies and they wouldn’t stop moving. I had to wait until they chased over the next hill before I could close the distance again. I had identified the largest buck as 16’ tall and scoring 81” with nice prongs, second best was a 14-1/2 buck with tremendous prongs that would break 6” and the third best was a solid 78” perfect buck with great curls. Since it was my last day I decided that whichever one presented the best muzzleloader shot was going to be mine. 2 hours after I’d first spotted the bucks I topped the rise and saw the big prongs of the #2 buck less than 100 yards from me. The rest of the heard was 250 yards or more away. He was a worthy target and I leveled my sights before letting the .50 bark and the smoke billow. At 79-6/8” he is my third best buck and one I am very proud of with his 6-1/8” prongs!
Off to Texas. I had purchased a landowner tag on a small 1100 acre property in the panhandle of Texas. This is the 3rd year I bought this tag and I knew there weren’t many antelope here, not to mention being handcuffed to a small piece of property, so I decided the best mature buck I found the night before the season started would be my target. After surveying the property and miles around it I determined a low to mid 70” buck was the best I could hope for. The night before the season was miserable as storms that totaled almost 8” of rain pummeled the area and I had to walk 2 miles down a county road to get to my hunting spot, as the roads were impassable. Once I got to my spot the hunt was neither long nor difficult since I had my buck down within minutes. This buck had the strangest calico coat I’d ever seen and is the 2nd best I have taken in Texas.
Prongs Run Blood Deep
2 weeks, 3 States, and 5 Pronghorn with an entire year before we can hunt speed goats with our smokepoles. I’m not sure what states I’ll draw tags in next year but no matter what I’ll be chasing prongs again because it is in my blood. What animal runs in your blood?