THE LONG GUN STRUGGLE

LONG GUN STRUGGLE
All Photo Credits: Jeffrey Pagel

I grew up hunting big game on the plains of Colorado, and there’s something I find fascinating about hunting Pronghorns. They are unlike any other big game animal in North America. These deer like creatures are neither antelope nor goats. They are the sole surviving member of an ancient family. They are truly one of a kind.

One might think that because they can be seen from a great distance that they are easy to hunt. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Pronghorn have extremely good eyes and ears. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been busted by them. They use their keen eyesight as there number one means of defense, but don’t let that fool you because they have a great sense of smell and hearing too. Be sure you are always hunting the wind, staying low and out of sight while hunting Pronghorns, or you will learn real quickly why they have earned the nickname “Speed Goats”.

I don’t usually hunt with a rifle but this year I drew a limited draw Pronghorn license in Colorado. It had been nearly a year since I last shot my rifle, I headed over to the gun range and dialed in my 308.

I was lucky enough to glass up a group of Pronghorns the first place we checked out. After a short walk, I was able to get my spotting scope focused in on this buck and quickly recognized him. I had several close encounters with this warrior over the past four years during archery season but could never put my hands on him.

As the Pronghorn feed away we walked back and prepared for another stalk. We had to go around quite a ways to get in front of them. Using the terrain and wind to our advantage we managed to close the distance, but we still weren’t in a good shooting position. We backed out again and paralleled them using the cover of a big hill to sneak around them.

As we came around the hill I saw the lead doe standing roughly 200 yards in front of us. But as quickly as I saw her she sounded the nose alarm. At this point, I thought the hunt was over. She snorted and wheezed at us for what seemed to be forever but in reality, it was only a few minutes. Now that I had put myself within shooting range I just had to wait for this old buck to present me with a shot.

By this time my adrenaline was pumping and my heart was racing. I was struggling to steady the crosshairs on the vitals of this buck. When I felt I was steady enough to take the shot I gently squeezed the trigger expecting the buck to drop in his tracks just as all the other big game I have harvested with my 308 have done, except he didn’t. I could see that I had hit him but wasn’t convinced it was a solid hit, so I sent two more rounds in hopes of a solid connection. By this time I was out of bullets and unsure of the distance. I put one more cartridge into my rifle and pulled the trigger.

LONG GUN STRUGGLE

I was in disbelief of what had just happened. Did I rush the shot? Did I range him wrong? I felt sick to my stomach. I watched as this beautiful buck slowly walked away. Replaying what had just happened in my head I could see that he was hit, but couldn’t tell how well. As I replayed it over and over in my head his progress seemed to be slowing down until he bedded down. At this point, I was starting to feel hopeful.

I gave him some time to calm down and get my head back in the hunt. We got back into position behind a ridge line that the buck had bedded down under and slowly made our way over to the last place we saw him. I knew we were close to him but I just couldn’t seem to find him. As we inched over the ridge my friend whispered to me that he could see him bedded down not far at all.

I had been in this position before bow hunting and I knew that I just needed to be patient and wait for him to stand up. I could see that he was lying down. Was he dead? Maybe I did hit him good. I sat with my crosshairs glued to his position waiting for him to stand, but he didn’t budge. To get him to stand I tried whistling, but nothing. I waited some more and whistled louder. This time I could see him pick his head up and start to stand up. As soon as he turned broadside I squeezed the trigger. This time I was confident in my shot, but he was still up so I fired off what would be the eighth round. I could see, and hear the rounds hit him, but he was still up. The last round was a Hornady ballistic tip and he dropped immediately.

As I walked over to this monarch I thought to myself that maybe I had taken this hunt for granted. Maybe I had thought just because I was rifle hunting that it would be a walk in the park. I was quickly humbled by this hunt. It taught me many valuable lessons about preparing for hunts whether it is an archery or rifle hunt. I learned that it is very important to choose the right ammunition. Preferably one that you know works well. I had landed six out of the nine shots fired. This Pronghorn was a tough old goat and I am very thankful that I was able to harvest this buck and share this experience with a new hunter. Hopefully, he can learn from my shortcomings as I have.

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