Bowhunting for Prairie Goats
Just 20 minutes earlier, I'd spotted a handsome buck at nearly a half mile away. Following a careful stalk, he was now standing 150 yards out. Surrounded by a harem of eight does, he was yet unaware of my presence, but clearly agitated by the decoy. One thing was certain though, his posturing suggested a response was imminent!
To prompt aggression, I bobbed the head of the silhouette. To enhance these gestures, I employed my antelope challenge call. That was just about all his does could handle. Emitting an alarm sound followed by an explosive burst of energy, he rounded up his does and bolted for safer ground.
In most instances, this would have spelled disaster for the hunting archer. I, on the other hand, don't always know when to quit, and consequently kept an eye on him; and it was a good thing too. No sooner had he run off his harem, when suddenly, it was as though someone had flipped a switch. Head down, darting toward me, the antelope buck was incoming and ready for a fight!
Heart racing, arrow knocked and frankly somewhat surprised by the ordeal, I readied myself for what looked to be a picture-perfect approach. Seconds later I was at full-draw, slowly rising up behind the silhouette, and taking aim at the buck standing broadside only 18 yards away. At the snap of the string, my arrow flew true, piercing the buck behind the shoulder.
Thankfully, the pass-through brought the animal down after a hearty 200-yard dash.
Nowhere to Hide
Camouflage and the hide-and-seek philosophy tend to go out the window when there's nothing to hide behind or blend in with. Those more familiar with northern mixed woods or southern oak stands will inevitably feel like a fish out of water amid North America's great plains.
Pondering the vastness of this environment reminds me that pronghorn antelope rule these wide-open spaces. When I think of bowhunting the home of the fastest ungulate on our continent, whose eyesight is equally matched, if not superior to its speed and agility, I'm humbled. Forced to consider the obvious, if one can't disappear behind, or in a tree, how in the world do you get close enough for a shot? Attempting to sneak within archery range of antelope can leave one feeling as though they've just participated in an exercise in futility. With this in mind, by incorporating proven tactics, the hunting archer can make feasible shooting distances a reality.
Historically, bowhunters have set up in blinds or windmills near waterholes and traditional fence crossings in hopes of ambushing an unsuspecting buck. While these are still very effective strategies, throughout the last decade, thanks to two main innovations, bowhunters continue to refine proactive methods in approaching and calling these prairie goats.
As with other big game species, the rut can be a magical time. With increased vocalization, accelerated movement, and hormonally motivated bucks and does with one thing on their mind, they become vulnerable. Historically, bowhunters have set up in blinds or windmills near waterholes and traditional fence crossings in hopes of ambushing an unsuspecting buck. While these are still very effective strategies, throughout the last decade, thanks to two main innovations, bowhunters continue to refine proactive methods in approaching and calling these prairie goats. With their minds on other things, bowhunters can capitalize on this vulnerability in a big way. I've been fortunate enough to dupe antelope both by calling and decoying, and by employing the spot and stalk approach. Both require keen senses and painstaking attention to detail.
If there is any one person who can be accredited with initiating the antelope decoy movement, it would have to be Mel Dutton of Faith, South Dakota. Mel is now widely recognized for manufacturing the first commercial portable antelope decoy. Reasonably priced, the Dutton decoy and other similar designs are rapidly gaining popularity with bowhunters across North America. Portable and lightweight, these are two important attributes when considering your decoy of choice. I personally use an alternative model, constructed of particle board, burlap, and a steel stake.
Regardless of whether you're a spot and stalk hunter, like to use a decoy, or prefer the ambush approach, arming yourself with a call is imperative. I can't say enough about Lohman's antelope challenge call, or "bugle" as they refer to it. It is literally revolutionizing the way many bowhunt pronghorns. As with most game calls, it simulates rutting vocalizations and in my experience, is most effective in the pre and peak-rut periods. It can even prove functional in the post-rut.
Timing of the rut may vary slightly from north to south. Generally speaking, the latter half of September is outstanding as breeding activity heightens. I know, in the northern reaches of the antelope home range, where I do much of my hunting, September 15th to the 25th marks the time when the majority of does go into estrus. This window presents the best timeframe to pursue antelope with a bow. Dominant herd bucks are extremely possessive and generally willing to challenge a satellite buck encroaching on their action.
Use the Wind
As is common with most hunting scenarios, the usual precautions should be taken. Scent and air currents are key factors in the antelope game. Savvy bowhunters carefully assess wind direction, planning an approach from downwind. Wind can work in the bowhunter's favor, but it can also spell disaster when it comes to that long-anticipated shot opportunity. The wide-open prairies, particularly in the early fall, are infamous for windy conditions. Likewise, this time of year can produce very warm temperatures. Heat equals perspiration, and that translates to human odor. Commercial cover-up scents can help, but nothing replaces commonsense in using air currents to your advantage. Once a direction of approach is determined, it's important to take advantage of every roll in the topography. If at all possible, take care not to expose the decoy before breaking the 200-yard barrier; the closer the better.
Attention to Detail
Camouflage too can be helpful, more in confusing the antelope, than anything else. A typical antelope hunt starts out best by positioning yourself on a high point in the landscape. Patiently and meticulously glassing the horizon for movement, in time you're sure to locate these illusive prairie goats. In their home range, these prairie speedsters blend in well, so paying attention to detail is important. High-powered optics are a must when antelope hunting. At very least, good field glasses are important, and a spotting scope can be just as valuable.
When the moment of truth arrives, remember pronghorns are scarcely bigger than a large dog. Body-size can be deceiving. Combine this smaller-than-average animal with the fact that you're judging distance in a wide-open spacious environment, and first impressions can be deceiving. Practicing shots from a kneeling position in open areas, on similar sized 3D targets can help get you prepared. Keep in mind, when a herd buck lopes toward the decoy, he'll most often stop at around 30 yards, sometimes closer and periodically even further away. Growing accustomed to longer shots will instill confidence for when it really matters.
Equally, if not more important is shot placement. Fortunately pronghorns have a God-given marking that provides an ideal target. Just behind the shoulder and located on the lower one-third of their chest, is a right- angled seam of brown and white hair. Right where the two meet in the corner, provides an excellent aiming point. Hit your target there, and you're sure to go home smiling.
Kevin Wilson is a freelance outdoors writer and professional big game & waterfowl
guide/outfitter from Alberta, Canada. Confessing an obsession for big whitetails
and bighorn sheep, he has hunted most North American big game species with either
bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun. Specializing in archery, freshwater fishing,
waterfowl and big game hunting, his articles can be found in several well known
outdoor publications across the U.S. and Canada. For more information on his
outfitting services, visit www.venturenorthoutfitting.com.
Member of OWAA & OWC.