I have heard many a time that pronghorn hunting is one of the best forms of hunting to introduce new hunters to. Well after hunting for eight years before going on my first antelope hunt, I can see why people say this. It is a very visual type of hunting, and if the hunter makes a mistake and gets busted, there are usually many other opportunities to be pursued. 2009 brought my family's first pronghorn hunt. And it was a successful one with my dad, my brother and me all filling our doe tags. This is the story of my dad's first antelope.
We had heard that the area we'd be hunting in Wyoming was crawling with antelope; especially of the female variety for which we had drawn tags for. So we decided that we could leave after my brother and I got out of class on Friday and hunt the only weekend without handicapping ourselves too badly. As it turned out, most of us wouldn't even need that long. We decided that we would all hunt together and just play rock-paper-scissors to decide what order we'd be actually hunting in. My brother had won dibs on the first hunt, I had drawn second and my dad would bring up the rear. It took me and my brother a day and a half to fill our tags and it was now my dad's turn to give it a shot.
I had recently convinced my dad to make a change in rifle for the approaching hunt. And after you find out what the only rifle he had ever hunted with prior to that hunt I'm sure you will agree with me that there was a need for a change. Since his first days of hunting that occurred during his college career, my dad had hunted with a Marlin 444! It's quite the charismatic caliber and a hoot to shoot but it's not what I'd classify as the ideal pronghorn rifle. He had put up a fight for the last few seasons of deer and elk hunting but when I explained what we were going to be up against (an animal with 8X binocular equivalent vision), he quickly decided that a new rifle was in his near future. He wanted a rifle that would be functional but that also had a lot of character. I talked him into getting a Remington 673 in .300 Remington Short-Action Ultra Mag. It is quite the shooter and fits the bill of not looking like your average, rolled-off-the-press factory rifle.
We left camp for the afternoon hunt around 2:00PM. It was me, my brother, my grandpa and my dad on this particular outing. Not 2.5 miles from camp, we had pronghorn spotted. It was a group of 12 does being watched by a pretty good buck and they were all bedded on the wide open prairie. They were in a pretty tough spot with little terrain so we had to get creative. We had my brother and grandpa drop me and my dad off on a spur road heading off into the plains about a quarter mile from the herd. We got out of the truck on the side away from the antelope and got down on our bellies before they drove off. We figured we would let the truck keep driving and use it as a diversion while we crawled closer to the group to get within range of them. Crawling across the cactus infested Wyoming prairie is easier said than done. It took us about an hour to cover the distance required to get close enough for a shot but the truck diversion had worked flawlessly. We had made it to about 300 yards but my dad could not get a shot through the brush from a prone position. He was going to have to sit up and use shooting sticks to make the shot. I knew the antelope weren't going to be on board with the plan but it was our only option.
I took the final rangefinder reading and told my dad it was just over 300 yards. He slowly sat up and readied for the shot... and they took off! Funny thing was that the group split up. Most of the group ran straight away but 3 does and two fawns ran directly at us! They had no idea where we were. But just cause they were getting closer didn't mean that the shot was getting any easier. They were flying! My dad's first shot hit the ground about a foot below the vitals but his lead had been perfect. The antelopes path was heading right between us and the truck so I told my dad to pull off the scope and wait for them to clear. After they did so, and the shooting was safe again, the antelope had made it back out to about 250 yards; a pretty long shot for a running speed goat. He must have used the same lead because it hit behind the running doe's rear end but this time his elevation was right. Now only if we could get elevation and lead put together in one well placed shot, we'd have ourselves a doe! His next shot was neither and we had lost our opportunity. To his credit, none of the shots were easy and it was quite the accomplishment to get as close as he had.
We got back to the truck and started to explain what had happened to my bother and grandpa but they stopped us short and said that they had watched the whole thing. And they were sure glad that we hadn't lobbed any bullets in their direction. My grandpa was pretty tired and wanted to get dropped off at camp. My brother needed to make the drive back to school so the evening hunt would just be me and my dad. We found a group of antelope around 5:00PM but these guys were in a more hunter friendly location with a gully running about 200 yards on the far side of them. The gully came all the way to the rode that we had spotted them from so it was pretty straight forward what our best option was; to hike the creek bottom, peek up over the top and select a tasty doe to harvest. Well, judging how far you have traveled in relation to a bedded group of antelope without being able to see them is quite the chore. When we thought we had gotten close enough we slowly popped up over the top. But the only animal in sight was a buck! The does were bedded just over a little rise that we couldn't tell existed from our first vantage point. The buck stood up and we froze. He stared a hole through us for about two whole minutes. It felt like an eternity! He finally decided that there was nothing there (not sure how but I'm not complaining) and stepped out of view. A minute later a doe popped into view and the new .300 SAUM went to work; and it certainly did it's job. She went right down. We field dressed her and headed back to camp. We had all filled our tags and the celebration was set for that night. I was happy with our first antelope hunt and my dad was convinced with the new rifle. Now I just have to convince him that he needs a .375 H&H. I'm not sure how to pull that one off though.