Stamina Staggering Pope & Young Pronghorn to Remember
Jim said to me, "We ought to get an early start in the morning, that way if the antelope see the truck in the dark they won’t spook very far." Little did I know what would be in store for me the next day.
I was on my first pronghorn antelope bow hunt. Jim Walz of Grand Junction, Colo. was my trusty guide. Pronghorns have fascinated me ever since I started hunting with Jim years before for mule deer. These speedy critters gallop across the sagebrush prairie at lightening speed. Some, I am told, have been clocked at speeds up to 60 MPH for short distances. They can sustain a speed of 40 MPH for up to 3 miles. Unlike the elk, the moose, the caribou and wild sheep---all of which originated in Asia and migrated to North America---the pronghorn is an American of ancient lineage. He is the last survivor of a group of animals to which he was related but which, for whatever the reasons, did not survive the climate changes of the various geological eras. Bones of these other pronghorns have been dug up in many places in the West, and the animals varied considerably. Some were large, some small, some with one horn, some with four. Pronghorns of one sort or another have been around for millions of years. The pronghorn is not a large animal. When full grown, a pronghorn buck measures from 4 to 4 1/2 feet in length and stands from 32 to 40 inches high at the shoulder. Mature bucks weigh from 100 to 125 pounds. Females average 10 per cent smaller.
Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of the pronghorn is its remarkable horns, usually present in both sexes but more slender in the does. Hollow, deciduous sheaths growing over a blade-like core, the horns project upward and are placed directly above the eyes. The hollow sheath of the horn is shed annually soon after the rutting season is over. This is the only instance where a hollow-horned ungulate ever sheds its horns during a lifetime. The pronghorn has sharp hearing, a keen sense of smell, and remarkable eyesight. Its eyes are as large as those of a horse, which is generally credited with having the largest eyes of any living mammal. The pronghorn’s eyes are set wide apart and deep in bony sockets and have a diameter of 1 ½ inches. On a clear day a pronghorn can recognize moving objects three and four miles away. Pronghorns have the ability to send heliographic messages. The large white patch on the rump consists of a pair of muscular disks supporting a mass of comparatively long, bristly hairs. When the animal is alarmed or disturbed, the muscles contract causing the mass of white hairs to rise abruptly and reflect a remarkable amount of light. At the same time, the twin glands in the disks release a powerful scent that can be recognized by man more than a hundred yards away, and as much as a mile or more down wind by another pronghorn. Each strand of the pronghorn’s hair also serves as protection from extremes of heat and cold due to its composition of pithy air cells.
Yes, I was up against a truly well equipped and unique mammal.
The next day we woke up half an hour early to insure that our approach to the pit blind was done before dawn. This was the fourth day of my bow hunt for pronghorns and we were ready and on the road by 5:20 a.m. On previous days I had seen antelope every day and even had one come close enough for a shot but luck was not with me.
As we headed for the old deserted barn that was my drop off point on that chilly August morning in 1989, I was filled with anticipation. The land Jim guided on covered some 30,000 acres in the northwest part of Colorado and is known for its prehistoric history. Mule deer, elk and antelope as well as cougar are plentiful if you know where to look, and Jim’s an expert at finding them.
Jim slowly eased his truck down the road as we approached one of the pit blinds. A couple of antelope trotted off toward the north, alerted by the truck but not overly spooked. Jim was right, the darkness must give them a sense of security. ( Jim told me that these antelope are hunted by rifle hunters at daylight during the general season. They use trucks to drive access roads to locate antelope then get out and shoot from a far distance. Therefore these antelope, like Pavlov’s dogs, are programmed that when a truck stops during the day it means danger will follow. But at night that danger is gone. )
As we continued down the road I could make out the deserted barn some 200 yards ahead and to our right. On our left, the hillside sloped down and away to the east. At the bottom, the hill converged with a grassy sagebrush flatland these antelope love to roam in. At a depression out on the prairie there was a pond where Jim made a pit blind. The blind was on the south side of the pond where the bank rose to a small levy. The land farther east of the pond was flat open prairie country that went on for miles. Dawn was rapidly approaching as I headed for that blind.
Jim had dug a three-foot deep hole on the high bank of the levy and used the natural sagebrush as cover around the blind above ground. This made for perfect cover. There were two shooting windows cut out in the sage facing the pond. Tracks indicated that the antelope were using the far side of the pond to water. I measured the distance to be 30 yards to the far side opposite my blind. I settled in for what I thought would be a long wait. But, to my surprise, at around 7:30a.m. things started to happen. A doe antelope appeared through the sagebrush about 100 yards out. Soon another doe showed up accompanied by a small buck whose horn tips were just above his ears. Hardly a shooter. As I watched the action, it was apparent the antelope were excited about something. Then I saw him! He darted out from a sage bush. I was mesmerized by his thick jet-black horns that protruded well above the top of his ears and the tips swept back to a nice even hook. The prongs were long and curved at the tip and his shinny black nose made him an impressive site. Surely he was the dominant buck in this area and I figured he was chasing the does around gathering a harem as the rut was getting into full swing.
As I watched the action unfold, the two does darted in for a drink. One came in on my left just barely in view across the pond. The other came in to drink next to the first doe and stood directly in front of me across the pond. I had a clear view through one of the blind’s openings. When the does finished drinking the little buck came in and stood right where the second doe drank. He no sooner put his nose down to drink when the big buck antelope darted in and pushed him out of the way. The site of that buck was awesome. As I knocked my arrow, it was all I could do to control "buck fever."
The buck had rushed in to water and scared off the little guy in a hurry. He was standing broadside bobbing his head down and up quickly in that characteristic nervous behavior of this species. When his head was down for that "pause that refreshes," I drew my PSE Laser Flite to my anchor and released.
The 2114 Easton Gamegetter arrow tipped with a Bear razorhead broadhead hit low behind the last rib. The buck bolted and made a 360 degree turn to the top of a small rise. I could see that my two blade broadhead went in vertically, doing severe damage to his belly and paunch. I was sick… I only hoped that the pronghorn would bed down.
The buck was still on his feet as he went over the rise about 80 yards from me. I reached into my backpack for the walkie talkie and signaled to Jim. He could see the antelope from the vantage of the barn and Jim said the buck was now bedded down on the open prairie about 300 yards from me. I knew I had to wait this one out if I was going to have any chance of recovering this antelope.
As I waited with anticipation, I became restless and was filled with much anxiety. An animal hit in the paunch is not the best of circumstances, even one hit as bad as he was. I waited about 45 or 50 minutes and then retrieved the arrow where it lay at the water hole. There was very little blood on the shaft or broadhead. However, I could see a blood trail leading away from the pond in the direction of the last sighting of my buck. I went back to my blind to wait a little longer.
About an hour and a half had now elapsed since the buck bedded down and we decided that I should attempt an approach using a wash that was between the buck and me. To make my approach quiet, I removed my shoes and donned a second pair of socks I had in my backpack. I entered that wash which was about eight or ten feet deep, and hurried to a point opposite where I thought the buck was lying. Peeking over the rim of the wash I saw the buck on his feet staring at me. With this animal’s acute eyesight and incredible speed, I did not want to chance him bolting onto the open sagebrush flat. So, I decided to duct back down into the wash and wait a little longer as he slowly moved off about another 100 yds and laid down. I could see he was hit hard and that it was just a matter of time before he would expire.
While I waited in the wash, I saw that beyond the bucks position was a second wash that I could use to cut him off from moving farther out, if I could only get around to it without spooking him. He was bedded down for a while so I decided to sneak to where the two washes intersected. When I reached the intersection, I peeked up to see if he was still bedded. To my dismay he was gone! I backtracked through the wash and came out behind some hills and used them as cover. I removed the gear from my belt and crawled up to peer over the top. There he was 30 yards from the base of the hill. As I nocked another arrow he got up and walked straight back toward the second wash. I dropped behind the hill again and circled to the south. When I came out on the flat, the buck was gone again.
I could not believe that he had just disappeared so quickly in his condition. I started to cross the flat towards the second wash in my stocking feet, dodging cactus all the way. Jim must have gotten a real kick out of that. Just before I reached the wash I noticed a well worn game trail leading to its edge. As I peered over I could see the trail lead down the steep sides of the wash and back up the far side. As I scanned the sagebrush above the far side of the wash, I saw the buck sneaking through the thick sage covered prairie. He used that game trail to go in and out of the wash in a matter of seconds. I could not believe the stamina this buck had. He was hurt and hurt bad but he would not give up.
I followed in hot pursuit down into the wash and back up again. When I came up the opposite side of the wash I was within 25 yards of the staggering buck. My next arrow found its mark and he was down for good.
When Jim arrived we took pictures, exchanged congratulations and began field dressing the buck. We loaded him into the back of Jim’s pickup and headed back to camp. As I admired my handsome buck I couldn’t help but wonder if he might make Pope and Young. When we reached camp Jim decided to have my buck scored and went to town to look up the local taxidermist who was also a Pope and Young measurer. Upon his return, Jim gave me the good news. My buck green scored a very respectable 71". After the 60 day drying period, the final score was 70".
What a feeling of elation to have my first pronghorn make the record book.
As I sit and admire the pronghorn that adorns my wall today, I will always think of that memorable adventure and live in awe and amazement of these fleet-footed goats of the plains.
P.S. If anyone is interested in discussing hunting pronghorns, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to correspond.