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Beginner's Guide to Antelope Hunting
By Brad Vargo

John's 76-Inch Speedgoat
Do you like seeing lots of animals from dawn to dusk? Do you like hunting the wide open spaces of the West? Do you want to test your skill against an animal that can achieve speeds up to 60 miles per hour and has 10-12x eyes with an almost 360 degree field of vision? If you said yes to those three questions, then it is time to start planning a hunt for pronghorn antelope. Hunting antelope is the easiest hunt in the West to plan for and offers the best chance at being successful. On average, mature bucks weigh between 100-130 pounds and their jet black horns and stunning facial markings make for a great trophy. They occupy the agricultural and desert areas of the West and can be found in every Western state (except Alaska and Hawaii), Canada, and Mexico.

Now that you have made the decision to go on a hunt for pronghorn antelope, you must decide on a state and a unit to hunt in. This is where you will need to do a little general research. The majority of the information you will need can be found on the various state's fish and game websites. For first-timers, I usually recommend starting with Wyoming as they give out the most tags of any state and even have a few leftover tags each year. On a good year, there are more antelope in Wyoming than the rest of the states combined. Additionally, Wyoming has lots of public land and pretty good trophy quality. In fact, according to Boone & Crockett, Wyoming has the most record book entries of any state. Here is the current list:
1. Wyoming
2. New Mexico
3. Arizona
4. Nevada
5. Montana
1,160
632
344
291
184
6. Colorado
7. Texas
8. Oregon
9. Utah
10. South Dakota
161
155
147
94
82
[January 2015]
Initially, look for a unit that you can draw that has an ample amount of public BLM land. I like to start assessing a unit by the amount of public land that is available to hunt and then explore if there are any private land hunting opportunities. Once you have narrowed down a few areas, give the local Game and Fish office a call and talk to the antelope biologists for those areas. They will be able to tell you whether those large tracks of BLM hold antelope and more importantly, whether you be able to access those lands via some form of road/access point. This little bit of preparation work will save you from a huge headache in the field when you find out certain BLM gates are locked and roads are closed at certain times of the year. Next, call the local BLM office and talk with the Range Manager for your area. This is where you will verify the biologist's information about access and location and health of the herds. Once you have explored your public land options, the clerk at the front office of the local Fish and Game, the local Game Warden, or the local county office clerk may have a list with private landowners that allow access for free or for a trespass fee. Give them a call and take detailed notes about their size, how many people they provide access to, and the quality of the animals on their property. Some landowners are enrolled in state programs that are managed by the Fish and Game that allow access for free. In Wyoming, they are called Hunter Management Areas or Walk-In areas and information about them can be found on the Wyoming Fish and Game website.

Since this article is a beginner's guide, you do not want to spend too much time on trophy quality for your first hunt. Get at least one antelope hunt under your belt before you go on a trophy hunt. Many beginning antelope hunters have saved points for many years for their first hunt in a really good trophy unit and have wasted their opportunity by harvesting just an average or below average animal. With the exception of mountain goats, antelope are the hardest animal in the West to judge in the field. For your first antelope, shoot for a good representative of the species. You want a buck with at least 12-14 inch horns, good prongs, and decent mass. For some basic field judging tips, take a look at Boone and Crockett's Pronghorn Field Judging Guide at: http://www.boonecrockett.org/bgRecords/records_FieldJudging_pronghorn.asp Once your initial research is done, make your final decision and get your application in ahead of time.

Once you have drawn your antelope tag, now the real research and planning starts. So you do not get overwhelmed, break the research down into the following three parts:

        1. Logistics (how many trips/days, how to get there, where am I going to stay)
        2. Selecting your primary and at least two additional hunting areas
        3. Equipment

Wyoming Pronghorn Hunting Fun
You should start at #1 and work your way down. This will set the tempo for the hunt. For antelope hunting, unless you are looking for a true trophy, only a couple of days scouting on the front end are needed for the hunt, basically to explore the area and roads and see where the herds hang out. Most hunters will fill their tags in 3 days or less of actual hunting. This is another beauty of antelope hunting. It typically is less expensive and takes less time than other big game hunts. Most people hunt the opener, especially the resident hunters. If you want it to be a little less crowded, skip the first week and hunt any time after that. Some people like to hunt the very end of the season when the antelope are all bunched up and trophy determination is easier as all the bucks are bunched together in large herds. If you choose this last approach, just make sure your antelope herd has not migrated out of the area before you show up. When selecting the dates of your hunt it just comes down to personal preference. The opening day offers a chance opening morning at antelope before they become spooked. After the first week there are less people out, but the antelope are a little harder to stalk and some may be pushed off public onto private that you cannot access. Once you have figured out when and for how many days you are going, you need to make a decision on whether to camp or hunt out of a motel. If you choose a motel, you better make the reservations the day you draw the tag because many small town motels book up quickly. If you wait, camping may be your only option. If you are hunting private land, make sure to ask if the landowner allows camping on their property. After your logistics are setup, it is time to focus on selecting your hunt areas.

The first thing you need to do is order a set of BLM maps for your area. Some companies, like mytopo.com, make single BLM maps with your hunting unit boundaries on them. This is a nice feature as some larger units may require four or more BLM maps to cover your unit. It is also not a bad idea to purchase a state specific hunting chip for your GPS. This makes it virtually impossible to trespass on private grounds. Another good research tool is either Google Earth or National Geographic Alltrails map service. This allows you to see new roads/trails or to help verify potential water sources, though depending on the age of the satellite images, you will still need to verify the information in person during scouting. Once you have your detailed maps, call the biologists, game warden, and range manager again and talk about specific places the antelope like to hang out or areas off the beaten path that may get less hunting pressure. Make sure to have several potential hunting areas identified and make sure to check them out during your scouting period before the hunt starts. You need to continue this phase right up to the hunt. The more time you put in here, the more reward you will get out of the hunt.

Equipment selection for antelope hunting is very important. The average shooting distance of antelope harvested is the longest of any big game animal in the West. Add that to the fact that they also offer the smallest target and this can complicate things for the hunter. You can use your normal deer or elk rifle for antelope, but just ensure that it is very accurate and has a decent power scope on it. Shoot it at the distances you are most comfortable with to verify the trajectory and group sizes so you will know how close you must get for a shot. Most antelope are shot from the prone position and the only other position you need to practice on is the sitting position. Purchase a good set of bipods, one for prone and one for sitting, and practice with them. Keep the prone bipods on when you are hunting as 90% of your shots will be prone. Sitting bipods are needed when there is a small rise between you and the antelope with no way of getting closer.

Good quality optics are needed for locating and judging antelope. A set of 10x or 12x binoculars and at least a 25x spotting scope will save you miles of walking when hunting. You will be able to tell if a herd has a good buck in it from several miles away. It is also a good idea to have a laser rangefinder, a small wind meter to judge the wind, hard plastic knee and elbow pads (duct tape will work too), and thick leather gloves that cactus cannot penetrate. When antelope hunting, it is not if you are going to get cactus needles stuck in your skin, but how many…keep a good pair of tweezers in your hunting pack. If you are camping, make sure your tent can standup to high winds. Antelope country is also very conducive to using a game cart. You will need a good 4-wheel drive with a good set of all terrain or mud tires as the roads can be impassable when they get wet. Make sure you have a couple of spares. Some antelope areas can be remote and you can get multiple flats without ever leaving the BLM roads. An ATV can be a beneficial and cost effective way to get around on the BLM roads and trails, but most BLM trails that are open to motorized travel can be navigated safely with a 4-wheel drive truck or SUV. On a side note with regards to vehicles, antelope will flee when they see a white vehicle. The exception to this is in heavy traveled oil roads where they are used to seeing white trucks driving year round. Bring plenty of good sized coolers to hold your game. Use a combination of ice blocks on the bottom with dry ice on the top to last for the week. Now that you have your equipment settled it's time to focus on some scouting and hunting techniques.

Matt's Smokepole Speedgoat
If you have time for a separate scouting trip before your hunt, the best time to go is the middle to the end of August. Horn growth is done and the antelope are in the part of their home range that they will stay in until they migrate. It is not uncommon to locate a big buck in mid-August and find him again within a mile or so of the exact same spot during hunting season. The exception to this rule is that during the rut antelope will greatly expand their range in pursuit of hot does and can be harder to relocate. A quick call to the biologist will identify if your season dates coincide with the rut in your area. If you only have a couple days to scout before the opener, do not worry. Cover as much ground as you can and try to locate a couple of big bucks. You can setup on a big buck the night before the opener and "put him to bed." When you come back in the morning, he will usually be within a half to three quarters of a mile or so from where you left him. This will give you about an hour or two jump on the other hunters opening morning.

When it is finally time to hunt, stay off the ridgelines and do not silhouette yourself (you or your ATV/vehicle). Stop your vehicle or ATV before a ridgeline and walkup to look over. Use the natural terrain of the land to sneak up within shooting range of your buck. Be prepared to crawl on your hands and knees or even facedown the last little bit. Antelope are more easily stalked in the predawn then in the middle of the day. Antelope will usually water sometime during the day, so sitting by a water source can be a very effective technique. If you absolutely have no terrain available for a stalk, you and your buddy can imitate a cow or a horse. Don't laugh; they even make decoy suites for that! If you find a big buck close to the trail when driving, slow down get out quickly and have your buddy slowly drive down the road. The buck will watch the truck and give you enough time to legally get off the trail and execute the shot.

If you are wanting to archery hunt antelope, the most effective way to hunt them is to sit in a blind over a water source. Antelope use the same water source every day and you can pattern them from long distances by using your spotting scope. You can also use a buck decoy to lure them in during the rut. Setup as close as you can get to the buck then popup the decoy. Once they see it, a dominant buck will usually run straight towards you sometimes stopping within bow range. Lastly, you can stalk them, but this is extremely difficult and only the most experienced archers are usually successful with this method.

Once harvested, antelope hair is extremely delicate so be careful when caping out your trophy. Try not to get any blood on the white part of the cape because it may stain. If you do, you can use water to get it off, but just gently pat the cape dry before you store it. Get the cape on ice as soon as possible in order to prevent slippage and store it skin to skin. Antelope make strikingly beautiful shoulder mounts with their jet black horns and black facial markings. After harvesting one of the West's most unique trophies, hopefully you will continue to hunt this most magnificent animal.