“He’s just off the property, on State land! Too bad he’s probably fifteen and a half or better, plus he’s got long prongs, better than five inches. Let’s leave and not make him too nervous. Hopefully he’ll come back this way. He appears to be looking at those five does on the ridge back on our property,” stated my New Mexico pronghorn guide Keith Stephens, who works with RLE Outfitters.
We eased off the ridge and headed toward our UTV. “We’ll give him a couple of hours. If we don’t find something else we like, we’ll come back and see if that buck is on our side of the fence,” said Keith.
The ranch we hunted was huge, even by New Mexico or Texas standards. It covered a considerable chunk of primarily pronghorn habitat and terrain, but also a few hills which were home to several mule deer and both resident and migratory herds of elk. “When I drove into the ranch I spotted a couple of really good pronghorn bucks on the north side of the property, north of the ranch house between the two taller ridges. Chance are, they’ll still be in the area. Looking for them we could see some mule deer and elk. The ranch allows very limited elk and mule deer hunting, so bulls and bucks tend to have big antlers.” Sounded good to me.
It was opening morning for my 2022 New Mexico pronghorn season. I had already passed up some really good bucks. I was looking for something special. If I did not find a buck that fit that category, the last afternoon I would try to shoot an over-the-hill buck or go home empty-handed.
I know! If he’s good enough to shoot the last afternoon, he’s good enough to shoot the first morning! That indeed is a policy I have long subscribed to. Frankly, I knew it was going to be a good hunt even if the sun set on my third day without having used my pronghorn tag and I was thankful my good friend and President of the DSC Foundation Board of Directors Russell Stacy had set it up for me.
Pronghorn hunting is fun and rewarding! Hunting seasons usually occur even before Fall officially arrives. The species too, is our only remaining true plains big game. Once bison, as well as elk, roamed the plains and prairies. But those days for the most part are gone, even though we again have a considerable number of American bison and elk more than occasionally make their home on the edges of our prairies, often feeding or journeying into the grasslands.
While pronghorn hear reasonably well, and their sense of smell is pretty good, they live or die based on their visual acuity! Their eyesight is phenomenal! Some have compared it to that of a human aided by an eight-power binocular. Their eyes too are situated so they can see nearly 360 degrees of their position. Beyond, they are the fastest land animal in North America. In years past when as a wildlife biologist working in western Texas, I often had pronghorn run beside my pickup going 40 to 45-miles per hour. Then when they tired of that game with a burst of speed they would run in front of the pickup likely running close to 50 miles per hour.
Pronghorn antelope beyond being the only true-horned animal that annually sheds its horn or outer sheath of horn from a core and grows a new one each year, is also the only true horned animal that develops a prong on each of his horns. Some does also develop horns, albeit considerably shorter than those of the males.
When pronghorn sense or see danger, they run and, as mentioned earlier, they can run fast and often long distances before stopping. The unique species has a special adaptation for being able to “secure” enough oxygen when running. Their trachea is BIG, meaning it is essentially twice if not more so than that of a deer of equal size. Their trachea is in diameter about the size as one would find in an elk that weights upwards of 750-pounds, pronghorn does weigh about 75 to 85 pounds, and bucks 120 to about 140 pounds. They have a filter in their trachea that keeps bits of grass and the like from getting into their lungs when they run with their mouths open. This filter prevents them from developing foreign-body pneumonia.
Our North American pronghorn antelope truly are unique animals. And…they are not a “goat”! Personally, I find it demeaning for someone to call a pronghorn a “goat” or “speed goat.” They deserve much greater respect!
Pronghorn antelope too, are a huge wildlife conservation success story. They once were slaughtered nearly to extinction to provide food for westward expanding human populations as well as satisfying city dwellers “back East.” This was compounded by the building of “sheep-proof” fences throughout their range to keep sheep within the confines of pastures. These mesh-style fences prevented the movement of pronghorn, often to water or to where there was better non-competing grazing and browsing. Pronghorn developed on open plains and never had to learn to jump obstacles. Even today when pressured the biggest and wisest of bucks and does will try to go under fences rather than through or over them. Although I have seen both bucks and does jump fences better than 3-feet tall. However, this is truly a rarity.
Years ago hunter/conservationists saw the decline in pronghorn populations and demanded season and bag limits be set on this iconic western species. Then they helped finance the trapping and translocation of pronghorns back into their historic range. Today, thanks to hunters and wildlife-minded landowners we have excellent pronghorn herds throughout much of the west.
Over the years I have eaten pronghorn prepared many ways; from jerky to tacos, burritos and sausages, grilled and fried steaks, and from roasts to soups and stews, and just about any and everything in between. I have had really good tasting pronghorn and also some that could best be described as “it’s edible….” But as a whole, it’s quite delicious! Care and preparation play a huge role in how pronghorn venison fares on the dinner table.
Pronghorn are judged by their horns; including horn length, length of prong and four circumferences, utilizing the Boone and Crockett scoring system. Incidentally normally the blackish horns of mature bucks, have almost translucent tips. Horn length is measured from their base to tip of horn along the outside edge. Prongs are measured from the middle of the back of the horn to the tip of the prong. Circumferences are measure at the base and then three additional circumferences per horn, where those measurements are taken is based to some extent on where the prong starts. For a sample score sheet and an official explanation where circumferences are to be taken, please go to www.boone-crockett.org. Bucks with horns 13 to 14-inches are longer are consider good, those 14 to 16 inches in length are really good and those longer than 16 inches, great! Over the years I have taken a fair number of bucks in the 13- to 15-inch length category and a few longer. My longest horn pronghorn is one that is a bit over 17 inches, a buck I shot while hunting western Texas with Wildlife Systems (www.wildlifesystems.com). It just misses the all-time Boone & Crockett record book, where the minimum net score is 82. However, I personally think any buck that scores 78 or better on the Boone & Crockett scoring system as a truly great buck, regardless how long the horns are.
A quick way to judge a pronghorn’s horns is to look for one where the prong starts above the tip of the ear. Then too, look for horns that are at least again as long above the prong as below it. I personally look for one with a lot of mass, one that from a distance looks like he has “a whole lot of black” on his head.
Over the past many years, I have taken pronghorn with single-shot and revolver handguns, muzzleloaders and a variety of single-shot and bolt action rifles, the latter chambered in relatively flat shooting calibers and rounds. Shots at pronghorn can be long, or at least long in my estimation. That said I truly enjoy shooting at long-range steel targets, but when it comes to hunting I want to stalk as close as possible before pulling the trigger!
Some of my favorite rounds in the past have been .257 Roberts, .270 Win, 7×57, .280 Rem, .308, and .30-06 when it comes to rifles; and .44 Mag and .454 Casull when it comes to revolver rounds. And I have shot pronghorn with other rifle rounds as well. And I have shot several with both .45 and .50 caliber muzzleloaders.
I have two rifles which I plan to use on future pronghorn hunt. Both are Mossberg Patriots, one a .270 Win and the other a 7mm PRC. Both are topped with Trijicon optics. My .270 wears a Huron a 3-9×40 and the 7mm PRC an AccuPoint 4-16×50. With the .270 I will use Hornady’s Precision Hunter 145-grain ELD-X and in the 7mm PRC 175-grain ELD-X. If I find a second pronghorn hunt, I will use my Taurus Raging Hunter .454 Casull, topped with a Trijicon SRO, 2 MOA shooting Hornady’s 240-grain XTP loads. With that latter combination I would feel comfortable taking a solidly-rested shot out to 200-yards.
Time to start booking another pronghorn hunt for next fall!