UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
Throughout much of the west, the month of August ushers in the first big game hunting opportunities of the season for bowhunters. Though the temperatures are typically still scorching, hunters will gladly head to the open country to meet one of the country’s toughest bowhunting challenges…the Antelope. While antelope look more like a critter you’d find in South Africa, they are right at home in the open plains of the west. Getting close to these sharp-eyed, elusive animals is tough. Getting within bow range is a challenge that easily separates the men from the boys. Here’s a few tips from some avid goat-getters that’ll help you get within bow range of antelope this season.
There are two main schools of thought when it comes to antelope hunting…hunting from a ground blind and spot-n-stalk hunting. They both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Blind Luck for Antelope
As with turkey or deer hunting, the ground blind can be poison on antelope as well. The ground blind provides concealment like no other. The ability to come to full draw on a mature antelope within bow range is priceless. Blinds are typically utilized at remote watering holes that are frequented by the local antelope. They key is to find an area with limited water across the landscape. Don’t just assume any water hole will do. Due to safety, access, comfort, and many other reasons, antelope will use certain water sources over others. Study topo maps or aerial photos that include ponds and water sources to narrow down your search. You’ll then have to put in the legwork…or time on a 4-wheeler…and narrow the search down to the hottest water hole in the area you’ll be hunting. Find a pond or stock tank that is littered with fresh tracks and you’ll be on your way to an antelope encounter.
Heat will usually be the toughest obstacle to overcome when hunting from a groundblind; especially if goat sightings are slow.
Branden VanDyken spends a lot of time each season in pursuit of antelope. He’s a bit of an antelope nut…to say the least. In fact, he’s part owner of Be The Decoy, a company that makes antelope decoys. While Branden typically prefers to chase antelope by spot-n-stalk methods, he has gathered a wealth of insight for blind hunting as well. “A lot of people think that fence crossings are a good idea,” says VanDyken. “I only use these spots if there are no other options. In my experience antelope will skirt around the blind and use another crossing point that is clear from the unfamiliar blind. Branden also cautions hunters to avoid water holes that are in the vicinity of fields where irrigation is running. “Antelope will not have to leave the field if farmers are irrigating and you will typically wait for a long time, doing nothing more than watching the show from a distance. Also, if you’re hunting from a blind where cattle may be grazing, be sure to pound some t-posts in the ground and run wire around your blind to deter the cattle from your setup. Cattle will rub on anything and will ruin a good ground blind fast!”
Water is one of the main attractions to consider when looking for a location to setup your groundblind.
Despite its many benefits, hunting from a ground blind can be downright brutal. Outside temperatures of 95 degrees can easily push the temperature inside a ground blind well over 100 degrees. After many uneventful hours in the sweltering blind, many hunters hit their breaking point. Spot-n-stalk hunting soon becomes the best new option for success.
Creepin’ and Crawlin’ For Antelope
Spot-n-stalk hunting for antelope with a bow ranks among some of the toughest challenges a bowhunter can face. You’ll see very few successful spot-n-stalk antelope hunts on TV or videos. It is simply too tough for the average guy to pull off. Much less with a cameraman hangin’ over the hunter’s shoulder. Can it be done? Absolutely! Will you have to work your tail off to get it done? You better believe it! Here’s a few tips to keep in mind when you crawl out of the ground blind and begin to let your feet do the work.
All it takes is a subtle rise or fall in terrain to put you within bow range of an antelope.
Work on finding antelope in a “stalkable” location. Antelope in wide open country can be very intimidating. But many guys drive right by antelope opportunities, dismissing the herd they see as untouchable. The fact is all it takes is a little change in the terrain to put you onto an approachable path. “Don’t always over-look the pancake-looking flats,” says VanDyken. “You can usually find a slight swell or rise that will help you on your stalk. A one foot rise in the lay of the land can be your ticket to getting in range.” Also, be sure to scope out a field from a number of different vantage points. Look for that slight rise, a pivot tire track suitable for crawling, sage brush that will allow you to scoot into bow range, or any other terrain break that allows you to move. Chances are there will be some type of change in the landscape that will allow you to go undetected as you make an approach.
Would-be antelope hunters also fail because they underestimate their shot opportunities. The shots we typically experience on whitetail deer at 15-30 yards will rarely happen when chasing antelope by spot-n-stalk methods. On average, shot opportunities at antelope are twice as far, with 40-60 yard shots being the norm.
Don’t expect whitetail range shots when hunting antelope. Long range is the name of the game and increases the odds of success.
Knowing when to make your move at the moment of truth is also of the utmost importance. Jim Kinsey of Skull Bound TV knows this all too well as he’s found himself pinned down by approaching antelope in the wide open on more than one occasion. “With some of the best eyes on the planet Antelope can see danger approaching from as far as 3 miles away,” says Kinsey. “Knowing when to draw your bow is the one thing antelope hunters need to constantly think about as the moment arrives. An Antelope’s eyes miss nothing!”
Aside from your basic bowhunting setup, other must-have gear for antelope hunting includes quality optics for glassing from a distance. Jim Kinsey recommends fine optics like his Vortex 10×42 Razor HD’s and a good quality spotting scope (www.vortexoptics.com). For the ground blind hunter, the Primos Double Bull Double-Wide Ground Blind is hard to beat with its silent-slide window system and no-wind-flap design (www.primos.com).
Start your fall season off early this year with a trip to the open country for antelope. You’ll be tested. You’ll be humbled. You’ll also be grateful for the opportunity to bowhunt one of the country’s most challenging big game animals.
Brodie Swisher is a world champion game caller, outdoor writer, and seminar speaker. Check out his website www.thrutheseason.com.