Pronghorn archery seasons across the country are drawing near, 2020 has been a wild year and it seems the anticipation of this hunting season has been unmatched by previous years. By now, you should have your tag in hand, be flinging arrows daily and counting the days to the first day of your hunt.
Preparing for your first antelope hunt can be somewhat intimidating, simply because it can be difficult to prepare for things you’ve never done, in places you’ve never been. To help you get prepared, here’s a look at everything you need to know about your first antelope hunt.
The cliché saying, “Preparation is the key to a successful hunt,” couldn’t ring more true with any other western game hunt. The terrain, arid climate, wide open spaces and visual sharpness of these critters are things you can only understand after you arrive at your hunting destination.
Hunting pronghorn, antelope, speed goats – call them what you will – can be an extremely humbling experience, even for those hunters that are the most prepared for their hunt.
Before we get into all the “fun stuff” about antelope hunting, let’s get familiar with the animal we’re chasing.
Pronghorn antelope are a truly incredible, beautiful and impressive animal, and regardless of what you’ve heard, they are excellent table fare. “Goats,” as they’re often referred to, are generally lighter in weight than most people expect.
The average antelope buck will weigh roughly 100-120 lbs. on the hoof. You can expect to take home between 40-60 lbs. of meat depending on shot placement and the size of your goat. Antelope hair stands up much more than a deer and makes them look bigger than that. Obviously, they are known for being the second fastest land animal on the planet. And it is true. They often times like to race the truck.
The anatomy of a pronghorn is very similar to that of a whitetail. If anything is different, the vitals may sit a slight bit further forward than deer. The good news is that they have some excellent aiming points that stand out very well.
The armpit has very short hair that looks like a dark spot. The top of this spot is my favorite spot to settle my pin. Antelope have incredible eyesight. Some biologist state that their eyesight is equal to that of a pair of 7x binoculars, and I believe it.
These animals will eat almost anything, but have a taste for greens when it’s available. The most common archery hunting method is from ground blinds over water holes. The temperature, availability of lush feed, and rainfall all have a significant amount of impact on how frequent the goats will drink. Keep this in mind during your hunt.
Pronghorn have horns and they shed the outer shell each year. Both bucks and does can have horns, but the only true way to tell the difference between the two is a black cheek patch at the back of the jawbone. This cheek patch is very visible even on yearling bucks.
The horns are measured in inches. Four circumference measurements, on length from the base to the tip of the horn and one measurement from the back of the horn to the tip of the prong will give you the score. Pope and Young minimum is 67” and Boone and Crocket is 82”.
Success. It’s the one thing that pretty much every single antelope hunter wants to achieve, right? Of course, but before you go on your hunt, I urge you to think about what a “successful hunt” actually means.
Keep in mind there isn’t usually a wrong answer here. But if the only thing that makes your hunt a “success” is filling your tag or shooting a “16-incher,” you should also prepare for the dominant reality, tag soup. The archery success rate for antelope hunters is under 30% across the board, and it’s usually lower for non-resident hunters.
Hopefully, filling your tag won’t be the only criteria you have for a successful hunt. Hunting a new species, seeing new country, hunting through different methods, and enjoying the overall experience should rank at the top of your priority list for your first antelope hunt.
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment in terms of horn size, shot opportunities, etc. Enjoy all aspects of the hunt and you’ll be successful regardless of what happens with your tag.
Archery antelope hunting is one of my favorite hunts each year. Whether it be a ground blind hunt at a water hole, fence crossing, alfala field, or a wide-open spot and stalk hunt, I truly enjoy every experience. Ground blind hunts are pretty straight forward. Find the spot where the antelope seem to be and sit there.
It’s easier to do at water, but don’t be afraid to set your blind in a field, or a meadow, or anywhere that you frequently see goats. You’re probably seeing them in the same spot for a reason, trust it. We’ve taken many antelope from a ground blind in the middle of a 60+ acre alfalfa fields. We see them in the same spot a few times and move the blind.
For the most part, blinds don’t seem to bother antelope much at all. Don’t be afraid to try moving on them. The one thing that I’ve found to make a difference, is to try and set the blind where the antelope will see it from a long ways off. If you can help it, don’t let the blind be a surprise when they walk up to the water hole.
Let them see the blind from 300, 400, 500 yards. This is the distance where they’ll stare at the blind and after they determine it’s safe from that distance, your odds increase exponentially. If they pop up on the ridge and a new blind is set along the waterhole 70 yards from them, they get a little antsy.
You can be aggressive with ground blinds. Just remember to make sure they can see the blind from a distance and put in your time. Chances are good you’ll be rewarded with an opportunity.
The spot and stalk game is fun, exhausting, frustrating and extremely rewarding at the same time. It can be one the most difficult archery hunts on the planet, but all worth while when you connect.
Two of the most important things you can do to help yourself fill your tag on a spot and stalk hunt are: 1) Spend more time glassing and less time walking and 2) Don’t push the envelope. We’ll tackle these one at a time.
If you’re on “antelope vacation” for a week, you don’t want to spend any more time trying to actually find the critters than you need to, because that is only the beginning of actually shooting one. Use your optics to do the walking for you and save the tread on your boots for when you find one you want to go after.
Don’t push the envelope. There are times when this goes out the window, but more times than not, trying to force stalks will only build frustration and make you tired. Not to mention that every blown stalk is a new education for the buck you’re chasing.
When it gets to the 4th quarter of your hunt, go for it. But don’t pressure the antelope early in your hunt because they’re only getting wiser. When you find antelope in what seems like a good position, then go after them. If it is questionable, tap the brakes, and I promise it will pay off.
Another note of spot and stalk antelope hunting is that often times their “bubble” is about 70 yards (this may vary based on where you hunt). This means, a lot of times during the archery season, they’ll let you get into 70-90 yards before they leave you watching white rumps and a dust trail.
One area that I see a lot of people unprepared is how to get their meat (and/or trophy) home. You can certainly be the guy or gal shopping Walmart at midnight looking for a cooler and dry ice to get your meat home, but that’s really not much fun.
Take a cooler (a good one) and be ready. Most western states have dry-ice readily available at grocery stores and meat processing plants. The rule of thumb with dry-ice, if you want to keep the stuff in your cooler “cool” put the dry-ice on the bottom. If you want your stuff to stay frozen, put the dry-ice on top.
If you’re carrying a cape for a mount in the same cooler, keep the cape dry in a trash bag. Your taxidermist will thank you when he doesn’t have to try and clean red blood out of white hair. Regardless of what your plan is, make sure that you have one before you shoot an antelope.
This begins with field care. Are you going to have to skin, quarter and potentially cape your animal in the field? Or are you going to field-dress the animal and drag it out whole?
Either way, there are many great video tutorials on how to quarter and skin in the field, and even how to cape your buck. Do your part and try to be somewhat prepared. Nothing sucks the fun out of walking up on your first antelope like a feeling of, “what now?”
So, what should you do with the meat? Eat it! It may be the best wild game you’ve ever eaten. I would personally trade my elk meat for antelope meat every single day of the week.
People that say, “It tastes sagey,” either gut shot their antelope, chased it for days with a truck and then carried it unskinned in the back of their truck for a full day, or…there is simply something wrong with them. Each year we cook antelope in camp when a hunter harvests their animal, and often times we’ll cook elk tenderloin and serve them both sliced and unidentified.
We have people vote on which is their favorite, and over 90% of the time, the “goat” wins the competition. In the field, if possible, get the animal skinned quickly. This doesn’t mean it has to be immediate, but don’t wait all day if you don’t have to.
If you’re going to quarter the antelope, make sure the hide is off before you put it in the cooler to cool down. When it comes to cooking (as with any wild game) don’t over cook it, and you won’t be disappointed.
My personal favorite way to cook backstraps or loins is this:
Trim all the silver tendon skin off with a filet knife and cut the backstrap in half (leave tenders whole). The skinny end where the backstrap meets the neck will have some additional trimming.
When the piece of meat is trimmed super clean, it’s time for seasoning. I change frequently based on what we have or what we feel like that day. Generally, I will sprinkle Montreal steak seasoning, seasoned salt, garlic powder, dry mustard and pepper on both sides.
I like to get my grill as hot as I can and baste the meat with melted butter. I flip the meat frequently, basting with butter before each flip, cook the meat to no more than 140 degree internal temp, then slice and serve.
Best Gear & Equipment
As archers, many of us are consumed by our equipment. We’re constantly asking about which arrows, broadheads, sights, bows, etc. are going to help us be more successful. I’m constantly asked, “What is the best broadhead and/or arrow for antelope hunting?”
Unfortunately, this answer is different for nearly every hunter, and there are a lot of rabbit holes we could go down, but for the purpose of simplicity, I’ll give you this. The arrow you use truly doesn’t matter if you shoot it well. Personally, I feel that a mid-weight arrow is the perfect combination of speed and momentum.
Antelope certainly have the capability to jump the string when the bow goes off and they do sometimes, but not nearly as often as the average whitetail.
A 420-460 grain arrow for someone shooting 70 lbs. is a good example of what I would call a “mid-weight” arrow. The arrow is simply the vehicle to deliver the broadhead to the target. I will never (and have never) complained about anyone showing up to antelope camp with a big nasty mechanical broadhead.
To be fair, fixed heads don’t bother me at all, but if I had my choice, I would pick mechanical heads 100% of the time for hunters shooting 50 pound draw weights or more. Pronghorn are quick, often times edgy animals, and I’ve seen far more imperfect shots on antelope than any other animal.
The majority of these hits are further back in the cavity than the shooter intended and because of that, I prefer the greater tissue damage that a mechanical generally exhibits than a small hole through the animal with an arrow buried in the sagebrush. I know, I know what the Ranch Fairy says…but let’s ask him how many pronghorn he’s seen shot with a bow.
Contrary to popular belief, pronghorn are exceptionally tough animals. Don’t get me wrong. As with any animal, if you place an arrow through the heart or lungs, it doesn’t matter how “tough” they are. When your arrow doesn’t find it’s mark, antelope can amaze you.
If you think about whitetails, when an animal is hit behind the diaphragm they begin to dehydrate. This is why they’re often recovered near water or wet areas. Antelope begin to dehydrate the same way, but because they almost live their whole life in a dehydrated state, they generally don’t succumb to the dehydration as quickly as deer.
The good news is that you can usually watch them from a distance until they expire. But be careful. It’s easy to talk yourself into trying to sneak in for a second shot. 95% of the time, this is a bad idea. Back to broadheads – this is why I prefer the biggest hole with the most tissue damage that you can get.
Regardless of the equipment you use, or whether you wear a Ranch Fairy t-shirt in public, the bottom line is that if you put the arrow where it needs to go, and the rest is history, photos and good eats.
F.A.Q – Short answers
What broadhead should I shoot? – One that flies good and is sharp. Preferably a mechanical.
How far should I expect to shoot? – That’s up to you, but 40 yards is a great starting point.
Is Antelope meat worth eating? – Yes, very much worth eating. It’s some of the best meat on earth.
What power binoculars should I have? – 10x are my choice.
Are spotting scopes necessary? – Yes, particularly if you are on a spot and stalk hunt.
What is P& Y minimum score? – 67”
Do I aim the same place I do on a deer? – Yes, maybe slightly more forward.
What color camo is best? – If they see you, it doesn’t matter what color you are wearing.
Do antelope jump string? – Yes, they do. Aim for the top of the heart.
How much meat will I get from an antelope? – 40-60 lbs. for a buck / 30-45 lbs. for a doe.
Are antelope nocturnal? – No, and they generally don’t move much after dark. You can usually find them at daylight near where you left them at dark.