Trickery For Trophy Pronghorns

November 17th, 2008 / Posted by
Trickery For Trophy Pronghorns
The Biggest Lopes Are The Hardest To Hunt But They Have a Weakness…They’re Territorial. Here’s How To Capitailize On That Fact. By Tom Tietz

As the buck disappeared over the barren hill, I grabbed my bow and sprinted the 400 or so yards to the base of the hill. With a brisk prairie wind in my face, the final stalk began. Hopefully the big guy would be just over the crest of the hill, in easy bow range. As I neared the crest I knocked my arrow, tipped with a 125-grain Thunderhead.
It was late August and I was hunting pronghorn antelope in northwest Colorado. Although I’ve taken numerous pronghorns, most of them exceeding P&Y minimums, the real whoppers had always eluded me. Not that they weren’t there, they just never ended up with my tag attached. Hopefully that was soon to change. After four long years of applying unsuccessfully, I had finally accumulated enough preference points to draw Colorado’s area 2. The toughest archery antelope tag to draw in the state.

Typically, the best method for hunting antelope is over a water hole, but the author decided to change tactics.

This unit, situated in far northwest corner of the state, is well known for producing better than average antelope. The only drawback is drawing a license. With very few tags and hundreds of applicants, the odds are stacked against all but the persistent applicant. But fortunately Colorado has a preference point system that rewards regular applicants by giving them one preference point for each year they are unsuccessful in the draw. These points are for a particular species. The weapon, unit and season applied for can be changed. I had 4 points when my permit finally came through.

 With one exception, all my previous antelope were taken by spotting and stalking. The exception was a nice buck I took from a blind near a waterhole, the preferred method of most archers. This hunt would be a little different. I wanted it all, take an exceptional buck, but in a unique and exciting way. Although waterhole hunting is far and away the most effective method for taking pronghorn, it can also be the least exciting, in fact downright boring method. At least that’s this writers opinion.

Stalking, on the other hand, is very exciting, but can be a very frustrating and not so often successful method. Even though this is my favorite, and I’d taken several nice bucks this way, I just wasn’t able to score on the real big guys.

Another method, which is growing in popularity, is decoying. Although I had never tried it, it seemed like a super exciting way to hunt antelope with a bow. Just locate the territory of a good buck, set up the decoy, blow on an antelope call and watch out. The drawback here, is that it is most effective during the rut which was still a couple weeks away. Oh what to do.

The Ultimate Strategy 

Here a bowhunter hides behind a decoy. The author has found that hiding about 40 yards to the side of the decoy is the best plan of attack.

Then a light came on. Why not incorporate the use of a decoy into stalking and see what happens. Although I was definitely entering into uncharted territory, the challenge was intriguing. I had to give it a shot. My game plan would be to locate an exceptional buck one day and just watch him and learn his territory. Then in the pre-dawn darkness the nest morning, set the decoy in an area suitable to stalking, getting back a couple hundred yards and wait. If and when the buck would see the decoy, hopefully his curiosity would bring him in to the decoy. As his attention was focused on the decoy, I could stalk him. Sounds good on paper, but would it work in the real world. I couldn’t wait to find out.

That summer I acquired a Flambeau antelope decoy and read up on how to use it. A scouting trip in late July familiarized me with the area. During my scouting I was able to locate several exceptional bucks. One buck in particular, was the largest antelope I’d ever seen. His horns were an easy 16 inches with incredibly heavy bases and prongs that made him look like a forkhorn mule deer. The basin he resided in was also home to several other very good bucks. Guess where I decided to concentrate my hunting efforts?

Late August saw my Toyota 4×4 pickup heading for the high deserts of northwest Colorado, bow and decoy in hand. After a five hour drive I finally arrived at my predetermined campsite. Out in the middle of a sagebrush desert, it wasn’t very scenic, but it was adequate.

The season was already 2 weeks old, so that afternoon I donned my camo, grabbed bow and decoy and headed down the dusty two track road into what I nicknamed the “valley of the pronghorn”. The search was a short one. Withing minutes my Swarovski AT-80 spotting scope was filled with antelope. This place was really target rich. Half a mile east was a herd of twenty to thirty does and fawns, flanked by not one, not two, but four nice bucks, all 14 to 15 inchers. A great way to start, but none of these bucks held a candle to the big boys I saw in July. The best one would probably score in the mid 70′s. Maybe later.

A few miles of bouncing along the dry, dusty track, they call a road in those parts, my excitement hit cardiac levels. Not 100 yards off the road was big boy. He was working his way along a deep draw, choked with 3 foot high sagebrush, totally unaware he was being observed by a drooling hunter in a dusty truck. Not to mention the fact that a 15 mile an hour wind was blowing from him to me. I carefully backed the truck over a small rise until I was out of sight, parked and the stalk was on.

Even though a straight stalk wasn’t what I had planned on, this was to good to pass up. By the time I worked myself into the draw, the buck was about 300 yards away, but still within 20 yards of the draw and unaware. All I had to do is slip up the wash the 300 yards or so to the buck, find an opening through the sage and my tag would be filled with an easy 20 yard shot. Ya right! Old Murphy was working that hot August afternoon. When I got to where the buck should be, he was no where to be found. As hard as I tried, all my 10×42’s could find was miles of sagebrush. Frustrated that a big buck gave me the slip again, I stood up out of cover of the sage, only to have the surprise of my life. The old black faced trophy blew out of a shallow depression where he had bedded, not 15 yards away. Boy, did I feel like the “great white hunter” at that moment. I’m sure glad there weren’t any witnesses, I felt stupid enough. Make a perfect stalk on the buck of a lifetime and then blow it just as perfectly.

The Great Fake Out

A decoy lured this 80+ Antelope right to the author.

A decoy lured this 80+ Antelope right to the author.

Dejectedly, I made the now long walk back to the truck. As the sun set in a ball of fire to the west, antelope began popping up everywhere. Although I was unable to relocate big boy, I did find a real nice buck along the edge of some sand hills at the south end of the same basin. He was a better than average buck with heavy horns about 15 inches in length, and excellent prongs. He’d do. The next day was spent trying to get on him, but without success. Time to try my decoy technique. He was spending the late evening and early morning hours out on the sage flats,chasing does and then just after sunrise he retired to the cover of the sand hills. My plan was to set up in the sand hills before daylight and see what happens.
Sleep came tough that night, as I replayed every possible scenario. Startled by that obnoxious invention called an alarm clock, I gulped down a quick cup of coffee and readied my equipment. Loading the decoy in my truck, I donned my camo, sprayed down with Scent Shield and headed out into the darkness. Arriving near the sand hills, I placed the decoy on a low hill and backed off a couple hundred yards and awaited daylight.
Daybreak came without fanfare, but just as the sun popped over the horizon, things began to happen. The buck was heading across the sage flat, almost straight toward my position. At about 500 yards he suddenly froze and stared directly at the intruder on the hill tail flared in an alarm pose. This seemed to go on for hours, probably 5 minutes, and curiosity finally got the best of him. Slowly he approached to within 100 yards of the decoy, snorting as he closed the distance. He moved in a little closer then began circling it. That’s where we began.
Keeping a small clump of sage in front, I eased over the crest on my belly. Not only was he there, he was close. About 25 yards! Backing off slightly, I rose into a low crouch, drew my Bear T/D Hunter and took one step forward. With his attention focused on the decoy, about 50 yards to my right, I aimed at his sweet spot and released. You can imagine his surprise when the arrow hit home. Within a few seconds it was over. My dream became reality as I stood over my trophy buck. I love it when a plan comes together.
The experience reinforced my belief theat you can use a variety of proven tactics in unique ways, and still be successful. This pronghorn was taken by combining two proven techniques to fool a wise old trophy. Mixing techniques, or doing unothodox things doesn’t always work, but never fails to provide excitement. And that’s what it’s all about anyways. If using the same tactics all the time gets a bit mundane, try mixing it up a little. If you hunt for the experience, you have nothing to lose.
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