The American Pronghorn Antelope portrays and is associated with the wide-open spaces of our country’s western prairies and grasslands perhaps more than any other big game unless it be the American Bison. If you are a hunter, then no trophy room is complete without a nice representation of this iconic western big game animal.
Below are some interesting facts about the pronghorn:
- The pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in the western hemisphere. Top speeds can reach 55 mph which gives the pronghorn the second-fastest land animal rating, behind the African cheetah.
- Pronghorn are not actually antelope like the species found in Africa or Asia, rather they are truly a unique North American species and use their incredible vision and speed to evade predators.
- Both males and females (bucks and does) can have horns. Females however, if they have horns, rarely exceed the lengths of the ears. Bucks also have distinctive black cheek and neck patches on both sides, while the females do not.
- Both buck and doe pronghorn shed their outer black sheath once a year leaving the boney inner core atop their head for a short time until the sheath supporting the prong grows back. They are the only ungulates (hoofed mammals) in the world that have horns and shed the outer sheath.
The number of the world’s fastest antelope are estimated to be between half a million to one million animals scattered across western states. Wyoming is the top producer of pronghorn with New Mexico, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Texas all having huntable populations.
New Mexico is known for producing numerous record book pronghorn. Pronghorn licenses in most states are issued through a draw system, so continued application on your part may be necessary.
Pronghorn Antelope Hunting Methods
Hunting styles are usually focused around a spot and stalk approach. Pronghorn generally live in open, flat country, where tree cover is limited or non-existent, therefore it’s possible to hunt pronghorn throughout the day. Pre scouting your hunt area will give you some idea as to the number of bucks and if there is a “really good buck” in the vicinity.
Generally, I move through the hunt area by vehicle. Pronghorn are accustomed to seeing ranch trucks moving about. A hunter walking through flat prairie habitat sticks out like a sore thumb, and these animals have excellent eyesight.
A solid tactic that I have used in the past is to be positioned on any elevated hilltop, if one is available, early in the morning with the sun at your back. Once the sun begins climbing all pronghorn to the west of your position will literally shine with the morning sun reflecting back off of them.
As you might imagine a good pair of binoculars and a spotting scope are critical especially when trying to determine horn length. If you don’t spot a buck that you wish to try for, keep moving and repeat the process until hopefully finding a buck to your liking.
Be sure to glass thoroughly. In years where the grass is high, a buck with often bed in the middle of these grassy areas, you may spot those black horns sticking up before you see the whole animal.
Once you have pinpointed the buck you want, a stalk may be in order keeping the wind in your face. Or in some cases you may be able to move along in a vehicle (staying on established roads of course) until you can close the distance. As previously mentioned, pronghorn have excellent vision and can run like the wind, so your approach and stalk must be cautious.
As a side note of interest, pronghorn tend to be very curious at times, a trait you may be able to use to your advantage. By raising a flag of some sort, you may in fact be able to get pronghorn to move towards you. I have never taken a buck in this manner; however, I have concealed myself in tall grass or a low spot in the terrain and waved a cap or neckerchief when the animals were already watching me.
They did in fact move closer to me out of curiosity, so I believe this tactic could be prove to be productive in a hunting situation. Certainly, would not hurt to give it a try.
Archery hunters will most likely need to utilize a ground blind of some sort. In states where archery hunts begin in later summer or early fall, setting up around or near water sources is likely to produce results. Pronghorn will definitely utilize water holes especially during the hotter months giving the archery hunter a chance to get within bow range.
Judging Pronghorn Trophy Class
If you are looking for a trophy class buck, what do you look for? There are three factors that make up a true trophy class buck, horn length, prong length and the circumference of the horn, or mass along the length of the horn itself.
Although the quality of the buck when it comes to trophy horns are up to the hunter, the following basics give you some idea:
- Horn length of 12 to 13 inches should be easily obtainable in most locations and is a good minimal goal for a first pronghorn
- A 14-inch buck is getting to be of real interest and depending on prong length and overall mass could even make the record book
- A 15-to-16-inch buck will be viewed as trophy class in most areas and with good prong length and some mass, could be a contender for Boone & Crockett
- A buck with 17 inch or even above is exceptional and without a doubt a trophy class animal.
Remember the longer the prongs and heavier the horn mass along with length, the better the buck will score. Trophy bucks will usually have prongs in at least the 3 inch and above category. If the prongs start well above the ears, and the buck has good hooks on top, and good prongs he is worth a very hard look.
Pronghorn Shooting Distances and Optimal Calibers
Pronghorn are not normally tough to bring down, but like any big game can go for long distances if wounded so a well-placed shot is required. Shots may be anywhere from less than 100 yards to as far as you can see. Most pronghorn I have taken have been 200 yards or less.
Shots of 300 out to 1000 yards could be encountered. Your ability and skill to make these longer shots rests squarely on your shoulders. Your first goal should always be a clean one shot kill, please be responsible.
All flat shooting center fire rifle calibers are appropriate for hunting pronghorn. Personally, I have taken them with everything from a .243 Win to .270 Win to 30-06 Springfield, and most recently a 6.5 Creedmoor.
Some folks say the meat has a wonderful flavor, while others say it leaves a lot to be desired as table fare. Since the weight of a mature buck is normally only around 100 to 120 pounds (around 60 to 80 pounds of useable meat), I usually have the whole animal made into summer sausage and breakfast sausage. Very tasty!
Pronghorn are truly a unique big game species, residing only in North America. Aside from being an iconic animal of the American West they are quite beautiful. If you’re looking for a different big game hunt this coming fall that may well challenge your stalking and marksmanship abilities, look to the west and the American Pronghorn Antelope.