Hunting the Pronghorn Rut
Heat waves dance across the plains. It’s the middle of September and pretty much every locale in the United States is dealing with near-unbearable heat. Just this side of the horizon a nice pronghorn tends his does. My hunting partner unfolds and raises the decoy, rocking it back and forth to catch the buck’s attention. It works. The pronghorn is on us faster than either my buddy or I can anticipate and he busts us at about 60 yards.
What you need to know is that when we raised the decoy to get his attention, that buck was 200 yards away. The thought of some inferior pronghorn invading his territory put him into such a fury that he closed some 140 yards in about 30 seconds. And just as quickly disappeared into the broken landscape.
Hunting the pronghorn rut can be one of the most action-packed adventures a bowhunter will experience. Plus, if you’re like us, sitting over a waterhole from sunrise to sunset can be boring. We’ll talk about how to get out there amongst them and put a decoy to work to draw dominant bucks away from their harems and into bow range.
Where to Go
Antelope are commonly found in western states in the shortgrass prairies east of the Rocky Mountains. Most states require potential hunters to apply for a tag, and in most cases, even nonresidents have a fair chance of drawing a unit they wish to hunt. After you’ve decided you’re antelope hunting, here are five states we’d suggest considering.
Wyoming probably has more antelope than it does people. For this reason, it draws a lot of hunters annually. However, the majority of those hunters head to the Wyoming plains during the rifle season. Another reason to take up the stick and string! Some of the best counties recorded for hunting are Campbell, Carbon, Freemont, and Sweetwater.
Montana’s antelope population is second only to Wyoming. The eastern part of the state has rolling hills while the western half is equipped with rugged terrain. Some of the best hunting areas include Bob Marshall and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
The habitat in northern Arizona and southwestern Colorado are pretty much identical. Except in Arizona you’ll get milder winters that in return help antelope bucks grow bigger horns. Apache, Mohave, and Navajo Coconino are some of the best counties to hunt in.
The hunting opportunities in New Mexico are as diverse as its habitat and terrain. The state is known for having some of the biggest pronghorns in the country. First-time, non-resident hunters have a chance at drawing a tag, adding to the appeal. Private land dominates most of the eastern half of the state, but there is limited state land. Lincoln, Catron, and Mora have proven to be some of the best counties for hunting.
Nebraska has an archery-only over-the-counter tag for antelope hunters trying to think outside the box. Look to the northwestern part of the state where the rolling hills and broken terrain create great habitat for antelope. The hunt itself will be extremely challenging but can be extremely rewarding.
When to Be There
The pronghorn archery season opens in early to mid September in the states mentioned to coincide with the rut. Of course, check regulations. It’d be worth your while to arrive at your hunting location a few days prior to the season to scout. It could help you pinpoint herd bucks on opening morning and give you an upper hand over other hunters in the area.
The archery antelope hunters club is a small but determined group. It’s to our appreciative advantage that the majority of hunters who head west in pursuit of antelope tote rifles. And if you plan on hunting the pronghorn rut, it only happens for about ten days to two weeks and falls during the bow season.
The example we opened this article with is what happens when everything goes just right to draw a buck into bow range. Of course, we were caught so off guard that he lived to see another day. When you’re using an antelope buck decoy, the optimal place to be is in between a buck and his does. You can almost guarantee that he’s coming to kick some butt.
If the set up isn’t right to get to that in-between spot, there’s still a really good chance to draw the buck away from his harem by using the same inferior-looking buck decoy or a doe decoy. A general rule of thumb is that dominant pronghorn will react to a buck decoy while satellite bucks are more likely to come to a doe decoy. Sometimes both decoys together work well because if a dominant pronghorn sees a lesser buck in his domain with a potential mate, he’s not going to like it. Another really great way to get close to antelope is by emulating any livestock in the area, such as a cow.
A lot of hunting the pronghorn rut boils down to practice, patience, and being in the right place at the right time. Spend as much time shooting targets as you can. Get in good shape. Drink lots of water leading up to and during the hunt because you’re going to be in a very hot, dry climate. Lastly, take a buddy. Not only will the experience be that much more enjoyable, it’ll also add a safety aspect that you’ll appreciate in a pinch.
By the way, though we never killed a pronghorn on that hunt a few years back, we did have a few more encounters. Either the wind swirled on us or we were spotted. It was at the same time intense, fun, and one of the most heightened feelings of freedom I’ve experienced in my hunting career.