It was during my first week in Montana. I was hiking in Yellowstone with a buddy when I spotted a great cloud of dust in the distance. “What the hell is that?” I asked, staring off at what looked like a pack of bouncing orbs vanishing over the horizon. “Antelope,” my buddy said, handing me a pair of binoculars. I put the binocs to my eyes and could just make out the retreating herd, their white rumps standing out in the low light of the evening. They were moving more quickly than anything I’d ever seen, and in seemingly the blink of an eye, they’d vanished. “Wow,” was all I could manage to say. It was my first experience with North America’s fastest land animal and a beginning of a fascination with chasing these tawny ghosts of the prairie.
In truth, these aren’t really antelope at all; the only true antelope reside in Africa. Pronghorn are actually a member of their own unique species. They are the only surviving member of the Antilocapridae family, the rest of which vanished from the continent thousands of years ago. Despite their not being a true antelope, a pronghorn’s incredible speed and leaping ability puts them in the same wheelhouse from a hunter’s perspective. With a range that extends from northwestern Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, across the western United States, all the way into southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, pronghorn are incredibly adaptable creatures. They are able to live and thrive in open habitats from lush grasslands and prairie to the most arid deserts.
Hunting pronghorn is one of the most difficult pursuits a hunter can undertake. Like deer and elk, antelope have an excellent sense of both smell and hearing, but unlike these other popular game animals, hunters must really be aware of a pronghorn’s sight. Their eyes are roughly the size of an elephant’s and see the world with an almost binocular-like gaze. They pick up movement incredibly quickly. Because these creatures live in herds for most of their lives, a pronghorn buck will have several pairs of eyes around him along with his own that the hunter must evade to be successful. Given that pronghorn have a top speed of more than 60 mph, the slightest mistake in a stalk can result in a herd disappearing almost instantly.
The most common and probably most successful way to hunt antelope is to stalk them, though many hunters prefer to set up stands in areas the animals frequent. This is because the pronghorn’s incredible vision and other senses make everything a hunter does while stalking them incredibly difficult. A hunter’s movements need to be slow and deliberate when approaching a pronghorn buck. Most are best approached from cover, which means a hunter may have to belly crawl into range to take a long shot. Hunters planning on a pronghorn hunt should take numerous practice shots on targets 300 yards out or more so they’re prepared for any opportunity that comes along.
Pronghorn are certainly among the most challenging big game animals to hunt in North America. Pursuing them requires an extraordinary amount of preparation and all of a hunter’s skills, discipline, and endurance. Out on the open prairie, these animals are constantly on their guard, so pulling off a successful stalk on a pronghorn is no easy feat. Truly, there is no greater testament to a hunter’s prowess than going out into the seemingly endless grasslands of the American West and returning with a pronghorn buck.