Hunting antelope in the Western United States is available in almost all of the states west of Kansas. Getting to hunt them often includes either drawing a permit, purchasing a landowner permit, or even a few over-the-counter options if you are looking to hunt as often as you can.
Once you have a permit there are many different methods of hunting antelope. This article will cover all of these methods. From different ideas for archery hunters as well as muzzleloader hunters and rifle hunters.
Archery hunting antelope
The most common method for archers is setting over water in a ground blind, either built in or a portable blind. This is a fantastic method and is undoubtedly the most successful method for hunters looking to harvest an antelope with their bow or crossbow. This being said this method can be less productive in certain areas of the country. Most of the archery hunting happens in the late summer, oftentimes in August or September. If you happen to be hunting in Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas this time of year and even Colorado in some areas you may have a real difficult time sitting over water as you may be contending with the monsoon rains that frequent these areas of the country this time of year. If the monsoons arrive or really any substantial amount of rain to anywhere you are archery hunting antelope, hunting out of blind over water can prove to be a very unproductive week of hunting.
Hunting over water or scrapes.
So if the rain is making hunting over water not an option there are other options to consider if you really prefer to hunt out of blind or some sort of ambush situation. Antelope are a very territorial animal, especially the bucks, and this can be an opportunity if you know what to look for. Being that they are territorial animals using skill sets you may have acquired while hunting whitetails may help you. Pronghorn bucks make scrapes on the ground, and rub their scent glands on the vegetation as well as fence posts and such. Noticing these scrapes and rubs can key you in on a travel corridor for a buck and depending on the area, and the density of antelope in the area. If the conditions are good you may have a short wait before the buck comes to freshen up his scrape or rub. If they are not so ideal you may be in for a long wait, but it will work and the buck will come by it may just take days. Finding these scrapes can take some luck but if you see a buck make a scrape that is one solid method while you are glassing during the hunt or during scouting. Another place to focus on finding these scrapes can be along fence lines.
Where to put your blind.
Antelope have a distaste for fences, they do not jump over them like a deer or an elk but go under them. So depending on the type of fence this could be easier said than done. If the bottom wire is not very high off the ground, or maybe it is a sheep fence vs. a single strand wire fence, you may be able to find a crossing point that they are using often and more likely you will find scrapes along the fence. These locations can prove to be great for a ground blind set up. I have had hunters simply set in the brush along a fence and wait for a buck, which can work, and have had hunters sit in ground blinds but if the rain is making sitting over water quite unproductive then this may help to still be able to hunt this style of hunting and be successful.
Spot and stalk hunting.
If sitting in a ground blind just isn’t your style and you have a desire to take a pronghorn with your bow then spot and stalk may be what you are looking for. This is a very challenging style of hunting. Even within this style of hunting there are a couple different methods you can use when looking to hunt in this way. Most spot and stalk hunters use cover to help them get close. But in the west there is often very little cover. Antelope live in places where there is very little cover. Using the contour of the land is often key in spot and stalk hunting antelope.
The first method is simply picking up your bow, rifle, or muzzleloader and planning a stalk, using different terrain features to stay hidden whether it be some sort of brush, a draw, a small rise in a hill to get closer to the buck you are after. This can be a very difficult undertaking but for some lucky and talented hunters this can be a very rewarding style of hunting.
Decoy in your Antelope.
Another method of spot and stalk hunting for antelope is using a decoy. There are a number of options when looking for a decoy. The oldest and most used, is the Montana decoy that looks like a broadside yearling buck.
The reason that most of these options are a yearling buck goes back to understanding rutting habits of antelope. A mature buck antelope creates a territory which is different from a bull elk that has a harem of cows he follows wherever they go or a deer that tends to monitor different does as he moves to and from the different herds. Buck antelope will mark their territory by making scraping lines and rubs with their gland on the side of their neck. These territories can be as small as a football field or cover a number of square miles. Once the territories have been established and a buck has been able to corral some does into his territory then he will do anything he can do to keep his does cornered. He will run them like a cutting horse and if another buck enters his territory then he will often posture up to that buck and either fight him or run him out of his territory. This is why so many of these decoys are made to look like a young buck, it is meant to trigger an instinctive reaction by the buck to run you off. There is dispute on whether you should use the decoy from long distances away and slowly approach as the does may flare on the decoy which will make the buck go into corral mode. Meanwhile others will tell you its best to stay hidden during your approach like you would if you didn’t have the decoy. Once you are within shooting distance for your respective weapon you present the decoy which will trigger a reaction similar to why a turkey shock gobbles when you blow a crow call or slam a truck door. Personally I think they both can work, or they may neither work. This is a proven method in hunting antelope and I believe that it’s very situational and it may take multiple tries, but like calling coyotes it may take multiple sets but it will work itself out eventually and is a very exciting way to hunt antelope.
Another method you can use is called flagging, this method is tough and inconsistent but can be productive if you don’t have access to a decoy. The idea is to play on an antelope’s curious nature. Essentially you need to get within a bucks territory and stay completely hidden, once in position you simply wave a white flag in a way to get the bucks attention. You want to keep your waves very sporadic without a rhyme or a reason. When it works it works quite quickly similar to a reaction you might get from a buck triggering on a decoy. Don’t take it personally when it doesn’t work. This method is really a game of odds and although not a high success every time you flag, this method can and does work for many hunters each year.
If you are going to utilize your truck or as I like to call it the “Detroit Blind” you may look to capitalize on some of the consistencies that antelope tend to have. The first thing is that antelope in many areas of the country live in areas that are utilized by cattle ranchers and typically at least on opening day prior to hunters shooting and chasing them these goats will typically not flair from a truck entering the pasture or at least not they won’t leave the country. This is an opportunity that can create a shot sooner than later and will probably not be as productive as the hunt progresses. If you can remain calm, and can slowly work your way through an area you are less likely to bump a goat as they are used to some vehicle traffic more often than not of some sort. This is especially true in areas with lots of ranch activity versus wide open range on either the BLM, State Land, or National Forests and Grasslands where there is some rancher activity but not like you will see in states like New Mexico, Texas, and most of your midwest states.
Binoculars and scopes are super useful in Antelope hunting.
Other methods you should look to when hunting out of a truck is to simply cover lots of ground. Stopping as often as it makes sense depending on the type of terrain you are hunting, and glassing. Sometimes a quick scan of an area will suffice, but other times, you may want to really set up and glass. What this means is you are set up on a tripod, preferably with binoculars instead of a spotting scope and slowly working an area over. To get the most effective use out of your optics it’s important to stop scanning for periods of time and simply look through your glass. You want the optics to be completely still, this will allow you to see the slightest movements often much further away than you typically spot game. Once an antelope is located then it would be time to switch to your spotter and have a closer look. True glassing sessions may take multiple hours depending on your vantage point, if you know there are goats in the area, let your glass do the work. The reason this method is so productive really boils down to the fact that you will likely spot the antelope prior to it seeing you. If you see a goat on the side of the road as you are driving then you are not in control of the situation and the goat may run away before you can effectively field judge him, or even get a shot off if the score is not a deciding factor for you. On the other hand if you have been glassing, you see him from a long distance away and he looks like he is worth a closer look, now you have the jump on him and can likely approach one way or the other undetected, and have all the time you need to judge him and set up for a shot if you decide he is what you are looking for.
Field judging for mature antelope.
As we have talked about the different methods of hunting I thought it would be good to go over one of the methods we have learned in the field judging an antelope. You may not be interested in hunting for a Boone & Crockett buck but this will at least give you some ideas to help identify a nice buck versus a small younger buck. This method of field judging is called the “Rule of 7” when scoring antelope you get score from the length of the horn, the length of the prong (taken from the back center of the horn, wrapping around the horn, and out onto the prong), and four mass measurements starting at the bottom of the horn and another mass measurement taken at the first, second and third quarter of length. If the bucks third quarter mass measurement lands on the prong then you will need to move the measurement just above the prong when scoring for Boone & Crockett and double the second mass measurement if you are scoring using the SCI method. The only other difference between the two scoring systems is that SCI takes all the measurements, adds them up, and your total is your score. Boone & Crockett on the other hand takes the difference in score per measurement and deducts the difference from the total so you will end up with a gross score, as well as net score.
Rule of 7 judging for trophy antelope.
So back to the “Rule of 7” now that we know where the measurements are coming from we can use this to quickly identify how big a buck is an get a good idea of his gross score. Essentially what we are looking for with this method is this; 7 inches of horn below the prong (typically his ear heights will be six inches), 7 inches of horn above the prong. A 7 inch prong (very rare), 7 inch bottom and second mass measurement, and his top two mass measurements add up to 7. If you find a buck that looks like exactly what we have described then you are looking at an 84 inch buck which will be well above the minimum score for a record book buck. Now as we said some of these measurements are more likely than the others. A 7 inch prong for example is a giant prong and there are very few bucks per year across the country that have prongs this big, but it is not outrageous to find and take a buck that has 15 inch long horns. So if we run into a buck and we can see what we believe to be 15 inch horns and we are starting our math at 84 then immediately we go up to 86 inches, if he only has 4 inch prongs them we are now down to 78, we look at his mass and make adjustments accordingly and with a little practice you may not have him pegged to the exact inch but using this method will get you close, and will allow you to do what most hunter may take a long time to do in a matter of moments. A trick that I like to use when trying to decide how long he is, is to imagine a dollar bill from his hairline to his prong, is it longer or shorter than a dollar bill, the same goes for above the prong, is it longer or shorter than a dollar bill. By doing this once again, I can often get quite close in his overall length. Like anything this method takes practice and calibrating, but even for a novice, this is better than nothing.
Experience helps in judging antelope size.
The other method we coach hunters into using when field judging antelope is a little easier, and depending on your goals may make sense to you as they are often considered one of the hardest animals in North America to field judge, and personally I think this is a much funner method. What you do is simply drive around, looking at as many goats as you can on day one, don’t get too excited about any of them unless you just happen to run into a no-brainer. Once you have seen a pile of them, you will be much more calibrated, and you simply go back the following day to or at the end of the day and take the one you liked the most, or the one that seemed to be the biggest. At a minimum when hunting in this way, you can go home from your hunt knowing you took one of the best goats in the area, and often it will be an above average buck and if making the record books isn’t the goal then you will be in good shape and often keep you from having some buyers remorse when you walk up to your goat.
Antelope hunting is fun and is different than most other hunting.
However, wherever, and whatever caliber or age class of antelope you decide to hunt you are in for a great time, these amazing animals are the fastest mammal in North America and the second fastest on earth. They have amazing eyesight, and make for some of the funnest fast action hunting in the country. Whether you are new to hunting period, or looking for a more affordable hunt out west, antelope should be high on your list. When hunted in the right areas, you can expect to see many goats, have as many opportunities as you need in order to be successful, and overall these hunts are not considered a grinding or physical hunt that takes lots of time to prepare for, and make for some great table fair in most of the country, and is a perfect hunt to bring the family along for the adventure.