Alright, clear your brain waves of whatever it is you thought I was going to write about in this blog post…this is about pronghorn hunting. More specifically, how to construct the proper mindset for going in to a pronghorn hunt when you (A) are not an expert at field judging antelope, and (B) are not too obsessed with shooting a pronghorn of at least a certain size.
First off, if you are good at field judging antelope and have lots of experience doing it, then I respect your skills and hope you find that buck of your dreams…you know, the one that will net 80 3/8″ after drying instead of coming up just short at a paltry 79 7/8″. Respect, but does size really matter?
I ain’t that guy, so here’s an approach that brings a good balance to the attitude of “I have to shoot a B&C goat” and “Wow, I wasn’t that concerned about size, but this thing is a peen!” This approach will bring you the best of both worlds – it will push you to shoot the best goat your respective area has to offer, and it’s destined to leave you feeling satisfied and accomplished even if your goat comes in under whatever “inches of horn” threshold you have floating around in your head. Perhaps beauty is actually in the eye of the beholder?
Let’s start with the obvious. There isn’t a tremendous amount of difference between a buck that will squeeze past P&Y minimums and a buck that will sit neatly in the mid 70’s. Look at any “score this pronghorn” thread on any website and you’ll see the range of opinions are almost comical. Once you rule out the sub-13″ers, bucks can start to look the same. Just ask Andrew from his hunt with me in Wyoming in 2007. He was going cross-eyed after we looked at the 150th 64-72″ buck in 2 days of hunting. Back to that hunt in a minute…
Antelope, though remarkably cookie cutter, come in an array of configurations if one looks closely. A 13″ buck with strong prongs, mass, and ivory tips might be worth hanging on the wall, while a 15″er with lesser prongs, smaller mass, and a classic heart shape would also be a trophy. Those are just 2 variants of which the list is LONG. As in, I could take the time and write up 20 different trait combinations that I’d consider a good goat, and that effort would just begin to scratch the surface. That said, most antelope hunters neither have deep enough pockets to purchase top-notch German glass for getting a truly great look at each potential target nor the ability to differentiate the finer points of scoring antelope at ranges of 200, 300, and 400 yards. Good luck differentiating 1 or 2 inches in horn length or between a 4 or 5 inch prong.
Again, referencing comment above, there are guys who make a science of this and who truly are expert field judgers, but they are in the 1%.
For the rest of us, there is no doubt it’s tough if you’re dead set on counting each and every inch. In fact, it’s unrealistic, so unrealistic that it sets up the entire situation for disappointment. Is it really okay to be disappointed with a 72″ goat when you thought you were pulling the trigger on a 75″ buck? I think not, and if you are mopey after ground checking an under-sized animal, perhaps hunting in a pen where the owners can narc your future trophy and do the whole pre-measure and ring you up at the cash register thing, maybe that’s more your speed.
So here’s the system, the mindset, if you will. Decide on a characteristic or two that really appeal to you, and you can probably find a buck that fits the bill. Now proportionally, your unit might only be capable of serving up a 13″, 5″ mass, 5″ prong buck or it might be a 14.5″ tall, 5.5″ mass, 5.5″ prong, but it’s going to be what you envision as your trophy antelope. In 2007, Andrew got off on a goofy streak, and the mission became simple. Find him a goofy looking buck that doesn’t look like a copy-cat to the scores we’ve already glassed. I wanted a representative buck which was a really general goal, and it led me to shoot a buck with decent length, decent prongs, and decent mass…kind of like shooting a 17″ wide 8 point 3-year old buck in white-tail terms.
So all that to say, as you prepare for an antelope hunt, start coming up with a profile that pinpoints what you’d like to find in an antelope. I’m guessing we’ll all come up with slightly different mental pictures, and that’s great. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
To wrap up, do your best to learn some basic rules about field judging pronghorn. Yes it is a supreme challenge to accurately field judge antelope but there are three rules of thumb that I keep coming back to. (A) – Mass is where the inches are. Antelope get 4 mass measurements and any “how to field judge antelope” will stress this. An antelope with heavy mass is going to score well. (B) Where does the prong start in relationship to the eartip? If the prong comes off the horn lower than the eartip, that buck is probably not longer than 12, maybe 13″ if he’s got good curl at the tip. Once you have length guesstimated, then prongs, curl, shape, width, mass, all the like come into play. (C) Never walk away from an antelope until you have seen him from the front AND side. A 14″ buck that leans forward will look like an 11″ buck from 300 yards away straight-on. Turn that buck sideways and his length will become apparent, and who knows, he might be sporting 7″ prongs to boot! I’m not sure any one of these is more important than another, but if you can assess this 3 point checklist, you’ve got most of the information you need to decide on whether or not to pull the trigger for any given buck.
This is an edited version of an email that I sent to each of my hunting buddies for this fall’s upcoming Wyoming antelope hunt. They have lots of time to think about what brand antelope will get them excited, and I’m looking forward to seeing how those different tastes and preferences play out as October gets closer.