Pronghorn Rifles

Don’t Be Fooled By The Many Enduring Myths.

One of the interesting things about growing up in Montana has been encountering many hunters from other parts of North America who finally make their big trip Out West. This first hunt often involves pronghorn and mule deer, but for some reason the boys really obsess over exactly the right pronghorn rifle, perhaps because mule deer are, well, deer.

Unlike deer, pronghorns live out in the open where we can see them. Consequently hunters tend to take longer shots at pronghorns than any other North American big game animal, even though it really isn’t necessary.

These days most whitetail hunting means sitting in some sort of stand, waiting for deer to wander out of the woods, so many visiting hunters have little idea of how to stalk a big game animal. Neither do many hunters who grew up on the high plains of the West, due to growing up stalking from a pickup truck. As a result, both types of hunters often start shooting at pronghorns as soon as they spot one, partly because most antelope are already onto them. The boys figure they have to shoot now!
Here it should be mentioned that while “pronghorn” is supposedly the “correct” common name for our quarry, something often pointed out by pedantics, the scientific name is Antilocapra americana. This Latin literally translates into American antelope-goat, so yeah, it’s perfectly OK to call pronghorns antelope—or even goats, one of their common Western names. In fact we often call them speed-goats or stink-goats, depending on how close we get.

The reason so many pronghorn hunters emphasize high-magnification scopes and high-velocity cartridges is they’re not very good at stalking unalarmed antelope. Pronghorn hunting actually starts with binoculars, so we can see pronghorns before they see us.

You’ve probably heard the myth that antelope have “8X binocular eyes.” This arose from something written by Jack O’Connor, who mentioned glassing with an 8X binocular and finding a buck looking right back at him. He concluded antelope have vision at least that good—and the myth entered American hunting lore.

Antelope do have very good eyesight, but it doesn’t magnify anything. Like most prey animals, they see movement really well, especially movement on a high-plains horizon. If you really believe in the mythical 8X story, go ahead and bring a good 10X binocular, but a good 8X or even 7X binocular also works well, if you don’t hunt by hiking ridgelines or driving ranch roads until some speed-goats spot you.

The trick is to glass constantly, long before you see any antelope with your naked eyes, peeking from behind rocks or sage, to break up the outline of your head and shoulders. Often they’ll appear as distant white dots, but on cloudy days even their tan-and-white coloration tends to merge with sagebrush, requiring very careful glassing.

Once a buck’s located, the next step is to get close enough for a shot, and in some country this can occur as soon as you’ve spotted them. Back in the mid-1980s, before every particle of Montana’s public pronghorn country had been overrun by all-terrain vehicles, my wife Eileen and I used to hunt a big chunk of badlands. We’d hike in there with pack-frames on our backs, then poke our heads over and around the jumbled landscape. Sometimes we’d find antelope a coulee or two over and have to make a long stalk, but quite often they’d be right there in front of us. Over several years of hunting that country our average shot was about 130 yards, not much more than the average whitetail shot.
By John Barsness

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