Hunting > Big Game

Best of the West (Page 2)

Whether you prefer a DIY adventure or a fully guided hunt, “getting your goat” starts with pinpointing where and when to hunt. Read on and start hatching your plan.

As you consider units for a pronghorn hunt keep in mind the percentage of privately owned land vs. publicly owned within. If it’s a trophy-producing unit you can bet an elk ivory that outfitters have bid on hunting rights to the private property. If so you’ll either find yourself married to a section of public land or considering the option of paying a trespass fee to hunt across the fence.

Although limited public access can be a restrictive factor, consider the public location as you scout. Small slivers of BLM or state trust lands may provide the perfect corridor to an adjacent private oasis. The small parcel may also harbor resources such as water that can lure pronghorns over the fence and into your public-land ambush.

How to Tag a Trophy
Pronghorn seasons vary across the West. Some offer the distinct advantage of hunting during the September rut with a firearm like in Wyoming. Others push the general firearm seasons into October. It doesn’t matter. Pronghorns don’t hide out in thick cover like whitetails and elk. They prance around all day long in daylight, giving you a hunting show few species can duplicate. And unlike most big-game species that can be seen at dusk in one location but roam miles in the dark, pronghorns have a turkey tendency to roost near their sunset location and generally can be found nearby the next morning.
All of the above goes out the window when hunting pressure is applied. Although pronghorns still keep to their daytime movement, they’ll escape to nearby country void of roads and defined by harsh terrain. Look for them well beyond where the ATV trail ends.

Use this knowledge as a starting point. It includes a heavy dependence on maps with scouting that can be done at home then finalized with an on-site recon prior to the hunt. Begin by looking for areas in your hunting unit that don’t have roads but offer public-land access. Most hunters will hike 1 or 2 miles, but 3 is the max. Any areas with 3 square miles or more of country closed to motorized access will be a definite pronghorn refuge during the orange invasion.

Next, overlay topographical definitions and back them up with a Google Earth flyover to check for openness. Find a desolate rough patch with nearby water and you’ll likely land amid pronghorns during the season. I scouted a public-land area for my son’s first pronghorn hunt that exhibited these traits. Unfortunately, I was traveling for work so my brother and son headed out on opening day without me. Donning backpacks, the duo hiked into the large quadrant of public land and was deboning a buck by mid-morning.

Sometimes you just won’t be able to get far enough away from any road or trail. Don’t toss the maps yet. Look for remote corners and parcels adjacent to the best escape areas, private or public. Now make a plan to get there before the other hunters. The opening day or weekend rush of hunters on public land creates an unorganized pronghorn drive that pushes the animals to the farthest corners away from trails and trailheads. More than once I’ve left these same trailheads in the dark well before other hunters were even awake. This early assault allowed me to circle suspected herds and set up early so when hunters did arrive they moved the masses of pronghorns my way. I’ve shot several bucks using other hunters as my impromptu drivers.

Livestock also can be your friend, at least the faux kind anyway. Most pronghorns wade through livestock at some time during the year. Whereas pronghorn decoys can be a dicey gamble during a firearm season, you can use a cow decoy to hide behind and sneak up to sharp-eyed pronghorns. Move slowly and keep the decoy in front of your form to cut the distance across large basins or open pastures.

Several companies manufacture livestock decoys, but if you own a hay burner you can use a live horse as a mobile blind. Be sure the horse is calm and collected. If the animal isn’t accustomed to gunfire or the snap of a bowstring,ß it may pay to bring along a buddy for help. Once you cut the distance, have the shooter hide behind some natural cover while the horse wrangler moves the animal a safe distance away. If you’re successful, a set of portable panniers may be in order to eliminate the chore of backpacking pronghorn quarters. One of my greatest pronghorn adventures was sneaking up on unsuspecting bucks while hiding behind a saddle horse.

Pronghorns may not have the headgear of a heavy-horned muley or a majestic bulging elk, but they provide a challenge as Western as any John Wayne cattle drive. And you won’t find a more stunning setting as you hunt America’s sole survivor.

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