There is no doubt that the whitetail deer is the number one big game animal in the United States. It is something of a tradition to tout a trophy whitetail as one of the wiliest tests of an outdoorsman’s skills. At some other time I might want to argue that notion, given all the stuff being sold to induce a buck to stand under a tree and commit suicide. But I will state categorically that our pronghorn is the ultimate test for a rifleman in North America.
Now why would I make such a definitive statement like that? There are several reasons; starting with the fact that, while pronghorns can be relatively easy to spot on the wide-open prairies and deserts they inhabit, they seem to be more difficult to anchor than most other big game animals. My old outfitter buddy Sam Coutts once told me that a typical non-resident hunter will fire 15 to 20 shots before killing his pronghorn. Ranges tend to be long—quite a bit longer than a typical whitetail hunter is used to. This brings on two potential problems: First the hunter needs to be able to accurately determine the true range of the animal. Second, he needs the knowledge and confidence to make the shot.
That very wide-open country that makes it so easy to spot a pronghorn also makes it quite difficult to estimate range. Laser rangefinders have made that task a lot easier, but it isn’t a rare thing to find that you don’t have time to range the animal before it takes off. A running whitetail at 30 yards is much easier to hit than a running pronghorn at 250 yards.
Pronghorns present a smaller vital target area on average, compared to a deer. That combined with the longer ranges usually encountered when hunting pronghorns presents a much more difficult shot with a significantly smaller margin of error.
Here are five tips to increase your odds of filling a pronghorn tag with less than a box of ammo:
• Make absolutely sure your rifle is sighted in with the exact same ammunition you will use while hunting.
• Don’t head into the field without a set of shooting sticks or at least a bipod and be familiar with its use.
• Practice shooting from field positions before your hunt and be brutally honest with yourself about your range limitations.
• Sight your rifle in for maximum point blank range—the longest distance where you can hold in the center of the chest and not have a mid-range miss.
• Use your rangefinder, certainly, but also back that up by learning to estimate range without it. You may not have enough time.