A Family Pronghorn Antelope Hunt: Making Memories
Oh, what a day it had been!
At first light, we spotted a tall-horned antelope buck bedded on a hilltop overlooking a large valley. After giving him a full inspection, we left knowing that he sported heavy horns pushing the 16-inch range with average prongs and a small bump on each horn.
Over the course of the day, we traveled many miles and glassed more than 50 other antelope bucks. None of them was bigger than the buck we saw first thing in the morning. So, with an hour of hunting time left, we went back to look for the big buck. It didn’t take long to find him, but now, he was with 17 does and two other bucks. One buck was tiny, but the other one was almost as tall as the guy we were after, but with horns that weren’t as heavy.
The herd of antelope was contently feeding in a small valley and oblivious to us. After a quick stalk, my son and I got to within 118 yards of the buck. However, when we crested the hilltop there was no opportunity to pull the trigger as he was surrounded by his harem of does. Ever so slowly, the group of antelope fed away from us to the opposite hillside. When they were 235 yards away, the herd slipped over the hill and disappeared. Realizing we had only about 15 minutes of legal hunting time left, we decided to back out of the area and return the next morning for another encounter.
As I went to bed, thoughts of the past few days started swirling through my head. It was the first time in over 12 years that I had been drawn to hunt antelope in my home province of Saskatchewan. While antelope once were plentiful in Saskatchewan, a series of miserable winters had greatly culled the herd. The numbers had been low, and many seasons had been cancelled. Thankfully, this year, the population was finally strong enough for a season, but with a very limited number of special draw tags. I was lucky to have a tag, and so did my son, Kyle, and my daughter, Courtney. To further add to the excitement, this was their first time ever hunting antelope.
Breaking in Newbies
A couple of days earlier, we had traveled several hours to the far southwest corner of Saskatchewan, but by the time we got close to our hunting area, the sun had set and darkness had settled in. While I fully knew what to expect the next day, the kids had no idea regarding what they were about to see and experience.
On the first morning, we met my buddy Howard, who farms in the area. Since it had been years since the season was held, he was happy to tag along, provide some extra eyes, and enjoy the action. As the sun lifted to start the day, we were treated to a stunning view of the Saskatchewan grasslands. While the western scenery was stunning, the sheer number of antelope we saw was amazing to both me and the kids.
There were herds of antelope everywhere. Some were in small groups of five or six animals. Others were grouped in herds of 40 to 50 antelope. Seeing antelope was not going to be a problem on this hunt. However, finding respectable bucks and singling them out of the herds was going to be the challenge…and we were up for it.
The first morning, we stalked several different bucks. Some were too small for our standard, while others busted us and got away. We could tell the antelope rut was in full swing as we observed bucks herding their does and chasing away rival bucks. At one point, we got between a shooter buck and most of his harem. Although the buck kept trying to come back to the big group of does behind us, he kept going back to a distant hot doe. Eventually, that doe lured the buck away and they disappeared.
One on His Own
Around noon, while traveling back to look for the buck that had given us the slip earlier that morning, we spotted a lone buck bedded all by himself in the middle of a stubble field. Courtney decided she would like to try a stalk on that buck, and away we slowly went. When we ran out of cover, I ranged the buck with my Vortex rangefinder and whispered that he was 217 yards out.
Ever so slowly, she extended the legs on the bipod attached to her rifle stock, shouldered her rifle, and worked the bolt to pull a 130-grain .270 Winchester Power Max Bonded bullet into the chamber. Given the crosswind, she steadied the crosshairs on the outside edge of the buck’s neck and squeezed the trigger. Boom! And just like that, Courtney had her first antelope buck and our first buck of the trip.
After a few photos and a quick field dressing session, the hunt continued. We kept seeing antelope after antelope, so Kyle and I continued to hold out for the right opportunity. At one point, we spotted a wide-horned buck along the edge of a fence line. Kyle liked the wide frame of the antelope’s horns but after we stalked in closer, he was hesitant to shoot because the horns didn’t have much mass. Based on the sheer number of antelope we were seeing, he let the buck walk away.
As we talked about the shape of buck horns, Howard mentioned how a friend had told him about a really wide and heavy buck. He had never personally seen the buck, even though he had been by that area several times in the past few weeks. Howard did have a picture of that buck on his phone, though, and upon seeing the picture, Kyle was up for finding that wide-horned buck.
Spotting Each Other
We drove the truck a few miles until Howard indicated we were in the general area where his friend had spotted that buck. The words were barely out of his mouth when we spotted a herd of about 25 antelope bedded in a slough bottom among some big round bails. Instantly, we started glassing each animal in the herd. And there he was!
During the day, the wind had strengthened and the antelope were tucked away in a low spot to avoid it. Taking the wind into account, we formed a plan to stalk to the buck, hoping to get close enough in for a shot. The first part of the stalk went well. However, the antelope had positioned themselves not only to avoid the wind, but to see the downwind area in front of them. As a result, when we were about 500 yards away, the antelope spotted us, jumped to their feet, and took off running.
They didn’t go too far, but ran into a field where the farmer was doing some fall work and cultivating the field. Wanting to get another look at this majestic buck, we drove up to the corner of the field and started glassing again. Soon, the farmer drove his tractor and implement near us, then stopped and waved us over, saying, “Now, that’s a big buck!” Before we could respond, he said, “I’ll just keep working this side of the field and you guys can go and hopefully get him!”
A Green Light
There was no hesitation on our part. On the farmer’s green light, we stalked towards the herd of antelope. The antelope were walking single file and the buck was the last antelope in the string of animals. With the noise and motion of the nearby tractor, we were able to get just under 300 yards from the group. After a summer of practice shooting sessions, Kyle was quite capable of shooting at that distance, so distance wasn’t a concern. What was concerning was the strong, gusting wind and the effect it would have on a bullet at that distance.
Kyle got into the prone shooting position and used a Bog Pod, with the legs splayed out as flat as they could go to help steady his rifle. As he waited for a break in the wind gusts, I used my range-finding binoculars to concentrate on the antelope buck. The group was motionless and almost mesmerized by the buzzing tractor. When I sensed the wind slowing down, I heard the roar of Kyle’s rifle and watched the buck collapse. We were now two for three!
By the time we got Kyle’s antelope field dressed and drove back to town, all the local restaurants were closed. The only place open to get something to eat was the local bar across the road from the motel where we were staying. Since Courtney wasn’t old enough to go in a bar even to eat, we did takeout meals and celebrated the day’s hunt with a giant platter of deep-fried goodies.
Day 2 Adventures
On day two of the hunt, Howard was busy, but his brother Brad wanted to join the adventure. I had known Brad for as long as I knew Howard, so it was going to be a good day hunting and visiting.
On our way to pick up Brad from his farm, Courtney spotted a nice-looking buck bedded on the edge of a hilltop overlooking a valley. We were able to move in closer and check him out with our Vortex Diamodback HD Spotting. He had heavy horns pushing the 16-inch range with average prongs and a small bump on each horn. With plans to spend a full day with Brad, we left that buck alone, knowing that he was the standard to beat.
That day, we saw countless antelope and compared every buck we encountered to the “King” spotted early morning. Most of the buck’s horns were either too short, not heavy enough, or had a broken tip or prong. We did spot three bucks of similar caliber to the King. They were so close that we returned to the King each time to do a visual comparison, and on each occasion, the King ruled.
Back to the Beginning
It was getting late in the day, and I decided we would a try to harvest the buck that had been the standard all day long. We returned that area and within short order and found him with two other bucks and 17 does. We watched them feed into a small valley. When they disappeared, Kyle and I set out after them.
My heart was pounding as we closed the distance to the edge of the valley. We stopped a few yards away from the edge to catch our breath and then went into crawl mode. As we got to the edge and peered over, we were amazed to see the antelope right there!
They were grouped together in a tight bunch and the big buck was right in the middle of the herd, a mere 118 yards away. There was no safe shot. With the sun quickly setting, we were hopeful that they would spread out to provide a clear shot at him. He had no idea of our presence, but he stayed right in the middle of the pack of does. The other two bucks followed single file behind the group. As they moved along, I considered shooting another big buck, because it was such an easy shot. However, I knew the buck positioned in the group of does was just that much better, so I waited as they walked further away.
I was wide awake before the alarm sounded and so I woke the kids. It was time to get dressed to see if we could find the King again. We were in position well before sunrise. As dark turned to light, we could see the herd of antelope across a distant field. They basically saw us as soon as we spotted them and started running. Thankfully, they were running in the direction where we had seen the buck by himself the day before. We knew that path of travel would be within shooting range.
As the antelope ran, I grabbed my rifle and headed for a rock pile that was between the antelope and where we were parked. The kids were hot on my heels. As we tucked into the rock pile, the antelope disappeared into a low spot. Much to my surprise, instead of running out of the low spot, they slowly walked out as if they were looking to see where we had gone. They were single file and the buck I was after was near the front of the herd. Magically, they all stopped walking and looked back in the direction they had come from. Kyle was looking through a pair of Vortex Fury HD Range Finding Binoculars and whispered to me, “Fifth one back, 327 yards.”
Finding the Target
I counted back and knew I had the right animal singled out. Antelope are small targets, but they offer a great aiming point on the chest where the white of their belly meets the brown of their upper back and shoulder. Knowing this is where I needed to hit, and having my rifle dialed in to zero at 325 yards, I did one last check to confirm that I was looking at the big buck. At that point, the crosshairs nestled right into those color transition lines. I squeezed the trigger to release a .270 130-grain Winchester Power Max Bonded bullet. At the shot, Courtney yelled out “Dad, you got him!” And just like that, it became three for three!
As I walked up to my downed buck, I could tell he was every bit as big as we had imagined. I was super happy with my success in taking a great antelope buck, but even happier that the kids and I were able to enjoy such a high-quality family hunting adventure. It was a trip where everyone had a fun time, filled their tags, and took home life- lasting memories.
BULLETS. Antelope hunting can offer up everything between close-range shots and long-range opportunities, so we use Winchester PowerMax Bonded .270 130 grain bullets. They are flat shooting and retain energy at long ranges.
OPTICS. Optics play a huge factor in antelope hunting because much of the day is spent glassing for animals. On this hunt, we used Vortex Razor HD binoculars and a set of game-changing Vortex Fury Range Finding Binoculars
COOLERS. Once they are field dressed and skinned, it’s good to get your antelope on ice. Quartered antelope easily fit in the YETI Tundra 65 Hard Cooler and will stay cool for the duration of your hunt.