Archery

How to Hunt the American Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn antelope buck showing the distinctive black cheek patch on males

If you enjoy pursuing big game, I dare say you are always looking for a new challenge to add to your list of hunting accomplishments. My suggestion would be to not overlook the pronghorn.

Today, pronghorn numbers are believed to be well over a half-million animals, scattered across mostly western states. Wyoming is the top producer of pronghorn with New Mexico, Montana, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Washington, North and South Dakota along with Texas all having huntable populations. Pronghorn are also be found in California, Canada, and Mexico in lower populations.

Hunter posing with a trophy pronghorn antelope
The Pronghorn Antelope is perhaps the most iconic big game animal associated with the wide-open spaces of our country’s western prairies and grasslands less it be the American bison.

A Few Facts About Pronghorn Antelope

Despite popular belief, pronghorn are not actually antelope like the those found in Africa or Asia. Pronghorn are truly a unique North American species that use their incredible vision and speed to evade predators. They are most closely related to giraffe and okapi.

The pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in the western hemisphere. They can reach speeds of 60 mph making them the second-fastest land animal, second only to the African cheetah.

Both males and females (bucks and does) can have horns. Females however, if they have horns, rarely exceed the length of the ears. Males shed their outer black horn sheath once a year leaving the boney inner core atop their head for a short time until the sheath supporting the prong grows back. They are the only ungulates (hoofed mammals) in the world that have horns and shed the outer sheath. Bucks also have a distinctive, black cheek patch on both sides, while the females do not.

Hunting Methods

Hunting styles are usually focused on a spot and stalk approach. Pronghorn generally live in open, flat country, where tree cover is limited or non-existent. Pre-scouting your hunt area will give you some idea as to the number of bucks and whether there is a “really good buck” in the vicinity.

One hunting tactic I’ve used in the past is to be positioned on any elevated hilltop (if available) early in the morning with the sun at your back. Once the sun begins to rise, all pronghorn to the west of your position will stand out. The morning sun will reflect off their white and tan colored hides.

Pronghorn buck and doe walking across the plains of the midwest
This buck is in the 13- to 14-inch category, and a very respectable first-time buck for any hunter.

If you don’t spot a buck that you wish to try for, keep moving and repeat the process until you find a buck to your liking. Be sure to glass thoroughly. In years where the grass is high, a buck will often bed in the middle of these grassy areas. You may only spot the black horns poking above the grass line, rather than seeing the whole animal.

Once you have pinpointed the buck you want, a stalk may be in order (keeping the wind in your face). In some cases, you may be able to move in a vehicle (staying on established roads of course) until you can close the distance. As mentioned, pronghorn have excellent vision and can run like the wind, so your approach and stalk must be cautious.

Pronghorn Strategy

Pronghorn display a great deal of curiosity at times — a trait you may be able to use to your advantage. By raising a flag of some sort, you may in fact be able to get pronghorn to move toward you. I have never taken a buck in this manner. However, as an experiment, I have concealed myself in tall grass or a low spot in the terrain and waved a cap or neckerchief when pronghorn were already watching me. On more than one occasion, the pronghorn moved closer to me out of curiosity.

hunter with a trophy 15-inch pronghorn antelope harvested with an AR-15 rifle
A nice buck in the 14- to 15-inch category, taken with an AR platform rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor.

Archery hunters will most likely need to make use of a ground blind of some sort. In most states, archery hunts begin in later summer or early fall, making setting up around or near water (where legal) an ideal tactic. Pronghorn will utilize watering areas especially during the warmer months giving the archery hunter a chance within bow range.

Judging Trophy Class

There are three factors that make up a true trophy class buck — horn length, prong length, and the circumference of the horn, or mass along the length of the horn itself. Factors such as age, food, and genetics all play a role in a buck reaching trophy class status.

Without question, both a good pair of binoculars and a spotting scope are critical, especially when trying to determine horn length. Using these optics look for a buck with prongs well above the ears and lots of horn length above the prongs, particularly those with good hooks on top.

HUnter posing with a 16-inch trophy pronghorn
A trophy class buck, over 16 inches with nice prongs and deep hooks on top.

Although the quality of the buck — when it comes to trophy horns — is in the eye of the beholder, the following guidelines give you a general idea.

  • Horn length of 12 to 13 inches should be easily obtainable in most locations and is a good minimal goal for a first pronghorn. The prongs will generally be even with the tips of the ears in this case.
  • A 14-inch buck is getting to be of real interest. Depending on prong length and overall mass, it could make the records book. In these cases, the prongs are above the ear tips but not by much.
  • A 15–16-inch buck will be viewed as trophy class in most areas. With good prong length and some mass, it could be a contender for the records book.
  • A buck with 17 inches or more is exceptional and without a doubt a trophy-class animal.

There are always exceptions to the above guidelines. As a rule, however, the heavier the horn mass, along with length, and good prongs, the better the buck will score. Trophy bucks will usually have prongs in at least the 3-inch and above category. If the prongs start well above the ears, and the buck has good hooks on top with good prongs, he is worth a hard look.

Shooting Distances and Optimal Calibers

Pronghorn are not normally tough to bring down, but like any big game, they can go for long distances if wounded. Therefore, as in all hunting, a well-placed shot is required. Shots may be anywhere from less than 100 yards to as far as you can see. Most pronghorn I’ve taken have been 200 yards or less. Shots of 300–1,000 yards could be encountered. Your ability and skill to make these longer shots rests squarely on your shoulders. Your first goal should always be a clean, one-shot harvest. Please be responsible.

All flat-shooting, centerfire rifle calibers are appropriate for hunting pronghorn. Personally, I have taken them with everything from a .243 Win. to .270 Win. to .30-06. Most recently, I used a 6.5 Creedmoor. Newer calibers, such as the 6.5 PRC and the like, would of course be excellent choices (when paired with the proper bullet).

Terry Nelson leaning on a fencepost glassing with a binocular
Glassing, glassing, and more glassing is the name of the game for most pronghorn hunts.

When it comes to table fare, some folks say pronghorn is great, others not so much. Since the weight of a mature buck is normally only around 100 pounds (60 or so pounds of useable meat), I usually have the whole animal made into summer sausage or breakfast sausage. I have found it to be excellent eating.

With pronghorn being the iconic plains game of North America — quite the striking trophy with solid-black horns against tan and brown hides — it’s no wonder they are on most hunter’s bucket list. If you’re looking for a different big game hunt this fall, that will challenge your stalking and marksmanship abilities, look to the west and the American pronghorn antelope.

Have you hunted pronghorn? What tips can you offer new hunters? Share your answer in the Comment section.

  • Hunter posing with a trophy pronghorn antelope
  • Pronghorn antelope buck showing the distinctive black cheek patch on males
  • Lucid Optics binocular on the horn of a pronghorn buck
  • Riton spotting scope mounted on a tripod on the midwest plains
  • Pronghorn buck and doe walking across the plains of the midwest
  • hunter with a trophy 15-inch pronghorn antelope harvested with an AR-15 rifle
  • HUnter posing with a 16-inch trophy pronghorn
  • Female hunter posing with a trophy pronghorn buck
  • Terry Nelson leaning on a fencepost glassing with a binocular
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

1 Comment;

  1. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) still calls them antelope. I don’t even think they use the word “pronghorn” in their regulations. When I first moved here I was told they were strictly plains animals and would not be found in the mountainous region where I live. I guess nobody told the pronghorns that I’ve found around my place.

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