Over the last few seasons, I’ve found myself getting things done in the bottom of the ninth, at the last minute, more and more often. My most attempt at bowhunting pronghorn was no exception. I had one last morning to hunt, and it was coming down to the wire when I spotted him–an awesome-looking buck with prongs that flared straight outward. As is often the case, he was bedded on a wide-open hill that offered very little cover. My only option would be to belly crawl up an ever-so-slight drainage that might bring me close enough for a shot.
Most spot-and-stalk hunters have had to belly crawl at one time or another. It doesn’t seem like it would be a physically demanding task. However, start stretching the distance that you crawl and you’ll quickly discover how physical it can be. By the time I reached the top of the drainage, my muscles were burning in agony. I pulled my hat down low and slowly peeked through a knee-high yucca I was attempting to use for cover. Just then, the buck stood from his bed and began feeding away from me onto a flat that offered no cover for me to follow. It would be now or never, as I needed to leave in less than an hour. The shot would be longer than I hoped, but that’s what you can expect when stalking antelope. Now is when diligent practice at long distances pays dividends. I settled my pin behind his quartering shoulder, took a deep breath and pulled through the shot.
A good friend gave me a valuable shooting tip several years ago. He taught me to ignore the arrow’s flight path and concentrate on keeping my target inside my sight housing until after impact. It is a habit that helps ensure proper follow-through, which is vitally important when shooting at extended distances. I stared at that goat through my sight housing for what seemed like several seconds before watching him bolt. I didn’t hear or see the arrow impact. Raising my binoculars to follow his path of escape, I felt certain I’d missed, and the frustration with another blown stalk began to raise my blood pressure. Then suddenly, as if the bowhunting gods decided to smile on me, the buck stopped and his legs began to falter. He stumbled around in a semicircle and fell to the prairie floor.
Successfully stalking antelope in open country with archery tackle is one of the most satisfying things a bowhunter can do, primarily due to the fact that it is incredibly difficult. When most bowhunters think of antelope hunting, they think of sitting in sweltering ground blinds over isolated water holes. Truth be told, that is probably the most effective way to hunt them with a bow. The fact that I always seem to abandon ground blind tactics probably borders on foolishness. For every successful stalk I’ve made on antelope, I’ve experienced nearly a dozen failures. There is a method to my madness, though. You see, I firmly believe that if you can become somewhat consistent at stalking antelope with a bow, you will also become an absolute master at stalking just about any other species.
Antelope have eyesight that is frequently compared to eight-power binoculars. Their eyes are also positioned far apart and on the sides of their heads, giving them an incredibly wide field of view. There simply is no getting away with any movement when it comes to antelope, even at long distances. This incredible eyesight, coupled with the fact that they typically live in notoriously unfavorable stalking terrain, makes spot-and-stalk antelope hunting one of bowhunting’s greatest challenges. If this sounds like a bowhunting mountain you would like to climb, here are a few things you need to prepare for.
SHOT DISTANCE AND BOW SPEED
As I mentioned before, shot distance when stalking antelope with a bow is often longer than normal. Practice, practice, practice! You need to be prepared to shoot a minimum of 60 yards. Speed goats, as antelope are frequently called out west, are also the fastest animal on the continent. When an antelope jumps the string, it doesn’t just duck the arrow by a few inches. I’ve had antelope cross county lines before my arrow reached where they had been standing. I recommend using the fastest bowhunting rig you can shoot accurately. On average, adult antelope weigh between 100 and 120 pounds. They are relatively small animals, so kinetic energy is not a big concern. Tightening your pin gaps and getting the broadhead there in a hurry with light arrows and a fast bow is the way to go.
OPTICS AND RANGEFINDERS
Sharp, compact optics are a must when spot-and-stalk antelope hunting. One of the most rewarding aspects of hunting antelope out west is soaking up the beauty of the vast country they call home. Carry a compact spotting scope and lightweight tripod for spotting goats at long ranges. Once within stalking distance, compact, durable binoculars become imperative. Stalking antelope is very hard on binoculars. You will frequently find yourself face-down in the dirt while stalking antelope, and your binoculars will take a beating. They must be kept handy, though, as you will constantly use them to check and recheck your quarry’s position. Use a harness system that keeps them tight to your chest or you will find that they are always in your way.
Next to your bow, a quality rangefinder might be a spot-and-stalk antelope hunter’s most important piece of gear. Once again, this is an optic that has to be able to take a beating and must be kept at the ready. I’ve found the Sidewinder Evo tethering system from S4Gear to be a tremendously helpful product when it comes to keeping my rangefinder handy. Also, some rangefinders are better at finding targets through grass and shrubs than others. Test yours by lying on the ground and ranging targets through sticks, limbs and grass. If your rangefinder is incapable of consistently ranging targets while a few obstacles are present, you might consider shopping for one that performs a bit better in these situations.
BOOTS AND APPAREL
Most archery antelope seasons begin during August and extend through mid- to late September. Morning temperatures can be quite cold, but midday highs can be sweltering. Layering for these hunts is a must. Garments closest to your body are the most important. They should be lightweight and breathable with advanced moisture management capabilities, as these will be all you wear as you sweat out the midday temperatures. Many good options are available, but Under Armour‘s loose-fitting Evolution Heat Gear and lightweight Utility Field Pants or Cabela’s Microtex Lite shirts and pants are both premium choices.
Proper camo patters are also a big issue when stalking antelope. Antelope country is typically filled with light shades of brown, green, gray and yellow. Leave your Realtree AP or Mossy Oak Break-Up at home. Realtree Max-1, Mossy Oak Brush, Sitka Open Country and Cabela’s Outfitter are prime examples of light-colored patterns that will help you blend in to antelope country most effectively.
Lightweight, uninsulated boots with less aggressive soles are my choice of footwear. Some accomplished antelope hunters prefer to wear sneakers to stalk antelope. For me, they just don’t offer enough protection, and I can’t stand the feel of grass and stickers gathering around my ankles. I want a boot that will enable me to sneak quietly, yet provide some ankle support and be solid enough to protect me from cactus. The Danner Jackal and Under Armour Speed Freak are top choices.
Last, be sure to bring a pair of comfortable knee pads and leather gloves. As I’ve implied over and over again, you will find yourself doing a lot of crawling when stalking antelope, and much of the terrain they call home is covered in cactus. Knee pads and gloves will save you a lot of pain.
Stalking antelope can be one of the most frustrating things you can do with a bow. I’ve come home from many an antelope hunt sunburned, exhausted and cussing the whole experience. Many friends have said that the sport of stalking antelope is intended for riflemen, and I understand why–it is tremendously difficult to do with a bow. But I look at spot-and-stalk bowhunting for antelope as a means of sharpening my skills, and each time I am successful, my confidence and satisfaction level grow. As is the case with many things in life, the greatest challenges yield the richest rewards.