August 22, 2022
As long as a cartridge has reach and it bucks the wind well, it’ll kill pronghorn antelope cleanly. So, to a western hunter this topic is sort of like that old discussion of what makes an ideal deer cartridge. Most of us are packing rifles chambered in elk-capable cartridges, so we just don’t worry about whether we have an adequate cartridge/bullet combination.
That said, there are some die-hard, obsessive antelope hunters that have very distinct ideas of what makes a really good pronghorn cartridge. And since they are the best of the best at what they do, I tend to listen when they talk about favorite cartridges.
Several characteristics are always present. One is speed. As in, high muzzle velocity. Antelope occupy vast open prairies and deserts, and before laser rangefinders, it was often very hard to know whether a buck stood 350 or 475 yards distant. Sizzling-fast muzzle velocity flattened trajectory inside traditional hunting distances, and minimized errors in range estimation. Since pronghorns aren’t big-bodied or heavy-boned, shooters lean toward the fast medium-small diameters such as the .25 calibers and 6.5mms.
Another coveted characteristic is the ability to buck wind. Pronghorns live in windy country, and rare is the shot opportunity when wind isn’t a factor. Heavy-for-caliber bullets are usually favored.
Modern shooters and hunters have a much deeper understanding of bullet aerodynamics, so the current pronghorn-hunting scene is trending to high-BC bullets. A combination of high muzzle velocity and heavy-for-caliber, high-BC bullets are a pronghorn-hunters Nirvana.
Without further ado, these are a few of the best of the best cartridges for antelope. We’ve included a couple of classic, capable favorites sprinkled amongst the modern long-range specialists.
Historically, this is the pronghorn-hunter’s pronghorn cartridge. It pushes composite-tipped, boat-tailed bullets in the 110- to 117-grain range fast—3,200 to 3,300 fps. Recoil is mild, and the cartridge is a pure joy to shoot. Spotting one’s own impact and following up with a fast second shot is easy.
A .257 Weatherby Magnum pushes the same bullets faster, and some antelope specialists claim it’s even better. However, that extra speed comes at the price of much lower barrel life. A good .25-06 will last a couple of speed-goat hunters’ lifetimes.
This grand old cartridge has only one down side: Most .25-caliber hunting bullets have relatively low ballistic coefficients. So although they start fast, they can’t hold onto speed as well as their modern counterparts fit with fast-twist barrels and long, extremely aerodynamic projectiles. But inside a quarter mile, the .25-06 holds its own against anything.
This is the accountant’s pronghorn cartridge. If you factor every facet of performance, the lovely little 6.5mm Creedmoor almost always puts you in the black while in pursuit of pronghorn. It’s efficient. It’s high-BC bullets buck the wind beautifully. Recoil is mild. Accuracy is obscenely good.
It’s hard to beat Hornady’s 143-grain ELD-X bullet for antelope. It exits 24-inch barrels at around 2,700 fps, and has a G1 BC of 0.625.
Naysayers will point out that the 6.5 Creedmoor lacks impressive muzzle velocity, and in the traditional pronghorn-cartridge sense, that’s absolutely true. However, the excellent BC of good 6.5mm projectiles just about nullifies that.
If the 6.5 Creedmoor is a good antelope cartridge, the 6.5 PRC is a great one. It shoots the same super-sexy stretched-out high-BC bullets, and shoots them faster. How much faster? Glad you asked. In barrels of equal length, the PRC usually generates close to 300 fps more velocity. That’s more than 10 percent, and brother, does it make a difference.
As with the Creedmoor, arguably the best bullet for pronghorn is the 143-grain ELD-X. Good 6.5 PRC rifles push it around 3,000 fps. Other excellent choices are Nosler’s 130-grain AccuBond and Berger’s 140-grain VLD Hunting.
Down sides? What down sides? If I were forced to choose a pronghorn-cartridge MVP out of all the cartridges afield today, I’d pick the 6.5 PRC. It’s fast, it’s accurate, it bucks the wind like a pro, it hits harder than the 6.5 Creedmoor, and it’s a very polite cartridge to shoot.
Here’s the newest kid on the block, at least in this cartridge lineup. A combined engineering effort between Winchester Ammunition and Browning, the 6.8 Western has made a huge splash in spite of all the naysayers. On paper, it’s ballistics rival those of the legendary 7mm Rem. Mag., and since it’s a more efficient short-action cartridge and burns less powder, it kicks less.
There are two superb pronghorn loads on the market. Browning’s 175-grain Long Range Pro tends to be crazy accurate, and that sleek bullet has a G1 BC of 0.618 and exits the muzzle at around 2,850 fps. It absolutely clobbers deer and antelope, and works fine on elk, too. Winchester’s 165-grain Expedition Long Range pushes it’s AccuBond Long Range bullet in excess of 2,900 fps, and it’s got a similar BC. Pick the one that your rifle likes best and hunt happy.
If an occasional elk hunt is on the menu, and you want to tote the same rifle you hunt antelope with, the 6.8 Western is the best option we’ve listed yet.
7mm Remington Magnum
You know that word “legendary” I used a minute ago? It applies here, in every sense of the word. Now, the classic Seven-Mag is a lot more cartridge than is needed to cleanly kill a pronghorn. However, when loaded with something like a 168-grain Berger VLD Hunting bullet at 3,000 fps or a Hornady 175-grain ELD-X at 2,900 fps, it bucks the wind better than the rest, and hits like the proverbial freight train.
Overkill, you say? There’s no such thing as overkill. In starkest terms, you can’t kill something too dead. The 7mm Rem. Mag. kicks more than the other cartridges here, sure, but don’t complain to me about overkill.
This cartridge’s greatest asset is its versatility. It’s as good for big-bodied mule deer and massive old bull elk as it is for pronghorns. And when you’re hunting the West’s wide-open country and vast variety of game, that’s an invaluable characteristic.