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Pronghorn Hunting

A Pronghorn Hunting Article

Written by T.R. Michels


Pronghorns (Antilocapra americana) are not antelope, and are not related to the African or Asian antelopes or any other family. They are the last survivors of a once widespread North American family known as Antilocapridae. Many of their ancestors had pronged horns on both the top of the head and on the upper nose. Adult Pronghorns may be from 4-4 1/2 feet long, 3-3 1/2 feet high, males weigh 100-150 pounds, females 75-100 pounds. Live 5-10 years, breed from September through October, gestation 7-8 months, generally 2 fawns born in May or June. Color is light tan to reddish tan, with white cheek patches on chin, neck, chest, sides and rumps, ears are trimmed with black. Males have a dark patch under the lower jaw. Both males and females have horns; the males are larger. Their pronged horns, which range from 15-19 inches are shed annually. Tracks are 2 3/4 - 3 1/2 inches long and they have no dewclaws. They have glands at the base of each horn, a pair on the lower jaws, one on the croup (upper rump), on the tail, one on each hind leg, and one between each hoof. North American Population 380,000+.

Pronghorns are an open plains animal, often found in areas of sagebrush, which is one of their main food supplies. They move a lot in search of food and generally go to water once a day, at about the same time every day. They also stay within a defined "home range." For some reason Pronghorns do not jump fences but may crawl through a fence.

There are four recognized subspecies of Pronghorn. The American pronghorn (A. a. americana) inhabits the eastern three fourths of Montana, southeastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, western thirds of the Dakotas and Nebraska, eastern portions of Wyoming and limited portions of the other Rocky Mountain states. The Oregon subspecies (A. a. oregona) inhabits southeast Oregon and portions of Nevada, Idaho and California. The Mexican subspecies (A. a. mexicana) inhabits the plains and deserts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The Sonora subspecies (A. a. sonoriensis) is endangered and inhabits the Mexican state of Sonora. The Peninsula subspecies (A. a. peninsularis) is found in the Baja Peninsula and is endangered. The Peninsula and Sonora subspecies are on the endangered species list.

Pronghorn Biology

Because they live on open plains and semi-deserts pronghorns have adapted their habits and senses to these areas. They have excellent eyesight that they use as their main means of defense. Their eyes are equivalent to 8 power binoculars and can see objects the size of a human being up to two miles away. Because their eyes protrude from the side of the head they have almost a 360-degree range of vision, they can see the rump path of another pronghorn several miles away. Their sense of smell and hearing is good, but not as good as deer. Because of these adaptations pronghorns prefer high points on their range and avoid heavily brushed areas and thick woods. In fact any cover over six feet tall that might conceal a predator, including man, is usually avoided.

Pronghorns, like most animals, communicate through a combination of sounds, body language and scent. Any hunter who has seen antelope is familiar with the flared, white rump patch that is common to many hoofed animals; deer, elk and sheep included. Pronghorn also fan the tan hairs of their back when they are suspicious. When alarmed they walk or trot with a stiff legged gait, raising the rump hairs before racing away. Pronghorns do not vocalize as much as deer but fawns do bleat when they want to be fed or want attention. Does respond to fawn bleats with a short, low blatt or grunt. Trapped animals have been known to emit a short bawl, alarmed animals snort like deer. When alarmed they may emit a scent from the glands of the rump patch. Buck pronghorn mark their territory with scent from their cheek gland, and they scrape the ground and urinate and defecate at different sites to mark territories. During the rut dominant bucks may hide with an estrous female in a gully or canyon in places not normally frequented by pronghorns.

Pronghorn Hunting Techniques
Pronghorns are curious, and any strange or new object on their range is likely to be investigated. Antelope have been known to approach paper or rags caught in sagebrush. Hunters often take advantage of this trait by waving a white handkerchief to get wary animals to come closer. Rifle hunters often drive around or through areas where antelope occur to locate the animals. A few days of observing the animals with binoculars will often tell the hunter where the bigger bucks are located, and which hills, ridges and drainage's they use. It will also show which watercourses they frequent and what time they go to water. Once the travel routes and water sources are located an ambush can be set up. Then it is a matter of making a stalk to take the animal at long range. Pits or blinds in funnels along travel routes or near water can also be used by firearm hunters.

Blinds near water are often the most productive for archery hunters. They can be constructed of brush and weeds, utilizing existing live plants as part of the blind. Man made blinds should utilize some natural material to break up their outline. Depending on the area, sage, grass, tumbleweed, cattails and even rocks can be used. Be sure the blind is large enough for the purpose and gives you the chance to stretch out, you may be spending long hours in it. Take along a lunch, plenty of water and something to urinate in so you don't have to leave the blind. Once the blind is set up take some practice shots to check angles and make sure there is enough room to draw and maneuver. You can pace off the distances to different areas by using rocks as distance markers. Take precautions not to be seen entering or leaving the blind by getting there before sunrise and leaving only when no animals are near, preferably after sundown.

Scent Elimination
Even though you are in the blind be sure to use unscented soaps and products to eliminate human odor. Scent Shield, Scent Killer, N-O-Dor, Odor Lock and other products help eliminate unnatural smells. If you want to be sure you don't leave any scent use one of the new scent elimination suits to absorb any odors you may give off.

You can also use techniques to attract pronghorns to you. Decoys have proven to be a successful tool in bringing in antelope. Guides and hunters have used silhouettes of plywood and fiberglass, archery targets and hard-body decoys. The archery targets and hard-body decoys are the most realistic but the hardest to transport. Silhouettes are easier to transport but lack realistic detail, especially if the antelope approaches from the back or front of the decoy.
I struggled with this problem of compactness, lightweight and portability until I came up with the idea for the Feather Flex bedded deer decoy. Once I field tested it I knew that by changing the color and facial markings and using horns instead of antlers, the same decoy could be used for whitetail, mule deer, elk calf or antelope. The Feather Flex antelope decoy weighs about a half of a pound, rolls up for transportation and is effective. While it does not offer the high profile of a standing decoy it does attract antelope and give a sense of security to antelope approaching waterholes. Buck antelope are territorial and will often check out a buck decoy, giving the hunter the opportunity for a shot. The decoy can also be used to distract the animal's attention from the hunters shooting position, pit or blind.

When antelope approach a water hole they are very skittish and they often survey the water hole, blind and decoy from a hill. If they do not detect danger they may approach, stop, move away, and then move closer. If the animal moves out of sight be ready for it to come into view again or to approach from a different direction. Be ready before the animal gets close so you don't make any suspicious noise or movement when preparing for a shot. If the animal is reluctant to come in a call may work. Pronghorns are known to come to a predator call that may sound like a young antelope in distress. I know several outfitters who are using deer grunt calls to bring in antelope. The grunt may arouse curiosity, give a sense of security, attract a buck out of breeding interest or dominance, add realism, or stop the animal long enough for a shot.