feature By: Ron Gayer | March, 19
We were kicking up cactus as we worked our way up the hill. The spiny thorns were stuck in the toes of my boots. We neared the crest and got low. I didn’t want to spook the antelope that were just 150 yards down at the base of this hilltop. Our guide, Clifford, motioned to us. He spotted the buck bedded with four or five does. I raised my binocular and found the buck. Of course, the pronghorn buck had made us, and it was looking right at us. It was nervous but couldn’t smell us. I knew we only had a few short moments before the fastest land animal in North America would make its break.
This was my first New Mexico pronghorn hunt – a hunt I had wanted to do for some time. But it always seemed to slide a couple notches down the list when it came time to submit my tag application. This, again, was one of those years when I had decided not to do a New Mexico antelope hunt. I was sure I was too busy and had way too much to do on the ranch. Then I got a call from a new hunting buddy, Jeff. He decided he would like to go on an antelope hunt and asked if I could help arrange one for him. I explained the draw deadline had long since passed, and the only chance we had would be to look for a land-owner permit. I would give it a try and get back with him.
New Mexico has an excellent program that helps land owners who have a problem with wildlife damage to their fences and crops. The state offers land-owner vouchers for elk, deer and antelope, depending on how much land they have and how much property damage the landowner suffers. The land owner can, in turn, use the voucher for depredation or may sell the permits to generate funds to compensate for the damage. This allows outfitters and hunters an opportunity to acquire tags if they were not successful in the draw.
I had taken advantage of the elk land-owner tags in the past, so I investigated antelope permits.
I found Joseph Graham of Graham’s Guide Service (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the Ruidoso area. He had permits for a ranch in Lincoln County, just east of Scirocco County, where the world-record antelope was taken in 2013. It scored 96-4/8. I felt, with those good genetics, we would have a chance at some excellent bucks. Our New Mexico hunt was on! We flew to Albuquerque, rented a car, and in less than three hours we were in camp. Arriving during the middle of an ongoing elk hunt, we could see that the guys in camp had been very successful with good-looking racks and ice chests full of meat ready for the trip home. After an evening of swapping hunt stories and a good meal, we were ready for a night’s sleep and our next day’s hunt.
Any hunter who takes on the challenge of hunting pronghorn knows you must look over a pile of bucks to find that one that “has it all.” The ranch we were hunting did have a large population of good antelope and had not been hunted during the past few years. However, our hunt was only a two-day hunt, so we would start early and hunt all day.
Looking for antelope, we used our binoculars and brought out the spotting scopes. All morning we seemed to see the “also-ran bucks,” 12- and 13-inch smaller bucks that did not have what we wanted in regard to horn size. On the plus side, we kept seeing more and more bucks – the ranch was loaded. Clifford eventually spotted a very good buck off to the right at 200 yards, and we followed it as it moved through the brush. It was very heavy and had good hooks – it looked like a possible shooter. We decided to wait on it and go to another area to check out a buck we had seen earlier with the spotting scope. We could always come back to this buck; we knew it would stay around all day. When we found the other buck, however, it was not as good as the heavy one, so we decided to back track.
Parking just short of where we had last seen the buck, we worked toward it with the wind in our face. While glassing, we all moved slowly but could not find the buck. Then Clifford spotted its dark horns – it was a great spot! The pronghorn was bedded on the flats about 400 yards out. After a good stalk we had closed the distance to 130 yards.
With Jeff set up with a good shooting rest, we tried to get the buck to stand. We whistled and called at it for a good 10 minutes, but we could not get it to stand. I worried about getting too aggressive, which sometimes leads to the buck getting up and running off. I also know from experience that the longer a hunter must wait, the more his head can play games with the shot when he finally does get the chance. This buck was taking a long, long time to stand.
At last, the buck had enough and stood up, but it was facing Jeff head-on. Worried the buck might make a break for the open grass, he took the shot. He hit the buck but did not put it down, and it took off, weaving its way over the flats. The buck was nearing the boundary of the ranch, and it was becoming a very long shot. Then, the last of three more shots finally brought it down. It was a very good buck and scored right at 75 inches. One down, one to go.
The next morning, on the last day of our two-day hunt, we returned to the part of the ranch where we had seen several good bucks, and one we all liked better than the others. It was 10:30 in the morning before we spotted that antelope buck. Dark clouds were forming to the west, and it looked like the weather man was right in predicting an afternoon of rain. I told Clifford we would be done with the hunt by noon. We pressed on.
This buck was with eight or 10 does about a half mile away. We knew we could get the wind in our favor, but we would have to hike about a mile around behind a hill that would block the antelope from seeing us as we approached. We had walked about half the distance when I saw some does and two bucks off to our right. They looked nervous, and as we closed the distance, they were off at a trot, so we watched them retreat. I thought the one buck sure looked like the pronghorn we wanted, but we had to continue with our stalk. The antelope that bolted were gone, and the wind direction would not allow us to give chase.
As we arrived at the base of the hill, the climb was steeper and footing less sure. Clifford and I neared the crest and stopped to try and catch our breath. I dropped my pack, and we crawled up to the edge for a peek over the top. Cactus made the crawl a painful experience. Clifford nodded to me – he had spotted a buck. It was not the original target buck, but it was a very good buck, nonetheless. Its prongs were much higher than the other bucks, but its horns were a bit lighter and lacking some mass.
Moving into a sitting position, I looked over the bedded buck carefully. It was a fine pronghorn, and it was looking right at us. Not sure of how long this buck would put up with us watching it, I decided to get ready to take a shot. I was still breathing heavily, but because of all the cactus I could not get into a comfortable prone position. I thought my sitting position would have to do. My arm was braced on my knee, and the sling was over my forearm. I let the crosshairs settle on the buck’s vitals. With each breath I took, the crosshairs moved up and down. I took two deep breaths and said to myself, “Relax!”
One of the does with the buck stood up, and I thought, This is it. My time is running out. With my next breath, as I exhaled and the crosshairs came across the buck’s vitals, I touched the trigger. The .300 Winchester Magnum barked, and I heard the thump of impact. The buck jumped to its feet, staggered, and after two steps fell to the ground. The buck scored just over 78 inches. It was 11:45 a.m. The rain held off until we had field dressed the buck and loaded it into the truck.
Rough Score Your Pronghorn Buck
Rough scoring an antelope buck’s horns is easy and requires only six measurements on each horn. This includes 1) the length of horn, 2) the length of the prong as measured along the outside upper edge from its tip to the back of the horn, 3) the circumference of the base (mass) and circumferences at the 4) first, 5) second and 6) third quarters. Use a pencil to mark where these measurements should be taken.
For the “quarter” measurements, take the longest horn and divide the length into four equal parts. As an example, if the horn is 15 inches long, divide by 4 and you get 3.75 inches, so your first mass measurement is 3.7 inches from the base; the second mass measurement would be at 7.5 inches, and so on. Add all six measurements from each horn to get the total score. If all the measurements add up to 97 inches, congratulations, it’s a new world record!