How having a contact out west can lead to your first pronghorn.
Step 1: Get To Know A Local
Miles Fedinec and I met at a trade show a few years ago, and solidified our friendship trading hunting stories over beers. He told me that he’s a hunting guide in Colorado, and I mentioned that I’m a diehard whitetail and turkey hunter back east in Kentucky. At some point in the conversation we talked about trading hunts.
Photo by Tom Fowlks
Step 2: Take Your Buddy Up On His Offer
Fedinec called me last year. He said he knew a landowner with a muzzleloader antelope tag that he was willing to sell. (Local contacts can provide the fastest route to a hunt in one of the state’s top units, because landowners get certain tags every year–often in units or for animals that would take a nonresident years to draw.) Fedinec said that the landowner’s place was near public grounds crawling with pronghorns. “If you’re patient, you could kill an 80-inch buck,” he said. “Come on out. I’ll loan you a truck, map, and gun, and you can stay at camp with us.”
Step 3: Hit The Road
A mid-October afternoon finds me in an old Toyota five-speed pickup, cruising down a dirt road in the Bitter Brush State Wildlife Area in northwest Colorado. Fedinec is guiding other hunters, so I’m following the pencil marks he’s drawn on my map. The season opens tomorrow, and I’ve set aside today for scouting. I don’t drive more than a mile before I spot the first herd of white specks on a distant prairie hillside. By this point in the year–late season for pronghorns–the herds are big: a dominant buck, one or two small bucks, and a dozen or more does and fawns. And they are easy to spot. Scattered water tanks and small dug-out ponds dot the wildlife area, and though I don’t see antelope near all of them, I don’t locate a single herd that’s too far away from one of them, either.
Step 4: Hunt Like A Local
Daylight finds me stalking the herd I’d located yesterday afternoon. Antelope hunting like this is deceptively simple: There they are. Sneak within range. If you screw up, go find more. Your success rate will be good if your trophy standards are like mine (anything legal), but even if you’re picky, there’s a decent buck in nearly every herd. Rarely does the pace of a public big-game hunt reach a frantic level, but this does and stays that way all day. I crouch and crawl and cuss, spending as much of the day flat on my belly as I do on my boots. I shoot over a buck’s back at 110 yards. I send an entire herd stampeding when I skyline myself from 500 yards. But antelope keep appearing, so I keep hunting. I’m nearly ready to call it quits just before sunset when I spot a herd bedded at the base of a hill. As the stalk unfolds, the hills, ditches, and the tiniest of sage bushes are all perfectly placed to mask my approach to within 70 yards. I stare down my barrel at a nice buck, bedded and oblivious to me. I force myself to stay quiet and still. Let him stand on his own. Sure enough, he does.
Step 5: Return The Favor
I field dress my buck and, despite my exhaustion, take great delight in heaving him into the truck bed. I can’t wait to reach camp and tell Fedinec all about the hunt–and start plans for his road trip back east. I figure I can spare a whitetail and a turkey or two.