Pronghorn Hunting Montana Public Land
I’m excited to recap my first experience pronghorn hunting Montana public land!
This year is the first time I have ever applied for a pronghorn tag (I wasn’t a Montana resident long enough to apply last year). All pronghorn tags in Montana are issued by drawing, even for residents. I applied for a tag in a unit with about the highest draw odds, and I was lucky enough to get drawn on my first year putting in.
Pronghorn rifle season opened on 10/10/2020. My buddy Sam and my girlfriend had tags. We met up with Sam at an AirBnb Friday night (10/9/2020). Sam has a buddy with access to a large chunk of private land, and we planned to hunt there opening morning. However, Sam’s buddy completely flaked. No call, no show, so it was on to plan B, public land!
Opening morning had a crazy amount of hunting pressure. We got a little bit of late start and arrived at a large chunk of public around an hour after light. Holy hunters, Batman! We probably saw 50-75 trucks in a 10-mile stretch. Most hunters we observed glassed from their vehicles and then made moves, essentially road hunting. We didn’t have much luck getting eyes on any goats due to our late arrival, so we decided our best play involved walking in 1-2 miles in a few different areas to get away from the crowds. Our first foray into a deeper section and we spotted a group of about 15, with two bucks, one really nice one. We were all a little amped up, and aggressive, and they ended up spotting us and blowing out and onto private land before we could get a shot off. Pronghorn – 1; Us – 0.
That evening, as we headed back to town around 6 p.m., we spotted a group of does a short hike off the road on a corner of public land. Sam had a doe tag, so we put the moves on, and Sam knocked down a doe on a 250 yard shot. We field dressed the doe and after a short drag with a lighter critter, we were on the way back to base camp. Pronghorn 1; Us – 1
The next day, we met up with one of Sam’s other friends in the area. This friend is a rancher also, and he took us to two different pieces of property they own. On the first section we spotted a really nice buck about a mile off, maybe the #1 or #2 buck of the trip. We closed in on the area we had seen the buck, and it ended up surprising us. I removed my pack and readied to shoot. Just as the buck came into view my scope, it hit the horizon; a second later he vanished. Pronghorn – 2; Us – 1. We ran into a big bull by the truck. Luckily, he turned out to be a friendly fellow.
That afternoon, the rancher took us to another piece of pastureland they owned. We got on a group of about 12 pronghorn right away. I belly crawled out to a point and looked over the group from 300 yards away. The group contained 11 does and 1 really small buck. We decided to hold off for something at least average sized. Shortly after, we spotted a group of 25 pronghorn about 2 miles out bedded on a hillside. We drove around to the backside of the property and started putting the sneak on them. I played point man, and we crested a ridge (just our heads) expecting the pronghorn to be about 300 yards away. I glassed the distance and didn’t see anything, as I brought my binos lower (closer) I had a doe pronghorn filling up the lens. They were close! We ended up sneaking to within 80 yards, unknowingly. I quickly abandoned my pack and readied to shoot. I could see a nice buck, but only his head and about 2-3″ of neck. Not a shot I’m willing to take. The group spooked, but stopped at what I guessed to be 200 yards later (about 300 yards total). I didn’t have time to range. I guessed them to be 300 yards and shot at the buck. It went about 8″ high based on the dust cloud. After the miss, I ranged the spot where the buck stood when I shot. The rangefinder delivered some bad news, a real range of 170 yards. Pronghorn – 3; Us – 1
About 2 hours later, we caught up with the same group of pronghorn. By this time, the wind whipped a steady 25mph with 30-40mph gusts. At 350 yards out, we counted 6 bucks, one really nice one, the #1 or #2 buck of the trip.
Here we are looking at the 6 bucks.
I dialed the elevation turret on my scope, got a good solid rest, held off about 8″ for wind drift, and squeezed off a great feeling shot, and….I missed high again. Not making excuses, but I forgot to update my ballistic calculator app for my reloaded ammo, which shoots quite a bit faster than factory ammo. My ballistic calculator remained set to the factory ammo, and my rifle was shooting higher than my ballistic chart. This comes into play, shortly. Pronghorn – 4; Us – 1
Evening rapidly approached, and he found ourselves starting down 5 p.m. Sam and my girlfriend had enough hiking for the day (we had close to 10 miles of hiking in at this point). We agreed to head back to base camp. On the drive out, we spotted the same group, for a third time, on the opposite side of the property. Sam and my girlfriend decided to observe my follies from the truck with the spotting scope, and I tried to put the sneak on for the third time. I had a pretty good landmark to head towards, so I beat feet about a mile to an isolated knoll in the prairie. From our original observation post, I knew the pronghorn had bedded just beyond that knoll. I army crawled up to the top of the point, and started looking towards where I thought the two bigger bucks bedded. About 3 minutes into crawling, I caught movement to my right after a group of 4 does spotted me and took off. Shortly after, the whole herd joined them in a sprint across the prairie. Sam told me later I had crawled to within 80 yards of the two bigger bucks, but I locked my sights straight ahead and the bucks’ position was off to my left more than I thought. Pronghorn – 5; Us – 1.
Sam had a long drive home, so he left early Monday morning. We packed up our gear and headed for home as well but took the scenic route along lightly traveled roads with a fair amount of public land. About 45 minutes into our drive, we spotted a group of 4 does and a buck on a piece of public ground. We put the sneak on and managed to spot them before they spotted us. We crawled out to a point doing our best to dodge cactus and stay behind the scattered sage brush. A good look at the buck through the binos revealed an average to slightly above average buck. I ranged him at 474 yards. At this point, I had trued up my ballistic calculator app on my phone for my reloaded ammo. I dialed my scope’s elevation turret for the appropriate holdover and established a solid rest via my rifle’s bipod and a prone shooting position. The weather gods had graced us with a nearly windless morning, a nice change from the gale force winds we experienced the day before. I patiently waited for a broadside shot opportunity, and then carefully squeezed off a good shot. The buck dropped right where he stood. Pronghorn – 5; Us – 2.
I definitely had a few hiccups on this trip, but in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t get one right away and got to experience more of the hunt. The ended with me bagging my first pronghorn and a few cactus needles in my knees and feet as a bonus. If anyone is curious, I think the meat is delicious, and I would highly recommend an antelope hunt. It was a great time!
If you can’t get enough pronghorn action, check out the spot and stalk archery hunt with my buddy Tim Bunao from earlier this year!
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