Contributor: Troy Wood
Regardless of technique Pronghorn have always been known as one of the toughest animals to pursue with bow and arrow. Be ready to have your physical and mental abilities tested and your patience tried to its max when looking for the trophy antelope with archery equipment.
With binocular quality vision, amazing speed, and sparse cover in areas they inhabit; the easiest way to get within bow range is to sit on a used water source. Many successful archery hunters choose ground blinds and a few get adventurous and set windmill tower stands.
Only a small percentage of hunters consistently harvest pronghorn while actively pursuing them. I have personally archery hunted for pronghorn three times and have harvested each time. I have also been with my dad on his three archery antelope hunts which have all been very successful. All of these hunts have been DIY hunts and on public land.
I have once more drawn an archery tag for pronghorn here in New Mexico, and am well into my preparation for the hunt. I grew up around these animals and have studied their habits and reactions to various things. Through my knowledge of previous hunting experiences, Pronghorn, and the areas in which we hunt, I have developed a few specific practices and steps that I follow before going.
Having worked in a couple of archery shops, I have seen about every variation of people’s opinion of “prepared.” I have literally had people bring in a friend’s or uncle’s bow a day or two prior to the hunt, ask to purchase some “razor blade tip things” (broad heads), and never fire a practice shot or anything despite my prodding. I’ve also known people who shoot broadheads in practice regularly and shoot every day in full hunting gear to familiarize themselves with what the final shot will require.
Of course as luck would have it the occasional bow borrower will harvest an animal but as a rule skill goes hand-n-hand with consistent success. I have one friend who is in his mid-40’s and I’ve known for several years now. It may sound like an exaggeration but in all the time I’ve known him, I have never known him to go on an archery hunt and not harvest. He credits his success to preparation. He told me once,
“you don’t have to be a great hunter, or even a very good one to be successful; although it helps, most unsuccessful hunts are due to not knowing your equipment.”
I of course would not advise everyone to be this way, but to look in my friends quiver it is common to see three or four different brands of arrows. No, he is not indecisive he is just confident in his selected spine and arrow weight and there happens to be several brands that have made an arrow in this range over the years.
When asked about his mixed quiver he teases that the lighter ones are for further shots but in reality they each shoot exactly alike. It bothers most people if the color of fletching does not match on each arrow but not this guy because he was confident in the performance of them individually. There is no substitute to achieving this confidence; it can only be achieved by hours of time and thousands of shots during practice.
More great advice that has been driven into my head since I was a boy is,
“practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.”
This applies as simply as this; If I am to be hunting in hot, bright, open areas and expect to take shots at the further distances I am comfortable shooting but practice diligently each day on a 20 yard indoor range I am little more prepared than not shooting at all.
The same applies to treestand hunting and never shooting at inclines or declines, or while shooting in wind. The point is practice what you expect to see. Next time you think you are prepared; think of what an antelope looks like at 50 yards. Get on your computer and print off a picture that looks like about the right scale to be at this distance. Tape the printer paper to the face of your target at 20 yards and using your 20 yard pin shoot the antelope in the picture. This practice simulates a further shot than you are taking while allowing you the advantage of a closer shot. It is surprising where arrows end up when trying this but it is very similar to a further shot that can still be practiced on a back-yard target.
I expect to face 100 degree temperatures during much of my hunt and the added heart rate of excitement and movement. A good way to practice this is to thermal up and run. I spend summers in a cooler climate and to prepare myself will commonly dress in my cold weather gear and go for a little jog when I get back I have a good high heart rate, sweat rolling and go immediately to my bow and put a 5 arrow group down range.
It is amazing what differences you will see in groups between a calm shooting situation and an intense one. Also shooting in intense situations makes it much easier when you happen to get a relaxed shot. As all spot and stalk hunters know, there are points in a stalk when you have to freeze and be patient and motionless to avoid from being seen. In my experiences these times happen when I am in the oddest of crawling or walking positions I can achieve. It can be quite a distraction to shoot while siting flat on the ground with your legs and feet asleep. Basically I try to replicate anything I can imagine happening during a stalk and become confident in overcoming it and maintaining my composure.
Try shooting in low light and in the brightest part of the day. Shoot away from the sun and with your target towards it, see how the fibers on your pins react to direct sunlight and be sure you can still focus on your target. Most people lose their confidence and most arguments are started with the distance issue. I will make it very clear that I find it as unethical as anyone for someone to fling arrows at animals 100 yards away having never practiced at this range, just because they are frustrated with trying to get closer. I do however admittedly practice at these long distances; I am not at all saying I plan to take these shots at animals but shooting at these distances regularly makes a 50 yard shot opportunity seem much more routine when faced with it.
I have as well seen 20 yard shots that I did not feel were ethical; this has to be decided by the shooter. I also recommend pushing yourself in all areas of shooting when preparing for any hunt. Do not settle because you hit something the size of a deer at a distance you would shoot a deer. Shoot at smaller dots, have friends (knowledgeable one’s) critique your form, get your heart rate up, shoot further, create angles and obstacles; all of these will pay dividends when the opportunity arrives on a trophy animal. I personally shoot at dots around the size of a quarter at most of my distances; I feel it gives me a smaller area to focus on and a better perspective of how well I am truly sighted in.
When shooting with friends it can be fun to give different sized dots point values and play a game (similar to darts), or pin small water balloons to the target and make a competition of popping them. All of these seemingly odd practices give a much clearer image of your abilities and familiarities as a shooter and will in turn make a world of difference in your hunting success.