Hunting Antelope in Alberta & Saskatchewan

How to hunt pronghorn antelope in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

 

If I were asked to choose a hunt that I would rate as one of the top “fun hunts” to be found, I would have to rank North America’s pronghorn antelope right near the top of my list. These animals are simply a great hunt. The hunts are not too taxing, success is usually high, the weather is often cooperative at the time of year one hunts and, if you hunt in prime antelope country, you are most likely to encounter a goodly number of animals. Just being offered the opportunity to see game in these kinds of numbers is often worth the hunt alone. Then, to top it off, you get to hunt them in the wide-open spaces of the great prairie grasslands, where the smell of sage still lingers.

The antelope is a unique critter as it is the only specie in its family — it has no immediate relatives. It is also a horned animal that sheds its horns each year and grows new ones as fused hair from a bony core. Even more interesting, they are in fact, the only horned animal in the world to do so. They can also run like the wind, attaining speeds of 92 km/h and have eyesight second-to-none. Just ask any hunter who, while being skylined, has located a herd of antelope a kilometre off only to discover through their binoculars that the herd was already watching their every move.

Hunt Strategies

I have hunted antelope in Western Canada and the United States from New Mexico to Montana and hunt strategies don’t vary that much. As with most species, the first step is locating the game you seek. This is where the “fun” in antelope hunting begins.  They are a critter of the wide-open spaces and, as a result, are generally not all that difficult to find. It is just a matter of glassing a lot of country from vantage points that don’t give your location away. Antelope have superb vision so any movement within their periphery will catch their immediate attention, even at distances you might assume are safe. Subsequently, when glassing, glass from below ridgelines or, if necessary, carefully sneak up to a hilltop or ridgeline with the use of natural cover like a rock outcrop or even a fence line to conceal your approach and avoid being skylined at all cost. A good pair of binoculars is a must and if, after thoroughly glassing an area, you don’t find anything, move on to a new location and repeat the process until a herd or a buck is located.

Next, determine trophy quality with the use of a good spotting scope. A spotting scope can save a lot of shoe leather by affirming whether the buck is worth setting off on a long hike for or whether it is time to move on. If the buck is of the quality you seek, it is then time to organize a stalk. But that can prove to be a lot more difficult to achieve than it initially appears. Not only do antelope possess keen eyes but also the country they occupy frequently offers very little in the way of concealment for a stalk. This is where the second element in the “ fun” of antelope hunting begins. While I have frequently been able to use various natural features such draws, hills or even sagebrush to stalk to within range that has not always been the case. For these instances where the buck is just unapproachable, here are some alternate strategies to consider. I have covered myself with camo burlap sacking and then crawled on my hands and knees until I was within range. During my approach I would always keep an eye on the buck through frequent stops and if it began to show signs of getting nervous and I was within range, I would make my shot. If not, I would slow the process down even further until it relaxed again. A pair of kneepads and leather gloves can be a real asset here.

Another choice, particularly if there are cattle in the area, is to use a cow silhouette, such as Montana’s Moo Cow, behind which you can conceal yourself until you are within range. I have also used calls during and around the rut. There is usually about a 10-day period around the rut when a buck will respond to a call. And calling just may save the day as it did for me with one particularly wary buck in Montana a few years back. Antelope decoys can also prove useful. A buck decoy during the rut will motivate a buck into attempting to run an intruder out of its domain and a doe decoy can bring a herd buck to within range as it may attempt to return the doe to its herd. Antelope are also curious creatures and while it may seem at bit illogical, waving a white towel on the end of a stick can occasionally bring them to within range. While I have used this strategy successfully on smaller bucks, I have not as yet had a large buck respond. I do, however, think that under the right circumstances, particularly during the rut, there is no reason it should not work on a trophy herd buck as well. As a last resort, it just may be the difference between success and failure.

Another strategy is to stake out waterholes and for archery hunters this can be a primary method of hunting antelope. Antelope require water and a blind near a waterhole and plenty of patience can produce a buck, particularly if you have done a bit of pre hunt scouting to determine use. A decoy may even prove useful here. Another approach is to find a favoured fence crossing that either intersects their routes to or from water or feeding areas and you may consider a blind here as well. In either case, be it a water hole or fence crossing, bear in mind wind direction and set your blind up accordingly. This brings me to my last and potentially most important strategy and that is: pre-season scouting. Get to know not only where the antelope are at but also the lay of the land and it is sure to up your chances of success.

Trophy Assessment

Assessing the size and trophy quality of an antelope buck would be somewhat easier if we were to consider only horn length. But even then, perceived length can vary by the amount of downward hook of the horn. But let’s back up a bit, if we are looking for a decent quality buck of, let’s say, 14 inches, here are a number of field tips to separate that size of buck from the herd. The height of the horn should be at least twice the length of the ears, which are five to six inches in length, and should be about as long as the animal’s face. Older mature bucks frequently have darker faces as well. However, if you are looking to put a really good buck on the ground, additionally look for plenty of mass and a long prong. A buck’s eye is about two inches wide so look for a buck with bases that are at least that wide and preferably even wider. Any buck in the 14-inch class is a fine trophy but the third element in the “fun” of hunting antelope is the constant search for that mega buck that tops 16 inches with plenty of mass that will put your buck into the all time Boone and Crocket Record Book. They are out there and oh how close I have come, with a 16-¼ inch buck that dried just out of the book. Unfortunately, the mass just wasn’t there.

Calibres And Optics

Antelope are not all that hard to put on the ground but the range they are at times shot at can significantly complicate shots. Shots, in fact, which can push the skill level of the shooter to his or her limits. I, therefore, like to shoot as flat a shooting cartridge as feasible and highly recommend the use of shooting sticks, a bipod or a tripod. I will forever recall, and not so fondly, my first shot at an antelope buck. I misjudged the distance and shot right under its chest. I never did get that buck and it was a hummer. A flatter shooting rifle may just have made up for my error in range estimation. While I have used numerous calibres from a .243 to a .30-06, I now hunt antelope almost exclusively with either my .270 Weatherby Magnum or my.270 Winchester Short Magnum. With either and 130-grain bullets sighted in with two inches of elevation at 100 yards, I need not hold-off hair right out to 350 yards. That is not to say that there aren’t many other fine calibres out there that will perform every bit as effectively, especially with today’s range finding optics. I just like the assurance these flat shooters give me. Which brings me to optics. I like a quality pair of eight or 10 power binoculars with a shoulder harness and a riflescope of at least nine power and actually prefer a variable with 10 or 12 power as its upper limit. With range estimation in this wide-open country being nothing short of difficult, akin to that of trying to estimate range over open water, I would additionally highly recommend the use of a range finder. They take the guess out of the guessing game and can put you on target for that buck of a lifetime.

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