Wide Open Spaces: Long Range Antelope Hunting
Jessica and I just returned from our third Wyoming antelope hunt. We always look forward to this trip. Wide open spaces, unobstructed views, and lots of action are typical.
We brought home some antelope meat and horns, tested some new gear and techniques, and enjoyed some pretty decent October weather. Like the first two, this hunt left us with lasting memories, taught us some lessons, and had us planning the next one. In this article, I’ll share with you some of our experiences, and provide a glimpse at long range, public land antelope hunting.
We first hunted antelope in 2013. My hunting buddy, Brian, had been inviting me for several years to come along on his annual family hunting trip to Wyoming. When my daughter, Jessica, turned 12-years-old, we decided to give it a try.
That first trip was a wild ride. After a 13-hour drive, we rolled into camp at the tail end of some heavy precipitation that was bordering on snow. The next two days were characterized by 30-mph-winds and spooky antelope. Jessica and I got a crash course on Wyoming weather and public land antelope behavior.
Like Brian had been telling me, it’s a great hunt for kids. We could see for miles, and often what we saw were antelope to be hunted. In the dense forests of northern Idaho, Jessica had been conditioned to hunt for days without seeing a nice whitetail buck or mature bear. There’s no deadfall to negotiate, or steep, brushy hillsides to climb. Just miles and miles of sagebrush and grass. We picked up pieces of petrified wood and interesting windblown rocks, and enjoyed some spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
I filled my first antelope tag on the second day. Jessica filled hers on the third. We had a lot of fun, and were blessed to spend time catching up with old friends and making new ones. There was no doubt we would return.
If there was ever an animal made for long range hunting, the pronghorn antelope is it.
Coming from the jungles of North Idaho, I was amazed at the opportunities. I could literally see for miles. Once I learned how to spot antelope by looking for their white bellies and rumps, I started picking them out against the sea of sagebrush. Single bucks, small groups, and herds of up to 20 animals could be seen from a good vantage point.
Bring your best optics; they’ll earn their keep in this country. I used my heaviest tripods to help stabilize my spotting scope and video camera. The wind is no joke when it’s up, and there are few places to hide from it.
Wyoming is also where you’ll realize how useful a Kestrel weather meter is. I never put mine away while we’re there. This year, we tested the new Sportsman with LiNK. It works as advertised, providing a real-time windage solution while behind the gun. The terrain also lends itself to reading mirage through a spotting scope. You have to use it, too, because there’s no vegetation tall enough to judge the wind on the other end of the shot.
The terrain is pretty flat, but there are some rises and coulees scattered around. Jessica and I have learned to use these land features to our advantage. We found that if we snuck out to the edge of a high spot with the sun to our backs, the antelope are less likely to bust us. Their vision is excellent, and their speed is legendary.
Also known as a speed goat, pronghorn, or lope, the antelope is said to be the second fastest land animal on the planet.
The first time I saw a small herd take off, I couldn’t believe how fast they were. They kept running clear off the section of land we were on. I read somewhere that they can hit 50 mph and maintain it for half a mile.
I bring that up to make a point: Just because you can shoot long range, don’t count on getting a shot if you spook them. The fact that they’re herd animals doesn’t help, either. Where one goes, they all go. When they take off on a run, it usually lasts for hundreds of yards. Sometimes they just keep going, covering a mile like it’s nothing. Once they’re on to you, you might as well find another herd or wait for them to settle down.
We hunt on small islands of public land, surrounded by a sea of private ranches and oil wells.
I won’t give out specific information on the unit we hunt in; Brian and his father-in-law, Duane, have spent a lot of time and effort learning it, but it’s classified as a “limited access” area. Wyoming has strict trespass laws. You can’t enter private land without permission, even to access public land. We use BLM maps and an App from onX Maps to keep us between the lines.
Usually a square mile in size, these chunks of BLM, state, and Forest Service lands are easy to get around in. There are roads around the perimeters and often bisecting them. Because of that, we occasionally have to share them with other hunters. The antelope usually won’t tolerate vehicle traffic. They take off on a dead run, and often end up scooting under a fence onto a bordering ranch. We try to take advantage of other hunters by setting up an ambush along likely escape routes. Sometimes we just have to wait for the herd to make its way back onto public land. Antelope don’t have a very big home range, and living with them for three days at a time almost guarantees another shot at them.
Water is pretty scarce, but we have access to it right where we camp. We also enjoy the shade of the only cottonwood tree for miles around. A real oasis!
Antelope aren’t hard to kill, but because their vitals are such a small target, precision and accuracy are needed to do it cleanly.
We’ve used just about every rifle in our arsenal to hunt antelope–260 Remington, 6.5×284, 338 Edge +P, 260 Terminator, and 300 Winchester Magnum. Other than one buck taken with a 300-grain Sierra MatchKing, every shot we’ve taken was with a Berger bullet. In fact, the first pronghorn buck I tagged was also the first animal I’ve killed with a Berger bullet.
We were hunting with the 260 Remington, loaded with 140-grain Berger Hunting VLDs at 2800 fps. I took the shot at 450 yards while he stood slightly quartered away. The bullet left a 1 ½” exit hole behind the right shoulder, killing him quickly. Also, it took 5.5 MOA of right windage dialed in for that shot. Be prepared to shoot in the wind.
We tested the new Berger 130-grain AR Hybrid on the second hunt. That bullet worked very well, too. Jessica filled her doe tag on the first morning with one at 867 yards. Here’s a VIDEO of last year’s hunt, including that shot.
This year, the 300 WM made its first trip to Wyoming.
I shot my buck at 830 yards with it, using a Berger 210-grain Hunting VLD. It worked perfectly, exiting the off-side ribs and killing him in seconds. The buck ran for 30 yards before piling up. We’ve taken high-shoulder shots on them, but I recommend a classic broadside shot. Instant incapacitation isn’t needed in this open country, and meat damage is held to a minimum with a shot through the ribs.
Even with the potential to shoot at big distances, we don’t get hung up on trying to break records or anything. We just take the best shots as they come. Most of them have been in the 400-600 yard range.
A good rangefinder with a tight beam is also helpful for antelope hunting.
500 yards and in doesn’t seem to be a problem for most LRFs, but when you get out there a bit, those little critters can be hard to range. Antelope don’t seem to be as reflective as most animals, and it doesn’t help that the sagebrush sometimes comes up to their bellies. Because of that, I often use a tripod with my Leica 1600-B to help prevent false readings. This year, Jessica and I used the RLC Cam Cradle to run a spotter, video camera, and LRF simultaneously. I’ll never go back to Wyoming without it. Check out the Cam Cradle HERE.
Wyoming antelope tags have to be applied for. In 2015, our camp showed up with 10 tags.
The five of us each held an “any antelope” tag and a doe/fawn tag. They were all filled by the second day. I think antelope meat tastes great. Just like any game animal, the quality of the meat depends largely on how it’s taken care of in the field.
We use big coolers full of ice to cool it quickly and keep it that way until we get home. An extra 7-gallon jug of water is handy for keeping it clean. Jessica and I usually break the animal down right where it fell, much like we do deer. Duane uses a portable winch and gambrel to do his work up off the ground. His way is easier!
Bugs haven’t been an issue, but the lack of shade and daytime temps in the 80’s require you to have a plan when a goat hits the ground. We fill the coolers with fresh ice on our way home. I’ve had no problems keeping that meat fresh and tasty!
Brian called me a few days ago, asking if we were going to apply for Wyoming antelope next year. “I don’t see why not,” I replied. Of course we’re going to! For more information on hunting in Wyoming, click HERE.