Four years can go by quickly, especially, when you’re pursuing a personal hunting objective.
Occasionally, animals come easy. Other times, certain target species become curse animals, always managing to evade a hunter’s best efforts and making the hunter vow to return for another round the following season.
That’s exactly how four years can disappear like dust in a Wyoming wind storm.
For me, it was the majestic American Pronghorn that became my curse.
Pronghorns are exceptional western animals, unlike any other North American game. The regal-looking prairie speedsters really aren’t antelope, even though they are commonly tagged with that description.
I suppose that’s because they appear similar to African antelopes like impala and display comparable behaviors.
For the uninitiated, plopping down in a camouflaged blind to wait out pronghorns may seem to be a simple tactic. Unfortunately, myriad factors combine to do just the opposite.
The journey to tag a pronghorn buck with a bow can be arduous. My September hunt in the high desert of eastern Wyoming bore that out with intention.
In my mind, American pronghorns are the most striking animals in North America. I developed that attitude from recording their behaviors via photography gear. My favorite time to watch the prairie ghosts is during the rut when bucks spend the bulk of their time herding does into harems and chasing off and sparring with interloping bucks who want to whisk their does away.
Incongruously, the same features that make pronghorns so remarkable, can make it very hard to kill one. That’s doubly true when you’ve spent hundreds of hours learning the nuances of individual animals.
I was so impressed by one buck, I had his image laser-etched onto my favorite hunting bow. Normally, hunting pronghorns from blinds takes place over water holes or stock tanks in the bone-dry expanses they inhabit.
It also helps to hunt the start of the season when it’s hot and before the rut has begun. After the rut starts, bucks are hesitant to let any does wander far from the harem, even to drink. Since pronghorns only need to water once every three days, sits in blinds can become tortuous affairs.
A typical day begins with temperatures hovering around freezing and ends with the thermometer peaking in the 90s. Once the temp rises that far, temperatures inside a blind rise to 120 degrees or more. That’s because almost all hunting blinds feature interior coverings of jet-black material ideal for concealing hunters in inky darkness. Unfortunately, that causes a blind to absorb heat like asphalt.
Heat isn’t the only thing a hunter must contend with. Time can move agonizingly slow when a bowhunter enters a blind in pre-dawn blackness and doesn’t exit until after darkness falls.
Then there’s the unpredictability of the animals. Sometimes, pronghorns will ignore water while browsing on grass or alfalfa on the opposite side of the blind. This creates a problem as it’s best to only have one blind window open. If a pair of windows are open, the binocular-eyed critters will spy any movement and bolt. Opening and close shooting widows silently is a tactic all good pronghorn hunters should know.
On my third day, I noticed the pronghorns were browsing on a particular stretch of green alfalfa adjacent to a yellowed patch. The animals seemed to follow that line of delineation on their travels.
Problem was, that spot was over 60 yards from my hide. While that distance can be an easy crossbow or compound bow shot, I was toting a traditional recurve bow whose range is limited to 40 yards.
Personally, I prefer even closer shots, with 10 to 20 yards being ideal. It’s a challenge to lure animals inside of 20 yards, but it’s a one I’ve always embraced.
Sometimes a bit of cerebration can create the shot you need. To attain that end, after darkness fell, I simply moved the blind 40 yards closer to what I figured was a travel corridor. Since I hadn’t had even one pronghorn water, that would be my best option.
The next morning, I entered the blind full of optimism. The hours passed at a snail’s pace while I watched pronghorns appear and depart, always out of range.
I passed some of the time admiring my custom-crafted recurve hunting bow. Made of beautifully figured exotic woods, the bow was gift from my dad only a month before he passed to his hunting fields in the sky.
As the clock hit 1 p.m., the temperature rose drastically, forcing me to remove some hunting garments. It was 37 degrees when I arrived at the blind, and now it was 92 degrees.
I had thin, base layer bottoms on under my hunting pants. It was so hot in the blind that I retrieved a knife and cut the bottoms into shorts. My total attire now consisted only of jaggedly cut shorts and a pair of desert combat boots. At least I was cooler.
Not long after, a band of does entered the pasture, followed by a good buck. The always watchful buck kept the does well away from the blind while chasing off and battling a pair of intruding bucks. While he was away fighting another buck, the does began to move along the green/yellow alfalfa line. Perfect.
It took the buck a few moments to see his harem moving off. Instead of walking to them, he “loped.” He was moving at the speed of a cantering horse when he passed the blind at 19 yards. My thought process was swift and resolved.
To prevent being seen, I’d wait until he passed the blind and then take a quartering away shot. I picked out a tuft of hair on a rib as my target and drew and shot in fluid motion.
The shot was purely instinctive, the arrow bisecting the precise spot I aimed for. The buck was instantly high gear, but only for three seconds before he fell still on the Wyoming prairie.
It was an emotionally gripping moment. I had harvested a regal buck in a quick, humane way, with a very special bow.
The meaning wasn’t lost on me as I approached the fallen monarch. Like many hunters do, I knelt down and thanked the animal for providing me both meat and cherished memories.
As the setting sun set the prairie awash with deep reds and oranges, I looked up and acknowledged my dad, who I knew was looking back down, smiling at my success.
Mark Morrison is an avid hunter and fisherman who has been a freelance outdoors writer and photographer for more than 20 years. The Mankato resident since 1979 may be contacted at email@example.com.