Antelope archery hunting is typically an action packed hunt. I have always hunted pronghorns with secondary priority following earlier archery elk hunts. I have family who lives in eastern Montana, so antelope hunting is easily arranged on several ranches in the area.
In previous years, I would hunt antelope with my bow for a day or two as I visited my sister and her family. I've had some success decoying bucks depending on the intensity of the rut. One year I had 12 successful decoys in two days, but never took a buck. My list of excuses and failures read as such: bucks not close enough, bucks coming in too fast, bow sight off, couldn't get decoy planted in the rocky ground, etc.
The next year, at the same time in September, the bucks were not rutting enough to get aggressive for decoying, and spot-and-stalk opportunities came up short. Setting up waterhole blinds wasn't practical due to my short hunt times, which meant I headed up with an unpunched tag.
The fall of 2005 came with two reasons to get serious about archery antelope hunting. One was that after many failed attempts to arrow a buck, I was ready to stay with it until I did. The second reason was that my 21 year-old nephew had taken up bowhunting and this would be his first archery hunt. Chase Verschoot was gifted with a used Mathews bow for Christmas and had been practicing over the summer for our upcoming hunt. I wanted to make sure he had a good experience.
Chase had been scouting for likely water holes prior to my arrival from Colorado. Ranchers were also helpful with observations of antelope movement. As a result, we had two blinds set up the day I arrived. We planned to also decoy bucks during slow waterhole times.
I had read in a previous EBJ that antelope are tolerant of a tent blind as long as it is staked down well and doesn't "flap" in the wind. We would be testing this theory to the maximum since one blind set-up was on a grass flat overlooking a few potholes in a creek. Not even a single clump of sagebrush was available for cover.
The next day found us sitting in the blind after we saw antelope in the area. Within 30 minutes we had does coming over the hill toward water. Following them was a wide-horned buck. The antelope, possibly wary of the blind, decided to drink at the only spot where we didn't have a shooting window. The buck drank at 45 yards, but he did not move right or left within our shooting lanes. After the antelope left, some immediate blind repositioning took place.
The next day brought us back to the blind after some unsuccessful decoy attempts in another area. As we were driving into the area, we saw the thirsty, wide-horned buck heading down an adjacent hill toward the waterhole. This required some frantic parking, gear gathering, and duck-walking to get to the blind before the buck appeared out of the valley between the hill and our waterhole blind. The last few yards were crawled using the blind as our cover so he would not spy us entering the back of the blind.
We were barely settled when the pronghorn headed straight for the waterhole. This time the buck picked a watering position just 19 yards away. After making sure he was relaxed and drinking, Chase made a great shot to harvest his first archery animal.
Since Chase's buck appeared to be the only one using this waterhole, and only a small buck was in the vicinity of our other waterhole blind, we decided it was time to hunt with decoys. The bucks had gathered does, but there was no frenzied doe and satellite buck chasing going on yet. Our tactic was to get as close as we could to a herd of antelope without being seen. Then we would pop the decoy up and wait for the buck's reaction.
Having Chase operating the decoy and rangefinding shot distance made all the difference in the world. Hunting by myself required dragging my bow and the decoy as I crawled over a hill. Then tipping the decoy up and trying to plant it in the ground while laying on my belly was always a challenge. If I was able to get that done, then readying the bow and gathering the rangefinder while crouching behind my decoy was always a bit stressful. With Chase as my decoy operator, he could hold the decoy at any height, plus we could use it as a shield to move closer.
We had three separate decoying experiences this year, which were all great learning experiences for us. In the first, we approached a bedded herd over the knob of a hill. A nice buck was in the group, with a satellite buck resting about 100 yards away. Upon popping the decoy up, the dominant buck immediately spied it and started walking our way. At about 70+ yards, beyond my bow range, he veered away. He likely had no does close to estrous, so he wasn't going to aggressively attack our little buck decoy as an interloper.
Another time we crept close to a feeding herd that was somewhat scattered. A wary doe spied us and frantically ran back to the bulk of the herd. This was enough of a cue for the pronghorns to leave the country at top speed, with the buck reluctantly trying to keep up with the fleeing does.
Our third unlikely, but successful, scenario involved creeping up on a bedded herd in a plowed stubble field. At about 100 yards away we popped up our decoy. A concerned doe rose to her feet and the rest of the antelope soon followed. The buck showed no concern over the interloping decoy, but the mildly alarmed herd loped over the hill. We relaxed a moment expecting a repeat of the fleeing herd experienced only an hour earlier.
These pronghorn stopped in a dip about 150 yards distant. I told Chase that we had nothing to lose, so he held the decoy as we crouched Indian-style behind it and closed the distance on the curious herd. As we came into full view, with the decoy as a shield, curious does started circling toward us. As Chase held the decoy, I came to draw as the buck presented a broadside shot. The well-hit buck ran less than 100 yards before going down.
Decoying will certainly work, whether curiosity or aggression is the motivating factor. Next year I hope to hit the peak of the rut, since Chase has yet to experience a dominant rutting buck running straight at the decoy and I can tell you from experience, there is nothing like it.