The Pronghorn Antelope
While I am sure I had seen a pronghorn antelope before four years ago, I know that I never paid much attention. I am a native of Colorado which boasts about 70,000 pronghorn antelope today. I have always enjoyed the outdoors but I can honestly say that since becoming a hunter four years ago, I look at wildlife so differently. I seek to understand them and their habitat, I care much more about the conservation and the protection of them and I salivate knowing what they taste like.
The pronghorn antelope is a beautiful and unique North American mammal. They are most prevalent in the western states and live mostly in the grassland regions. They are the fastest hoofed animal and can run up to 65 miles per hour, allowing them to cover vast terrain very quickly. They have large eyes which allow them 320 degrees of keen visual coverage. They can detect movement up to 3 miles away!! Currently, the pronghorn antelope almost outnumber the human population in Wyoming- making this an excellent hunting destination.
With two seasons under my belt as a new hunter, I decided to explore pronghorn antelope hunting. In 2016, I applied for and was granted a doe antelope tag in a small unit south of Rawlins, Wyoming. I was excited to explore Wyoming and hunt a new species with my boyfriend, Eric. Little did I know, this hunting experience would take me way out of my comfort zone.
A Woman’s Solo Adventure Begins
After realizing that Eric and my schedules did not match up, I made the decision to make this my first solo hunt. I was eager to use every opportunity I had to harvest my first Wyoming antelope meaning I was going to have to camp and hunt alone. Anyone who knows me can attest that I am not one who enjoys spending a lot of time alone. I am a true extrovert in all sense of the word so embarking on a solo trip, especially a hunting trip, was going to take some courage.
However, it was an exciting and very educational preparation! I will be the first to admit that my sense of direction and ability to navigate maps is TERRIBLE. I am honestly missing this skill, completely. I spent a lot of time making myself as familiar as I could with the area via atlases, google satellite and google maps. I studied the area intensely. I spoke with the landowners who had granted permission for doe antelope hunters in that area and they were very helpful in providing directions, names of roads and general areas. Wyoming is very tricky with public and private land and it is important to know where you are hunting and how you are going to access it. Wyoming is also a state that does not spend much time or money on signs, making navigation challenging for anyone, not just a map dummy like me.
I found a small BLM campground very close to my unit with an alluring name- Teton Reservoir. I would tent camp there and access the land via my Honda CRV. Tent camping alone was another cesspool of anxiety for me. I LOVE to tent camp and have been doing it all my life….with other people. I have never felt the urge or desire to adventure alone to the mall let alone the wilderness. This would be a major milestone.
I left right after work on Thursday, enjoying every minute of my evening solo drive. I partied with myself and my monster energy drinks and felt a sense of pride and accomplishment already. When I arrived at the campsite at around 9:00 pm., I was relieved to see that nobody was there. If I was going to be “solo”, then I wanted to be solo. Perhaps my inner introvert was coming to play.
I was comfortably snuggled in reading while both mildly and vividly aware of the coyotes and other weird noises in the distance. Suddenly, my heart seized. A loud diesel truck came humming through the campsite and I instantly managed to completely FREAK myself out. I had visions of Deliverance, and drunk teenagers with guns and thought my life was over. I prayed they wouldn’t stay and that I would live to see the next day. About 20 minutes later, after I almost took my last wheeze, the truck zoomed away, throwing dirt and waves of relief.
This episodic near-death freak show of mine made me realize that it was not so much the wildlife I was afraid of, it was humans.. and that made me sad.
I managed to get a few crappy hours of sleep and was grateful for my alarm at 5:15. I gladly popped up, made coffee and got ready for my day of solo hunting.
The Pronghorn Hunt
I made a plan to hunt the north side of the unit first. I drove until I found a tall butte, hiked to the top and started glassing. I had a beautiful 360 degree view and began to really enjoy myself. There was nobody around and the sun was beginning to rise. The air was crisp but not uncomfortable and the solitude was starting to grow on me. I saw a lot of antelope at a distance across the road, (out of my unit) which allowed me to just observe. I watched them feed, I watched them chase and I eventually watched them prance single file over the ridge. The time I spent observing them, made me appreciate them even more. Pronghorn antelope are almost imperial, with beautiful coloring and distinctive facial features. The bucks display beautiful dark horns that every hunter assesses. A good scoring pronghorn buck will display good horn length, large prongs and good horn mass. I, personally am drawn to the amount of “hook” the horns have even though that is not a scoring requirement. Oddly, I was enjoying myself so much observing their beauty, that I forgot for a moment that I was actually hunting them.
I sat there for a while, then made my way back east. I stopped on a few points to glass some more. I really began finding my bearings and understanding what I had studied so hard on the maps. I was beginning to feel like a real hunter.
There was an old white pickup truck parked on a high point and I didn’t want to disturb them, so I parked and started glassing. Within the hour, I watched 2 more trucks travel up the road and heard 3 gunshots fire. This, I figured was the place to be! I continued watching a huge herd and decided to try my first stalk. I ranged a doe at 350 yards and started to crawl toward them. I moved about 40 yards, stopped and waited, then moved in another 40 yards. I was able to gain 40 more yards, getting me closer to my comfort zone of 200 yards. This was exciting and I realized at that moment, that this was my first spot and stalk.. and here I was doing it alone. The adrenaline was rising and just as I was about to advance, 2 huge horse trailers came barreling down the road. The herd spooked and the stalk was over. Just like that.
After I caught my breath and realized my accomplishment, I wanted to share that experience. I wanted to high five someone or laugh with someone. So I did, I laughed and patted myself on the back and at that moment, found a piece of myself.
I headed back to camp and saw that 2 older men were setting up camp across from me. They were very busy but I could tell they were curious. Once I ate my lunch and broke down my camp, I went over and introduced myself. They were from South Dakota and were looking to harvest a buck. They were very friendly but just could not believe that I was here alone. But I was, and it was time to take care of business.
I drove straight up to the point where I saw the white pickup truck earlier and took a seat. There was a huge herd about 500 yards below me, I made the decision to drive the car to the ridge where they were headed. I made a left turn and they spotted me. I stopped, turned off the car and watched. They didn’t seem alarmed so I got the gun and the sticks and just sat on the ground by the back wheel of the car- 359 yards 2 bucks and 12 does. I patiently waited and watched as the bucks chased the does all around. The herd started toward me, 325, 275, 249, 224, 207..YESS!
The Solo Harvest
I spotted a doe and began swinging with her in the scope. She disappeared below a small ridge and then popped up all by herself at 179 yards. My heart was racing. I double checked my area, set the cross hairs tight to her left shoulder and BANG. I knew I hit her, but she was still walking. I reloaded and shot again, hitting her in the leg, she took two steps and went down.
I just sat for a long while. I could see her down so I took some time to reflect on all that had happened. I could not believe that I did this. I actually did this. Two years earlier, I knew nothing about hunting, nothing about guns, nothing about pronghorn antelope and nothing about Rawlins Wyoming, yet here I was.
I headed down the hill with a feeling that is hard to explain. I approached my doe and gazed at her in amazement. The first thing that came to mind was, “she is tiny.” She looked so much bigger in the scope and the glass–a realization of a novice hunter. Regardless of her size, she was beautiful and she was the harvest I chose. As I patted her wiry fur, I bowed my head. I thanked God for this moment and this precious gift and I was proud to be a hunter.
I tagged her and completed my first solo field dressing. I watched a lot of YouTube videos prior to the hunt and mid-surgery, I phoned Eric to be sure I was cutting correctly. While my performance was slow, it was successful. I grabbed the doe by the legs and began the trek up the hill. During the hunt, I noticed a dark truck across the way and as I was approximately 20 yards from my car, it approached me. An older man was driving and a woman was in the passenger seat. It now dawned on me that they probably watched this whole show. The man rolled down the window and yelled, “Do you need any help with that missy?” I was still pretty pumped with pride and accomplishment and did I mention that I was 20 yards away from the car? There were many things I wanted to say, and most of them were not nice, so I smiled my biggest smile, flexed my bicep and replied, “no, thank you.” I put her in the CRV and off we drove into the sunset.
I am not sure if I will solo camp/hunt again anytime soon, but because of this adventure, I have more confidence in myself as an outdoors woman. This kind of adventure may not be for everyone, but there is always huge growth when we step outside of our comfort zones. I faced fears, overcame adversity and experienced success. I am now comfortable being in a tree or in the field alone and know that if a similar situation were to arise, I could handle it.
This year Eric and I hunted in a unit in northeastern Wyoming and I was able to harvest my first buck. Pronghorn antelope hunting is so much fun and if given the opportunity, you will find me chasing them every October.