2019 NM Pronghorn Story

RobertD

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This forum needs some new content. I know the offseason gets flooded with politics and what-unit-should-I-apply-for-I-have-zero-points type posts, so I'm hoping maybe a decent hunting story will be well-received right now. If nothing else, it will help all of us pronghorn junkies waiting for the next hunt. (And to everyone waiting to hear back about their applications, I hope you all draw! Maybe my rookie pronghorn story will hold a few pointers for those who can use them.)

On to the story. Short set of details to frame it all: I really like pronghorn both to hunt and as an animal - they're pretty incredible. I have some western hunting experience, but it's limited and was even more so when I applied for this hunt. I did it on a whim; rifle antelope as an NR is a tough draw (worse now than then) so I was shocked when I drew. But draw I did so a-hunting I was going.

Also, my awesome hunting buddy/brother @CowboyLeroy was with me - truly one of the highlights of the trip. He is a great guy and a very good hunter but don't tell him I told you that. We drove it from Georgia to our unit in NE NM; worth the drive just for the fun we have/had and cool things we see on the road every time we take the trip. Hope we're headed back to the Land of Enchantment this fall.

On to the hunt. We hit our unit the day before the hunt and did some road-scouting. Most of the public skewed towards the north and east portions of the unit, with a couple of paved highways serving as its borders on those sides - this made it easy to cover lots of ground. We got out and mock-stalked some does in our street clothes the first afternoon. Felt good to be looking at pronghorn knowing my tag was valid starting the next day. I don't think we saw any bucks on our scout day, though we saw tons of does. Looking back, this was kind of a theme for the hunt - lots of does but not a terrible lot of bucks.

Opening morning we got out of our hotel room and hit the prairie. We didn't see many antelope on public, especially from the roads. It was apparent from the start the best hunting would have to take place away from the roads. We were already ready to walk and glass anyway - I'll not mince words, I think road hunting sucks. (A bit biased though, we once got burned on a previous semi-guided mule deer hunt after the "guide" advised us to strictly road hunt because "the deer are so used to Oil & Gas trucks, you can just hop out and arrow one." Bullchit. We didn't start having any fun or real chances at deer until after we parked the trucks and went hike/glass/stalk for the remainder of the trip. Much more fun, ethical and effective in that situation and in the pronghorn hunt I'm describing now.)

After hiking to a large outcropping overlooking several thousands of acres of prairie, we spotted our first buck of the trip. He was a bit of a dinker, hanging with two does. I think we wound up putting a pretty good move on him, dropping down into the prairie bowl below and maneuvering over to a big rockpile and hiding behind it. I know at one point I had a shot at the buck, but it was north of 300 yards and the buck really wasn't very enticing anyway. I knew I only wanted to shoot long at a buck if he was really nice. I think after this we broke for lunch and decided to hit the highway to dredge up some new ground further into the unit than we'd yet been. That's where the hunt got really interesting.
 

RobertD

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@CowboyLeroy had found a small parcel of public that was kinda boxed in by big chunks of private on the north and south sides, and bordered by the highway on the east side. But the narrow west end opened up into a huge swath of public. It looked like a decent sized pasture that sort of crumbled away into a big draw that led to the big public prairie land we wanted to hunt. Seemed like a few miles to hike, but possibly a great "backdoor" into some undisturbed public land.

What we found when we pulled up to the pasture was more than we could've expected. The grass on this small section was deep and a richer green than most of the surrounding prairie. It looked like it hadn't had cows on it for a while. There was also a set of work pens on the private across the fence, meaning it was likely there was a tank nearby too. I had a funny hunch that the draw at the far end of this piece might be a place a smart buck would anchor a harem of does. Didn't expect to have nailed that guess, but I did.

We were almost to the end of the pasture where the fertile grass crumbled into the big sloped draw to the prairie when the does appeared. They came boiling up out of the little ravines like ants - I think there were twenty or so, between the does and the fawns. Did not immediately see a buck. Off in the distance, I noticed a pick-up slow-rolling down the fence line on the private side, some seven or eight hundred yards away. My brain was slowly piecing it all together: The truck had bumped this group of does, who could not see us on the high ground until they were up there and literally amongst us.

And then, just as my gut knew it would happen, the buck appeared. Just like hunting whitetails at home, does filing out of or into a place can mean a buck is bringing up the rear. He popped out on the cliff-edge of the pasture, just brilliant in the afternoon sun. He was positioned perfectly between me and the truck on the private side in the distance. I knew without question there was no safe shot. The does were already storming back down onto the prairie, and the buck soon followed. They move with a sort of nonchalance that reminds me almost of an arrogant housecat... until the nitrous kicks in and they hit the next county at warp speed.

We watched the herd vacate the premises, then ranged the spot where the buck had stood between me and the truck that saved his life. IIRC, he was a mere 72 yards away. He probably didn't break 70", but had been to me the most glorious creature I'd ever seen, perched on that ledge between the green pasture grass and the blue New Mexico sky. I was pretty well sick.
 

RobertD

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We went on a long hike after that. I don't remember how far, but it was probably a few miles. The hiking was easy and if you picked your route, allowed you to see a long way. I think we turned up one buck, but he was below us and a long way out, milling amongst some cows. There was no real opportunity to stalk him, though he was a really nice one.

An incoming rain storm cut our first hunt day a bit short. On the drive back in, we saw what had to be an 80" buck loafing on private land in an irrigated alfalfa field near town, with several smaller bucks and a gaggle of does sharing the field with him. Insult to injury.

We had a fun dinner at an old bar with bullet holes in the ceiling, then stopped at a dollar store to buy some cheap ceramic coffee cups to replace to sorry paper ones we'd brought from home. Something about those coffee cups gave me a bit of a good feeling, and by the next morning I was really ready to get hunting. We left our hotel - coffee cups in hand - well before daylight. @CowboyLeroy and I talked it over: Did we want to glass some new country from daylight until lunch, or should we head back to "our" little pasture and see if the buck from before had moved back in? Something in my gut said "go with what you know" and I listened. It was the right decision. We were boots-on-the-ground at the same spot as the day prior right at legal shooting light, and we started the march towards the back of the pasture.
 

RobertD

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Jul 16, 2020
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From here, there isn't much to tell. It's at once anticlimactic and the greatest hunting story I've ever called my own.

The storm from the previous evening had left the land cloaked in a thin fog. We weren't even as far out as we'd made it the day before when I saw the buck, thrashing all hell out of some sagebrush. We saw him around the time he saw us - what a moment - and dropped to our butts right in the middle of the open. Neither of us thought he'd be up top in the pasture! We were just hoping to glass him, but here we had him in front of us, well within rifle range and not a vehicle, fellow hunter or even another pronghorn in sight.

I fumbled around and put one of our packs below my rifle for a rest. It probably all took about fifteen seconds; it felt like it took about fifteen years. Here was the moment! I'd wanted to hunt pronghorn for as long as I could remember. I'd seen them on family trips, on vacations and other hunts. Texas, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona... I've looked at a lot of bucks through a car window or off a highway somewhere. But now I was looking at one through a rifle scope, with a tag in my pocket!

I couldn't steady my racing heart. I couldn't stop breathing like an old asthmatic. The buck started to trot, kind of quartering across us, looking for the wind, looking for all the world like he might hustle over and kick our butts for being in his territory. I waited for the perfect moment to shoot, and the gun went off in that way that surprises you that is usually indicative of good shooting. I heard the impact of the bullet first, saw the white hair of the belly second. It was over. He had dropped and never so much as kicked.

I had gotten a little chance at redemption, took it and made the most of it. My first pronghorn buck was down. It all had come together so perfectly: Public land, in one of my favorite states no less, with no guides or outfitters - just my brother along for the ride. Truthfully, much credit goes to him for the success I experienced that day - he found us a hell of a spot to poke around it, and we made the most of it.

Caping him out and quartering him up in the field was a breeze, especially with the cooler-than-we-expected temps to stave off concerns of spoilage. A couple of the guys that had been in the truck the day prior hopped the fence and stepped over to look at him. They were Texas cattle guys, and had had a tag themselves, but hadn't been able to catch the buck on their side of the fence. Great guys, shook our hands and made a big fuss over the buck, which they didn't really have to do. Cheers to them.

After the hunt, we got to revel in the glory of locals coming up to BS about pronghorn and check out my buck as we packed up to leave the hotel. The older lady who ran the place was super gracious, sees a lot of pronghorn hunters book rooms each year, and let us use the garden hose from her sunflower bed to rinse of the cape and meat as we iced it all down in coolers. Cheers to her as well.

This was one of the great hunts of my life so far, and it has only made me love pronghorn and the idea of hunting them that much more. If you made it this far, thanks a lot for reading. I hope you enjoyed the story, or even better, that it motivated/informed you towards success on your next pronghorn hunt!
 

SantaFe

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Apr 14, 2021
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Very nice buck. Applied for a tag in the NE corner where you went for this years hunt. If I don't get a tag I'm going to try private land but the price will be the issue. You're very fortunate to get that trophy, great story too.
 

RobertD

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Jul 16, 2020
Messages
798
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Southwest Georgia (GA)
Very nice buck. Applied for a tag in the NE corner where you went for this years hunt. If I don't get a tag I'm going to try private land but the price will be the issue. You're very fortunate to get that trophy, great story too.

First, thanks. I feel really fortunate honestly. Second, lmk if you draw. Assuming you're resident but either way, if you wind up in my unit I'd be happy to share what I know about it.

What are some of the non-outfitter options on private? I've got a buddy out there scouring around but we haven't found much yet.
 
Yeti

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