A Fresh Tracks first

Big Fin

Staff member
Dec 27, 2000
Bozeman, MT
Many know I finally burned all my Utah pronghorn points. I could have burned them sooner, but I wanted a party app with Matthew. Pronghorn hunting has been the core of our hunting times together since he was two.

1992 - Central Montana; our first of many pronghorn adventures.

I was willing to wait for our average to be high enough to draw the tag on a landscape I've always wanted to hunt. It was my 25th year of applying and his 15th year. It was worth every minute of it.

The title of this thread is a spoiler about this hunt. We have just started filming our 16th season. Never have I fired a shot that did not have cameras rolling. Often, I've passed shots as I waited for cameras to be rolling and focused.

Well, that streak was broken when excitement overtook me in Utah this last week. I was supposed to be the "herder" and bump this buck back to Matthew and the camera guy, Jace. The last words I heard from Matthew as I started on my three-mile loop was, "If you get a shot, you better kill that buck; camera or not." I just chuckled, knowing I would never do that.

We'll a couple hours later, with only a half hour of light left, this buck decided not to go towards Matthew, rather to snort and wheeze at me from a longer distance than I normally like to shoot. To cut the distance, I ran to the next ridge top, found it free of brush, and laid down my pack.

Unimpressed with me or due to his vision impaired by the low light conditions, the buck turned to horn the closest sagebrush. Hmm, what to do. I ranged and dialed. Still not a preferred comfort range, though I have a range target at this exact distance I usually nail 10 out of 10 times.

I laid down across the pack and cranked the scope to 15x; amazingly steady. I dry fired. Dang, that buck would have been dead with that shot. One more look through the binos at those long prongs and ivory tips.

Screw it. I love pronghorn bucks like this and the audience is gonna have to understand.

I chambered a live round. The buck stepped forward to the center of my scope view as I addressed the rifle, almost as if he was lining up the shot for me. I breathed. Heart was great. No wiggle. As I neared the bottom of my breathing cycle, I don't recall pulling the trigger.

The suppressed 7mm-08 barely made much noise. The suppressed recoil was not enough to even take the buck out of my sight picture. About the time he whirled and ran, I heard what seemed to be the sound of ribs being cracked by a 140 gain E-Tip.

He ran SW, over the lip of a coulee and out of sight. I stood to watch. Surely he'd come out the top or bottom of that coulee. Nope, no buck emerged.

I marked my location. I marked a rise that was immediately beyond where he was standing. Knowing the distance, I could find exactly where we was standing by following this straight line on my map the ranged distance of the shot.

I got there with even less light. I called Matthew and Jace and asked them to get here to help search this featureless expanse. They said they saw me lay down and figured I was shooting. They estimated they were about a mile off. I sent them a pin of where I thought the buck was standing so they could navigate toward me.

Following deep fresh tracks in soft dirt, I followed the path of his exit. I lost his track as he crossed some sunbaked hardpan. I started circling, hoping to find him before dark. I walked out each of the small fingers leading into this deep coulee.

On the fourth of those coulee fingers I looked down to my left. There was a white pile of fur. He'd not made it as far as I thought. A perfect shot, slightly quartering away, entering mid-chest on the driver's side and exiting on the opposite side shoulder.


The buck's prongs were the cause of his demise. I'd always wanted a buck with long prongs, though I know the audience might bust my chops for not getting that shot on film. Oh well, prongs it is.

If there was one thing that faked me out, it was his body size. I had an 85# black lab and I don't think this buck's body was too much bigger than that. On our way out Jace carried all the production gear, Matthew carried all of my gear and the head, leaving me with all of the meat. That was the easiest load of an entire buck pronghorn I've ever hauled.

It was the best buck we'd seen in two full days of scouting and a full day of hunting. It left Matthew with four days of hunting to fill his tag and me to be nothing more than a pest.
Hell of a buck and a great write up Randy. Im excited for the day that my kids are old enough to enjoy hunting with and sharing such an amazing experience.
You won't get any guff from me not filming it. Over the years,, you've had to severely limit your potential success to bring us the content you do with film permits, having to make sure light was good for filming, etc. I'm glad you got him and thanks for taking us along on your adventures. It's appreciated!
You guys do such a good job telling a story that the kill shot isn’t really relevant anyway. Pretty impressive you made it that long, though.
I can’t imagine always being bound by the camera. It can really be a hindrance at times I’m sure. You deserve some hunting “me time” every now and then, you’ve given enough, I think most all of your viewers will understand! Congrats, he’s beautiful!
Congratulations! With that much time invested in the tag you've certainly earned the right to notch it at your choosing. Looking forward to seeing Matthew's now.
You won't get any guff from me not filming it. Over the years,, you've had to severely limit your potential success to bring us the content you do with film permits, having to make sure light was good for filming, etc. I'm glad you got him and thanks for taking us along on your adventures. It's appreciated!
Not filming makes it better. The way it should be done.
I think I enjoyed the write up more that I would have enjoyed seeing the shot anyway! Nice buck, and excellent telling of events.
As I get older I try to figure out what are the triggers that excite me about hunting, and why. I've given a ton of thought to why I am so smitten by pronghorn and pronghorn hunting. As we built the story line for this hunt over the summer planning meetings, it became pretty apparent why pronghorn has been such a favorite past time of mine.

Pronghorn was the big game species that Matthew could tag along with and have a blast as a 2, 3, 5, 10 year-old. We'd hike all over the place, looking for fossils, camping, building a fire, letting him pee on the campfire and laugh like he'd just robbed the bank, explore places that interested him as much as it interested me. The weather was often nice. After the craziness of opening day, we'd almost have the Montana prairies to ourselves.

Giving it more thought, pronghorn and the places they live, were more about the memories Matthew and I made along the way. If I drive the Montana prairie, it is an endless ramble of stories about pronghorn hunts.

When he got of hunting age, he took three Montana bucks, three Wyoming bucks, and a New Mexico buck before heading off to college. All of those were memorable trips. I laugh at the time I went on a stalk and left him the keys for the truck. He was too young to drive, but when I returned, I noticed the truck was pointed in the opposite direction and the tire tracks told me he went for a little cruise while I chased a buck over a few high ridges. Things a 14 year old gets to do on a pronghorn hunt; not much you can hurt when testing your driving skills on a Wyoming two-track.

Montana 2003.

Wyoming 2004.
Matthew 2004 WY.jpg

New Mexico 2007.

I've come to realize that these trips and these memories are the biggest reason pronghorn is so compelling to me. And when I get to spend a week with Matthew, as we did together in Nevada last year and what we did for the last week in Utah, there is not much that is going to put a bigger smile on my face.

With my tag punched, we slept in the next morning, as we didn't get back to camp until 11pm. We showered at the public campground and washed some sweaty and bloody clothes. We got the chance to meet @elkantlers and his wonderful wife, Tammy. It was a great visit with folks who know that landscape and the tendency of the critters. He had been kind enough to share a lot of information with me over the summer. I hope I can repay him some day.

Eventually we stopped swapping stories and me, Jace, and Matthew headed back out for an afternoon hunt. A rather uneventful evening. We ended the day at buck number 142 for our two days of scouting and our two days of hunting. Still nothing that got Matthew real excited.

Since he first started hunting I'd often ask him what he planned/hoped to shoot. His answer was the same then as it is today, "Not sure. I'll know it when I see it." And that was his same answer when I asked him many times over the course of this hunt.

That reply has become a big inside joke with us. I ask, just to make sure he hasn't changed his mantra about what animal he might shoot. When he replies with the standard reply, I chuckle and he smirks.

The night of Hunting Day 2 I grilled up both of my tenderloins and half of one of the backstraps. What a great way to end the day.
@Big Fin We do not care that it will not be on film. You tell a story throughout the episodes and usually the shot is just icing on the cake. We would have done the same thing and those prongs would have led us to make the same decision! Good luck to Matthew on filling his.
I agree Mr. Big Fin. I believe that we've all watched and listened enough to hear your voice as we read this, to see the landscape, When you've waited this long to draw and for all of the entertainment your family, staff, and you, have brought us through the years you have more than earned the right to give a "Howa Handshake" to one off camera. Here's to another 16 seasons.
It is such a gift to have child/ren that want to do stuff with us once they’ve left the nest. A testament to all three of you investing wisely in friendship and time that makes getting together pleasurable and anticipated with excitement.

PS: cameras aren’t necessary to tell the story of togetherness outdoors
Hunting Day 3 was fun. We went exploring. Found some new country and chased a very tall buck. It didn't have much for prongs and was pretty average for mass, but easily pushing 17". He chased his doe down the county road, almost running into the oncoming Raptor. At the last minute the doe saw us and charged up a steep hill. We circled around and relocated them. Matthew was interested, but it still wasn't "The one."

It looked like rain coming our way, so we decided to move. A lot of these roads are not passible when wet. If you've been to the San Rafael Swell, you know it is full of Pictographs and Petroglyphs from indigenous folks who were also hunters.

I am always fascinated by such things. The times Matthew and I have found teepee rings and other native artifacts have been highlights to our hunts. I've always been a huge buff of indigineous history, so when Matthew suggested we check out some of these 2,000 year old stories written on sandstone walls by indigenous hunters, I was quick to head the truck that direction.






How many people traveled to write their story on these walls? Was their contribution a hunting story, a religious story, a myth, or what? This would not be an easy place to get to in their time. The effort and work to do this must have been worth telling stories that were very important to them. What I wouldn't give to have a discussion with the folks who did this, to learn about their cultures and their hunts. But, that isn't going to happen, so I let my imagination lead me to far corners of possibility.

We wrapped up Hunt Day 3 with the biggest bodied buck we'd seen. He had four does. I think he was a very good buck. Very good prongs, great lower mass, and though not visible from this angle, he had a great inward curve. With two days left to hunt, Matthew made note of him but keep the rifle in the truck.

The "know it when I see it" had not yet happened.
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