The Big Dipper hung low over the horizon, suspended in the frozen air among a billion other stars. My brother Ben and I zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags inside the tent and killed the light from our lantern. We both lied in silence trying to sleep as the coyotes sang their western melody just outside.
By the time dawn broke, we’d already eaten a light breakfast and were just finishing organizing our packs for the day ahead. I already knew the answer, but I asked anyway: “Are you plannin’ to kill the first pronghorn buck you see, Ben?” He looked up from his packing just long enough to shine a flashlight at me. “Don’t be dumb, I know what kind of bucks this property produces.”
This particular property is arguably the best pronghorn antelope unit in the state of Utah. Both Ben and his wife had drawn this coveted tag once already in years past. They both had memorable hunts and harvested great pronghorns. Somehow, against all odds, Ben drew the tag again. Luckily for me, Ben wanted some company and a videographer, so I quickly made myself available.
A few weeks prior to the hunt, Ben had inquired of me as to which weapon he should use to harvest his pronghorn. I had just completed construction on a new AR-15 that I designed for small-sized game to be taken at long ranges. It was rare caliber with lots of potential. The 6mm WOA is a 6.8 SPC necked down with a 30-degree shoulder. Developed by John Holliger at White Oak Armament, the cartridge pushes a 65-grain bullet at 3,300 fps out of a 22-inch heavy-barreled AR-15. All I’d had the opportunity to harvest up to this point was a few coyotes and some smaller vermin, but the 65-grainers wouldn’t cut it for pronghorn.
I began to research the possibility of a new load, capable of putting the hurt on much larger game. According to iSrelok, my ballistics program, at 3,000 fps, an 80-grain, tipped Triple Shock X bullet from Barnes has enough energy to humanely dispatch a deer or antelope at 600 yards. If I could load the 80-grain pill to mag length, I might be on to something here. On paper, it all looked great. However, in order for this all to work, the shooter would be required to make such a shot at such an obscene distance. I loaded up a few for testing and went to the range, Ben in tow.
After some initial testing with the new loads, such as chronographing and re-zeroing the Vortex Viper HSLR scope for the heftier projectile, it was time to stretch it out to some yardage on AR500 steel plating. Since it was Ben’s tag, I handed the rifle over to him to see what the dynamic duo was capable of accomplishing together. His first shot at the 600-yard gong was just an inch high and an inch left of point-of-aim. I was impressed, and Ben was beside himself. Pleased with the new rifle and matching load, we returned home to load 100 rounds just in case things got wild and Western on opening day.
The hunting rig rattled along the primitive two-track trail at snail’s pace like an old covered wagon. Not even a mile from camp, we were already seeing antelope grazing in the distance as the sun crested the Rockies and cast light fully upon the western landscape. Giant olive-drab-colored sage dotted the yellow CRP grass meadows, which took root in red clay dirt. Boulders the size of Buicks offered the only shade for miles across the rolling terrain, and the antelope were as plentiful as I had ever seen. Herds of 20 to 30 head every half-mile or so were the norm. It was apparent the rut was still on even this late in the season. In awe, we witnessed bucks chasing does like randy teens as they sparred with other bucks who came too close. Ben and I spent the entire first day putting glass on as many bucks as we could in order to narrow the field. If we found a good candidate for Ben’s trophy room, we marked his last known whereabouts on the GPS and gave him a name with photos or video for easy reference. Back at camp, as we warmed homemade venison chilly over the campfire, we compared the bucks on the laptop using the data we’d gathered as the smoke swirled up into the cloudless night sky.
Day two dawned clear and crisp, with the mercury frozen somewhere between a dime and a quarter. Chilled to the bone from sleeping in the tent all night, we warmed hot cocoa over the fire and spun ourselves like chickens on a rotisserie until we were warmed through to our core. We packed a lunch into the cooler as we vowed to scout without returning to camp until dark.
The morning went just as planned as we glassed up another two dozen bucks by noon. The wind really began to pick up as we ate lunch on the tailgate of the truck and talked about where to go next. By the time we’d finished, sustained crosswinds of 20-plus mph had been recorded on Ben’s handheld weather system. We decided to head for the valleys where we believed the antelope to be, as they too tried to seek refuge from the howling wind. As we reached our desired location, we immediately began to see antelope grazing with their noses into the wind. With packs upon our backs, we crawled up an old cattle trail to the verge to get a better look. There he was, completely unaware of our existence. The one Ben had been seeking. A beautiful specimen of a mature pronghorn with wide jotting cutters and great mass that carried above his prongs. Symmetrical and bold, he grazed solo into the wind 300 yards away from us.
Ben and I began to calculate everything necessary to make the difficult shot. Ben input the elevation, temperature, yardage, wind speed and wind direction into the ballistics program and laid prone over the AR. Making one last check on the yardage using the Vortex Ranger 1000, he adjusted the elevation slightly on the HS-LR scope and switched the safety to “go.” He then applied 3 pounds of pressure to the Timney trigger, igniting the fire behind the polymer-tipped, copper projectile. The bullet impacted center mass behind the right shoulder, anchoring the buck where he stood. Granted, it wasn’t the 600-yard shot we’d practiced for, and to some, 318 yards might not seem all that impressive. That is until you factor in the 15- to 20-mph gusting winds from a 90-degree angle at full value. Not to mention, all was accomplished with an AR-15 style rifle, which resulted in a quick, humane kill on a mature pronghorn. Now that’s the stuff that separates the men from the boys.
6WOA Build Components
Forged Upper Receiver
Match Grade Barrel
Lancer LCH5 Carbon Fiber Handguard
6.8 SPC Bolt & Carrier
Billet Lower Receiver
3-pound Timney Trigger
Ergo Deluxe Pistol Grip
Vortex Viper HS LR 4-16×50 FFP Scope
Vortex Ranger 1000 Rangefinder
AAC 7.62 SDN-6 Suppressor
Harris HBR 6-9” Bipod