Second-Chance Archery Pronghorn

Not wanting to wait at public land water sources, the author jogs, walks and crawls his way within bow range of on-the-move pronghorns.

Second-Chance Archery Pronghorn

The dark, distant southern New Mexico mountains cast a classic western backdrop with solar rays darting in and out of the monsoon clouds. With my brow pressed against the ring of my spotting scope, I gazed through the 20-power glass, assessing the seven pronghorn bucks.  Three of them would be exceptional harvests with a bow. After taking some time to gather some video and pictures of the bucks, I saved a waypoint for my new found hotspot.

Slipping out of the area without alerting the bucks, I couldn’t help but grin. Archery season would start in just a few weeks, and I knew right where I was going to be. My hope was to get just one chance to kill a solid buck with my bow.

Laying the Groundwork

Having a limited-entry New Mexico archery tag for pronghorns, my first in at least 10 years, assured me this wasn’t a hunt I was likely to draw often. With that being the case, I made multiple trips during the summer to scout. I reviewed multiple pieces of land using online maps, selecting several public land spots where I could potentially find pronghorns.

Systematically, I checked one area after another, noting tracks, water sources, numbers of pronghorns, size of bucks, and amount of public ground available. Each day I went scouting, I gained more knowledge about the various locations, which helped me decide which areas were best. This led me to the aforementioned area where I found the group of seven bucks. 

Having a place to begin as soon as the bow season starts, as well as having a few secondary spots, has dramatically increased my hunt success rate. Ultimately, making several day trips to scout paid big dividends as I was able to locate and keep tabs on many of the bucks until the week of opening day. With multiple good-sized bucks cruising around and several hunting spots lined up, my anticipation for this hunt was high.

Pursuing public land pronghorns out West with a bow is an adventure every hunter should experience at least once.
Pursuing public land pronghorns out West with a bow is an adventure every hunter should experience at least once.

A Back-Up Plan

I have never been a guy to sit still for most things, including bowhunting. Even though I knew my highest odds for success would be sitting over water, I wanted to spot and stalk. I planned to sit over water only if hunting on the ground wasn’t panning out after a few days. 

While scouting, I pinpointed multiple water tanks. I confirmed that two of them had pronghorns coming to drink. Ample cover was nearby both, which would allow for effective blind setups if need be. I marked these water tank locations on my phone as Plan B. Note: I didn’t worry about setting up popup blinds before archery season to give pronghorns a chance to adjust to them. Instead, I’d create a small, natural brush blind if spot and stalk failed to produce.

In Pursuit

Opening morning finally arrived, and after working all night, I met my brothers, Ben and Ian, who came along to help. While Ben drove, I slept in the car. When I awoke, I realized we had driven several miles past the valley I wanted to start glassing for the morning. As we stopped to turn around, Ian spotted a few pronghorns — two bucks and a doe — a few hundred yards out. The first buck was young, his horns not even stretching above his ears. The other buck was mature. His horns curved forward and he had an extra burr coming off the right side. He wasn’t a buck I’d seen while scouting, but he was worth pursuing. 

The plan was for Ben and Ian to stay put and keep their eyes on the bigger buck. I’d make my first attempt at sneaking in for a shot. I took my time, making sure the wind was in my favor. I also planned my approach with adequate cover to maneuver around without getting caught by the keen eyes of the three pronghorns. I started off in a small wash, then darted from patches of mesquite, cactus or yucca as I trailed behind the trio. However, the pronghorns were walking at a steady pace, which made it unreasonable for me to catch up to them and have a decent shot opportunity.

I backtracked to Ben and Ian so we could reorganize. Once we relocated the small group, we determined that we could drive up the road past them. There, I could then either cut them off as they continued to feed, or I would at least be able to work a stalk.

Taking multiple scouting trips before the season played a pivotal role in the author’s success on this hunt.
Taking multiple scouting trips before the season played a pivotal role in the author’s success on this hunt.

We stopped our vehicle several hundred yards past the pronghorns. I grabbed my bow and headed off into the desert expanse. It didn’t take long for me to lay eyes on the big buck and his partners. As they moseyed along, I hurried to cut the gap between us. I kept a low profile, and moved from clumps of brush, closing the gap fast. I soon found myself 100 yards away from the unsuspecting group. Resting momentarily within a scant slice of shade, I assessed my next move. Then, all three pronghorns bedded. Perfect. With the animals tucked into the ground, I could slip the final distance into bow range much easier.

Dropping onto my stomach, I initiated the slow, methodical crawl that would hopefully get me within 60 yards for a shot. Knowing where each animal lay, I chipped away at the distance between us. I didn’t have a lot of cover, but there was enough to adequately keep me hidden as I eased along the ground. Making it to a yucca I had pinned, I was finally within shooting distance of the target buck. 

Drenched in sweat, I sat still, waiting for the buck to rise from his bed. A few minutes passed when the doe stood, staring in my direction. With her head held high, she cautiously eased several yards closer to me. Then she whirled. Making an alarmed snort-wheeze, she trotted off with the two bucks trailing close behind her. The mid-morning wind had shifted, routing my scent straight to her nose.

For the author (center), it was a joy to share this archery pronghorn hunt with his brothers.
For the author (center), it was a joy to share this archery pronghorn hunt with his brothers.

Try Again

Once again, the three pronghorns slowed down and went back to feeding after moving just a few hundred yards. Making it back to my brothers, I decided it was worth making a similar move. We cut above the pronghorns on the road, then I moved out in hopes of getting another stalk. Making it to a large mesquite bush, I peeked over the top to locate the group. I was surprised to see them at less than 100 yards and coming closer. I quickly nocked an arrow and prepared for a shot.

The small buck and doe walked parallel to me at 50 yards. As they moved past me, the big buck came into view. Trotting in toward the other two, he stopped broadside at 27 yards. I should have drawn my bow before he got to that point, but I hadn’t. Afraid I couldn’t draw without getting busted, I waited for him to walk past me before I tried to shoot. What ensued next was certainly one of the biggest blunders in my bowhunting career.

With the big buck to my right and quartering away, I quickly drew my bow and then sent an arrow on its way. I whiffed. My next two arrows had the same result, and I watched in disappointment as the three pronghorns ran into the distance.

Frustrated, I worked to collect my thoughts and composure. Getting into bow range of a pronghorn buck doesn’t happen easily, and I knew I botched a rare opportunity. Doing my best to shake off my mishap, my brothers and I went back to glassing. The three pronghorns were only mildly spooked by the whole encounter. Moving approximately a half-mile, they went back to feeding.

Second Chances

Going in for another try, I again left Ben and Ian to spot for me as I made a large loop, skirting around the pronghorns. Rather than try a direct stalk, I attempted to get in front of them. It was difficult to determine exactly where they were going. So, once I got ahead of them, I waited behind a few tall yucca stalks. With my feet planted, I stayed glued to my binocular, watching each move of the mini herd. They altered their path multiple times, continuing to mill around. 

For a few minutes, it seemed as though they were going to feed a couple of hundred yards to my left, over a rolling rise and out of sight. In this case, I would have had to try to circle in front of them again. Suddenly, they cut their direction at a 45-degree angle, coming straight at me.

I didn’t figure they’d maintain their course, but I kept my position. They just keep coming. When they reached the 70-yard mark, I realized I might get another shot at the big buck. Again, I nocked an arrow.

As the three pronghorn continued, a cluster of yuccas remained between us, creating a perfect barrier to keep me concealed. When the big buck strolled out from behind the yuccas, he was in the lead, broadside, at 44 yards. Smoothly drawing back my bow, I settled my third pin on the buck’s vitals, then released. 

The buck bolted, but I could already see blood spraying out of his chest. Anxiously, I followed him through my binocular. In seconds, his sprint turned into a death run. When he took a nosedive into the dry dirt, I knew it was over.

Ben and Ian were able to watch the entire sequence go down through their optics. While I waited for them to make their way over to me, I rested in appreciation for the special moment. The diversity of the habitat around me, the mountains in the foreground, the ability to bowhunt such an amazing animal, and the blessing of being able to share such a hunt with my brothers.

I soaked up the experiences leading up to this moment. From drawing the tag and the hunt preparation, to scouting and the emotional low of missing, to finally connecting on the big buck — I was tremendously grateful for the journey.

I was beyond thrilled to walk up on my buck. With forward-angled horns, a broken tip, an extra bur, and an old Roman nose, the buck was awesome. I wanted to get just one opportunity on this hunt to kill a pronghorn with my bow, yet I was given two on the same buck. Opportunities like that in bowhunting are few, but when they come, I will take them for all they are worth.

The author had seen bigger bucks while scouting,  but he was pleased this buck’s horns were full of character.
The author had seen bigger bucks while scouting, but he was pleased this buck’s horns were full of character.

Sidebar: Pronghorn Gear List

On this hunt, I shot a Hoyt Carbon Element G3 bow, which was set up with a Trophy Taker Smackdown rest, Spot Hogg Fast Eddie sight, Spot Hogg Wiseguy release, Fuse quiver, and Rock-Solid stabilizer. My arrows were Easton Axis, tipped with G5 Montecs. My gear also included Vortex optics, an ALPS OutdoorZ backpack and binocular harness, as well as Under Armour clothing.

Having clean, pure protein to stock the freezer is one of the greatest benefits of a successful bowhunt.
Having clean, pure protein to stock the freezer is one of the greatest benefits of a successful bowhunt.

Sidebar: New Mexico DIY Archery Pronghorns

The odds of drawing an archery pronghorn tag in New Mexico aren’t great. There’s only about a 10 percent average draw rate for residents. This means the chance of drawing is around half that for nonresidents. That said, New Mexico runs a random lottery each year with no point system. So even if your odds are low, you still have a possibility of drawing. In addition, if you’re willing to hire an outfitter, then you can apply in a draw pool that includes only those hunting with outfitters, which increases your draw odds. Finally, if you’re willing to pay, then outfitters have access to landowners with private land opportunities.

Currently, a nonresident archery pronghorn tag costs $283, plus you must purchase a hunting license for $65. In my opinion, that’s not bad considering outfitted hunts on private land are going for $3,500 and up. 

Like many western states, archery pronghorn season in New Mexico runs in early August. It’s common for temperatures to reach the 80s, with the potential of triple-digit temps depending on where you are in the state. Plan to bring extra water, ice and coolers. This will play an important role in keeping you hydrated, your food preserved, and your meat from spoiling if successful.

For my recent pronghorn hunt, I live close enough to the unit that I didn’t have to camp. However, New Mexico has plenty of public lands to make camping a great way to go. While hotels are an option, I’d recommend camping out to save travel time to and from hunting areas. The weather will be warm, but be sure to bring rain gear in preparation for potential summer downpours.

Photos by Kyle S. Lipke


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