I usually don’t hunt big game alone, but the impending storm, usually boring glassing and waiting on pronghorn hunts, and the possibility of having to work mid-week on the phone and/or computer forced me to head out on a Tuesday morning all by myself.
I got a late start, heading out from Mandan, ND about 45 minutes later than I wanted. It was still dark but I knew I’d be late to the hunting area.
Traveling through North Dakota in the early mornings can be relaxing, but BORING. There is almost no traffic, there is beautiful scenery if you like mostly flat landscape, harvested fields and wind towers. Thank goodness for Siriux/XM radio and saved podcasts on my phone!
I got down where I could hunt south of New England, ND about 8am. The sun was already up, but on my way to where I planned on hunting I spotted my first goat. It was a decent buck standing in typical pronghorn cover… right in the middle of four square miles of harvested wheat. The only way I was getting at that one was with a drone strike, so I left him and would circle back if needed.
I turned south on Highway 67 towards Scranton, ND, already 130 miles from home, and after a bit headed off onto the dirt roads to start looking for antelope. I saw a couple of small herds with no, or very small, bucks. Saw a few clusters of whitetail does, and a few pheasant out getting their morning gravel ran for cover as my truck rolled by.
The area looked very odd with little or no corn and sunflowers this year… mostly wheat. That’s a huge departure from the last five or six years, but good for this hunt for sure. It will be even more strange how it affects the deer hunt in a month or so.
I was fifteen minutes into hunting when I got an email from a colleague to give them a call about a client. This is where it gets strange. Modern work life finds a way to inject itself into nearly every part of our daily activities, especially when you own your own small businesses. Just a few years ago, receiving email or getting a phone call where I was hunting would be sketchy at best. We would run in and out of cell tower range all the time, but now it’s very reliable. And knowing I was close to where I had seen a nice herd of pronghorn last week out scouting, I pulled the truck onto an approach at the top of a hill and called her.
After a 30 minute call, I was happy I didn’t have to break out my laptop, which I brought with just in case, bid good day to the caller, and glassed the 15 miles of countryside I could see from the top of this hill. Should have taken a photo, but if you’ve actually seen a Great Plains vista you know the smartphone wouldn’t have done it justice anyways.
In the distance, I saw a couple of pronghorn does walking across the dirt road I was on. No buck that I could see, but that wasn’t unusual. So I started heading that directly, pausing at the top of each hill to see if I could see the herd. As I got closer there was one that stood out. Not a huge buck, but decent. He hung towards the back of the rest but was already across the road and into an area I could hunt. I pulled to the fence line marking the edge of the land I could hunt, and took a look. Decent mass, wide, and the curl swept back.
Given the storm was probably going to hinder or even cancel the hunt this weekend, and next weekend I already had plans, this was my best shot. So I grabbed my rifle, binoculars, orange cap and started walking along the fence line on the back side of a hill towards a place I might get a shot.
If you’ve even hunting pronghorn you know their site is everything. They hang out in wide-open areas and can see with amazing accuracy for miles. I learned this about a 1/4 mile into my hike as a small doe crested the hill, spotted me and alerted the others. The entire herd, including the buck started heading south at a relatively slow pronghorn speed, but that’s still WAY faster than I could run back to the truck.
I got in and headed to get in front of them, which I did and got out waiting for a shot. They slowly came into view at about 250 yards. I was down in a ditch fairly hidden, but would need to reveal myself to get a shot. I waiting for the buck to get into range… and they stopped. 258 yards on the rangefinder. Not a great shot, but they didn’t seem too excited to get closer. After fifteen minutes I was just about to stand and shoot… and they took off running. I have no idea why, but I jumped up and cracked off a shot before the buck got going. I hit just low, and now they were at full speed.
Back into the truck and down the section line I went. Over a couple of hills, then the third and they had stopped. So I backed up the truck out of sight knowing they could already be at full speed heading off. I got into the opposite side ditch and started walking to where the herd had stopped, peaking on occassion to see if they were still there, and they were.
Eventually I got even with the herd and the buck was by himself. 307 years according to the rangefinder. Luckily I had sighted my .270 in at 200 yards so I knew the ballistics. About 11″ drop if sighted at 100 yards, about 8″ if sighted at 200. So I put down my bipod and used the road as a brace, aimed for the low part of the chest then went about mid-way on the chest and let it fly. The pronghorn went down, and 45 minutes into the hunt, I had tagged out.
It’s definitely not the biggest pronghorn I’ve seen. Hell, I’ve only shot two and this isn’t even the biggest one I’ve shot. But this was a great example of doing what you can with what you have to work with. The weather on opening weekend made the roads pretty much undriveable, especially the back section lines. There was a massive fall storm heading towards the hunting grounds and my home 150 miles away that evening, so weekend two was going to be tough. And the third weekend I had already agreed to go out of town for a football game.
So it was today or nothing. I found a nice buck, got it down and loaded, made it back to town and had it skinned and boned by the evening, just in time for the wind and snow to hit.
2019 pronghorn was a success, so now it was time to focus on my favorite season of all, pheasant season which starts on October 12 in North Dakota. Then another year of pursuing a muley buck in November
Have a fun and safe hunting season everyone!