HUNTINGsmart! USA Knowledge Base
Module 10 - WILDLIFE
Pronghorn are incredibly fast when they're on the move, reaching speeds of 53 mph. If you’re a deer hunter, this big game animal could be your next challenge. Pronghorn are a smaller, faster version of deer.
Although called ‘antelope’, pronghorn antelope are actually a unique species of their own. Pronghorn are native to North America and called ‘goats’ by some hunters.
The horns of a pronghorn are the main identifying characteristic. The horns, found on both males and females, have an outer sheath covered in hair, which covers the permanent bone core. The sheath is shed each year between October and November and pronghorns will grow a new set by July. Male horns are about 9 inches in length and are pronged. Female horns tend to be much smaller and are rarely pronged.
Male pronghorns stand about 3 feet at the shoulder and weigh about 110 lbs. Females are more slender than males, usually weighing in at about 80 lbs.
Pronghorn fur is a reddish-brown color and they have white markings on their rumps, chests, undersides and cheeks. Males have a black neck patch beginning just below their ears—females do not have this patch. These markings break up their solid color at a distance and helps to camouflage them.
Pronghorns have cloven hooves and tracks that look similar to deer tracks. However, although similar, there are some important differences. Pronghorn tracks are slightly wider at the rear and the insides of the toes are concave towards the tip. Additionally, pronghorns do not have dewclaws and their track prints are about 3 inches in length. Due to the open terrain they inhabit, these tracks can be really tricky to spot—so if you’re looking for them, you’ll need to scan the ground carefully.
Pronghorn will eat a variety of plants. Cactus, grass, sagebrush, flowers… pretty much anything. You can often find them on farmland, mingling with sheep and cattle. Cows and pronghorn actually make a great team—the cattle eat the grasses and leave the forbs behind for the pronghorn to graze on. Peacefully co-existing.
You’ll find pronghorns in regions with hilly, expansive terrain. Their range extends from southern Saskatchewan, Canada through to the south-western region of the United States. Pronghorn like higher altitudes (elevations of 3000-6000 feet). These mountainous locations make for a nice view but be prepared for a hike and a half.
Pronghorn populations will be thicker in regions that receive only 10-15 inches of annual rainfall, so here’s a tip: Once you get up high, place yourself within 3-4 miles of a water source and you should have some luck finding pronghorn.
Pronghorn scat can tell you where the pronghorn are hanging out. You’ve just got to know what you’re looking for. Pronghorn scat is piles of pellets. Slightly smaller than deer pellets, pronghorn scat measures at about ¾ of an inch (in rounded or oval shapes). Be aware that the two scat types (deer and pronghorn) can look really similar and it can be tricky to tell the difference between the two.
Finding larger scat pellets is good—it means you’re tracking a bigger pronghorn. Take a good look to figure out how fresh the pile is. If the scat looks dry, it will probably be a few days old. However, if the pellets have a wet, shiny look to them, they were probably dropped between 6-12 hours ago or less—so start hunting! Remember, the weather conditions can have an effect on the look of aging scat. For example, rain can make old, dry scat look shiny and fresh. Don’t be fooled. Pronghorn scat will also have a different appearance depending on the current diet of the pronghorn. Softer vegetation = softer scat piles, whereas firmer pellets indicate a combination of food sources.
Trail Markings: Scrapes
Like deer, pronghorn antelope will make scrapes to mark their territory during the rut season (which begins in late September). They scratch up the ground and pee on it to distribute their scent and to communicate their presence to other pronghorn in the area. Look for these markings on ridge tops and other areas where the pronghorn would have full visibility of their surroundings. Scrapes remain active for weeks at a time so they’re a great sign that pronghorn are in the area. If you can find a scrape, you’ll be a lot closer to finding your pronghorn.
Pronghorn Hunting Tip: Hide & Seek
Pronghorn will often make scrapes and then hide in the nearby bush to watch and see what activity the scrape generates. So if you’ve found a scrape, keep cool, be quiet and survey the surrounding area carefully. You may be under observation.
Guns, Ammo & Your Target
Some hunters believe mistakenly that pronghorn need to be hunted from a great distance. However, they can (and should) be hunted from a distance of about 150-200 yards or less. The key is to use the landscape to your advantage. Gullies, ravines, ridges and hills often slice through the terrain that pronghorns inhabit. Use these dips in the land to disguise yourself and try to get within 150 yards of the pronghorn before shooting.
Choosing the correct ammo for hunting pronghorn is not like choosing ammo for deer. The ammo you choose for a pronghorn won’t need the same punching power since these big game animals are smaller than the average-sized deer. When choosing pronghorn ammo, look for quick-expanding bullets. They will do enough damage to take a pronghorn down quickly.
Remember, when pronghorn hunting you’re going to need a rifle that you can hold steady and re-load quickly while shooting from prone position. Semi-auto or bolt action rifles would both be good choices. Bolt actions can be incredibly accurate and semi-autos are able to re-load effortlessly. If you find yourself unsure, talk to a pro.
Bowhunting? A compound bow or crossbow with sharp broadhead arrows will do the job.
The vital zone area of a pronghorn antelope is the heart and lungs—this is the only area that will kill the pronghorn quickly (the spot just behind their front shoulder).
Accurate shooting is key with these smaller targets. Landing a well-placed shot will break the shoulder bone, enter the heart and lungs and stop a pronghorn in its tracks. Remember that the shoulder bone will create a shield around the vital zone area, so ideally you should wait for the pronghorn to step forward before taking your shot. If you hit their body anywhere other than the vital zone area, the injured pronghorn will likely run off. If this happens, you’ll have to go find it to finish the job. Oh, and you should know that an injured pronghorn can cover even more ground than an injured deer. So, shoot accurately to prevent the animal from suffering and to avoid going on a long hike.
Your Shot Options: Firearms
The ‘quartering away’ shot:
- The ‘quartering away’ shot is your best shot opportunity for pronghorn.
- This is when the pronghorn is facing away from you and is stepping slightly forward. This exposes the vital zone area that is covered by the shoulder blade when the pronghorn is standing still and straight.
- An accurate ‘quartering away’ shot will hit the shoulder and chest area and either drop the pronghorn immediately or cause enough internal bleeding that you’ll have a blood trail that's easy to follow.
The ‘broadside’ shot:
- Shooting ‘broadside’ means you’re shooting directly at the side of the pronghorn.
- An accurate broadside shot will either drop the pronghorn immediately or cause enough internal bleeding that there will be a blood trail that's easy to follow.
The ‘quartering toward’ shot:
- A ‘quartering toward’ shot is when the pronghorn is facing you.
- If the pronghorn is quartering toward you, aim for the front shoulder.
- If the shot is accurate, the bullet will pass through the lungs (and potentially the heart) and should exit the opposite shoulder blade.
Your Shot Options: Bowhunting
The ‘quartering away’ shot:
- The ‘quartering away’ shot is when the nearest shoulder blade of the pronghorn is slightly forward and is the optimal shot opportunity for a bowhunter.
- This shot is ideal if taken at a 45° angle.
- If taken from greater than a 45° angle, the gap between the pronghorn’s rear hip and front shoulder will be very small.
The ‘broadside shot’:
- The ‘broadside shot’ is when you’re shooting directly at the side of a pronghorn.
- To do this, focus on the area just behind the front shoulder and aim for the heart, keeping in mind that a high shot will likely hit the lungs.
General Shooting Tips:
- Never shoot at the head of a pronghorn antelope. This is an unethical shot and the cape will be damaged if you plan on mounting the head.
- Never shoot a pronghorn while it’s sleeping—always practice fair chase.