Well, Its roughly 11:50 Sunday morning and my pronghorn hunt is over!!! And I could not be happier with the results.
TO start this story I need to go back to Saturday morning. I drove up to my hunting area to do some last day scouting to get a finer pin point on where the big bucks would be hanging, or at least the general area.
I went to my regular places and sure enough there were two of the three bucks I had been scouting for the last couple months. One of these bucks was a very tall, roughly 16" buck but had weak prongs and average mass. The other was quite short at what I guessed was 13.5" but good prongs and great mass.
Knowing these two were in the area where they had always been I decided to go check out on other spot which I knew was a good location for early rifle hunting.
It is roughly 8 miles off any regular road and is a huge alfalfa field out in the middle of nowhere basically. It has a center pivot irragation system so it is lush green feed in the middle of the great Montana prairie.
The only problem with this field is its size and lack of approach to get within reasonable shooting ranges. The pronghorns and mule deer love this field, lots of feed, its in a secluded area and also has a flowing creek near by for water. It is also a very good safe location as the field itself is roughly 2100 yards across!!! They generally bed up in the middle of the field and can see anyone approaching from all directions. This is the problem with this location. Very hard to get into position for a shot.
Anyway, I drove to an overlook point so I could glass roughly 3/4 of the field. I was amazed to count 86 head or pronghorns in the field!! There were no less then 11 mature bucks from what I could see but at the range I was at, roughly 1.5 miles, it was hard to get a real clear idea of what the bucks really had to offer. Any of you that have hunted pronghorns much know that once they bed down they have a certain direction that is their responsibility to keep an eye on and seldom so they move their heads much from that direction.
So basically I had 11 bucks in my spotting scope that I was getting only one view of and had to determine from that if they were trophy quality or not, somewhat difficult. With that many bucks in one area though I decided I better try to give this field a try before the other hunters on the property drove the big herds off into the prairie and scatter the herds.
I looked over the land and came up with what I though would be the best approach for the next morning. The biggest obstacle was the very tall grass all around the field which really limited where I could set up for a shot but I glassed one area that looked to be slightly elevated and would possibly allow a shot at at least a decent portion of the field, well, at least the 700 yard self imposed range limit I had decided on. With that in mind, roughly 3/4 of the huge field was out of reach but I felt this was my best chance. I would park the truck and walk down to this location and set up before light and simply see what wondered onto my corner of the field, sounded like a plan!!!
Well, last night I did not sleep much, never do before a hunt. I just kept running the images of all those bucks through my head trying to be able to recognize them this morning when the sun came up.
Finally I decided its no use laying in bed so I got up at 5:00 and got everything ready and waited for my Dad and Bother who were going to go along just to watch the hunt.
They showed at out 6:30 meeting time and we all jumped in the GMC and headed up to see what we could find. As we drove past the landowners house, there was a line of trucks wanting to get permission to hunt, I was sure glad my permission slip was sitting on the dash as we drove by the herd of hunters and off to the pronghorn prairie!!
We got on the old farm road and started the drive back 8 miles or so to the big center pivot field. When we parked the truck the eastern sky was just starting to lighten so I grabbed my pack with my ammo, spotter and rear rest bag and walked down to the position I had decided on the day before.
As I walked down the fenceline I became pretty uncomfortable as the tall grass was covering most of my view of the field as I walked to position. I got to the point I wanted and layed down and got the rifle set up. With the bipod on its highest adjustment, I could see some pronghorns in the field but I was looking through grass. I was not impressed but it was getting light quick and I knew that soon there would be +80 sets of pronghorn eyes watching me. There were alot of goats in view so I decided to hold tight and see what happened.
As I laid there on the prairie I started to hear the approach of other hunters coming back into the prairie. This also concerned me as I wanted to get a look at the bucks before anyone screwed it up by pressuring this large herd. The trucks were still a good 5 miles out and the going was slow on the bumpy road so I knew I had a bit of time.
It was getting pretty light now so I started looking though the spotter to see what was out. I could only see a very slight portion of the field but luckily it was the part that had the most goats on it the day before and today was no exception.
As I scanned over the backs of the pronghorns I could see I saw several nice bucks. Including one that had very neat forward curl horns but he was quite young. I always have wanted a forward curl buck but he was about 2 years short of being a shooter. Hopefully he will make it through the season as he will be very unique in a year or two.
Then finally after about 10 minutes of really studying the 35 head or so of pronghorns that I could see I saw a buck lift his head up and look directly at me.
I like this view because you can get alot of informtion on the buck instantly. Mainly you can easily see just how black his face is. The blacker the older, the better. He had a solid black muzzle so I knew he was an older buck. I could also tell that even from the front view this buck had good mass. If a pronghorn looks like he has mass from head on, its got above average mass. This one looked good.
The only thing I was concerned about was his height and prong length. He did not look overly tall in the lower quality light but then he turned his head and I got a good look at his prongs. Looked very good.
I laid there watching him with a dozen things running though my mind. Most pressing was the growing noise of the fleet of hunters coming our direction!! Basically I was trying to talk myself out of shooting this buck as it was the first 10 minutes of the 2005 season but the more I watched him the harder it was to think about letting him walk. Then he started walking to my right and into an area that was getting to be out of my view. I decided if I was going to try for him I better do it now.
I grabbed the swarovski rangefinder and took three readings. 533, 532 and 533 yards. I then started setting the rifle up as I needed to shift to my right for the shot. Got her level and looked through the scope to see what kind of view I had, NOT GOOD, there was alot of grass that I was looking and shooting though!!!
By this time I could only see the tops of their backs out in the field as they continued to slowly move to my right. At one point I lost track of the buck as they all had their heads down feeding and out of view. When the pronghorn that I though was the big buck lifted its head I nearly paniced when it turned out to be a doe.
Luckily the buck was farther back to the left of this small herd of does and I found him quickly when he lifted his head. There were three does with him, one in front, two in back and they made a shot impossible until they cleared from the shooting lane.
I knew the big 156 gr ULD RBBT at 3320 fps would easily punch through several pronghorns at this range so I needed to be sure he was clear of the does.
They continued to move slowly to my left and I was really starting to get concerned about my lack of visibility as I could only see from mid chest up and at that through some pretty heavy grass at times. I ranged the buck one last time, 545 yards is what I got for a reading so I settled into the rifle and placed the first mil dot down in the weaver tactical on the top of the bucks back and waited for the does to clear.
Then all at once, everything came together, not only did the two does clear from the buck, but he walked into a small clearing in the grass so that I could clearly see from the bottom of his chest up.
Took a good breath and relaxed and placed that first mil dot down level on his back. The buck was slightly quartering away from me so I lined the verticle crosshair up directly with his offside shoulder. There was no breeze at all so wind drift was not even a concern.
I pulled the big 25 into my shoulder solidly and at the break of the trigger the shock wave of the impact rippled the bucks entire body. To my suprise he stayed on his feet though. Just then the impact smack drifted back to my position and I knew the buck was in serious trouble.
He spun around and ran about 30 yards and came to a stop. Then stumbled and it was all over. The herd cleared the huge field almost instantly at the shot and then everything was very still on the prairie except for some coyotes singing in the distant draws.
I just laid there for a few minutes in the quite and then my dad and brother drove up in my truck. We unloaded the game cart and started out across the field to the old buck. Theres always a bit of sadness walking up to a fine old animal like this but also excitement to see what kind of a trophy he was and I was very happy with him as we got closer. The main thing I noticed was the polished ivory tips on this buck and his heavy mass right to his tips. Also had alot of mass and very good prongs. Not overly tall but he would turn out to be taller then I predicted.
The buck had everything I expected from my view at 550 yards. Good mass, good prongs, not overly tall but tall enough. The shot had landed absolutely perfect, even though it was about 2" lower then I was expeecting it to. It centered the heart and totally destroyed the offside shoulder.
The performance of the 156 gr ULD RBBT WIldcat was very impressive but on this light of game, not overly destructive until solid bone was bit. There was just a pin hole entrance wound, roughly a 1" hole through both lungs and heart and about a 1.5" exit wound on the offside of the chest cavity. WHen the big ULD hit the offside shoulder however, things got serious. There was an exit wound roughly 4" across!!! This bullet should prove very potent medicine for heavy mule deer and whitetails next month!!
The height of the bucks horns were deceptive because of his relatively low starting and deep curls.
I dressed the buck and we packed him up and headed back out to the highway. On the way home we stopped by a relatives property so see if any mule deer bucks were in the area. We spotted several buck. The one pictured here and another one that would be in the 160" range. I could not get the camera on the larger buck soon enough. Was a good ending to the trip to see some good mule deer bucks as well.
When we got home I skinned the buck and cleaned off the skull so I could give it a good accurate measuring. I was actually suprised to find the buck had 15" long horns!!! I was guessing in the 14" range. Very happy with this.
He also has 7" circumference measurements on his first two measurements on each horn, again just what I was looking for.
Both prongs were also over 6.5" as well.
His final green score came out at:
83 6/8" gross B&C
and with only 4/8" deductions total, his net green score is 83 2/8" B&C.
He easily makes the Montana record book which is a minimum score of 82 0/8" to make the bucks. Just have to see now if he will hold that through the 60 day drying period. Even if he does make the book I probably will not enter him in the record books. He is plenty trophy just as he is. The memory of the hunt is all I want and I am completely happy with the results. The plan worked acceptibly well, the rifle was easily up to the challange as was the round and bullet(actually did not even start to stress the cartridge performance and bullet) and I was able to make a quality shot to end things quickly for the old buck. It was another great morning on the Montana prairie!!!
For the first fair chase hunt with an Allen Magnum I feel things worked out as well as I could have every planned.
Good luck to all of you on your upcoming hunts!!