We had high expectations for this seasons pronghorn season as we did last year but just like last year, the hard winter and EXTREMELY cool and wet spring really seemed to take a toll on the local pronghorn herd this year, even more so then last year. We noticed the numbers were down slightly last year but this year they were easily 1/2 what we saw last season. And that is glassing as far as we can see with 60x spotters as well, not just looking for the stuff within 1 mile or two off the road.
This year I wanted to get a good goat for a shoulder mount as I do not have one mounted in the trophy room yet. I have several bucks that score over 80" with my largest being 84" but for one reason or another the capes just were not good for mounting.
The season started Oct. 8th and we headed out early to see what we could see. Typically, opening weekend is a zoo and this season was no different but we also had to deal with load of rain that had fallen the end of the week before the season opener. Within 20 minutes of traveling the back roads, the Duramax was packing around 500 extra pounds of good old Montana MUD!!!
We saw some goats opening morning but more hunters, several of which were out of staters that found out what good old greasy Montana mud thought of highway tires on light trucks, just sit and spin!!!
The day closed with us set up on a herd of 20 goats with two respectable bucks in the herd. We looked them over for an hour and decided they were both nice bucks but just not opening day shooters.
The next morning, Sunday morning, we headed back out. Expecting to run into the same big group of out of town hunters but to our suprise, we only way two other trucks the entire day. I am sure the very bad roads turned most of them away. Unfortuantely, the goats were no where to be found either. Went the whole day and never saw a mature buck......
Monday was the next outing. It was a nice blue sky day but windy which is pretty common around here. Weather improves and the wind picks up. Again, we did not see a lot of pronghorns. We did spot a decent herd from one of out favorite glassing points and decided to put a stock on them. Drove around to get into position, packed up the back packs with everything needed and started out on the roughly 3 mile hike. When we got to where we thought the pronghorns would be, they were no where to be found. Its always amazing how different the lay of the land really is when your glassing it from 6-7 miles away compared to when you get your boots to that spot.
We made our way down the valley going slowly over every little knob and finally we found out target. There were three very respectable bucks in the group with one being a true stud pronghorn. That being a +80" buck and very possibly a booner class animal which to make the Montana B&C record books you need an 82" net buck.
We got Dad set up as the herd started moving around the base of the hill we were sitting atop of. The wind was perfect but blowing pretty hard at around 20 mph. Still the herd was only around 200 yards away. The first 7-8 does cleared the hill and I asked Dad if he could see them and he said yes but the grass was to thick to get a shot. The herd was moving in a direction that would take them out onto the flat of the valley which would be ideal for a shoot, around 250 to 300 yards with us slightly elevated above them and shooting perfectly into the wind.
The first respectable buck cleared the hill as the does reached the flat of the valley. I asked Dad if he could see the buck and he said no, to much grass. Just then I look up and the lead doe has us pegged!!! She has no idea what we are but she starts getting all jumpy and so does the rest of the herd. They take off running up the valley and behind the contour of a hill side and the group of bucks bunch up and fallow at a medium trot. We could have taken a shot but they were grouped far to tightly for a safe shot so we let them go.
Dad told me to run up to the top of the hill and set up to see if I could get a shot at the big buck as he knew they would be out of range for him with his 25-284 in these wind conditions. I ran up around 150 yards to the top of the hill and laid down. The herd came up on the off hill side with the big boy right in the middle of the does as they always seem to do. I ranged them at 665 yards and figured the holdover and dialed in 2 moa to the left for the windage, then settled on the rifle for any chance to send a 160 grain Accubond out at 3450 fps from ol' Green, my lightweight 7mm Allen Magnum.
It never happened, the buck would never allow the does to clear him, there was always either a doe in front of or behind him as they moved over the hill. There were several bucks left but they were all in the high 60 to low 70" range. Nice bucks but not good enough for the pack back to the truck as they were easily 4 1/2 miles from the truck where they were standing and that included two sizable valleys we would have to cross. A +80" buck, yes, I would have shot him no questions asked but not an average buck.
We packed up and made the long hike back to the truck and headed home.
The next morning, Tuesday, met us with another beautiful blue sky but the same wind. The roads were finally dried completely out and by this time of the week, we pretty much had the place to ourselves which is usually the case with the middle of the week hunting. Still we put in nearly 100 miles and only saw two small herds of goats which were in a very bad location to put on a stalk, at least that is what we thought.
We talked things over and decided to get a bit unconventional with out hunting, at least for how we generally hunt. We decided that my Brother and Dad would get into position on a hill top just north of the location of one of the herds of pronghorns which were bedded down in a big bowl just under the rim of a butte. The second herd was bedded down about 1/2 way up the face of the butte tucked in out of the wind. Once My Dad and Brother were in position, I would drive to the south, get out and start to slowly walk away from the road until I got in line with the herd and my brother and Dad and then start walking toward the goats very slowly. The plan was to get the herd to get up and move toward them but to so in a way that they would not be running when they passed their position which was about a mile from the herd.
Dad and my brother got to their overlook and I took the truck and drove down around the other side of the herd. Got packed up and started out. I left Ol Green in the truck but turned back and grabbed her figuring it would be sad to have to turn down a buck if the chance arose as we had had very few chances. We had glassed the two herds with the spotters and knew that the lower herd had two very respectable bucks in the herd. The upper herd had 4 bucks but only one that was a shooter but he did appear to be very tall.
I turned back and grabbed my old 7mm AM and started back up on the long walk. The closest herd was roughly 1.5 miles off the road, the herd on the face of the butte was around 2.5 miles away. One thing I quickly realized is that the bowl had just enough contour that I could not keep track of the position of the lower herd of goats. I could see my brother and Dad but had no idea where the herd was. I continued walking. After about a mile I realized that the herd of goats on the face of the butte had stood up. I was in full view and had been since I parked the truck. I figured that herd was going to just blow out and disappear. Looking at them through my binos however showed me that they were simply all standing and feeding. I tried to range them but they were still to far away for the Sawro RF so I knew they were well over 1700 yards away as I can usually get repeatable ranges on side hills with that rangefinder.
I continued walking directly toward the herd on the face of the butte thinking they would blow out of there. After walking for a fair bit more I ranged them again. 1515 yards....... This was the first time on this hunt that my mind changed from a "dogger" to a "hunter". I thought to myself, if those darn things let me get another 500 yards this will get interesting. Still walking straight at the herd, not trying to hide or conceal myself in any way I continued on. Actually counting my paces as I cut the distance to the herd. Knowing my stride if roughly a yard I cut the distance to what I guessed was 1000 yards. Took a range measurement which came back as 983 yards. The wind was pretty consistant in the 12-15 mph range and coming from my 11:00 direction so it did not concern me much. Still, shooting the Accubond, I wanted to see if I could get a bit closer. I set there for a couple minutes having a conversation with myself.
I had no idea where the location of the other herd was. IF I tried to walk over the hill I could very easily and most likely come over the hill in a bad location and push the herd in a direction that would not allow a shot from my brother or Dad. If I took a shot at this herd I was walking toward, the muffled blast of my muzzle braked 7mm AM would likely do a much better job of alerting the herd but they would not have a sure idea where the noise came from, only that it came from behind them and hopefully it would be enough to just get them moving toward my brother and Dad.
I told myself if the herd on the face of the butte would allow me to get within 850 yards I would set up and take a shot at the tall buck. Again, I counted my paces as I walked directly toward the herd. Two does stared at me the entire time but never moved. The rest of the herd was calm and feeding. I got to where I guessed was 850 yards, pulled off my pack, got out my wind meter, rear bag and set up for a possible shot.
The wind at this location was relatively calm, around 8 mph but still from my 11:00 direction. I dialed in 1 moa to the left for windage correction and set up on the herd. Through the 3.5-10x 40mm Leupold FFP MK4 scope set on 10x, I could easily pick out the biggest buck. He had good length, average prongs and average mass, I guessed him in the mid to upper 70" range. For what we had been seeing, a good buck to take as he was easily the second largest buck I had seen in 4 days of hunting.
The larger buck put a run on a smaller buck down the hill, I ranged him when he stopped at 823 yards. Looked up the hold on my drop chart on my scope tube. It called for a 3.1 mil hold over for 820 yards. I lined the correct reference line of the TMR reticle about 1/3 down from the bucks shoulders. Checked the wind again. Something did not seem quite right with the wind. I could not see any grass movemet at the location of the herd. I adjusted my paralax to try to get a feel for the mid range wind but there was hardly any mirage at all as the clouds had come in and cooled things off. From all I could tell, the most wind was at my location so I should adjust for that so my 1 moa to the left should be perfect. Settled into the rifle as the buck lined up perfectly broadside, head to my left facing into the wind at the time. For some reason I felt urged to hold a bit more wind. As such, I simply put the vertical stadia of the reticle on the forward edge of the bucks shoulder, put the 3 mil line roughly 1/3 down from the top of the bucks back and let the big 7mm AM bark.
I recovered quickly from the light recoil and watched the mid section of the buck ripple violently and the rear end of the buck gave way and he fell to the ground. He tried to get back up and could on his front legs. From what I saw, the impact was about liver position back and up near the spine obviously breaking his spine (At least it seemed that way at first).
I raked in another round from the mag and set up on the buck to take a finishing shot. He tried to get to his feet for around 3-5 second and then fell over on his side. He kicked a few more times and then laid still. This surpised me a little bit to be honest as I knew the shot was back to far. I set there and watched him for several minutes and nothing moved. Just then I heard a shot ring out from over the hill, it was my brother and Dad. Obviously the plan had worked out well enough for them to get a shot off as well. There was no follow up shots from them so I figured they had either gotten one or the herd was long gone.
Started hiking up to my buck. Within 200 yards I was hit hard in the face with a solid 12-14 mph wind from my 10:00 position, this continued for nearly 300 yards and then the wind died off as I got closer to the buck, clearly the reason for the increase in drift on this shot and this was exactly what I had suspected but could not prove before the shot. Still, my big 7mm AM got me through this windage estimate error.
When I got to him, he was stone dead. The shot had landed about 6" behind the last rib but to my surpise, it had not hit the spinal cord, instead passing right under it. I found this out when I dressed him out.
I was very happy with what I found. He was very tall with 15" length. He also had alot of character above his prongs. Average prongs, average mass and he taped out at 77". A very respectable buck for this area.
Sorry he is so bloody, his ride off the hill was under my brothers buck on the game cart so he got bloodied up pretty good. Not primetime appearance but I know this crowd will not get offended!!!
I get razzed all the time for using my big Allen Magnums on pronghorns and even deer but this was a perfect example of why a big rifle can get you out of trouble when the shot placement lands on the fringes. Inspecting the buck, the 160 gr Accubond penetrated under the spine but had enough energy to shock the spine enough to prevent the function of the bucks rear legs. It had also clipped the main arteries running under the spine. Not only that, it had landed with enough kenetic energy out of the 7mm AM that it split the paunch and liver severely. It also produced enough hydrostic shock that the top of the diaphram was also split and the rear of the lungs were severely bruised when I removed them from the buck.
I am sure that if this had been a lesser round, things may have turned out not nearly so well. Sure, any bullet through those arteries would have killed the goat but I must remember that before I took the shot, I had a bad feeling about the wind conditions and I was not wrong. Had I been shooting a more "Expert Approved" pronghorn cartridge, my error in wind estimate likely would have resulted in an impact solidly into the ham of the buck which likely would not have anchored the buck at the shot and being nearly 1/2 mile away from the buck at the shot, an accurate followup shot on a buck with three legs likely would not have been successful.
Add to that the fact that the big 7mm AM had the kenetic energy and hydrostatic shock to shock the bucks spine to the point he was unable to move from the point of impact, and the additional damage from the hydrostatic shock was enough to damage other vital organs enough that the result was the buck passing within 10-15 seconds of the impact.
This is why I shoot big cartridges, not because I am ego bound, not because they are needed to kill big game when well placed shots are made, but when an error is made, they will get you out of trouble more often then a lesser round. Ol Green saved my bacon on this shot. For the information I had I made the right adjustment and had perfect hold over compensation for this range. Still, errors can be made and the simple fact is that if you hunt at long range, these occurances WILL happen and when they do, I am very glad my old friend is with me to cover my rear as she has done time and again!!!
My brother took a nice 14 1/2" buck with average prongs and mass. Do not have the pics from him yet but will post.
We went back out Wednesday and Thursday but did not see a mature buck for Dad. We will try to get back out and see if we can get him one before deer season starts next weekend. Once that happens this ranch closes down all pronghorn hunting because they do not allow deer hunting on the ranch. Hopefully we can get one found for him, its just been hard hunting this year. From Saturday to Tuesday I personally walked nearly 30 miles on foot, thats about 3 times more then is normal for our pronghorn season of hunting and in those 30 miles we saw much fewer pronghorns then is normal. Not a good sign. Still some good bucks but just alot more work to get one!!!
Can not bitch about hunting though, beat after each day but always excited to head back out the next day.