How To Hunt Antelope
By Ernie Bishop
Antelope hunting was my initiation into big game hunting back in 1986. Although I grew up on a farm and hunted upland game, antelope was never a part of my family’s heritage. One enjoyment of antelope hunting is the ability to see antelope all day long. It also allowed me to cut my teeth on what would be the ongoing challenge to make first shot connections at distances that were long-range for me at that time. This was pre-laser rangefinder days and determining approximate distances for antelope was challenging for this Kansas upland hunter.
I had several saving graces that helped me immensely to successfully take my first antelope: A good mentor, and the love of prairie dog shooting using my hunting load, with my Ruger Model 77, chambered in 257 Roberts Ackley Improved out to a quarter of a mile. I lived in Greeley, Colorado at the time, and one day after leaving the local gun store I noticed a man about the same age as me having car problems and on foot. I offered a ride and as he accepted and was getting into my car he immediately noticed a Thompson Center Arms catalog. The rest is history.
Steve Hugel had been hunting big game including antelope for a number of years on the plains and in the mountains with both bow and rifle. He introduced me to big game hunting on the plains and in the mountains and I introduced him to using specialty handguns. From that time forward we have been able to complement each other with our different strengths. With some big game hunting experience now in my corner, I felt much more confident in attempting to hunt antelope.
The first tag I drew was for a buck antelope in a unit east of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The antelope numbers were small compared to the antelope population you will find in many hunting areas of Wyoming. With Steve as my mentor and friend, I was able to add a number of valuable assets to my antelope hunting tool box (not to mention the lessons I learned the hard way).
As with any type of hunting, persistence is a quality that must be underscored in antelope hunting. If it was not for persistence I would not have tagged my first antelope during my first hunting season. The frustration of spoiled stalks, other hunters spooking the animal you are hunting, driving their vehicles off roads to approach antelope, shooting from their trucks, and at times shooting in your general direction is enough to frustrate you, if you are not committed to antelope hunting.
Physical conditioning may not seem as essential in antelope hunting as in high country elk hunting, but I can assure you that when “Murphy’s Law” is in full swing, it is to your advantage to be in good condition with your boots broken in properly as you can spend much time walking and sometimes even trotting. I know many people drive around and spot antelope from their vehicle (which I still do when circumstances allow) or will stand hunt by a water hole or typical antelope crossing area, but I enjoy spot and stalk more than anything. I have watched men make their first antelope hunt only to realize they were not physically prepared for what they would like to accomplish. Good conditioning will allow you to be better at everything you do, especially when you are on that trigger after a hurried stalk on an antelope.
Quality optics is an asset antelope hunting as you will have the opportunity to literally see for miles in many places. You can save yourself a lot of energy and time by finding a good antelope glassing area and setting up in your vehicle (window mount) or on the ground with a field tripod and spotting scope. There is a lot of wisdom of being content to thoroughly glass an area with a spotting scope while your partner is covering another area with binoculars or possibly a second tripod mounted spotting scope. I have used spotting scopes on a regular basis, and binoculars are always with me. Through time I have slowly upgraded the quality of my optics and that in turn has reduced the amount of eye strain and allowed me to see more game and better judge them at a distance. With that being said, an affordable optic is better than no optic at all.
Currently, I am setup to mil-range with Darrell Holland’s ART (Advanced Reticle Technologies) reticle if conditions do not allow ranging or if my laser rangefinder fails while hunting. Laser rangefinders are a must for anyone who is considering long range antelope hunting and I always have spare batteries for all the technology I carry. I have used Bushnell, Leica, Leupold and Swarovski rangefinders with good success.
Antelope are curious animals sometimes and have been drawn to white flags and other moving objects. I would not recommend antelope decoys during the rifle hunting season unless you know for a fact that there are no other hunters in the area and you can do so legally and safely. Check your regulations, as they may be different from where you live and they can change from year to year.
I learned a number of things the hard way during my third season hunting antelope. Again, I was hunting East of Colorado Springs and the antelope bucks were few and they had been pushed hard. Steve was unable to hunt with me, so I was hunting solo. A local rancher that I had become acquainted with decided to have pity on a greenhorn antelope hunter and showed me several antelope hunting tricks. One was to drive slowly like many ranchers do when checking cattle and such and have the hunter in the passenger seat. The truck will then slow to a brief stop, allowing the hunter to get out safely and go prone. The truck will continue meandering down the road for another half mile or so and then stop.
The goal is for the truck to be far enough away from the antelope herd not to cause them to run but close enough to draw attention to the parked truck while allowing the hunter to make his stalk. This works where you have spooky antelope and not much cover. Another unique trait of antelope is that once they cross in front of you and are out of sight, they have a tendency to double back and return to where they were originally. This helped explain why a whole antelope herd would seemingly vanish at times in the past.
One excellent antelope hunting trick I learned on my own through desperation and determination was crawl-stalking. It was the last afternoon of the antelope season and I had stopped my vehicle over three-quarters of a mile away and even then the herd was uneasy. The antelope herd had located themselves in a barren dry lake in such a way that there was little to no cover for a traditional stalk. I crouch-walked, and then duck-walked as far as I could go, only to find myself out of cover and too far away for a shot. I didn’t drive this far to go home empty-handed, so I began to crawl.
If you haven’t ever crawled very far before, it is hard on your body, especially when you don’t have gloves or knee-pads to protect you from thorns and cactus. I did not keep track of the amount of time it took for me to get into shooting range of the antelope, but it seemed like an eternity. With the steadiness of my trusty Harris bi-pod, I was able to make a first-shot connection on a buck antelope. I never would have gotten into range had I not been willing to try something different. I pulled cactus out of my knees and hands for what seemed like a month. I would recommend a heavy pair of crawling gloves or mittens, good knee-pads, and suitable sling for your gun if you consider this type of strategy. When you are on all fours, sometimes the antelope will treat you more like a coyote and allow you to get into range. Steve and I have successfully filled a number of antelope buck tags by crawling, but it is not for everyone.
If an antelope is near a fence and feels pressured, it will likely pace back and forth trying to find a place to cross under (not over the fence). Antelope can and will jump a fence, but will typically go through one. If the range is not too far this may provide a shooting opportunity.
When it comes to the behavior of a wild animal, remember to expect the unexpected. One of the things that makes antelope hunting enjoyable is the surprises that nature brings your way.
My favorite pack for antelope hunting is a Black’s Creek Guide Gear pack. It allows me to quarter and debone in the field and pack the animal out all in one shot if I am far from the truck. This pack distributes the weight well and is very adjustable. It also works as a good front rest for field shooting. I carry a couple of heavy duty trash bags to put the antelope quarters in and it keeps my pack clean as well. As soon as I get to the vehicle we get the meat out of plastic bag and into a game bag or in the cooler.
Besides a Harris BR bi-pod and pack I also carry shooting sticks. I have found with the combination of all three it enables me to shoot in most any situation. Combined with a variety of front rests for the field I always have a small leather bag filled with corn cob media for the back of the gun. I would rather carry a little more weight and have a solid field rest under a variety of conditions when antelope hunting.
If you have not lived or hunted on the terrain where you typically find large numbers of antelope, be prepared for wind. If possible, practice shooting from field positions in bad conditions. It will help you determine your ability in the worst of circumstances. A Kestrel or like product can be beneficial in determining the wind where you are shooting from and will also help you determine wind downrange the more you watch grass and the way it reacts as you watch your wind speed. Having several drop charts in easy to access places is also important when that moment of truth arrives and the range is beyond holding the main crosshair on the vitals of your antelope.
Antelope are easy to kill, assuming you put the bullet where it belongs. Bullets I have used on antelope successfully: Nosler Solid Base and Ballistic Tips, Hornady A-Max, Richard Grave’s Wildcat, and Sierra Match Kings have all provided one-shot kills. Although I have not tried Berger VLD’s, partner Steve has used them extensively to long-range on game even at low muzzle velocities from specialty pistols. For my 7mm Dakota Remington XP-100 I will be using Bob Carterucio’s 176.5 grain VLD for all of my big game hunting.
Hunting with a partner is always a good idea. It helps to have an extra set of eyes and some words of encouragement when your plans fail or even worse if you get hurt. For those of you who will be hunting on your own and want to have the potential for shooting long-range I would consider having your barrel fitted for a muzzle brake. With a good solid bottomed partition style brake you will be able to spot your own shots with most rigs. Typically, I hunt with a partner, and still I use muzzle brakes on all of my hunting guns. I always wear hearing protection when I shoot and when I am hunting.
When you make a shot on an antelope that you were convinced was a good one, do not be surprised if the antelope takes off in a high speed run from 50-150 yards before stopping or piling up. You may witness some spectacular flips and rolls that will remain etched in your mind for years to come..
After several days of failed stalks and missed shots due to misjudging distance, I found myself without a filled tag and frustrated. We had about an hour of daylight left and the season would be over. I didn’t have a pair of binoculars I could use with my glasses on, so I was scanning the area through the Redfield 3x9 scope (no hunters in the area) which was mounted on my custom Ruger Model 77, 257 Roberts AI. With great surprise, I spotted a lone buck over a half mile away to the north. There was a very small hill just his left. We slowly moved to the left to conceal ourselves, then Steve carried my rifle (chamber empty) and we trotted toward him with the wind in our favor. As we approached the hill I took the rifle, chambered a round and we carefully climbed single-file to reduce any noticeable movement.
As I topped the hill I was shocked to see nothing but open prairie. Steve soon scooted beside me to my left only to confirm the buck had disappeared. As we were lying there prone trying to figure out what had happened, our buck appeared out of a fold on the hill within 40 yards or so of us walking south just to our right. If we moved he would spook so we let him continue on his way. After he had moved beyond us and to our south, we eased around and I got set up to make the shot.
For whatever reason, this antelope had no intention of slowing down to graze and I wasn’t about to attempt a moving shot on my first game animal. Steve suggested that if he whistled, the antelope would turn around out curiosity and allow for an easy shot. I was not in favor of this but Steve whistled and that buck took off like a scalded dog. Many times a strategy like this will work, but not on this day.
When that buck took off, I experienced “buck fever” for the first time and it hit me hard. The antelope did pull up around 175 yards to see what had scared him, but I was in no condition to make a shot. Steve quickly realized I was in no condition to make a clean shot and made a comment that brought me out of my delirium. He said, “Ernie, just pretend he is a big prairie dog.” The hours of shooting dogs with Steve with my 257 Roberts AI, somehow pulled me out of it, and I settled down and made the shot. To my surprise that buck took off again, like he did the first time and Steve could tell I was ready for another episode, and assured me he had heard the “meat report” and the buck was dead even though he didn’t act like it. The buck again stopped around the 250-yard mark and I was preparing to shoot again, when Steve said, “Don’t shoot, he will go down in a moment.”
As much as I wanted to trust the words of my friend, I was going to shoot until that buck dropped. At the second shot he went down quickly, and all the effort and frustration quickly washed away to be replaced with a joy that could not be described. Even though I have shot much larger bucks since, my first hard-earned antelope will be a trophy I will always treasure.