Antelope By Arrow: The Pursuit Of Prairie Speedsters On The Western Plains

What I do know is that antelope have their hooks in me and I can’t shake the draw of bowhunting them. And it’s not the suffocating confines of a waterhole blind that calls to me every August.

by Tony Peterson


I don’t know if it’s his tendency to stand in the wide open during the middle of the day. Or perhaps his ability to create a sudden mile of distance between us in roughly the same amount of time it takes me to curse under my breath and wipe the lenses of my binoculars clean with a shirttail. It might be his more-than-passing resemblance to a few African critters.

I don’t know what it is.

What I do know is that antelope have their hooks in me and I can’t shake the draw of bowhunting them. And it’s not the suffocating confines of a waterhole blind that calls to me every August…  that stuff is for a different kind of hunter. I want the open prairie and the challenge of beating the best eyes in the business on even ground.

Spotting and stalking antelope with a bow is a lesson in humility 99 percent of the time. Failure on the prairie is different than the deer woods or the elk mountains, because with antelope you can always see the damn things. They are always there, tan-and-white and always on the cusp of deciding they’ve had enough of your crawling in their general direction.

That 1 percent of the time though, when they’ve fed into a draw or too close to a bit of hands-and-knees-hunter-height sage brush—that brings a feeling of serious accomplishment. And if the arrow flies true, some of the best meat out there.

The beginning of a proper antelope hunt should start with finding a place to hunt. Guided hunts are pretty common, but the beauty of antelope in my eyes is that they are available on public land in good numbers, in several states. National Grasslands throughout the west will have decent populations of antelope, and in most states, easy-to-obtain tags. Better yet, a nonresident antelope tag will cost you much less than a typical deer or elk tag.


On most of that public land you’ll be able to pitch a tent and declare a temporary home wherever the mood strikes you. The downside is that open fires are almost always a no-no, given the timing of the antelope season and the arid land they inhabit. A propane stove on the tailgate of a pickup will work just fine for meals, and quite frankly, during most antelope hunts you’re not going to want to sit by an open fire anyway. If you’re not a hunt-all-day kind of bowhunter, invest in a battery-operated fan for your tent to make mid-day naps somewhat tolerable.
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Sunset on the prairie tends to be an awe-inspiring event. Ditto for sunrise. If you’ve watched the sun set, you’ve probably also watched a few antelope doing their thing. After breakfast the next morning, get back on them. They’re usually pretty easy to relocate in the morning, and that means when you’re laying in the tent thinking of the goats you watched at dusk, you know that you’re going to be in the game right from the get-go in the morning. It can be tough to sleep and easy to rise with the alarm, which is how all hunting should be.
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If you’re of the easily discouraged variety of hunter, you might want to stick to the whitetail woods because antelope will beat you far more often than you beat them. Stalking them with a bow is no joke. Prepare to get busted, a lot. After a few blown stalks you’ll start to realize that even though the antelope are visible, they aren’t always approachable. Learn to find the goat that has tipped the odds in your favor and spend your time on him. And go slow. Even when they’re on their feet and feeding, antelope don’t move as much as it appears. That is, of course, until they decide to go somewhere—and then they’ll be gone.

A big goat will sport horns of at least 12 or 13 inches in height. A “good” goat, on public land, taken by spotting and stalking with archery equipment will be any goat. If your tag is good for either sex, stalk every antelope you can. If you’re looking for the boys, stalk every legal male you can. This is not the type of hunt to be picky on, especially if you’re new to antelope hunting. If you decide it’s Pope & Young or nothing, you’ll get in very few stalks and are almost guaranteed tag soup. Lower your standards, hunt everything and have fun.

It’s easy to look at the wide-open prairies and assume there isn’t any danger out there. This, unfortunately, isn’t true. I once showed up to a new area in South Dakota and pitched a camp in the dark. When I awoke before sunup I realized I was surrounded, and I mean surrounded, by hump-backed bulls. The whole pasture was covered in them, and they didn’t particularly like my intrusion into their buffet. Rattlesnakes are also another concern, and I’ve had enough close calls to realize that it’s always a good idea to give the potential of an encounter some respect.

If you’re good out to 20 or 30 yards but sketchy any farther out, you’re not ready for antelope. Some folks will say there’s no need to shoot farther than that, but those folks also tend to live in antelope country and either have unlimited time to spotand stalk, or they’re ambush hunters. Most of my antelope shots have been between 30 and 60 yards. That’s reality, and you better be very comfortable with your rangefinder and shooting off of your butt or knees. The upside of the longer shots is that antelope at that distance aren’t string jumpers, and they’re designed with an excellent demarcation line on their sides to aim at.
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One time of my life I got my tail kicked so bad spotting and stalking that I set up a blind on a waterhole. The 12 hours I spent in the confines of that pop-up were terrible, and while I did have a pair of antelope come in, they never offered a shot. It was 30 seconds of excitement and the rest was torture. I might have killed one if I had waited it out, but I want to have fun when I’m hunting and that wasn’t fun. Spotting and stalking, while much more difficult, is also much more enjoyable. If, for whatever reason, you can’t handle another day of watching diaper-butts disappear in the distance, try the blind thing. You’ll see what I mean.
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Just like bears and mature whitetails during the rut, antelope have a bad reputation meat-wise. In my experience, this is insane. I’d rather eat antelope than elk. I did have one Wyoming antelope that simply didn’t taste that great, but it was my fault. I shot him and threw him in the back of my truck with some ice in his chest cavity. A 12-hour drive didn’t treat that goat too well, and I’m to blame for it. The rest of the antelope I’ve shot, I’ve field dressed and butchered quickly. Every one of them has been delicious. If you get lucky and make a good shot, take your pictures, admire your animal, and then get to work. At the very least get him pieced out and on ice in a cooler. You won’t regret hustling to get the job done the first time you grill out.



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