Reaching speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, the pronghorn is the fastest land animal in the western hemisphere. Antelope, or “speed goats” as they’re sometimes called, developed this unique ability to escape long-extinct grassland predators, but now that velocity mostly just frustrates sweaty, footsore hunters.
If you’d like to join those perspiring ranks, you better be using a cartridge that can keep up. Pronghorns live in open country, where a 300-yard shot is not only possible—it’s likely. And if you get busted, your boots, like Nancy Sinatra’s, better be made for walkin’.
Any of the five cartridges on this list will serve you well, but if you’d like to make your own selection, here’s what you’re looking for.
Since pronghorn live on flat, grassland habitat, you should expect to deal with wind. So, you want to select a bullet designed for cutting through wind. Most manufacturers now publish a metric called “ballistic coefficient.” This number describes how well a bullet overcomes air resistance in flight—the higher the number, the less it will be affected by the wind.
Antelope also have excellent vision, and you can’t rely on much cover in open country. Your shot will probably be beyond 200 yards, so you should select a cartridge with a flat trajectory. The less you must compensate for bullet drop, the more likely you are to make a clean, ethical shot.
Finally, though larger long-range cartridges will perform effectively, you don’t need to blow the doors off.
“Whitetails are notoriously tough, while antelope seem to just give up quicker,” MeatEater’s Tony Peterson said. “When an antelope takes a bullet or an arrow through its body, it just seems like they are more prone to quickly stopping and bedding down.”
Peterson admitted that his experience is anecdotal, and some of his impressions could come from the fact that pronghorns are often more visible than other critters after being shot. But pronghorns only grow to be about 100 pounds, and they’re used to being able to escape predators with their speed and eyesight. It makes sense that they wouldn’t need to be hit with a shoulder-breaker to go down.
“Anything up to .270 is a solid choice. Anything over that is wasting energy and money,” MeatEater’s Janis Putelis said. “A good pronghorn cartridge is one you can shoot accurately at ranges between 300 and 400 yards.”
Most pronghorn hunters will do just fine with a .243 Winchester. The classic mid-bore has been around since 1955, and it may be the ideal pronghorn cartridge. It’s the least powerful option on this list (in terms of foot-pounds of energy), but its 80- to 100-grain bullets boast a super-flat trajectory.
This 85-grain Trophy Copper option, for example, leaves the muzzle at 3,200 feet-per-second and drops only 36 inches at 500 yards with a 200-yard zero. Recoil is the lightest of any cartridge on this list, and ammo is inexpensive and readily available. If you already own a .243 for whitetail, don’t feel like you need to go out and get the latest, greatest cartridge to go after pronghorn.
Our Pick: 85-Grain Trophy Copper .243 Winchester Wind Drift at 500 Yards (10 mph crosswind): 20.5 inches Drop at 500 Yards (200-yard zero): 36.2 inches Recoil: ~9 ft.-lbs.
Speaking of popular, old-school cartridges, the .25-06 Remington has been doing yeoman’s work on medium-sized game since its introduction in 1969. The quarter-bore has admittedly been eclipsed by many 6.5mm cartridges, but it’s still widely available and a great option for pronghorn. The .25-06 drops less than the .243 while using a heavier bullet, and, depending on bullet selection, is less affected by the wind. This 100-grain Trophy Copper load drops only 35 inches at 500 yards with a 200-yard zero and shifts 19 inches with a 10-mph crosswind.
Our Pick: 100-Grain Trophy Copper .25-06 Remington Wind Drift at 500 Yards (10 mph crosswind): 19.3 inches Drop at 500 Yards (200-yard zero): 35.2 inches Recoil: ~11 ft.-lbs.
The .257 Weatherby Magnum is the Usain Bolt of quarter-bores. Roy Weatherby developed all his cartridges for maximum speed, and the .257 is no exception. While that added velocity taxes your shoulder and your barrel, the cartridge’s downrange performance is second-to-none. A 100-grain bullet screams out of the barrel at 3,600 fps and drops only about 29 inches at 500 yards with a 200-yard zero, according to Weatherby’s ballistics data. Recoil is stiff, and cartridges tend to be expensive and hard to find. But Putelis called the .257 Weatherby “tough to beat,” so if you have one, you’ll be in good shape on your next pronghorn hunt.
Compensating for bullet drop is easier than compensating for wind because while gravity remains constant, wind constantly changes directions and speeds. The 6.5 Creedmoor isn’t the fastest or flattest-shooting cartridge, but its design allows manufacturers to use long, sleek, high-BC bullets. That’s why it bucks the wind better than many older cartridges, including the other options on this list. With a 200-yard zero, these 135-grain Berger Hybrid Hunter loads from Federal drop about 42 inches at 500 yards but only drift 15.9 inches with a 10 mph crosswind.
“I've heard it said that on average, pronghorn hunters take the longest shots,” MeatEater’s Spencer Neuharth said. “I want something that I'm really confident with out to 400 yards. My pick is a 6.5 Creedmoor.”
Our Pick: 135-Grain Berger Hybrid Hunter 6.5 Creedmoor Wind Drift at 500 Yards (10 mph crosswind): 15.9 inches Drop at 500 Yards (200-yard zero): 42.7 inches Recoil: ~13 ft.-lbs.
Is it overkill? Yes. Does it work? Also, yes.
If you listen to the MeatEater podcast, you know that the crew doesn’t always agree. While Putelis said that any cartridge over .270 Win. is a waste of energy and money, MeatEater’s Ryan Callaghan told me he’s taken “more than a few” pronghorn with a .300 Win. Mag. He reports that meat loss is minimal with a double-lung shot, and he has “no worries about wind.”
He’s not wrong. Thirty-caliber bullets have been given the same high-BC treatment as the 6.5mm, so you can find loads that buck the wind even better than the Creedmoor. These 200-grain Terminal Ascent bullets, for example, only move 14.8 inches at 500 yards with a 10 mph crosswind. You can also find options that buck the wind like a Creedmoor and shoot flat like a lighter-projectile, such as these 165-grain Trophy Copper loads.
A 200-grain bullet is over twice what you need to take down an antelope, and if you miss, you could lose some meat even if you fill your tag. Recoil is also insanely strong, and ammo ain’t cheap.
But Callaghan’s experience goes to show that the “best” cartridge is often the one you own and know how to shoot. The gun writers might call it overkill, but a vital-area hit is always better than a miss, and the .300 Win. Mag. will get you those hits on America’s fastest land mammal.
Our Pick: 165-Grain Trophy Copper .300 Win. Mag. Wind Drift at 500 Yards (10 mph crosswind): 16.3 inches Drop at 500 Yards (200-yard zero): 36.3 inches Recoil: ~25 ft.-lbs.
Most hunts don’t depend on your rifle or cartridge. If you have a big whitetail buck in your sights, you’re probably taking a shot from 150 yards or less. But pronghorn hunts are different. You can still get close, but you’ll increase your odds of success if you’re using a cartridge that can reach out a little further. As long as you practice during the offseason and understand how gravity and wind will affect your bullet, these five cartridges will get the job done.