No other big game animal embodies the wide open spaces of our country’s Western prairies and high desert steppe better than the pronghorn.
Contrary to popular belief, pronghorn aren’t an actually an antelope like the species found in Asia and Africa. You’ll hear some hunters refer to them as “speed goats,” which I find slightly derogatory. Pronghorns are actually a uniquely American species that once used their incredible vision and speed to evade now-extinct Ice Age cheetahs. Today, they provide human hunters with unparalleled spot-and-stalk hunting opportunities.
In fact, there may not be a better choice than pronghorn for hunters interested in doing their first DIY, out-of-state Western hunt. Compared to elk, antelope live in relatively mild terrain where a hunter doesn’t need to be in peak physical condition to chase them around. In many places, local hunters use vehicles to cover ground and locate antelope that are close to roads. Those willing to hike just a mile off the road often get into animals that aren’t getting much pressure.
It’s not necessary to start hiking into your hunting area well before daylight or to hike out after dark, either. Because they live in open country, where tree cover is limited or non-existent, it’s possible to hunt pronghorns all day. Unlike deer and elk, which may only expose themselves early in the morning or late in the evening, you’re just as likely to kill a pronghorn at noon as at first or last light. They’re also pretty easy to find—provided you’ve got a good set of optics for long-range glassing.
If you’ve never done a Western spot-and-stalk hunt, pronghorn will teach you a lot of skills that will prove valuable later on mule deer and elk hunts. Additionally, success rates on pronghorn hunts average much, much higher than other big game species (sometimes as high as 90%). This means it’s fairly likely you’ll bring meat home from your hunt, though never guaranteed. These states are our top choices for a first-time pronghorn hunt.
Wyoming has the largest antelope population in the country. In 2010, the state was home to half a million animals. It’s often said that there’s more antelope in Wyoming than people, but a succession of tough winters and summer droughts knocked back their numbers to around 400,000 a few years ago.
Fortunately, the population has been climbing recently and Wyoming remains, without question, the top choice for out-of-state DIY antelope hunters. Simply put, Wyoming has it all—lots of antelope, lots of trophy-sized bucks and lots of public lands.
Public access is plentiful in the western half of Wyoming. There, federal BLM lands are abundant and support a lot of antelope. Demand for tags in western Wyoming is high, and hunters may need to apply for a few years before drawing a license. It’s worth the wait if you’re a public lands hunter who enjoys easy access and plenty of room to roam.
In the eastern half of Wyoming, antelope tags are easy to draw, but hunters will have to work harder to find public access. Most of eastern Wyoming is private, but hunters shouldn’t let that stop them. The state provides public hunting access to private property through their Walk-In-Only and Hunter Management Areas programs.
Additionally, small chunks of state and federal lands are often ignored by many eastern Wyoming hunters, which is a mistake. These public parcels may be only a few hundred acres in size, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hold antelope. Use your onX app to locate and access these hidden spots.
No matter where you’re hunting, also consider using your onX app to identify private landowners who might allow access for pronghorn hunting, which is often much easier to acquire than access for elk or deer. Some landowners will occasionally allow free access while others commonly provide it if hunters are willing to pay a trespass fee. These trespass fees are often quite reasonable.
New Mexico grows big pronghorn bucks. Antelope country here is arid, but the animals are well-adapted to life in the desert. Mild winters allow bucks to put less energy into survival and more into horn growth. For hunters interested in trophy-class pronghorn, there may not be a better choice than New Mexico.
However, New Mexico is not known as a state that offers non-residents much of a chance in their tag allocation system. While the state does offer every out-of-state hunter an equal chance to acquire a tag in their lottery draw system, only 6% of the state’s big game licenses are reserved for non-residents. The odds are low, but there are ways to guarantee yourself a New Mexico pronghorn hunt.
Private landowners are issued “ranch tags” which can be sold to non-resident hunters. These tags guarantee hunters access to specific pieces of private property. Prices vary according to the quality of the hunt offered, but it could be money well spent if you’d rather avoid waiting years to draw a tag. You can find New Mexico landowner ranch tags offered for sale at online brokers, such as Hunting Fool.
Even with the tough odds of drawing a non-resident tag, New Mexico’s public lands pronghorn hunting opportunities make it worth applying. Vast expanses of BLM lands exist throughout the state and trophy bucks are just as common on public lands as private ranches.
Compared to Wyoming, Colorado’s population of 70,000 animals isn’t that large, but pronghorn are doing well here. Antelope are widely distributed throughout the state, from the southeastern plains to the rolling sage flats and mountain valleys of the west.
Consider Colorado as a microcosm of Wyoming when it comes to antelope hunting. Public lands support healthy pronghorn numbers in northwestern Colorado, but it can take several years to draw a tag for those units. In the southeastern quadrant of the state, there are plenty of antelope but public lands access is limited.
What makes Colorado different is that hunters can buy over-the-counter, either-sex archery pronghorn tags that are valid in many units, but not statewide.
Montana gets a lot of attention from elk hunters, but it doesn’t get discussed much when it comes to pronghorn. That lack of notoriety is actually what makes it a great option for out-of-state hunters. While Montana doesn’t kick out trophy bucks at the same rate as Wyoming or New Mexico, there are plenty of mature bucks, a statewide population of 125,000 animals, and a much longer season than in other states.
Whereas antelope tags can take several years or more to draw in states like Colorado and New Mexico, non-resident hunters can expect to draw a good tag in Montana within a couple years. Some tags can be drawn every year.
Pronghorn are found throughout the state, but they are most highly concentrated in southeastern Montana. Unlike Wyoming, public access is readily available in the eastern half of the Treasure State. Between federal land, state land and Montana’s Block Management Access system, hunters aren’t lacking in places to find to pronghorns.
Wherever you end up on your first pronghorn hunt, consider applying for additional antelope doe tags. Pronghorns are small animals, with most mature males topping out at only 120 pounds. By the time you’re done butchering, you’ll be left with about 40 pounds of trimmed meat. Doe tags are often sold at a reduced price, so it’s usually a worthwhile investment for hunters who want to fill a freezer.
And don’t even listen to those that claim antelope meat is gamey, inedible or otherwise inferior to deer or elk. It’s one of the finest game meats out there. Hopefully you find out for yourself.
Feature image via John Hafner.