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Pronghorns in the Rut - Tips for Using Decoys

Matt Palmquist

1/21/2014

Normally impossible to spot and stalk, Pronghorns during the rut make for some exciting bowhunting.

The buck was out of breath as he returned to his does after chasing off a smaller buck that was moving in on the herd of does. While he was off showing his dominance I took the opportunity to close the distance to the herd of does he left behind. I was out of cover but had closed within 200 yards and when the buck approached his harem I let out a challenge grunt.  He looked my direction but hesitated so I hit him with a second series of grunts and that was more than he could handle. He charged my direction and stopped at 20 yards. When he turned to leave I was able to release an arrow through both lungs!

This hunt opened my eyes to the effectiveness of using a decoy for rutting pronghorn antelope. Until this hunt I had experienced many fruitless attempts using a decoy and was almost convinced that they didn’t work. I have since shot several Pope and Young bucks from behind a decoy and have confidence that many more will be enticed into archery range. Through trial and error I have developed some strategies that have worked for me. 

Targeting aggressive herd bucks during the rut will dramatically increase shot opportunities and success with a decoy. One of the most important factors to enticing a buck into range is being able to close the distance on the herd. Use the terrain and vegetative cover to penetrate the herd bucks comfort zone. The closer you can get the better. I have tried using the decoy for cover in the past, moving while using the decoy as a shield. This can work if you need to cover a few yards in the open, but I have rarely fooled an animal when moving considerable distances in the open using the decoy for cover. For best results, try to remain unseen before showing the decoy.

Equally important from my experience is the use of a call in conjunction with the decoy. When a satellite buck ventures too close to a buck that is tending his herd of does, the dominant buck will sound off a series of grunts, or a challenge ‘bugle’. The bugle will consist of a longer note followed by 3-5 short notes (Pvrrr-pft-pft-pft-pft). Don’t confuse this with the single high pitched sound you will hear when they are on full alert and alarming the others. There are several companies that produce pronghorn calls including Primos, and Woods Wise. I have also used a crow call to imitate their sounds. 

During a past hunt I was able to use several of the tactics I have detailed above. I glassed a herd of antelope in a field that consisted of taller grasses and forbs.  I lost sight of the herd and assumed they had bedded down on the back side of the small hill where I had last seen them. The tall cover was great to approach the antelope, but it was so tall that I was unable to pinpoint their exact location. When I felt I was within the buck’s comfort zone, I got into position with an arrow ready. I set up the decoy, and let out several challenge bugles. Within 30 seconds the buck had charged in and was standing broadside at 30 yards! The arrow found its mark and I was tagged out before noon on opening day.  When conditions are perfect it can happen that fast.

How to set up the decoy and get into position to shoot can vary due to personal preference. Typically an antelope will approach the decoy and circle on the downwind side. I usually sit on my butt with my feet extended straight out towards the stakes of the decoy. This allows me some separation from the decoy, and I can use my feet to help stabilize the decoy in the wind. Another option is to kneel down behind the decoy and shoot over the top when the buck approaches. Sitting on the ground conceals your movements better, but if the buck comes in where you don’t expect him to it can be difficult to quickly change position. Pronghorn don’t typically find human sent as offensive as a whitetails or muleys, but I still make sure to keep the wind direction in mind when showing the decoy to a rutting buck.  

Knowing when to draw your bow is a key component to successful bowhunting. I typically wait to draw after the pronghorn is in range. All of the bucks I have arrowed have stopped once they were close to the decoy and I have been able to draw my bow at this time or when they turn to leave. I know other hunters that prefer to draw early while the buck is charging in, so they are ready to shoot when the opportunity arises. Both methods will undoubtedly result in success and failure. I prefer to wait in case the animal sees movement which causes him to stop short. 

There are several different antelope decoys on the market. Montana Decoy, Inc. and Heads Up Decoy, both provide 2-D options made out of fabric.  I have successfully used them both. Other 2-D options are made of hard plastic and fold up for transport. There are models available from Mel Dutton, and Flambeau. Carry-lite is also producing a 3-D hard plastic decoy that looks very realistic, but transport is difficult. I prefer the fabric decoy options over the others because they are quiet, and lightweight, while looking realistic.  

Hunting pronghorn can be frustrating and using a decoy is no exception, but when things come together there is not a more exciting way to hunt them.  It is easy to get discouraged after many failed attempts, but all it takes is for one buck to commit. Watching a pronghorn sprint hundreds of yards to point blank range will hook you for life!

TIPS FOR SUCCESS

 

  1. Try to close the distance to 100 yards or less before showing the decoy to the herd buck.
  2. Have an arrow nocked and be prepared to shoot before showing the decoy. Things can happen in a hurry when dealing with an aggressive buck. 
  3. Use a challenge bugle to draw attention to the decoy and lure the buck to your position.
  4. Reference wind direction when positioning the decoy and mentally prepare for the shot as the buck circles downwind.

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