Suiting Up for Speed Goats

Suiting Up for Speed Goats

Hunting the speedy pronghorn antelope requires an accurate rifle, a flat-shooting cartridge, and top-of-the-line optics.

Through the years, hunters have given the pronghorn antelope nicknames such as "desert racer," "prairie ghost," "speed goat," and "sagebrush rocket"--and for good reason. Capable of reaching speeds up to 60 miles per hour--some say even faster--only the African cheetah is faster among land mammals and only in short bursts at that. In a quarter-mile sprint, the cheetah would win by a nose or two, but in a longer race, the pronghorn with its greater endurance would leave the spotted cat choking in its dust. Its oversized trachea, huge lungs for its overall body size, and a heart to match enable this amazing animal to take in and use great quantities of oxygen, the primary reason it can run like the wind for miles.


The pronghorn antelope is unique to America, and it is the only living member of its family in the world. Before the white man came along and spoiled the West, it outnumbered bison at what was once estimated at upwards of 70 million animals. A single herd observed by the Lewis and Clark expedition stretched over 60 miles and contained an estimated one million animals.

Then came farmers and ranchers and market hunters, and the slaughter was on. Within a few decades, an animal species that had inhabited the North American continent for 20 million years had vanished from much of the West. By the early 1900s, only about 15,000 pronghorns had survived.


While market hunters are to be blamed for pushing America's antelope to the brink of extinction, sport hunters who bought hunting licenses must be given a lion's share of the credit for bringing its population back to what it is today. Dollars spent by hunters funded various conservation programs that began during the 1920s, one of which was a big increase in the number of game wardens. Animals were live-trapped in areas of their greatest numbers and transplanted where there were none. And it all worked, too, for it is estimated that more than a million pronghorns now reside in the United States and several Canadian provinces.


About half of the antelope population in the United States is in the state of Wyoming, where they actually outnumber human residents. Montana has the second highest pronghorn population, followed by South Dakota and Colorado. I am not sure where New Mexico ranks in overall numbers, but during more than 40 years of hunting antelope in various states, I have taken my two all-time best bucks there.

I began hunting antelope in Wyoming during the mid-1960s, and both my wife and I have taken good bucks there. I have also taken a couple in Texas, which is not often thought of as an antelope state due to the lack of public hunting grounds. Other antelope hunting states include Oregon, Nevada, Utah, California, Arizona, North Dakota, and Kansas, although not all offer nonresident permits.

The pronghorn is the first big-game animal I hunted west of the Mississippi, and this holds true for many easterners for a variety of reasons. For starters, most outfitters charge less for an antelope hunt than for other big game simply because it costs them less than a backpack hunt for sheep or a pack train to the high country for elk or moose. On an antelope hunt, you usually stay in a lodge, a motel in town, or perhaps at a ranch house.

Actually, antelope hunting does not necessarily require the services of an outfitter, and this puts its price within reach of most hunters who can afford to buy enough gas to get there.

An accurate rifle capable of downing deer-sized game at long ranges, such as this Browning X-Bolt in .308 Win., is a necessity when hunting in wide-open antelope country.

Another great thing about antelope hunting is you often see many of them, and it is not uncommon to have animals in view throughout the day. Compared to some big-game hunting, bagging a pronghorn buck requires very little physical effort. A successful stalk can cover several miles, but it usually takes place in relatively flat country or, at the very worst, in rolling terrain.

Last but certainly not least to me, there are very few places on earth where I'd rather be than in antelope country. Wind in my face, the smell of sagebrush, coyotes howling at night, and country too big to cover between breakfast and dinner, it is my kind of place.

Guns & Cartridges
Any rifle suitable for use on whitetail deer will work equally well on pronghorn antelope, but since ranges can get long, the rifle should be accurate, and its cartridge should shoot a bullet in a relatively flat trajectory. I have taken more antelope with various bolt-action rifles in a variety of calibers than anything else, but I have also taken several with single-shots, including the Ruger No. 1, Browning B78, and T/C Encore rifle. I am no great fan of autoloading rifles for big-game hunting, but the one I used quite sometime back to take a pronghorn in the Fort Stockton area of Texas worked just fine. I have never taken an antelope with a slide-action rifle, but several Remington 760s I have shot were more than accurate enough for the job. As with any type of hunting, the type of rifle used is less important than its accuracy and how well the person using it can shoot.

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SIMPSON'S PROVEN PRONGHORN LOADS

BULLETPOWDER (Type) POWDER (Grs.)CASEPRIMERVELOCITY (fps)
.220 Swift* Custom Remington M700, 26-Inch Barrel
Swift 75-gr. Scirocco**H483142.0Rem.Fed. 2103410
.22- 250 Custom* Remington M700, 26-Inch Barrel
Nosler 60-gr. PartitionH41438.0Rem.Fed. 2103618
.243 Win. Prairie Gun Works Ti, 22-Inch Barrel
Sierra 100-gr. SBTH4831SC44.0Rem.CCI 2002977
6mm Rem. Remington M700, 22-Inch Barrel
Hornady 100-gr. SSTIMR-782848.0Rem.Rem. 9 1/23015
6mm-06 Thompson/Center Encore, 26-Inch Barrel
Swift 90-gr. SciroccoH483153.0Rem.***Fed. 2103428
.240 Wby. Mag. Weatherby Mark V, 24-Inch Barrel
Swift 90-gr.SciroccoVV N16557.0Wby.Fed. 2103379
.257 Roberts Remington M700, 22-Inch Barrel
Sierra 100-gr. SBTH4831SC46.0Red.CCI 2002974
.25-06 Cooper Model 52, 24-Inch Barrel
Speer 100-gr. SpitzerReloader 2256.0Fed.Fed. 2103339
.257 Wby. Mag. Weatherby Mark V, 26-Inch Barrel
Nosler 100-gr. PartitionH100075.0Wby.Fed. 2153514
.257 STW Rifles Inc. Custom Remington M700, 26-Inch Barrel
Swift 100-gr. A-FrameReloader 2280.0Rem.****Fed. 2153741
.260 rem. Remington Seven, 20-Inch Barrel
Nosler 100-gr. Ballistic TipH41448.0Rem.Rem 9 1/23061
6.5-284 Cooper Model 22, 24-Inch Barrel
Nosler 100-gr. Ballistic TipH4831SC54.0Horn.Fed. 2103310
.270 Win. Winchester M70, 22-Inch Barrel
Sierra 130-gr. SBT Reloader 2258.0Rem.CCI 2003122
7mm-08 Rem. Browning A-Bolt, 22-Inch Barrel
Sierra 130-gr. SBT IMR-406444.0Rem.CCI 2003018
.280 Rem. Custom'98 Mauser, 24-Inch Barrel
Sierra 130-gr. SBT Reloader 1950.0Rem.CCI 2003110
.308 Win. Browning X-Bolt, 22-Inch Barrel
Nosler 125-gr. Ballistic Tip VV N13546.0Fed.Rem. 9 1/23127
.20-06 Sako M75, 23-Inch Barrel
Honrady 130-gr. SP Reloader 1556.0Fed.Rem. 9/123144
* Only where legal for use on antelope
** Requires a rifling twist rate no slower then 1:8 .
*** Formed by necking down Remington .25-06 case
****Formed by necking down Remington 7mm Magnum case
NOTES:Velocity is the average of five or more rounds measured 12 feet from the guns' muzzles.Reduce all powder charges by 10 percent for starting loads,
NOTE:All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Shooting Times has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Shooting Times nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.

Then we have the matter of suitable cartridges. I am sure quite a few antelope are taken each year with various .22-caliber centerfires. As long as bullets such as the Nosler 60-grain Partition, the Swift 80-grain Scirocco, and the 55-grain Trophy Bonded are used in fast cartridges such as the .22-250 and .220 Swift, I see no reason why they would not be quite effective as long as no attempt is made to stretch them beyond their effective reach. The problem is, most states mandate larger calibers, with examples being a minimum of .23 caliber in Wyoming and .24 caliber in Colorado. As far as I know, Texas is the only state that allows the use of .22-caliber centerfires on big game.

Through the years, I have made it a point to use many different cartridges on various big-game animals, and the pronghorn antelope is no exception. I took my first one with the .25-06 Remington and have probably used it to take more of them than any other cartridge. I have also used the .30-06, .308 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, 7mm STW, .257 STW, .257 Weatherby Magnum, .240 Weatherby Magnum, .243 Winchester, .264 Winchester Magnum, 6mm-06, 6.5-284, .25-284, .280 Remington, .257 Roberts, 7mm-08 Remington, and probably a few others I cannot think of at the moment. All did a good enough job because I used the right bullet in each and put it in the right spot, but everything considered, I consider various 6mm and .25-caliber cartridges about as close to perfect for antelope as we will ever get.

The .243 Win. and 6mm Remington are good, but the 6mm-06 and .240 Wby. Mag. are a tad better due to their higher velocities. When all is said and done, I consider the .257 Wby. Mag. to be our greatest factory-loaded antelope cartridge, with the .25-06 not far behind it. Recoil of either is quite tolerable, trajectories are flat, excellent bullets are available for them, and both can be incredibly accurate.

Ideal pronghorn bullets are those with high ballistic coefficients and are soft enough to expand on small-bodied game at long range where impact velocity has dropped off considerably.

Bullets
More important than anything else is the bullet. High-tech designs of extreme-controlled construction are just the ticket for larger game such as moose and elk, but it takes a really big pronghorn buck to exceed 125 pounds. The antelope is small and thin of body, and some of those bullets may either expand very little at long range where impact velocity has dropped off or they may fail to open up enough to create a large wound channel.

In no particular order, outstanding antelope bullets include the Game-King and Pro-Hunter from Sierra, the Nosler Ballistic Tip, the Remington Core-Lokt, the various Speer softnose spitzers, and the SST InterLock and softnose InterLock from Hornady.

When shooting a magnum cartridge, bullets of slightly stouter construction, such as the Swift Scirocco and Nosler AccuBond, will damage less meat, yet they will expand nicely at long range. My guess is most antelope are killed inside 200 yards, but there is always the possibility of having to take an extremely long shot or go home empty handed, and when that happens, you want to be shooting a bullet capable of the best possible accuracy in your rifle. We must not overlook the fact that very few days in antelope country are without the wind that can push a bullet far off course before it gets there. For this reason, a streamlined bullet with a ballistic coefficient no lower than .350 is good, and better yet is .400 or higher.

Optics
Top-quality optical equipment is important because in order to shoot something, you've first got to find it, and then you've got to size up the animal and determine the range before placing a bullet where it must go with great precision. I have yet to see a practical need for a variable-power scope with more than 9X at the upper end of its magnification range, but it's a free country, so head to the plains with as many Xs as you like. As a rule, there are no mountains to climb in antelope country, so the additional weight of a scope that brings a buck 12 or 14 times closer will seldom be noticed.

Antelope hunting is a game of glassing for hours and days on end, and if your budget is tight, pinch pennies somewhere other than a binocular. I have no problem hunting with an inexpensive rifle as long as it is reliable and accurate. Same goes for a riflescope. But life for me would be miserable with anything less than a top-of-the-line binocular.

My eyes are extremely sensitive not only to blue-light-special optics but to the slightest optical misalignment in a binocular; if everything is not right inside, I will have a severe headache after only a few minutes of glassing. You can get by with a 7X35 binocular, and I did just that for many years. Nowadays, for all of my open-country hunting of big game, including antelope, I use a couple of binoculars in 10X32 and 10X43, and I find their magnification and weight to be close enough to ideal.

A spotting scope earns its keep by allowing the quality of a buck to be determined at great distances, and this can save a lot of unnecessary steps. A lot of antelope country involves scouting from a vehicle, and when a buck is located, it is sized up with a spotting scope before the decision is made to pass it up or go in on foot for the shot.

The endless hours of glassing required when hunting antelope demand nothing less than top-quality optics in a binocular.

Something on the order of 20X will usually suffice, although if conditions will allow the use of more magnification, 30X is none too much. There are times when even more power can be used, but if the day is at all warm, mirage will likely rule out more than about 30X.

Last but not least in importance is a laser rangefinder. The small body size of the antelope, the open country, and the clear air where it lives makes the antelope appear to be much farther away than it actually is. This often causes hunters to hold too high, and their bullets fly over the back of the target. In addition to telling a hunter how far away a buck is, it also tells him when the range is too great and more stalking is in order prior to squeezing the trigger.

So there you have my insight for greater success in your pronghorn endeavors. Whether it's your first hunt or your 50th, the right equipment is the key to taking down the fastest animal in this hemisphere.

Due to its ability to bring game in for a close look, a good spotting scope will save you many steps in antelope country.

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