Where, How, and Why: DIY Antelope Bowhunting
Bernie Barringer 01.08.15
Most bowhunters get their start in pursuit of deer. Whitetails are the number-one game species targeted by bowhunters by a large margin, mule deer are high on the list in the Western United States. When bowhunters turn to a second big game species, the black bear gets the nod followed by the antelope. In fact, west of the great plains, the antelope is a highly-sought-after species that lends itself well to bowhunting. Some hunters start out with an outfitter to learn the ropes and others just jump in head first with a hunt on their own.
Antelope hunting is all kinds of fun, they are excellent table fare, and they are abundant. Tags are easy to obtain and success rates are high for bowhunters who do their homework. There are abundant opportunities for do-it-yourself hunts on a budget. If you haven’t seriously considered taking a “speed goat” with a bow, you really should change that. Here is some information on where to go and how to increase your odds of coming home with one.
How it’s done
The vast majority of speed goats are taken by two methods: spot and stalk or sitting over a water hole. Most seasons open in August, when the weather is hot and dry in the West. The goats need to seek out water every day, so finding a source of water is a big key to finding them. This is true no matter how you plan to hunt them. Even if you are spotting them to put the sneak on them, they will spend the majority of their time within a couple miles of a water source.
There are two challenges in spotting and stalking antelope. One is finding them on land you can hunt, and the other is their amazing eyesight. The good news is that Western states have abundant public land. Plus, antelope are not highly regarded by ranchers and it can be relatively easy to get permission to hunt just by knocking on a door and politely asking for it.
Once you find a group of them on a piece of property, you can hunt. You will need to take care to analyze the lay of the land so you can work your way around without being seen. Ditches and rises in the topography help conceal you as you close the distance. If the herd is on the move, you will need to take that into consideration when determining where to intercept them.
Rarely are they found outside of a group, so there are many eyes and noses to contend with. Using a decoy is a popular method for distracting them while you close within bow range. They are curious and will often approach a decoy; this is particularly true when a mature buck sees a decoy modeled after a smaller buck.
Sitting in a blind within shooting distance of a water hole is a tedious and often sweaty endeavor, but it is very effective. Unlike whitetails, antelope are not highly alarmed by the sight of a ground blind that wasn’t there yesterday. Find out where the animals are getting their daily drink then set up a blind brush it in with some of the surrounding vegetation, and wait.
Make sure you have a comfortable chair, a black T-shirt, plenty of water, and a good book. Get in the blind before daylight. If the antelope see you get in the blind they are not likely to come to water until you leave, so you must get in undetected. Hunting this way is not for everyone but it is highly productive.
Where the antelope play
All states from the Great Plains and west have some antelope, but for the best DIY hunts, look to the plains east of the Rockies such as Eastern Montana, Wyoming, northwestern South Dakota, and southeastern Colorado. Many states require you to enter a draw to get your goat tag, but most of them offer high drawing odds and a chance to hunt every year. Wyoming is a very popular destination because it offers both draw tags and over-the-counter (OTC) tags in great hunting areas.
The units that offer limited entry tags through drawings are considered trophy zones and many of them offer you a chance to shoot a big mature buck by reducing the number of hunters. In many of the Western states, you can apply for a tag in the coveted zones to collect preference points, and then hunt on an OTC tag while you wait to draw the premier units. Check with each state’s website to learn more about the often complicated draw process.
To learn where to find the best antelope hunting is found in each state, you should make a few calls to wildlife department personnel and ask some basic questions. Antelope populations are highly susceptible to winterkill and the biologists will have an understanding of where the populations are high and low. Shooting an antelope in the open country is all about odds, so the more of them you have where you are going the better your chances.
Another question that should be asked is the availability of water. Drought conditions will really group up the goats around any available water, which is an important factor whether you are sitting over water or spotting and stalking. These game department people can also help you get the maps and information you need to find the public land.
You can find waterholes easily on Google Earth, then check and see if they are on public land or work to get permission. Several Western states offer walk-in hunting areas where the landowners agree to allow public hunting of their land. Check with the state’s game department for a list of these, they could be your ticket to a great place to hunt.
Just do it!
If any of this sounds enticing, now is the time to get started. If it sounds intimidating, then hire a good outfitter for your first hunt and learn from them. Most of the states that offer limited draw tags start taking applications on January 1. Start doing some research on where you want to go then mark the days off your calendar. You really should experience the thrill of something that probably unlike anything you have done. This is one hunt that will leave you wondering why you didn’t do it years ago!
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.