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Oregon Sleeper State for Pronghorns

By Frank Biggs
06/30/15 -- With time in the field, knowledge comes! No one comes out knowing everything about hunting but over the years I have absorbed a great deal of knowledge about hunting Pronghorn that roam the high plains and arid lands of the United States. Pronghorns are one of the most magnificent mammals that have survived since the Ice Age. They are one of the few living links to the Ice Age, a truly ancient species dating back about 20 million years and are the lone survivors of a family of hoofed mammals found only in North America (Antilocapridae).
A very good Pronghorn in the South Wagontire hunt unit in Oregon
A very good Pronghorn in the South Wagontire unit of Oregon

Oregon truly is a sleeper state for hunting Pronghorns. The problem is getting a tag, as a resident or especially non-resident. Many non-resident hunters put in for many states with the hope of drawing. As for those of you that live in Oregon, getting a tag runs from 8 to 25 years for a rifle tag and 1 to 3 years for archery. As a biologist friend of mine once told me, Oregon's Pronghorn units all hold Boone & Crockett quality bucks. The biggest problem is holding out for the big buck, judging bucks, knowing their whereabouts and what units have the best chances for a trophy.

When I first started out in Oregon, I had help from a Naval Officer. He had great deal of knowledge. We did not go blindly into the hunt unit. There was a game plan set to check out many different areas in a short period of time. We did get into the unit prior to the hunt with one full day to scout. We had four game plans with the A, B, C, and D plans changing with the sighting of bucks. The final plan of the day became A plan for the opening morning.

At about 7:15, the buck came to the waterhole at 250 yards from the rocks. The rest is history! I was successful on my first Pronghorn hunt and my buck scored 85". He and his does had come into the same waterhole that we had seen them at, the evening before. The point being: be prepared and have options on your hunt. From a half-mile, we could see the buck coming to water after the wild horses left. We could see the great mass with side profile and frontal views for a considerable amount of time.

A nice buck
This nice buck was quite surprised when I came up from behind a rise within 35 yards and took the shot.

One of the greatest lessons that I learned is the use of the binoculars and patience, finding vantage points and glassing over massive areas. Timing is also important when scouting. Always come back to a spot you feel is good. Pronghorns have always been the animal you don't see now, but wait long enough and they will be standing there. Even on that first hunt, we glassed from afar and it paid off. I always look for mass from a side profile of the head. If warranted, I have a spotting scope to do a better judgement of the buck. Many times the heat waves in the high desert are so bad that there seems to be an illusion of what you see. So seeing the side profile is most important.

A Grizzly hunt unit buck, picture taken last day of the season.
A Grizzly Unit buck, picture taken the last day of the season. He was harvested the following season near this exact spot. Picture taken from 100 yards.

Mapping is very important for hunters, whether it is Pronghorn hunting or any other outdoor pursuit. I find almost as important as optics and weapon of choice.

Until recently, let’s say 1998, most of us would have BLM maps or other maps to find places to hunt. The GPS came along and it was ok to know where you were, but not much good to know where to go. A few software companies tried back then, but were crude and not very accurate. Along comes onXmaps (2008) and what a success story for the company and the people that use their products. It is a lot of fun to have knowledge of places to hunt (landmarks), mark them in the mapping software on the computer and then move them to the GPS. It's a great way to share information that is accurate. Better yet, at times, when using the software and Google Earth via the laptop to Garmin GPS, it is like watching TV. Remember, by using this software, you might even be able to find a rancher or farmer that dislikes Dinosaurs and will give you permission. You'll find that you just might not need a guide for out of state hunts. Hunters can spend from about $275 to $700 dollars to be setup with a Garmin GPS and onXmaps mapping software. At present, only the Garmin GPS will work with the software.

A dandy Pronghorn buck in the Silvies hunt unit in Oregon. Picture taken at 50 yards
Another dandy Pronghorn in the Silvies Unit. Picture taken at 50 yards during a scouting trip.

Make sure you have great shot placement to anchor the Pronghorn down. Tracking or trying to find a Pronghorn in the sagebrush after a hit from afar, might just lead to not finding it.

A few years ago, I saw the same rancher’s sign posted on a Juniper. The sign stated, in so many words, that you were crossing into his lands. With the mapping software, it proved be too BLM land that he leased, but did not own. Now you know one of the reasons to have a mapping and GPS system that lets you know you’re legal.

Archery hunters in many Western States have a chance to hunt every year for Antelope. A rifle hunter might have to wait some 8-25 years to draw a tag, at least in Oregon. Hunting with a bow is an extremely great challenge and what a rush to harvest up close and personal. I have been told by other hunters that they have had the greatest experience hunting Pronghorn over anything else they have hunted in North America.

These groups of bucks were in the Gerber Reservoir Archery Unit on public land. The picture was taken the day before the season opened at 60 yards. They just walked off into the sage brush, junipers and pine trees. This unit is known for the Pronghorn to frequent the timber.
These bucks were in the Gerber Reservoir Archery Unit on public land. The picture was taken the day before the season at 60 yards. They just walked off into the sagebrush, junipers and pine trees. This unit is known for Pronghorn frequenting timber.

I one thing I have learned after all these years and not even being in some of my old haunts for many years, is that Pronghorns are animals of habit from generation to generation. They cover the same ground and do the same things from one generation to another.

Once someone knows some of the peculiar habits of a Pronghorns, you can use it to your advantage. Such is the case a couple of years ago when I spotted a group of Pronghorn in a 5-tag unit. I wanted the picture of the buck and just knew he would go around the mountain and come out in a certain draw. He did just that and my son asked how did you know?

In recent years, water has been a problem during the Pronghorn seasons and finding it is important. A few ideas are as follows: hunt near agricultural areas, hunt on land that might have cattle, scout and find waterholes that hold up during the season and natural water sources. You’ll be surprised to see how much public land is close to these venues.

I will always wear sunglasses (favorite are Ray-Ban Wayfarer). I felt if the game, especially Antelope, can’t see my eyes or movement then I could close the gap on them even easier.

Most experienced hunters have their ways to hunt game, whether it is from stalking, ambushing or just being lucky and walking into a shootable animal. It is whatever works for you that makes the hunt. In the end, studying, researching, asking questions and being ready to hunt is the answer to being successful.

Frank Biggs, aka “Bwana Bubba” is a true authority as a rifle and archery hunter. He is particularly well-regarded for his knowledge of hunting in Oregon. He is a member of the Pro Staff of onXmaps HUNT, a Field Staff member of H.H.A. sports, Contributing Writer for “Archery Talk,” a Martin Archery Good Old Boy and Senior Luxury RV Sales Consultant in Portland.

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