On behalf of all of us at Pnuma we thank our partner, Huntin’ Fool, and professional Hunt Advisor, Jerrod Lile, for the preparation of this article.
By Jerrod Lile, Huntin’ Fool
Experts estimate that more than 30 million antelope once roamed North America. That teeming population dwindled to less than 15,000 before hunting conservationists pushed the panic button to save the species. Thanks to those efforts, there are nearly 1 million antelope roaming North America today, making them one of the greatest wildlife management success stories in modern times. The difficulty of obtaining an antelope tag ranges from nearly impossible odds for the dinosaur-sized speed goats of Arizona to quite easily obtained tags in states like Wyoming and Montana. If you’re looking for a hunt you can plan on regularly, antelope are a welcome relief in the draw tag game.
Although most commonly found roaming arid sage and grasslands, antelope can be found at elevations above 10,000 feet, and I’ve even located them in dense stands of aspen, fir, and pine. Their adaptability, often peculiar behavior, and an abundance of tags make these critters some of my favorite to pursue. They are especially ideal for introducing young hunters to the sport because there is a lot of action to keep their interest level high. As a final enticement, they are delicious table fare. When properly cared for, my family prefers antelope over elk.
This article is intended to be a starting point for planning an antelope strategy and not a comprehensive review of individual opportunities. We provide detailed hunt tables for antelope with each state write-up throughout the year to assist with selecting individual hunt choices. With that in mind, I believe there are three primary categories to consider for antelope hunts: trophy only hunts (80"+), any weapon opportunity hunts, and archery hunts.
They say everything is bigger in Texas, but when it comes to antelope, Arizona deserves that title. Arizona has produced 5 of the top 10 Boone and Crockett entries since 2014 and has produced 12 of the top 20 all-time entries as well. These statistics are particularly impressive considering the Grand Canyon State has an estimated population of less than 10,000 speed goats. Contrast those numbers with Wyoming’s herd of more than 400,000 antelope with no top 20 entries in Boone and Crockett’s all-time scores and you can see why Arizona is such a special place to hunt antelope.
However, the good part of the Arizona antelope story comes to a screeching halt once draw odds are taken into consideration. If you want to stand in line for one of these coveted tags, you’ll need to recognize that antelope points for Arizona’s best units are measured in decades versus years. In light of that, I recommend a multi-state strategy for all serious antelope hunters who are looking to find an 80"+ trophy.
All antelope strategies should start with Wyoming. The Cowboy State has more antelope than all of the other states combined, and they issue nearly 50,000 antelope tags annually. Although the ratio of Boone and Crockett bucks harvested to tags issued looks terrible at face value, I’d argue that one of the main reasons there are so few giants harvested in Wyoming is because antelope are very tough to field judge and it is hard to stay off the trigger when you see an impressive buck. With a little self-discipline and polished field judging skills, Wyoming is the place to concentrate on to put an entry in the record books.
At first glance, New Mexico’s behemoth speed goats would be high on the list too since there are no bonus points and the non-refundable price to apply is incredibly low. However, it is important to note that due to access issues, all of New Mexico’s rifle tags are assigned a random ranch after the draw except for youth-only and mobility impaired-only rifle hunts. Scouting time and hunting boundaries are limited with this system, and there is a chance that you may get assigned a ranch that does not have huge goats on it. The archery hunts are unit wide, so if you’re happy to bow hunt, you should definitely be applying in New Mexico in spite of the terrible draw odds. There is a proposal to eliminate the random ranch assignment on any weapon tags for 2018. Check out our February 2018 issue for detailed New Mexico antelope information and an update on whether the commission adopts the proposal to eliminate the unique ranch assignment method that is currently employed.
The trophy table provides some insight on the remaining states, like Nevada, that traditionally produce huge bucks. In most cases, the cost of applying and the number of years it takes to draw the best tags doesn’t make sense unless you are already applying in that state for other species and fronting the sunk costs of purchasing the non-refundable hunting licenses.
ANY WEAPON OPPORTUNITIES
The story begins and ends with Wyoming and Montana in this category. Including doe tags, the two states provide nearly 80,000 antelope tags annually and there are tens of millions of acres of public land antelope habitat to hunt. Additionally, both states have surplus any weapon tags in some units, especially those units with public land access challenges that require a GPS landownership chip to successfully hunt. In addition to undersubscribed hunts, these states provide units with draw odds that approach 100% with no points. A small amount of research will turn up units with excellent draw odds, good harvest statistics, and reasonable access. Furthermore, Wyoming offers leftover antelope permits in a second draw in June that does not use your bonus points. If drawn, this gives you an opportunity to build points for the better hunts while still chasing these prairie dwellers.
One word of caution here is that Montana and Wyoming both require the hunter to know legal public road easements and private landownership. There are no private property posting requirements for landowners in either state, so the onus is on the hunter to avoid a trespassing ticket. Outside of that warning, pick one of these two states and bring your best glassing game and a dialed in rifle for one of the most fun hunts the West has to offer.
If you love the stick and string and extending your hunting seasons and you appreciate being schooled by cagey critters several times each day, then I recommend an archery antelope hunt. Draw odds for archery-only hunts range from extremely good to guaranteed for several western states, including Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
Admittedly, these hunts are being managed for opportunity, and as a result, you will see competition and it is rare to turn up trophy sized speed goats. In spite of that, these hunts offer a target-rich environment and a vast amount of public land to hunt. To be consistently successful, you’ll need to be a great shot with your bow, patient, and methodical.
Getting close to a sharp-eyed prairie-dwelling antelope is relative in term. I always range antelope more than once because I never believe my rangefinder. They seem so close, yet they are so far away. The terrain, small target size, and often windy conditions demand your best archery skills to consistently put one of the black-faced bucks in your cooler. Patience is a virtue for archery antelope hunters, and it can have a lot of different faces. It might be cooking inside of a ground blind on a waterhole for 15 hours a day or lying in the cactus and sage under the burning sun while you wait for a sharp-eyed goat to stand up out of his bed. It can also mean showing your decoy to dozens of bucks before you finally find one that decides he’ll charge in like a fleet-footed freight train, leaving you quaking in your boots when the heart-pounding encounter is over.
If you combine expert shooting skills and patience with a methodical approach to antelope, there is a good chance you’ll punch your archery tag every year. Antelope are extremely habitual. They cross fences in the same locations, visit the same waterholes, cruise the same ridges while marking their territory and looking for does, and circle back to their favorite places even when heavily pressured. I’ve felt complete defeat as I’ve watched the buck of my dreams vanish over a horizon two miles away only to have him reappear minutes later in hot pursuit of a doe.
Antelope are tasty, abundant, and fun to hunt. I’d that argue they are the best “first” western hunt for kids. Hot chocolate, potato chips, binoculars, spotting scopes, and excellent audio books have all been part of my kids’ first speed goat experiences. I’ve learned that hunting opportunities come and go in our lifetimes. I trust that the modern conservation success story of the antelope will only get better with time. However, I wouldn’t leave it to chance. If you want to hunt an antelope, there is a good argument that the best time is now.
If you have any questions about any of these draw or guaranteed hunts, reach out to the Huntin’ Fool for more information on how to secure the antelope hunt you’ve always wanted.