How To Determine if the Antelope is a “Shooter”

Antelope hunters know that we can look up the definitions of what antelope are legal to harvest. As we head out into the field, is the game department’s description the only criteria we use to determine if the buck is a shooter?

“Shooter” – What is a shooter? Well, there is the legal definition, which varies from state to state. Then there is the boundary, which we hunters set above that. My definition will probably vary from yours, and ours from others who hunt.

Let me start by saying that today I’m referring to archery hunting. I have a favorite antelope spot, but I haven’t drawn a tag there in a couple years. That being said, I’ve had to resort to hunting new areas, which include both public and private land.


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Public land tends to be pressured much more than private, so there is some appeal to hearing a landowner say, “You can hunt on my property.” In addition to there being fewer hunters on private land, in my experience, you also have an in place scout. If they occupy their land, the landowners see what’s going on day in and day out. They see what’s coming and going, and can be a great set of eyeballs when you live half a day away.

This year the land I received permission to hunt was suited as just a scenario. I received reports from the land owner, “I’m seeing bucks, but nothing big.” and “Today I saw a shooter.” With the mixed reviews, I needed to take a couple days to go see for myself. The family loaded up and we headed east for a few days before season began.

Antelope-bucks-pronghorn-Mia-Anstine-photoOn day one, we saw a group of four bucks. One or two may have even been of legal “shooter” size. In my opinion, which matched the land owner’s, they were not shooters. Those boys needed to grow up.

The next day, we spent hours driving and glassing, in search of more mature antelope bucks. We saw one mature buck on an adjacent property, but these parcels are rather large, and the chances of that buck making his way down to the piece we’d hunt remained questionable.

After many hours behind the Swarovskis, we decided to make our hunting plan on the drive home. We chose to hunt the south end of the property, closest to the parcels where we’d seen the mature animals.

Opening day, we glassed and sat water holes. (Sitting waterholes… That’s another story.) We spied a couple does with their fawns trailing behind. Other than that, the day pretty much included bugs, dust, and a nice cool breeze. (That’s the other story. The weather wasn’t helping the hunt.)

Finally, we saw the buck that may have been a “shooter.” This guy would be a prize to any archery antelope hunter. Actually, just tagging an antelope with your bow, period, is a prize, but as a conservationist, we sometimes pass on decent “shooters.”

From the blind, we eyeballed this buck. He wasn’t within bow range, (Actually, he was more than way out of bow range on the other property.) so we assessed him (okay mass, prong almost as tall as his ears, slight curl, not much spread, bow worthy) and contemplated what we would do if he came near.


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Antelope-buck-pronghorn-Mia-Anstine-photo“Shoot or Pass?”

What would you do? This is the only mature buck we, and the landowner, have seen in weeks. If he comes before your blind on opening day, do you shoot him or pass?

I say, “Pass.” You ask, “Why?” Well, because it’s opening day. There’s always the saying, “Never pass on anything the first day, that you wouldn’t shoot on the last day.” I don’t always live by this mantra because I love to hunt.

I enjoy being out there. I enjoy the time, seeing does with their curious fawns. The adrenaline rush of being unseen by a young buck, whose horns are no taller than his ears. Seeing the bugs, seeing other wildlife, even watching the cattle. All of this is why I enjoy being out there and also part of why I hunt. Other than being a legal hunter, it’s not about the size at all for me.

Another reason I say, “Pass” is because this is the only mature buck we’ve seen for miles. Although this guy is mature, he’s still on the young side. He needs to grow up some more. This land obviously needs a rest from the hunting pressure.

And YES, sometimes passing means you end up with tag soup, but I’m okay with that. On that note, we’re headed home (Lea starts school tomorrow), and we’ll make another trip back to hunt the public land.


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