A few years back, I added a prairie dog hunt onto the front end of a Western pronghorn hunt, reckoning correctly that I could get more bang for my buck by doing a combo. That trip convinced me that not only did this strategy make monetary sense, but that the time I spent pursuing and shooting prairie dogs better prepared me for the pronghorn hunt: same rifle and optics, same terrain, similar hunting tactics. This past October, I used the same game plan by front-loading a Texas pronghorn hunt onto my New Mexico elk hunt.
The rolling Texas Panhandle landscape provided the perfect backdrop for hunting like a coyote—sneaking sure-kill close to the prying eyes of the prairie goats that dotted the landscape. And even though I had only 11/2 days to hunt, Cal Ferguson, owner of 4F Outfitters and my guide for the short hunt, was confident we’d fill my tag.
Practicing On Pronghorns
I wanted the crazy-horned buck on my office wall the moment I laid eyes on him, slipping into a slight draw on the tail-end of a small band of does. “He’s one we’ve been trying to kill,” Cal told me as he slid the pickup to a stop. We’d just pulled into an expansive, rolling pasture where Cal said they’d seen a couple of good bucks. “I don’t know how you feel about shooting an oddball like this, but he’s a good one.”
I got a good look at the buck through my binos before he disappeared into the sagebrush. His right horn was tall, dark and heavy, with a wide, long prong. The left horn was equally impressive, but curved in and sharply down toward the top of the buck’s skull. Cal didn’t have to ask me twice.
Cal turned the truck around and pulled back onto the main road. “Our best bet is to drive around to the other end of the ranch, get the wind in our face and sneak in from behind.” That worked for me. I was anxious to stretch my legs, and the terrain had just enough roll that we were able to gain ground quickly without detection.
Cal stopped in mid-step and motioned for me to get down. “There’s a doe up on the hill, looking right at us,” he hissed. “We’ll have to crawl from here. If we can get up to that yucca we should be able to see the buck.” We covered about 100 yards on our bellies as we worked toward the crest of a hill. Cal stopped and raised his binos. “There are a bunch of does directly in front of us,” he whispered. “A couple hundred yards or so.” I slithered forward, pushing my rifle in front of me. I brought my binoculars up and immediately spotted a tall-horned buck. I looked back at Cal, “There he is!”
Cal slid up beside me, “I don’t think it’s the same buck,” he said. When Cal turned to look at me something caught his attention over my left shoulder. “Buck! To your left!” I turned and could hardly believe my eyes. Cautiously circling the herd in true satellite-buck form, Crazy Horns had carelessly bumped into us.
I scrambled into a sitting position and plopped my rifle up onto the shooting sticks. The buck’s attention was riveted on the herd buck, but he caught my movement in his peripheral vision and bolted forward. Cal whistled and the confused buck pulled to a stop and looked over at us. I quickly aligned the crosshairs and took the shot. The buck dropped in a heap.
The great thing was that my hunt wasn’t over, and that’s the beauty of combo hunts. In the morning, I’d be off to New Mexico for the second leg of my Western hunt. Take any critter you want to pursue, and if you give it some thought, I’m betting you can add a bonus species without spending a lot of extra time and money. Think of it. You’ve already invested the money to get to the location—another night or two in a motel or lodge and a few extra meals won’t break the bank. In many cases, you might not even need to purchase an additional license. Here are a few examples of combo hunts I’ve done on the cheap to get you started.
Pronghorns and prairie dogs … Consider most Western big game hunts, such as the pronghorn pursuit I mentioned in the beginning of this sidebar, and you could probably add a prairie dog hunt onto it without much difficulty. I’ve tagged them on to pronghorn, whitetail, mule deer and coyote hunts. It’s a very cost-effective tune-up for any big game hunt.
Pheasants and prairie grouse … Each year, I take my pup out to the grasslands of South Dakota. I bypass the grouse opener a month prior to the pheasant season and hunt late in October. This way I can divide my time between the two species and hunt the grasslands after hunting pressure has tapered off. While this is marginal habitat for pheasants, with a little legwork I’m usually able to add a few “bonus” birds.
Jack rabbits and such … Sometimes being able to hunt an alternative species can save a hunt that’s gone bad. On two separate predator hunts—coyotes in North Dakota and red fox in Montana—the predators were as scarce as hen’s teeth, but jack rabbits were everywhere. My hunting partner and I quickly realized that a hare in the hand is better than … well, better than beating ourselves up trying to scare up a coyote or fox. We never looked back.
Sure, you’ll have to do some homework to figure out the logistics of setting up a combo hunt and what the additional expenses will be. Start by looking through various state hunting regulations to see what combos might make sense and then call the state game agencies. If you’re planning a guided hunt, talk to your outfitter about the possibility adding “extra” species. Many offer bonus animals such coyotes, wild hogs or even game birds that you can tag onto your big game hunt at very little, or no, extra charge.