Northeast New Mexico is a beautiful and incredibly unforgiving land. Not more than a few trees dot the terrain for mile upon mile, mesas are covered with ancient lava rock, and long-forgotten homesteads are viewable from afar. Scattered windmills, solar panels and pumps power what seems like an endless supply of water into tanks for cattle. Fences enclose thousands of acres, while small ranch roads and beaten-down cow paths zigzag from gate to gate.
Base camp for our September pronghorn hunt was set up in the middle of a pasture on the northeast portion of the 60,000-acre Pasamonte Ranch. It consisted of one small tent, four teepees, a mess tent, a refrigerated trailer and a generator. Camp was filled with eager hunters and huntresses, guides and cooks.
Day 1: We all woke up to a tremendous breakfast on our first morning. Being I was already suited up in my camo, I grabbed my gun, shooting sticks and binocular, and hopped in the pickup truck. Upon entering the truck I was greeted by my guide, Dave, and fellow hunter, Paul.
As we drove to our first location we spotted pronghorn silhouettes off to our right on top of a mesa. It seemed as though my two cups of coffee instantly kicked in and woke me from my morning daze. “He’s not the one we are looking for; he’s too small,” Dave said with a big grin.
Further down the road we arrived at the gate Dave had picked to start our hunt. Paul opened it up and we drove into the pasture. Not far into the pasture, the three of us spotted another pronghorn running in our direction. We all hopped out of the truck, only to watch as the buck circled us, running full speed at about 400 yards. He headed back in roughly the same direction he came from. He was long gone and out of view within no more than a few minutes.
Moving on from there, we spotted a couple more bucks out of range, both of them having quite decent bedding spots picked out where they could see everything in all directions. Eventually, we were able to spot one hunkered down in a buffalo wallow. Dave felt we had a fairly good chance to get close enough for a shot.
We quietly exited the truck and started walking single-file toward the pronghorn; it was the best way to look non-threatening. However, it didn’t take long for him to notice us and “get out of Dodge.” At that point I was thinking to myself, There is no way we can ever get close enough to any decent-sized buck in this wide-open land. I soon found out I was wrong.
We abruptly left the pasture, only to see a rather large buck on the opposite side of the county road. Dave led Paul and I in a single-file line toward the pronghorn. Slowly, we crept up on him. As we were almost within Paul’s comfortable shooting range, the buck turned and trotted off.
Dave ran back to the truck as Paul and I continued to walk toward the buck. We followed him, and he eventually stopped just outside of Paul’s range once again. This time, staring directly at us, he began to snort. As Paul took his next step the buck sped away, leaving a cloud of dust behind him.
Paul and I dashed back to the truck—the chase to cut him off was on. A pronghorn can run over 50 mph, and driving a truck on a small pasture road at those speeds is darn near impossible. Eventually the buck ran up to a fence and, being that pronghorns aren’t very good jumpers, turned around and wound up running back in our general direction.
Paul had enough time to hop out of the truck, take more than enough steps away, and drop the buck with his second shot. High-fives and congratulations were flying all around. Afterwards, we headed back to camp to get some lunch.
As we pulled up to camp I spotted a nice pronghorn no more than 300 yards away. Dave and I dropped Paul off and drove back down the road, planning our strategy along the way. Dave felt we could get a better vantage point if we slipped around a small hill and snuck up from below the buck.
We parked the truck in a low spot at the bottom of the hill and began our stalk. As we approached the crest of the hill my heart started racing, knowing what I was about to see. I spotted him and he was only about 200 yards out. We were downhill from the buck, so I had to take a standing shot. Luckily, Dave grabbed Paul’s monopod, but neither one of us were able to get it locked into position. I eventually took a shot, and instantly knew I shouldn’t have—I missed. We headed back to camp with an empty stomach, as well as an empty truck bed.
That afternoon and evening were fairly uneventful. It seemed like every time the truck came within 500 yards of any “speed goat,” they lived up to their nickname and sped across the open land. Needless to say, we didn’t get the chance to shoot at anything.
Day 2: Another early morning—up before the sun, a nice hardy breakfast and we were off to hunt what I now deemed the “elusive” pronghorn.
Because of all the driving we did the evening before, we had an idea of where to start. Sure enough, as we pulled out on the pasture road we spotted a small herd of antelope and one giant buck that had perfect heart-shaped antlers. We drove past them, parked the truck in a low spot and started creeping around a hill. We ended up misjudging the landscape and went too far, leaving us with no choice but to move closer to the small herd.
As we got up and started moving toward the buck, something told me to look back. In the time it took us to walk 100 yards, five small bucks and one larger buck appeared out of nowhere directly behind us. I tapped Dave on the shoulder and we both instantly plopped to the ground. I hurriedly set up for a shot, but ended up waiting for a smaller buck to move out of the way. Eventually, I had a bead on the biggest buck, eased off the safety and took a very confident shot. The buck slipped behind another hill without as much as a flinch.
I was sure I had hit him. Dave went to take a look and saw nothing. I had never missed a shot I had been so sure of in my life, and didn’t understand what had happened. I guess I must have flinched or something, is what I kept telling myself to ease the burn.
By then, all the other pronghorns had fleed the area. We bee-lined for the truck, grabbed some much-needed water and were on our way to find another pronghorn to target.
After a short drive we caught sight of two more bucks and a doe; we sprang out of the truck and walked single-file toward them. We were spotted almost instantly, but kept a steady pace in their direction. At first I didn’t notice, because I was focused on the bigger of the two bucks, but the smaller one disappeared.
We ended up within 150 yards of the larger buck and I set up for the shot. I took more time, steadied my gun on my pack, gained control of my breathing and took another “sure” shot. As I watched him through the riflescope, I realized he took off on a gallop and didn’t hit the ground. This time a few choice words were slung from my mouth as the buck strode away.
We all slowly rose up and walked in the buck’s direction, once again gaining a little ground with every step. It seemed that, despite the fact we were after him, he was reluctant to leave the doe that was close by. As we marched within roughly 150 yards, I went down in the prone position one more time. I had the buck in my sights; then, as I was about to turn the safety off on my rifle, he started running. When I took my eyes away from the riflescope, I realized he had been scared off by some cattle.
With lunch time quickly approaching, and the buck moving further away, we headed to camp to get some grub. I did my best to stay confident in my shooting ability on the ride back, but it sure was tough.
When we returned, Dave suggested I try shooting my gun again just to make sure it was sighted in. My first shot form the bench never hit the target. I took a total of four shots, and each of them landed in different spots. Rather than monkey with my gun, someone else offered up theirs. I shot it a few times and, within a short while, felt confident enough to bring it into battle.
While we were eating lunch, one of the other guides, Floyd, said he had seen a nice buck north of camp not more than 15 minutes earlier. I cleaned my plate quicker than you could say “turkey sandwich,” ran to the truck and we rushed in the buck’s direction.
Approaching the location where Floyd spotted the buck, we slowed down. Sure enough, he was there. We kept driving down the road, as to not alert the big pronghorn, and turned around and waited for a few minutes. Eventually, the buck dropped down a hill out of sight. We pulled up to the gate, quietly snuck inside and I was ready to go.
Dave and I gradually worked our way toward the location we thought the buck would have been. Dave looked over his left shoulder and saw the buck; he motioned to me to get low. I did as he said and started working my way to the edge of the ridge. Crouching, crawling, then on my belly I made my way to the perfect point on the ridge.
The buck was right around 300 yards out, staring in our direction, acting like he had already spotted us. He eventually looked away and, wouldn’t you know, walked in closer until he was a mere 178 yards away. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a shot—all I could see were his antlers extended above the patch of tall grass a few yards in front of me. I slowly moved to the other side of Dave and eased into a better position. I waited for what seemed like 10 minutes (only really about 30 seconds) for the buck to present a broadside shot. I slowly pushed the safety off and squeezed the trigger. Bang!
I didn’t see him go down, but noticed a large red spot on his side. I quickly ejected the shell and loaded the next one, at the same time asking Dave, “Should I shoot again?” He whispered, “Give it a minute. He’s hit good, but be ready.” After standing in the same spot for about 10 seconds, the buck ran approximately 30 yards and stood still for about 5 more seconds.
I watched the buck stagger and Dave said, “He’s going down; he’s gonna go down.” Watching the buck fall over, I felt everything come together—the plan, my emotions, the trip and the perfect shot. I was overly filled with joy. I slapped Dave’s hand and shouted, “Yes!” It couldn’t have worked out any better or been more fun.
No matter how bad a hunt goes (three bad shots in my case), if you keep your head high, never doubt yourself, and pour your whole self into accomplishing the goal of harvesting an animal, you can make it happen. The harder the hunt, the better and sweeter the reward.
The northeast portion of New Mexico looks desolate, but has an abundance of wildlife. I acquired heaps of respect for pronghorns, the land they live in and people who hunt them.