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4 Pronghorn Decoying Tips From the Master

Sep 02, 2015 |  #hoyt #bowhunting #compound

Decoying Pronghorns by Matt Palmquist

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My First Success:

The pronghorn buck slowly moved towards my position. To my dismay a satellite buck was moving in on the herd from another direction and stealing his attention. The herd buck looked at me and then at the live threat and determined the satellite buck more worthy of his attention. He ran the small buck off into the distance. 

I decided to hold my position and see how things would unfold. I gave several bugle sequences towards the does that the buck had abandoned. Confused, they worked their way towards me while the buck was off showing he was boss. As the buck jogged back towards the herd of does I hit him with a challenge bugle. The buck slowed as he approached the does and I hit him with another series of grunts. His aggression took over and he charged in my direction, stopping at less than 20 yards. As the buck turned to leave I drew my bow from behind the decoy and watched my arrow sail threw both of his lungs!

This particular hunt opened my eyes to the effectiveness of using a decoy for rutting pronghorn antelope. Before this hunt I had experienced many fruitless decoy attempts, and was nearly convinced that they didn’t work. Since then I have shot several Pope and Young bucks from behind a decoy and have confidence that many more will be enticed into archery range. Through trial and error I have developed some helpful strategies.  

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Successful Strategy:

Obviously, targeting aggressive herd bucks during the rut will dramatically increase opportunities. One of the most important factors for enticing a buck into range is being able to initially close the distance on the herd. Use the terrain and vegetative cover to penetrate the buck’s comfort zone; the closer you can get the better. I have tried using the decoy for cover in the past, moving while using the decoy as a shield. This can work if you need to cover a few yards in the open, but I have rarely fooled an animal when moving considerable distances behind the decoy. For best results, remain unseen before showing the decoy.

Set up of the decoy, and your position behind it, can vary with personal preference. Typically, an antelope will approach the decoy and circle on the downwind side. I usually sit on my butt with my feet extended straight out towards the stakes of the decoy. This allows me some separation from the decoy and allows me to use my feet to help stabilize the decoy in the wind. Another option is to kneel down behind the decoy and shoot over the top when the buck approaches. Sitting on the ground conceals your movements better, but if the buck comes in where you don’t expect him to it can be difficult to quickly change position.

 From my experience, it is important to position the decoy so the buck will approach and circle on the side of the decoy where you feel more comfortable shooting. Being right handed I want the buck to approach from my left because it is easier to swivel my upper body that direction for a shot.

Knowing when to draw your bow is also a key component to success. I typically wait to draw after the pronghorn is in range. All of the bucks I have arrowed have stopped once they were close to the decoy, and I have been able to draw my bow from behind the decoy at this time, or when they turn to leave. I have friends who prefer to draw early, while the buck is charging in, so they are ready to shoot when the opportunity arises. Both methods will undoubtedly result in success and failure. I prefer to wait, in case the animal sees movement and stops short.  

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Equipment:

There are several different antelope decoys on the market. Montana Decoy Inc. and Heads Up Decoy both provide 2-D options made out of fabric.  Other 2-D options are made of hard plastic and fold up for transport, like models available from Mel Dutton, and Flambeau. Carry-lite is also producing a 3-D hard plastic decoy that looks very realistic, but transport is more difficult. I prefer the fabric decoy options over the others because they are lightweight and quiet, but look very realistic.  

Equally important is the use of a call in conjunction with the decoy. When a satellite buck ventures too close to a buck that is tending his herd of does, the dominant buck will sound off a series of grunts, or a ‘challenge bugle’. The bugle will consist of a longer note followed by 3-5 short notes (Pvrrr-pft-pft-pft-pft). Don’t confuse this with the single high pitched sound you will hear when they are on full alert and alarming the others. There are several companies that produce pronghorn calls including Primos and Woods Wise. I have also used a crow call to imitate their sounds.  

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A lone buck example:

On a hunt in 2008 I located a lone buck on the back side of a ridge. A lone buck isn’t the best scenario for decoying, but I knew that I would be able to get close without being seen. As I approached the ridge top I spotted the buck with his head down, feeding.  I quickly set up the decoy and got into position for a shot. After a few challenge bugles I still hadn’t seen the buck. I thought maybe he had spotted me setting up, but I still gave it several minutes before my impatience won over and I had to sneak a peek. He was still there and headed my direction! I scurried to get into position again as the buck slowly made his way in to 20 yards. As I drew my bow the buck froze, but it was too late. The decoy had produced again!  

While aggressive herd bucks present the best chance for action, the hunt above shows that it never hurts to try any buck you see. This buck was alone and had nothing to protect, so the challenge bugles fell on deaf ears, but the decoy was still able to lure him into shooting range. Using a decoy can be frustrating at times, but when things come together there is not a more exciting way to hunt Pronghorn Antelope.

In summary:

I would focus on these 4 tips for success:

1. Try to close the distance to 100 yards or less before showing the decoy to the herd buck.

2. Be ready to shoot before showing the decoy. Things can happen in a hurry when dealing with an aggressive buck.  

3. Use a challenge bugle to draw attention to the decoy and lure the buck to your position.

4.  Reference wind direction when positioning the decoy and mentally prepare for the shot as the buck circles downwind.


Good luck out there!

Matt Palmquist