Long Prongs

“He’s got long prongs, I’ll give him that!” said Ted Simpson as he stepped back so I could peer through his spotting scope. “Can’t tell much about anything else. See what you think! Once we get a bit more light, we can probably see him better.” I nodded and stepped behind the scope, taking my time to do so. The sun was still twenty minutes from rising from its bed in the Glass Mountains. Currently it painted the eastern sky a shade of faded tangerine, thanks in part to the dusty horizon.

I concentrated on the pronghorn buck, three quarters of a mile distant. He did indeed have long prongs. I guessed them to be at least six inches long, the way they are measured for Boone & Crockett scoring. His horn height too, was good. I watched him squire a doe, obviously seeking her favor. That is when I saw his ear tags. Both ears wore turquoise tags. “Think we found one of the original bucks from the Texas Panhandle which Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD)3 (the State’s wildlife department) released here six years ago as part of the local Trans Pecos pronghorn herd augmentation program.

33Parasites known as barber pole worms, had previously devastated the region’s pronghorn antelope herds. In an effort to bring the population back at a more rapid rate, Texas’s wildlife department had trapped pronghorns, both bucks and does in the State’s Panhandle region and relocated them on several ranches in the Trans-Pecos. Doing so greatly increased the region’s pronghorn herds, to the point of again allowing limited hunting, with permits issued based on sound biological data. How well the transplanting program had worked, is manifesting in extremely high fawn survival rates, from 60 to 90 percent during the past three years.

I was hunting the ranch with Wildlife Systems where in 2019 I had taken my longest-horned ever pronghorn. Both horns were 17 ½ inches in length, had good mass, and carried over 5-inch prongs.

“What do ya think?” Asked Ted. “Want to go after him? He’s got really long cutters and quite massive bases. He’s tagged so we know he’s seven years old.”

“Fabulous buck, but those ear-tags… Even though he’s totally wild, not sure viewers would understand.” I replied, referring to the fact my hunt was being filmed by Dave Fulson with Safari Classics Productions for their “Trijicon’s World of Sports Afield” television show.

“Your decision!” replied Dave when I looked in his direction.

“Think I’ll pass. We’re barely into the season. And, I saw a buck in this same area last year after I took my long-horned buck that I’d really like to see this year. He should easily make the B&C record book. Last year he looked big of body. Besides big horns he should provide some excellent and delicious eating.” I added, “Besides I really like hunting pronghorn, and we’ve got at least two full days of hunting.”

The three of us got back into Ted’s pick-up. The ranch we hunted is huge even by Texas standards. The best way to see the pronghorn which live there is to cover country by driving and glassing, before deciding to make a stalk on foot.

Thirty minutes later, “I think we found the buck I came for!” I reported to my companions. “He’s in the middle of the broad open plain. See that tower on the hill way off in the distance, almost due south. He’s with three does and three fawns. Notice there is a lot of black on his head both from horns and his cheek patch. Let’s set up the spotting scope and get a better look.”

Moments later I was behind Ted’s long-seeing glass. I focused on the buck. His horns were extremely long and massive. But something did not seem quite “right” with his left horn. I cranked the spotting scope’s magnification to its full 40X value. Then I saw what was missing, his left prong. His right prong was present and easily 5-inches long or longer. Apparently, he had failed to develop a prong on his left horn this year. I told Ted what I was seeing, or really what I was not seeing! There was no doubt if the buck had any kind of prong on his left side, he would easily surpass the magical net score of 82, placing him into the all-time Boone & Crockett record book. I suspected he would be close, even without the prong.

At that point I moved away from the scope so Ted could get a better look. I saw him shaking his head. “What a shame!” Maybe he’ll develop that cutter next year…”

“Really like that buck but want to try to shoot one with both prongs. Let’s go see what else we can find before I talk myself into going after him.” Ted smiled.

For the rest of the day we drove, walked and glassed looking over nearly one hundred bucks. Had I not hunted and shot a fair number of pronghorns in the past, I saw numerous bucks I would have taken, but then I likely would have shot the tagged buck with long prongs, or the one-pronged buck I knew was huge. My way of saying we looked over a whole lot of impressive bucks!

That night when we returned to our Wildlife System’s camp (www.wildlifesystems.com), we learned the outfitter/owner, long time friend/occasional hunting partner, fellow biologist, hunter/conservationist, Greg Simons had guided Blake Barnett to an extremely nice 15-inch pronghorn. The two other hunters, Joe and J.B. Richter, had also taken impressive bucks. J.B. took his with his bow. Ted, Dave and I now had the entire ranch to ourselves.

Over supper fit for royalty, I listened as the day’s successful hunters regaled their tales. I could scarcely wait for the morrow, having seen fabulous bucks and now fueled by stories from fellow hunters.

 

First light found us looking at several herds, including “Ol’ One-Prong”. I nearly talked myself into going after him. But then recanted. “Let’s head to the other side of the ranch. Don told me last night there is a really wide, heart shaped buck and another that may be close to 17 inches we should look at.” Suggested Ted. Sounded good to me.

In route to that area, we spotted a lone pronghorn that looked pretty good. We stopped I got out, loaded my 7mm Rem Mag custom rifle, the first time during a long hunting career I had ever hunted with that round. I loaded Hornady’s 162-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter into the magazine, closed my bolt on an empty chamber, and checked to ensure my Trijicon AccuPoint variable was set on lower magnification. I generally keep my scope on 5x when hunting open country, knowing I can always quickly crank it up to full 16x value if needed.

To back up a bit, before leaving for my hunt I thoroughly sprayed my hunting clothes, my felt hat, and Kenetrek boots with Texas Raised Hunting Product’s Scent Guardian (www.texasraisedhuntingproducts.com) , the only scent control product I have ever used that really works and does what it says it will do.

Back on the ranch I started walking toward the mature buck from a distance of over 500 yards. There was no cover taller than my boot tops between the buck and me. As I approached, the buck would occasionally look my way, but it was as if he was seeing through me like I was not there. I cut the distance to 300 yards, still no reaction from the buck. Interestingly that is where Dave with his camera stopped to film what happened next. I cut the distance to 200 yards, then 100 yards. The buck would occasionally look in my direction but did not seem to see me. Although he occasionally stared at something to my extreme left and right. Slowly I walked forward as the buck fed. In times past, when not using Scent Guardian, when I got to within 400 yards, the antelope skedaddled!

I continued walking toward the buck. I finally stopped 13 paces shy of where he stood, totally unconcerned with my presence! He looked my way but it was as if I was not there. I knew he could see because several times he homed in on movement to my left and right as well as behind him while I made my approach. Finally tiring of the game, I turned and walked away. The pronghorn went back to feeding. I could hardly believe what had happened. But it did happen, Dave has the footage to prove it!

A short time later we spotted the wide, heart-shaped buck, then, spotted the one Don thought might go 1 -inches. Unfortunately, that buck was on a mission. We watched him cross a low ridge and disappear over the top.

“Let’s go back to camp, eat lunch, get a cup of coffee and head right back.” Suggested Ted. Dave and I agreed.

An hour later we were again back on the ranch, scanning the area where the 17-incher disappeared. We drove toward the back side of a short ridge. As we did I spotted three does and two fawns bedded on the ridge’s slope. “Let’s look at them. With the rut still going on, there’s got to be a buck nearby. Maybe the one we were after before lunch.” No sooner had I uttered those words, I spotted a buck. He was looking in our direction. He appeared massive. His left prong flared outward. It was long. If the other prong was present and equaled the flaring prong, he was a buck that really interested me. Love long-pronged antelope!

We left the pickup. After loading my rifle and grabbing shooting sticks we started our stalk. Taking advantage of cover, Ted, Dave and I cut the distance to within 200 yards. I set up my shooting sticks. The buck turned and looked to our right. The right prong was every bit as long as his left. His horns angled forward a bit. One of his horns had a missing tip but I thought even his short side would measure 14 inches. He looked well over 15 inches on the other side.

While I prepared to shoot Dave got footage. The buck turned and walked to our right. That look confirmed he was the one I wanted. The buck stopped and angled toward us. Dave whispered, “Take him when you’re ready!” All I needed to hear. I pushed the safety forward to fire and started applying pressure on the rifle’s Timney trigger.

The bullet hit my buck on the point of his shoulder. He turned, ran at full speed in a small circle, then fell. I had immediately bolted in a fresh round, but knew, I would not have to pull the trigger a second time.

Moments later the three of us walked to my buck’s side. His horns were even more impressive than I had initially thought. His body was in excellent shape. I knew my harvest would provide some excellent eating!

After congratulations all around, we finished the footage for the show, took several photos, then loaded my buck for the trip back to the skinning shed and cooler.

The next day on my trip home, I dropped the head and cape at Double Nickle Taxidermy (www.doublenickletaxidermy.com) near New Braunfels. There, Jon Wilson scored my buck for the Texas Big Game Awards and told me it handily surpassed the minimum score. Normally I am not particularly into scores, but this year I hope to complete the Texas Big Game Awards Texas Slam which consists of taking a pronghorn antelope, mule deer, whitetail and more recently javelina meeting the appropriate minimum scores. www.texasbiggameawards.org

Next up are whitetails….

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