There are good reasons for hiring an experienced guide, particularly when hunting game on unfamiliar terrain. That was the case for me, an eastern whitetail hunter on a recent Wyoming trip to pursue pronghorns.

I was in a group field-testing new products from the Plano-Synergy companies, including Barnett crossbows. I’d hunted pronghorn before but not enough to be totally confident in my field-judging ability. And I wasn’t used to the open spaces.

The first night in camp, Scott and Angie Denny of Table Mountain Outfitters briefed us on the hunt. They started with basic rules, then followed with an analysis of the number and size of animals we could expect to see. There were some trophy-class animals but they suggested we might not want to be too selective. “You should see plenty of shooters,” Scott said. He then used mounted heads on the camp wall to describe some features we should notice.

Pronghorns are unique. The only animal in their family, they’re endemic to North America. Their horns are made of keratin, but unlike true antelopes, the horny sheaths are shed and regrown each year. The three features used to field judge a buck are the horn length, mass and size of the prongs, which jut forward off the main bases. They have incredible eyesight and are the fastest land mammal on the continent.

After the field judging lesson, Angie finished with the guide’s mantra: “Never pass up something on the first day that you’d shoot on the last.”

We also got some sound advice while sighting in bows on the range. The reticles on our scopes are designed so that once the bow is sighted in at 20 yards, remaining dots should be calibrated for longer ranges in 10-yard increments. Back east, I’d be content to sight in at 20 and call it good, but the guides recommended shooting longer distances. The elevation was fine, but the wind had a surprisingly strong effect at longer ranges, information that also would ultimately prove critical.

As is standard practice, I’d be hunting from a ground blind overlooking a water hole. Unlike whitetails, pronghorns move throughout the day and the heat often drives them to water.

I’d barely organized my gear when I spotted a buck on the horizon, and he looked like a good one, one I’d shoot on the first or last day. He came within 60 yards before veering off. Apparently he wasn’t thirsty yet.

From what few windows I dared open, I watched several does wander by, then a young buck came to drink. Through binoculars, I studied his anatomy, noticing the shape of his shoulder and trying to determine where exactly to place an arrow. The buck’s head then flew up and he sheepishly backed away from the water’s edge. Something else was coming. The big buck was returning.

He approached slowly at first, but as is often the case, once he committed he trotted straight in. At 20 yards he dipped his head to the water and drank, but his head-on position offered no shot. I waited until he obligingly turned quartering-to, then took careful aim and squeezed the trigger.

At the shot the animal jumped, then paused to look around before trotting off. I was sure my aim was dead-on but the buck’s behavior suggested otherwise. After waiting a sufficient period, I left the blind and ascended a nearby hill, where I got enough cell signal to tell Scott what happened.

He arrived a short time later and suggested we jump in the truck to look for the buck. We soon located it and it had been hit, just not enough to put it down. Experience had taught Scott to approach only close enough to keep an eye on the buck and wait until it bedded. When it did, he instructed me to get out, cock and load my bow, and try to stalk in close enough for another shot.

Scott manned the rangefinder, and at just under 50 yards signaled it was time to shoot. I got as steady a rest as I could, counted down four reticle dots and was marking my target when I remembered the wind. I moved the dot eight inches left to compensate, mentally checked everything again and squeezed. This time my arrow flew true. The buck ran another 60 yards, then expired.

It turned out to be a short but enlightening hunt. And I learned a few things, not the least of which was the importance of an experienced guide.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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