I still remember my first successful pronghorn decoy hunt as clearly as the pain of the prickly pear cactus that accompanied it. Slowly making my way to my truck a mile in the distance I spied a young buck moving my way in search of does. Slowly, I backed down to a washout and unfolded my Dutton decoy, staking it firmly into the hardened clay and spotted the buck zeroing in on the faux pronghorn. Seconds later the buck trotted over the hill only to slam on the brakes and stare at the invader in his territory. Sizing up the immature decoy buck as something he could easily whip, the buck charged. I’d seen the effects of decoying dozens of times before while hunting with decoy pioneer Mel Dutton, but now it was happening to me with blinding speed.
Before I was able to draw my Easton arrow the buck was suddenly 25 yards away and staring at the decoy in a menacing fashion. As I slowly came up over the top of the decoy at full draw, the buck had already commenced in the traditional parallel walk to threaten the lesser buck. He stopped long enough for me to settle my pin for a perfect broadside shot. I had fooled the buck completely and made a great shot to boot.
Decoying tales like this sound easy enough, but there’s a rather large learning cure. I know. I earned my degree by lying in the prickly pears and dancing around buzzing rattlesnakes. If you want to achieve success, follow these steps:
*Plan your outing for the month of September. The pronghorn breeding season peaks in mid-September and pre- and post-rut activity provides decoying opportunities throughout the month.
*Wear leather gloves and pad your knees and elbows. I had a leather store sew buckskin on the knees and elbows of a camouflage outfit to diminish prickly pear stab wounds. I’ve also had great luck with Wrangler’s Pro Gear Brush pants with 1,000-denier Cordura facing.
*Make sure your decoy has a strong stake to secure it firmly in the ground. Prairie ground is hard baked and the accompanying prairie winds will easily tumble it without a firm anchor. The Dutton decoy has the best stake system on the market.
*Target bucks that have horns larger than your decoy. You can decoy a smaller buck, but horn size can be intimidating to a youngster and they may avoid your decoy and a potential injurious outcome.
*Stay completely out of sight. If your intended target or another member of the herd sees something out of place, odds are not good for a successful decoy attempt. Use gullies, washouts, hills and buttes to conceal your approach, and crawl the last few yards for additional concealment.
*Try and get to within 200 yards before raising the decoy. The best setups result when you place yourself between 150 to 300 yards of your target. If you get too close it often spooks the herd and if you are too far away, you don’t pose as significant of a threat.
Rotate the decoy slowly to reflect light off the body to grab the herd buck’s attention. Even though pronghorns have super eyesight, an immobile object doesn’t always garner their interest.
*Use a pronghorn bugle call to entice a response. If the herd buck eyes the decoy, but still doesn’t approach, use a high pitched “pronghorn bugle” to challenge the buck. Cabela’s sells a pronghorn bugle call which is similar in sound to their alarm snort, followed by four to five lower pitched snorts.
*Draw your bow horizontally from your knees. Many of the new drop-away arrow rests won’t hold an arrow as you draw your bow in a horizontal fashion. Practice drawing the arrow in this position while kneeling on your knees from behind the decoy.
*Rise slowly from behind the decoy when the buck is not staring directly at it. Wait until the buck glances around or begins parallel walking beside the decoy, and then rise over the top for the shot. They’ll be expecting some movement from the decoy and most pause to confirm the movement.
If you’ve looking for an adrenaline-charged hunt that doesn’t require an outfitter or expensive specialized gear for success, try decoying pronghorns. Just don’t wet your pants when a pronghorn charges your setup.
Powder River Outfitters; http://www.powder-river-outfitters.com/
Mel Dutton Decoys: www.sd-exports.org/mel_dutton_decoys/index
Cabela’s for Pronghorn Calls and Decoys; www.cabelas.com
Montana Decoys; www.montanadecoy.com
Wrangler Pro Gear; www.wrangler.com