Western South Dakota isn't exactly a destination for antelope hunters. Sportsmen often pass through the area with Wyoming or Montana aspirations, driving past herds of goats that get ignored because of what side of the state line they reside. That's alright - I won't try to change their mind.
I showed up two days before the hunt. A buddy and I had archery tags that closed with the opening of firearms season. Thursday and Friday doubled as scouting for my rifle license, and pushing around antelope with our bow.
There are a number of factors that make pronghorn difficult to hunt, but the most challenging part might be the terrain they live in. With little cover to close the distance with a bow, it feels almost futile to carry anything less than a centerfire.
With our archery tags going towards soup, we used the evening before opener to pick out a herd for morning. Unlike deer and elk, antelope aren't nocturnal. If you're able to put a herd to bed, they'll likely be within a few hundred yards at daylight. We did just that, glassing up a buck with his harem laying down at sunset.
Within the first 40 minutes of the season, I had my biggest ever antelope on the ground. This buck was cruising the prairie solo looking for a harem of his own. He put on quite a show, sprinting over a half mile to checkout some mule deer does, then sprinting another quarter mile to investigate what I was.
The buck was definitely a fighter. He had multiple scars on his back, including a softball sized wound that looked to be from a rut past. I'm sure this season he was a buck giving out scars, rather than receiving them.
With my pickup out of sight, I leaned on onX to help me back to the trail. This landscape can be disorienting, with gentle rolls and buttes that all end of looking the same after awhile.
I loaded up the goat in my Sitka Bivy 30, and started the 1 mile hike to a cooler with ice. The meat was already cooling with most of the bones and skin removed.
I think anyone who believes that antelope taste bad has only tasted goats that weren't handled correctly. Too many hunters drag their trophies out of the field, toss them in a pickup bed, and leave them skin-on while early October temperatures sour the meat. With the right gear, packing out an entire animal is easy and the best way to guarantee quality tablefare.
With my tag filled, we headed to a local dive bar to celebrate with a burger, beer, and playoff baseball. You won't find a drive-thru around here. The area is infamously known as McFarthest, the area in the continental United States that's furthest from a McDonald's.
That evening, though, we dined on antelope. Simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder on an open flame, the loin was one of the most memorable slices of meat I've ever had. It had less to do with the flavor, and more to do with the setting of being among wild creatures on public lands.