Giant 89+ inch DIY Muzzleloader Pronghorn Antelope!
written by Brian Gray
My philosophy going into any draw is this; I want to hunt. Arizona is blessed with phenomenal game and opportunities to hunt them are rare. A hunter can put in for 20 years and get an early rifle bull elk or a Unit 10 antelope tag, but I take a different approach. By pouring over the published data, I am able to find hunts that offer the best chance at drawing a tag, and, with a combination of hard work, effort, and of course, luck, a good shot at harvesting a trophy. These are not premium tags that everyone covets; they are for less desirable areas and usually involve “primitive” weapons, i.e. a muzzleloader or bow. With only 12 bonus points, I drew a tag much sooner than I was “supposed” to but after the draw, I was the owner of a muzzleloader antelope tag.
“Well, you have your antelope tag. Now what?”
Never in my life have I ever been involved in hunting antelope and I knew nothing about them, other than there are some big bucks in Arizona running around. The unit where I drew my tag was not known for trophy bucks and I had never stepped foot in the unit, so I had some work to do. There is not much published literature on hunting antelope, but whatever I found, I read. Growing up, I taught myself how to hunt, and that has continued for me as an adult. So I prepared by researching and learning what I could about “goats” and their behavior. I learned and scouted the area, and in doing so found a few decent bucks.
When I mentioned luck being a factor in a successful hunt earlier, it was very much a part of my hunt. The night before the hunt was to start, I stopped to make a call where there was good cell reception. As I was talking, I caught movement in my peripheral, and I could see something about 100 yards off the side of the road. I cannot over-estimate good equipment; it was almost completely dark and with the naked eye, I could see what resembled a herd of antelope that were indistinguishable from one another. With 10×42 Swarovski’s, I could see the biggest buck I had even seen in my life pushing a herd of does! I knew where I would be in the morning.
Opening morning, my brother and I were back, glassing trying to find the buck, and it did not take long to do so. He was alone, and I tried to make a move on him, but quickly lost him, and I did not want to bust him, so I backed out. We re-grouped and tried glassing from a different area. We spotted him again from about 1 1/2 miles out. Luckily he was next to a fence line that I could use as a reference, and on the public land side of it! Now is where the hard work part of the hunt came in. At 7:30 AM on opening day, I began my stalk. I had closed the distance to about a half mile. The only way to close the remaining distance, was on either my belly or hands and knees. My half mile army crawl began. He was surrounded by does, but there was enough ground cover to stay out of their keen eyesight. I closed the distance to 300 yards, and watched another smaller buck come in and my buck run him off. After just a few minutes, he was back with his does. They kept looking in my direction, and I was worried I had been spotted. I worried that if I moved in further, they would spook. Then, luck kicked in again. The does started feeding and heading up a ridge that was parallel to the ridge I was on and my buck followed them! I ranged a doe at 186 yards, and with a steady rest on my backpack waited for my buck to take the same path. My buck followed; I squeezed the trigger and my shot was good. He ran off, but did not go far. At 12:30 PM, my buck was down. I had just made the most difficult stalk of my life, belly crawling through cactus and dirt for 5 hours, and was rewarded with the trophy of a lifetime.
My brother was able to watch the whole thing from the roof of the truck where I had left him at the beginning of my stalk. He quickly arrived and we walked up to my buck. I knew he was big, but I had no clue how big he was (remember I was a novice antelope hunter!) I have a bad habit of underestimating animals (My Kaibab buck that I guessed at 160-170 turned out to be 190 inches!) My brother insisted that my antelope would make Boone and Crockett, so I pulled out the tape to see. My brother’s suspicion was easily confirmed, as my buck would be a shoe-in for the minimum score of 82 inches. My buck was later officially gross scored at 89 7/8 inches SCI and 85 6/8 inches net.
After a short but incredible hunt I was home. I posted the obligatory photos on Facebook and Coueswhitetail.com. The photos made the rounds and a few days later I was told about a guide that wanted to talk to me about my buck and was given his number. I called and was introduced to Craig Steele, publisher of ORGhunt.com. He had been watching my buck for a few years, and was very happy that I was able to get him. Craig was very gracious and sent me a few photos and video of my buck from the past few years. I also learned that Craig called the buck, “Knobby” due to several knobs growing on his horns. I would have normally expected a different reaction after killing a buck that a guide had watched for several years and could have put a client on, but Craig is a top-notch guy and was genuinely happy that I was able to wrap my tag around Knobby’s horns.
LIVE FOOTAGE of Knobby over a 3 year time period as Craig narrates his side of the story: