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Great Basin Bucks: Hunting Pronghorn Antelope

An Overlooked Hunt

I’ve lived my whole life in the great western state of Utah. When people think of our state they often think of red rocks and scenic desert vistas. For those of us with hunting in our blood other things come to mind. Like the roar of a rutting bull elk are a more common thing to imagine. That or a mythically large monster mule deer slinking through the brush like a grey ghost. But today we are hunting pronghorn antelope.

As a resident I have been lucky to experience plenty of both of Utah’s better known species, but today I bring you a tale of something a little less famous. And a hunt that is not so commonly associated with my home state.

Pronghorn antelope are an extremely unique animal that are far more commonly hunted in Wyoming and Montana than here. But I was finally able to draw a tag for one this year. And today I bring you the adventure I was lucky enough to experience.

The Great Basin

The Great Basin is a massive expanse of land that covers almost all of Nevada. As well as several other surrounding states. The water that falls from western skies into the Great Basin is captured there.  Destined to either evaporates or sink into the dry ground.

The Great Salt Lake of Utah is the result of countless centuries of this process. Turning it into a briney inland sea.  Surrounded by hundreds of miles of incredibly flat sedimentary valleys and salt flats. That is where today’s story takes place.

The topography is scattered with particularly rugged mountain ranges. Which typically run north and south. Cedar trees and sagebrush are variably scattered across the dry landscape.

a typical sight in Utah’s west desert

The Great Basin is home to the pronghorn antelope, the fastest land animal in the western hemisphere. Despite the dry and hot climate. They thrive in this open desertscape where their eyes and speed are the only defense they need.

The Hunt

the Desert Tech SRS M2, I LOVE this thing

Speed goats as they are often called aren’t as plentiful as Utah’s other famous big game species.  Permits for them are therefor harder to obtain. This year the state saw fit to issue me one of the buck pronghorn permits, and I was excited to fill it.

I’ve done several of these hunts with others but this time it was my turn. I wanted to make sure it was a good one, so I selected my Desert Tech SRS M2. I installed the 6mm GT barrel for this particular hunt. The lightweight pronghorn are lucky to top 150 pounds, so a 6mm rifle is plenty of power.

Opening Morning

It was very early on a Saturday morning. I stood on top of one of the many rocky ridges that divide the landscape. The cool air of fall felt amazing in my lungs. It was accompanied by the stinging bite of voracious mosquitos eager to feed before the desert heat of day turns them into dust.

a lone doe antelope bedded approx. 400 yds, as seen through my Nikon Field Scope

Through my Kilo binoculars I surveyed the sea of dry grass and green tumbleweeds that expanded for twenty or so miles. The terrain is scared with natural drainage formations and the occasional sand dune. Any of which could easily hide the small bands of pronghorn that scrape out a living here.

This year was exceptionally wet compared to our normal precipitation. A lingering winter followed by a rainy summer actually kept some of these valleys green. Instead of the completely parched yellow I am used to.

As I panned across the seemingly endless plain, the occasional raven would glide through the spotting scope. I even laid eyes on several coyotes who were so comfortable and unaware of me perched in the distance. They sat and watched as the sunlight moved across the valley for twenty minutes or more.

A mother coyote watching her pups play

The much wetter than normal year had resulted in widespread greenery. Puddles of standing rainwater in low spots everywhere. This predicament, though a welcome one, had resulted in something I hadn’t anticipated. The antelope were scattered for countless miles due to abundant water and food. They had no reason to congregate as they often do.

Time for Action

As my brother and I sat and watched the sun creep across the valley. I fumbled cartridges into my rifle magazine. Not just any cartridge, these were Alpha Munitions 6GT cases loaded deep with RL-16 and 100 grain Cayuga Solid bullets from Patriot Valley Arms. I’d used them on many occasions with incredible accuracy and devastating impacts.

The cold air kept my fingers from working right. But once loaded the magazine went into the rifle as we continued searching for a buck.

There were antelope scattered  and bedded for miles. Despite their bright white color they are easily hidden by terrain and brush when bedded.

we watched this lesser buck follow my buck and his does for miles

We’d seen a couple bucks the night before. Only one of them looked good enough to burn my tag on, and we sifted through miles of desert to find him.

After a couple hours of watching, we found a particularly large group of twenty or so antelope together near a low spot that surely held a puddle. They were so far away that mirage prevented any realistic judging of horns. But we figured that with that many animals together there was surely a buck with them and possibly our guy.

Sneaking Into Place

From our elevated observation perspective, we picked out a drainage that would provide some concealment to get me closer to them. In a stroke of luck they seemed to be working parallel to the drainage which could provide me an opportunity.  With all my gear in tow, I hustled down into the ditch. Hunkered over I started working my way towards them.  I had to keep low, because if any of the dozens of eyes on that plain spotted me they would likely all run for several miles before stopping.

I’d managed to cut the distance from a mile, down to twelve hundred yards, and then down to only five-hundred yards. And almost exactly as I had planned, I lay there in my position as several animals popped into view through the tall tumbleweeds. As the previously identified buck followed a doe I zoomed in my US Optics FDN25X to have a better look at him. Even at five hundred yards the mirage made it hard to make out his horns, but pretty quickly I decided that he was not the buck I was after. I lay there and shot him in my mind a few times, just in case that was the closest to a trophy I would get. 

Another buck we didn’t pursue

I called my brother to tell him the deal was off, and he told me to hurry back as he’d spotted another buck a mile or two north of me and moving further away. We hustled to the truck and drove a few miles to the north to see if we could sneak ahead of his path. And with almost no time to spare, we were setting up in front of him as he worked his way up and over a small rise in the valley.

The Shot

Seconds before the shot

The moment I saw him in the rifle scope, I knew he was the buck we’d come for. He was for sure the best buck we’d seen during both the hunt and scouting trips, and now it was time to take him.

When I fired the shot, he was standing quartered to me showing his left side. I watched through the light recoil of the rifle as the bullet flew the 480 yards to him. The bullet struck him centered in his left shoulder, shattering the bone.

It carried through the ribs puncturing one lung and cutting through the top of his heart. The angle of the shot continued through the liver and all the way to the back of his belly coming out just in front of his right hip. He took several backwards steps as his rump dropped to the ground and he toppled over. We gathered our things and moved in to find him.

Hands on

As I neared the downed buck, I was quite impressed with how handsome he was. He looked even better up close than he had in the scope, and he was for sure significantly better than any other buck we’d seen.

The Desert Tech SRS M2 suppressed by YHM R9 and scoped with a US Optics FDN25X

He had decent cutters and deeply hooked horns, he was just a fantastic specimen of his kind. And one I could certainly appreciate for years to come. A good friend of mine and his son had also joined us by this point, and the four of us stood there appreciating this magnificent little buck. The bullet had hung up in the skin just before exiting, which rewarded me with an additional souvenir.

the 100 Grain Cayuga bullet after traveling 24 inches through bone and flesh. For more information on this bullet, and what it looked like read Bullet Penetration and Tumbling

After taking a bunch of good pictures, we cleaned him up and filled him with ice to get the meat cooled as soon as possible. Then it was time to head back to camp for food and drinks while we recounted each others perspectives over and over.

Note damage to heart, lungs, and liver

Conclusion

I don’t blame people who don’t get excited about antelope hunting, I can understand that the call of a big bull elk or moose might be much higher on their list of dream hunts.  But in my opinion hunting pronghorn antelope is an absolute riot of a time.

Make sure you wear your hunter’s orange, but keep it fresh

They are incredibly cunning animals with eyes that will pick you out of the brush, and when they want to get away from you there is almost nothing you can do but stand amazed at their speed.

the four of us with our prize

I typically do all my antelope hunting in the great state of Wyoming, but this hunt here in my home state has been a fantastic adventure. The desolate lands of the Great Basin are some of the most remote in the lower 48, and it feels incredibly romantic if only to find yourself here when the sun dips from view. Watching stars shoot across the silent night sky as coyotes bark in the distance brings a feeling you won’t find other places.

I am incredibly lucky to live like I do, and it is by no mistake that I am surrounded by such good company. I promised my brother I’d give his guide service (unofficial and sure as hell not licensed) a five star google rating, but the five stars go to the great family and friends that love these adventures as much as I do and make it worthwhile.

-CBM

Twice the Experience: Pronghorn Antelope Hunting with the Next Generation

Perhaps one of the greatest experiences I’ve been able to accomplish in my life has been to introduce new hunters to the adventure of the hunting lifestyle. Taking a person on their first hunt is not something I take lightly, everything from ethics to shooting skills are things that I enjoy teaching to anyone willing to learn. My oldest son’s first hunt was quite a milestone for me, as was introducing my wife to deer hunting. Her very first successful hunt was everything I could have hoped for, and ended up giving her a bit of her own excitement for fall. And good friends alike have come along with me for their first hunt. Would the persistent experience of taking new hunters continue to enrich my own experience? Or would every new hunt be a little less rewarding, and more repetitious than the past?

This year again I was given the opportunity to take a special young man on his very first hunt. My wife’s oldest son Leo had expressed a great deal of interest in coming along with us hunting this year. Perhaps due to listening to his mother’s experience from last season. Leo had recently enlisted in the Army when the time was drawing near to apply for hunts in our state, but in the very short holiday break while he was home, he pushed through the hunter safety program online and managed to squeeze into the only class available before he had to report back for a few more months.
With his hunter safety completed and armed with his information, I added him to the same list of hunts that we all apply for every year. One of the many applications was for two doe antelope tags in the great state of Wyoming. This hunt in particular is one of my favorites for new hunters, not because it is easy, but because of many opportunities. New hunters frequently make mistakes, even seasoned hunters do it often. The rolling rugged mountains of southwestern Wyoming are filled with antelope, so many in fact that a guy could screw up over and over and still find another opportunity for a stalk.

Alpha Munitions 6GT brass loaded with 100 gr. Cayuga solid copper bullets make a wicked combo

Leo was excited to go, I’m not sure if he was as excited as I was though. But as the time drew near for the hunt, we prepared for the task I was sure we would be successful in. Plenty of practice was in order before we actually pointed a gun at an Antelope, several guns in fact. We were unsure which rifle was the best fit for him, as he unfortunately identifies as left-handed, and yet preferred to shoot a right-handed gun. We practiced with several rifles, but in the end we decided to go with the SRS M2 chambered in 6 GT. I feel no guilt about spoiling my apprentices with exceptional equipment, and the SRS M2 is certainly that. The 6MM GT cartridges were loaded with Cayuga 100 grain copper solid bullets from Patriot Valley Arms. I have used these bullets in several rifles including this one with excellent results, so I was quite confident it would work well for Leo as well.

Day One
As the sun began to rise that first morning, we were already in place. Overlooking an incredible view of brush-colored valleys and flats, the occasional trail cutting through the brush as well as prairie dog mounds scattered about. Antelope could be seen meandering through different shallow drainages, everything felt right.
We decided to move into some slightly rougher terrain, as the barren flats would offer fewer options to stalk into a shooting position. We searched instead for something with a little more topography and brush, giving us a better opportunity to sneak in.
We passed a large herd of animals, mainly because I knew they had already seen us, and with that many eyes on us we never stood a chance. So we continued searching for a smaller more secluded group, which we found about a half hour later. We sat behind a cedar tree, hiding in its shade while we devised a plan to work down a ridge where we could get a closer shot.
With our best plans made, we grabbed our gear and snuck quietly down the tree line. As we closed the distance we kept checking in with the small group of six or so animals, several of them still lay bedded confirming that they were unaware of our approach. As we reached the point we had planned on shooting from, we made one of the classic hunting blunders. Passing into the open between two trees regardless of how slow and quiet was not the move to make, and before we could get setup to shoot, the antelope leapt from their beds and ran for better than half a mile before looking back.
As we watched them off in the distance, I did the old guy thing where you remind the new guy that it cant be that easy. You gotta work for it, and put in your time and learn your lessons before you win. As we hiked back towards the truck, we discussed our next plan. But before we had gotten to the area we had planned on hunting next, we spotted a couple small groups of animals out grazing on a wide flat near a rainwater accumulation. We talked it over, and decided it was certainly worth a try. So we made our way around a rise that lie between us and the herd. We knew that we were going to be crawling for quite a ways, as the ground was too flat to even duck-walk without presenting a significant profile. We grabbed only the essential gear we would need, and began crawling across the dry dirt and prickly ground. Every few yards I’d pop up just enough to see if they were still there.

When we finally reached a spot where Leo could lay proned out behind the rifle and see the herd, we did some preparation. It turned out there was two groups of antelope, a close group of about five animals and a larger group of seven or so further out. There wasn’t enough brush to conceal us if we moved any closer, so the call was made to shoot from right there. After we’d both given the group a thorough good looking, we determined that there was only one mature doe in the group. Keeping our eyes on her to avoid any mistakes, we watched them move along waiting for the right shot.

Leo loaded the rifle, and dialed the elevation correction. We had practiced shooting this far with no issues, so we both had confidence in his ability to make the shot. But for several minutes they moved along a distant brush line, stopping only with her white rump pointed directly at us. They were working away, after checking the distance again we corrected the elevation. It was shortly thereafter that she stopped, Leo whispered that the next time she stops he would dispatch the chambered round. I watched through my own optic as she slowed to a stop and looked around the arid country beyond. Just as anticipated the suppressed gasp from the rifle came, and I watched the trace travel across the six-hundred yard gap between us. The hundred grain Cayuga found its mark, pushing its way through the unsuspecting doe sending her straight to the ground.

We both erupted into a celebratory cheer as the rest of the antelope nearby slowly scattered. We continued watching to ensure that she had expired completely, but a curious development occurred as we watched. The other group of antelope that had been feeding further away seemed to have also been spooked by the excitement, and they moved closer to us as we lay waiting. After just a few minutes they had closed the distance over two hundred yards and they were now slightly closer than the first group had been when we started. Leo and I still laid in the low spot we had chosen for a hide, still concealed and in our shooting position. “Should we take another one?” he asked, and not being one for complicating things that don’t need complication I told him it was his hunt and his call to make. We both inspected this new group of antelope, and again found only a single mature doe mingling among a few juvenile bucks and this years fawn.
We kept track of her, and reset the elevation on the rifle for their location. Again we waited as she slowly walked through the brush, waiting for a shot opportunity where she stood still with her side to us and apart from the other animals. When the time came, we were ready. Again the GT released a burst of gas as the next bullet hastily made it across the five-hundred and fifty yards, and we watched the doe drop to the ground.
Our plan had put us in the right place for a perfect double. We again reveled in our success and shared a hug, no longer concerned with concealment or making noise. We gathered our gear up, and made our way down the drainage towards our prize, the two animals laid only a hundred yards or so from each other.

The 24″ ES-Tactical 6GT barrel pushes the 100 gr. Cayugas at just under 3,000 FPS and 1/4MOA groups are the norm

We gathered them up, and took some pictures. For Leo it was the first time handling a large animal that he killed himself, I watched as he curiously inspected them occasionally pointing out some of the puzzling characteristics of these unique animals.


It was time to give a lesson in gutting though, so with knives in hand we started whittling away. Dark storm clouds rumbled in the distance so I didn’t want to take too long. We made short work of the two animals, and into the truck they went where we had bags of ice waiting for them. We also brought along the hearts and livers to use as much as we could.

Incredibly heavy rain began to pour over the prairie as we rode out, washing blood and dirt from the bed of the truck. But as we rolled down the highway I thought about the fun we’d had and our shared experience that no amount of washing would rinse away. Our clothes on the other hand could use a good torrent and rinsing rain, but we still had work to do. Once home, we hung the two antelope in my skinning tree and skinned them out. A quick wash with cold water to get as much blood and other contaminants from the carcasses before putting them into the cooler on ice for a weeks worth of aging was all that remained.

Once again I was lucky to share the spoils of a new hunter’s prize, we had antelope for dinner the next day and it was good. Not just because of the flavor, but also because of the adventure and satisfaction we shared in getting it. I don’t think I’ll tire of helping new hunters anytime soon, and I cant wait for the next opportunity.
-CBM

Perfectly rare antelope tenderloins were delicious

The 6mm GT in the Desert Tech SRS M2

A new cartridge every day

New cartridges are not so novel these days, it seems as though a new one comes out every few months. But how can devoted marksmen discern between a keeper, and something that is all hype? First thing, let’s be honest with ourselves, most everything is hyped up to some degree or another. As consumers we’ve learned to wade through the hype, and find where metal meets the meat. Much of new cartridge marketing these days is just rebranding an older idea with a new twist, see what I did there Westerner?
In this article I’d like to discuss a relatively new cartridge, and separate the sales pitch from the hard facts.

Enter the Tiger

It would be a disservice to discuss the GT without mentioning one of if not the most entrenched parodies of the shooting world today. When the GT was initially released, many were inquisitive as to its ancestry. The GT being its own genesis led many to question what the G and the T stood for, and the internet took over from there. In typical fashion with our community, several actors on social media dug deep into the shadows of their closet for a comical answer to the question. The Gay Tiger was born of an internet meme, and its same-sex partner. The novelty only increased when embraced by the entire community, and even head-stamped brass reading 6mm Gay Tiger was produced by Alpha Munitions. There is no doubt that the satirical gag helped drive notoriety of the GT, and it spread like fire.

The 6mm GT, or 6 GT as it is often called, was a collaborative effort between two gentlemen with legendary experience in the realm of precision rifle shooting. George Gardner of GA Precision and Tom Jacobs of Vapor Trail Bullets combined their collective knowledge to dream up the perfect cartridge for competitive rifle shooting.

The new round offers shooters some of the best attributes possible for precision shooting. Velocity is not always everything, but the 6mm GT provides ample speed for its size. Bullets of the typical 105- to 115-grain match weight easily attain 3,000 fps and more. These speeds are achieved with modest charges of Varget powder. Between 34 and 35 grains is all it takes due to the very efficient case design.

The 35-degree shoulder of the 6mm GT helps it feed flawlessly and without modification from most common magazine options like the AICS-pattern mags. The GT also uses a small primer pocket, which many believe creates a stronger, more rigid case head. This translates into durability and strength, allowing you to reload the cases with additional life expectancy. Loaded ammunition is available from Hornady and a few custom shops.

WHY ANOTHER 6MM?

There are already so many great cartridges, including many 6mm/.243-caliber rounds, so why the GT? The 6mm Creedmoor and it’s smaller siblings like the 6mm Dasher, BR, and BRX offer all kinds of options to shooters. That’s not to mention the older ones like the 6mm Remington or the hugely popular .243 Winchester. But the GT offers more powder capacity than the smaller cases and more velocity.

It does this very efficiently without increasing recoil like you would see shooting similar loads in the Creedmoor and larger cases. This brings added value by increasing barrel life and shooting performance. With top-quality components available for the GT, extremely consistent velocities make the cartridge a shoo-in for precision rifle competition.

DIVING INTO THE 6MM GT

I decided that I needed to dig into the GT. So after doing some research, I started ordering the parts. First, I got a reamer from Alpha Munitions that was designed for the additional freebore needed for those slender and long match bullets that are 107 or more grains. I planned on shooting the GT from my Desert Tech SRS M2, so I ordered a K&P blank barrel from my gunsmith. It was a 1:7 twist barrel that would end up being 24 inches long, helically fluted, and threaded. Yes, I was absolutely going to run muzzle attachments.

The GT uses a standard .473 bolt face. So I already had a bolt to use ,and a few dummy rounds cycled flawlessly through the SRS’s short-action magazines. Once finished, I installed the barrel extension on the breach of the barrel and fitted a Patriot Valley Arms Jet Blast muzzle brake to the front. One of the main reasons competitors shoot 6mm cartridges is the low recoil. When you add a big brake like I did, the recoil all but disappears.

RANGE TIME

I was so excited to start shooting the GT rifle. I had a pile of test ammo already loaded and ready to hit the range when I brought it home. I’d heard the GT likes a few hundred rounds for break-in, so I went with something cheap and easy.

Some Hornady 75-grain V-Max bullets loaded to a mild 3,050 fps would be my first test batch to get the rifle zeroed and see the initial results. I quickly stumbled into a sub-half-MOA group with that first load. I wasted no time taking the rifle into my mountain haunts to search out one of my favorite opponents, the high-country marmots. The 6mm GT did an incredible number on dozens of chucks, and the accuracy and predictable recoil impulse made shooting them seem almost too easy. I was completely hooked, but I was just getting started.

 

SCHOOLED

As soon as I returned home from my varmint hunting, I found out I was offered a spot in an advanced law enforcement precision rifle course from Bruiser Industries. I leapt at the chance and hastily loaded 300 rounds of a new pet load of Hornady 105-grain BTHPs. Again, with little to no load development, the 105s shot half MOA or better groups. For four days in the southern California heat, we trained on advanced shooting techniques, position building, and everything else that LE snipers would want to know.

Shooting at ranges from 100 yards all the way out to 1,400 yards was part of the curriculum, and the 6mm GT went the distance for all of it. The accuracy was everything I needed to make good hits when I did my part. Plus, when compared to the .308 rifles most of the other attendees were shooting, my gun barely moved when firing. With sweat-stained clothes and a dust-covered rifle, I had built complete confidence in both the cartridge and the rifle.

My SRS M2 with the US Optics FDN25X

THE HORNADY PRECISION RIFLE CHALLENGE

Not long after I got home, I was also offered a position in the Hornady Precision Rifle Challenge, one of the greatest precision rifle shooting matches in the country. Despite my confidence, I knew it would be humbling to shoot alongside some of the best shooters in the country. Nevertheless, I stayed up until midnight loading another 300 rounds of ammo. At 4 a.m. the next morning, I headed up the road towards the match.

There I was, meeting both George and Tom, not to mention hundreds of other great people. I’ll spare you the shame of my performance, but I will tell you how the rifle performed. Other than a few dust-induced magazine issues, the SRS M2 and 6mm GT worked like a perfectly tuned machine. I can say with every confidence that when I missed, it was because I miscalled the wind or wasn’t solid enough. But when I was on target, boy did we sing a beautiful melody together.

The GT did excellent in the strong winds, blowing across the range and smacking the targets with great authority. The recoil was easily managed, allowing me to spot my own hits and misses and making corrections easy. The match was a great experience, and I relearned a bunch of things I’d forgotten long ago.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SAY?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am absolutely enamored with this setup. I don’t think I’m able to come up with a downside to the 6mm GT. It is easy to load. It’s very accurate, soft shooting, and an excellent performer. Plus, it has nothing but the best support and components available for it.

 

It’s no wonder this cartridge enjoys such a cult following in the precision rifle community. I love a good shooting match, but I am a hunter at heart. So you can bet I will be taking this rifle hunting this fall. All the same things that make this an excellent match gun also make it great for other shooting practices. In my part of the country, the deer have to worry about coyotes, cougars, and me. But come this fall, they’ll also have to hide from the 6mm GT.

-CBM

Since initial publication of this story, we’ve used the 6GT to hammer quite a few big game animals from 500 to 1000 yards: