Take The Shot? Primitive Pronghorn

Take The Shot? Primitive Pronghorn
Traditional muzzleloaders can shoot very well and possess more class and panache than any inline muzzleloader can ever hope for. Here, Josiah leans into his homemade shooting sticks for a shot.

A young hunter stalks within easy range of a big antelope, but the buck is facing him and he’s shooting a 1700s-era patched round ball. Should he take the shot?

As a lifelong hunter, some of my favorite experiences in the field have come while watching and helping youngsters and new hunters learn the ways of the woods. This experience was one of those, yet a little different too. I could see that my 14-year-old son had become a skilled hunter who no longer required my help. It was the first time I haven’t been at his side when he shot a big game animal (though he’s killed lots of coyotes on his own). Let me tell you, it was cool to watch.

Take The Shot? Primitive Pronghorn
Round lead balls don’t carry energy or velocity well beyond about 100-150 yards, but within their effective range, they are accurate and deadly.


Josiah had drawn a Limited Entry muzzleloader pronghorn tag in Utah. Rather than using a scoped modern synthetic-and-stainless inline muzzleloader, he chose to hunt with a traditional .50 caliber long rifle that I made for my wife Trina years ago. It’s a beautiful piece with a 36-inch Green Mountain barrel, Siler caplock, hand-carved trigger, and fixed iron sights. Josiah shot it extensively before his hunt, and when shooting from a sitting position over cross-sticks was lethal out to 125 yards.

The load he used consisted of a 170-grain .490” swaged lead round ball made by Hornady shrouded in a .0018 thick linen patch and seated atop 70 grains of 3F Goex Black Powder. That’s not a super potent load, and I don’t have a velocity to share with you, but it shot very accurately and surprisingly flat out to 125 yards.

For optics, Josiah was using one of Leica’s new Geovid Pro 32 Binocular/Rangefinder units in 10X32 power. I watched from a distance through an old Zeiss spotting scope. I filmed the hunt on my phone through that spotter with the use of a Phone Skope attachment.

Hunter Stalking in the woods
Stalking through the shadows just moments before spotting the gnarly old antelope buck. Hunting with a firearm similar to those with which our forefathers won America’s freedom is challenging and awesome.


The pronghorn unit Josiah had drawn features high-elevation rolling sage flats and swales, broken by timbered draws and ridges. It’s a ways from the nearest town, and the roads aren’t very good. A busy summer hadn’t left us any time to scout, but I’d hunted the area before and knew where the antelope like to hang out and how they like to travel. On the afternoon before the opening day, our truck groaned and complained as we eased along a rough two-track, working our way into a secluded campsite in the heart of our hunting area. Josiah counted roughly sixty pronghorn en route, including several nice bucks.

We talked about his goals for this hunt, and both agreed that considering the fact that he was hunting with one of the most primitive weapons available, and that pronghorn antelope are notoriously difficult to stalk, he should shoot the first nice buck he had a good opportunity at. We expected it to take several days and many stalk attempts before he managed to close within his effective range.

We set up camp in a patch of timber, pitching our tent and gathering a pile of firewood under a tarp against an anticipated rainstorm. Josiah began to ready his muzzleloader and gear to hunt the next morning. That’s when he discovered that he’d left home the Bog Pod shooting sticks he’d done all his practicing with. We both stomped around and growled for a minute, but then he cut a couple of finger-sized saplings and fashioned them into a set of cross-sticks. He was ready to rock and roll.

Antelope bedded down.
The old buck bedded in the shadows cast by nearby timber. He stayed right here until I “coyote howled”, standing him up from his bed.

Daylight found us moving slowly toward a big swale where we’d seen a big buck tending his harem the night before. Good shooting light had just arrived when we spotted four pronghorn in the distance, one of them a really nice buck. They moved out of sight across a low ridge, and the stalk was on.

The antelope split up, with three disappearing down a draw and the fourth – the big buck – feeding up the opposite side of a gentle swale. Whenever he put his head down to feed we would move closer, keeping together and trying our best to look like a beef cow feeding in the sage. More than an hour passed and the buck finally bedded, 265 yards away with no cover at all between us. Had Josiah been hunting with a modern rifle or even a modern muzzleloader his hunt would have been over right there, but with a primitive muzzleloader, it was just the beginning of the stalk. Sometimes antelope are very curious and can be “flagged” in with a white handkerchief or similar, so we hunkered down and waved my yellow silk scarf above us. The buck was interested but seemed more calmed by the sight than stimulated. I attribute this to the scarf being similar in hue to a pronghorn’s side, and I believe the movements made the buck think another antelope was feeding at our position.

Time passed, and eventually, Josiah decided to try to stalk across the intervening swale and close within shooting range of the buck. He mimicked an animal feeding and kind of meandered in the general direction of his quarry on all fours, pretending to stop and feed along the way. It worked; the buck ignored him most of the time. Whenever he became nervous I would wave the yellow scarf and he would relax and resume chewing his cud.

Hunter crawling in sagebrush
Josiah crawled about 230 yards on his hands and knees to close within 50 yards of the pronghorn, completing one of the most remarkable stalks I’ve personally witnessed.

Josiah managed to crawl to just under 100 yards of the buck and set up his shooting sticks. He didn’t have a shot because the buck was bedded, and I saw him looking back at me. He told me later he considered waiting there till the buck moved and gave him a shot, but decided to stalk closer because it would be more fun and challenging. Crawling slowly, he managed to keep under cover of the low sage and a few rocks and closed to 50 yards. I was on pins and needles while watching, amazed that he was getting so close to the buck. Finally, he sat up, rested his rifle across his homemade shooting sticks, and whistled. I knew then that he needed the buck to get up before he had a clean shot at it. I stood up and let the antelope see me, and then made my best rendition of a coyote howl. That did the trick; the buck stood up and stared in my direction. He was facing dead-on to Josiah.


Put yourself in Josiah’s shoes; after practicing all summer with your primitive rifle you’ve traveled 500 miles, slept on the ground, and then managed to stalk within easy range of a big pronghorn buck on the first stalk of your very first day. It should be an easy shot, but the buck is facing you dead on. What are you going to do – will you take the shot?

Hunter muzzleloader with Antelope
Josiah with his gnarly old pronghorn buck, taken with a primitive weapon and patched round ball after a beautifully executed stalk.


From his sitting position with the long rifle rested across his shooting sticks Josiah could only see the tips of the buck’s horns 50 yards away. He whistled to try to get the buck to stand, with no response. Then I made a coyote howl and the buck stood, fully alert. Josiah placed the iron sights on the buck’s chest and squeezed the trigger. You can watch the result in the accompanying video – it’s spectacular. The round ball entered the buck’s chest and exited through its backbone, dropping it in its tracks.

There’s something special about a traditional longrifle – the warm brown metal and lustrous wood, the graceful lines. They are a pleasure to hunt with.


Josiah worked hard to be ready with that primitive rifle, choosing to hunt with it rather than a modern muzzleloader because of the extra fun and challenge it offered. He’s a very good shot and has exceptional eyesight, which enabled him to be lethally accurate with the iron sights. And he executed a perfect stalk, putting him within easy range with the old smoke pole.

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Would I take that shot myself? You bet I would – every time. At close range a patched round lead ball is devastating, and I had no doubt of its ability to do the job. What do you think? Would you take the shot? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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  • ron dionne November 26, 2023, 1:57 pm

    i made a muzzleloader and i could shoot 100 yd and hit my target all the time they are deadly i wish i never sold it

  • connor November 4, 2023, 1:27 pm

    “As a lifelong hunter, some of my favorite experiences in the field have come while watching and helping youngsters and new hunters learn the ways of the woods. ” Lmao this is coming from the guy who stole a girls first deer just this week.

  • Lanny Cornelius October 6, 2023, 7:06 pm

    Absolutely I am old but know what a muzzleloader can do. It will be a lifetime memory for him. congratulations/ well done.

  • Phred October 6, 2023, 9:00 am

    Good job! Getting the animal was quite an accomplishment but raising a new generation of sportsman/ hunters is much greater!

  • Winters October 4, 2023, 7:34 pm

    What an awesome adventure for that young man! You bet I’d have taken the shot! I hunted mule, deer, and Whitetail deer for years in West Texas and New Mexico with a 50 caliber Hawken rifle. I used the 435 grain Maxi-ball with 120 grains of 3f and have killed mulies at 150 yards. Not one ever took a step after that bullet hit, they were DRT, I would never hunt with an in-line muzzle loader as I am too much a traditionalist. The Maxi-ball is my one concession, albeit a relatively minor one.

  • bill marion October 3, 2023, 10:50 pm

    Good job, thats the way traditional hunting should be, the thrill of the chase.

  • Patrick Diamond October 3, 2023, 2:46 pm

    Well done young man. I finally found another round ball gun that I could afford to buy and plan on using it for this years deer season. I once shot a nice buck that when he ran up the small hill you would of thought someone spilled a paint can of red paint. Round balls are very effective.

  • LARRY ALAN LICHTENBERGER October 3, 2023, 11:03 am


  • Dwight Abell October 3, 2023, 9:11 am

    Excellent stalk and shot!! Well done

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