The buck was just starting to awaken when the crosshairs of the Zeiss Victory HT scope settled solidly on the precise spot in the visually distinct neck hairs. Propped upon a Harris bipod, the Weatherby Euro Mark rifle held steady as the antelope’s head began to look around. Bang! Lights out.
When I sat down to write this piece, an eclectic grouping of dissimilar thoughts battled to dominate the theme: pronghorn antelopes, accurate rifle, great ammo, world class scope, high plains, windmills and ghosts. Kind of like a Quixotic flashback to the ‘60s.
There is something special about a high plains hunt for pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra Americana) in the American West. These prairie speedsters fit so totally naturally in the environment. Paradoxically, they are ephemerally permanent fixtures in the open, swept landscape, sharing constant winds and time with eternity.
To suggest that the pronghorn is a living anachronism essentially is a statement of fact. They are a species of artiodactyl mammal, and during the Pleistocene period, 12 antilocaprid species existed in North America. It is believed that five of those species still existed when humans first came along on the scene, but now this is the only one that survives. And this species came close to extinction in the early 20th Century. Its comeback truly is a triumph of the North American conservation model that includes hunters and hunting.
Historic ties might be less meaningful, except that in the area around Glenrock, Wyoming, 21st Century windmills violate the open skies above sagebrush, providing a surreal contrast as the prehistoric animals graze and run beneath and between them, sharing the capricious winds that are nearly omnipresent.
For a community of a couple thousand folks, Glenrock is comparatively busy as a spinoff of the energy industry there. Originally it was a stop along the Oregon Trail, and also is near the state’s worst railroad disaster nearly a century ago.
Which brings us to the Higgins Hotel in downtown Glenrock. This storied landmark served as base camp for the hunt. Some folks suggest that it is haunted, but that’s not an issue so long as one doesn’t mind being tucked into bed at night by something that isn’t there? Nice place. Good food. Friendly ghosts.
Combining Zeiss and Weatherby for pronghorn hunting is as logical a combination as is the pronghorn and the open sage. When pursuing pronghorns, one must be ready to take a longish shot if necessary, and the better the optics, the better one can see at longish ranges. Makes sense.
It has been suggested that the .257 Weatherby Magnum is the quintessential cartridge for pronghorning. I’ll not argue the point. I’ve taken a number of these animals with the .257 over the years, and all have been one-shot kills. Distances with that cartridge on that animal have ranged from under 100 yards to nearly 400 yards (most shots were 150 to 250 yards).
The one thing really nice about a .257 Weatherby on a pronghorn is that regardless the distance, the animal goes down quickly when hit well. That feels good.
I say all of this by way of explaining that the rifle I took on the hunt was Weatherby’s Euro Mark, chambered in the .257 Magnum. I had not specified the cartridge, but was quite happy when the folks at Weatherby sent it along for the hunt. The Euro Mark is a handsome rifle – kind of like a Deluxe without the shine.
Pre-hunt range sessions proved the rifle to be quite accurate. I tried two different Weatherby factory loads: 115-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip and 100-grain Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet. The Ballistic Tip produced half-inch groups at 100 yards, while the X-Bullet delivered 0.6-inch groups. Not much difference, but since deep penetration is not needed for pronghorns, I opted for the Ballistic Tip loading. Had I been hunting larger game with that rifle, I likely would have gone with the X-Bullet loading.
Another nice thing about the rig was the fact that bullet impact was not noticeably affected whether I had a Harris bipod mounted, or not. Some rifles change point of impact significantly when a bipod is added or removed. Not this rig.
The scope for this hunt was Zeiss’ 2.5-10×50 HT, which featured the #6 reticle. Zeiss scopes are nice. What is really nice about them is that they are clear in ways that only really high quality optics can be. It is one of those situations where it is virtually impossible to explain to someone who has not experienced it, exactly what that looks and feels like, yet anyone who has experienced really high grade optics knows exactly what it is, event if they, too, are at a loss for words to explain the phenomenon.
Suffice it to say that the scope on the Weatherby rifle was everything one could hope for and expect. Adjustments were positive and repeatable on the range as the rifle was sighted-in, and clarity in the field was simply phenomenal.
Oddly, although I was setup for a long shot if necessary, as it turned out, the single, lethal shot was less than 100 yards. The buck was bedded and a well-placed bullet in the neck assured that he never got up. Face it, if a rig is valid for long range, then surgical implantation of the bullet at shorter ranges is truly a joy.
During the course of the hunt and some collegial evening chats with the hunting party, it occurred to me that over the decades, I had taken animals with all but one of the Weatherby-designated cartridges – the .240 Weatherby Magnum.
There has been no deliberate effort to avoid the .240. Just never happened to be part of my hunts all those years on all those continents. Since there just happened to be a .240 rig at hand on this hunt, and since it was a two-antelope proposition, I decided to fill out the Weatherby slam, or whatever one might want to call it.
So, the next day, the right pronghorn buck was spotted about 200 yards away, and it was game time. This time, the rifle rested on a Bog pod, and the shot took out part of the heart and lung.
As I admired the graceful animal while we prepared to take photos, my mind flashed back decades to Roy Weatherby’s office in South Gate, California. He and I both lived in nearby Downey at the time, and I visited him frequently. He was always gracious and helpful – personally advising me regarding my first two Weatherby rifles: a .257 and a .300 (what he said were his two favorites at the time).
Personal ties are integral to the shooting sports industry, and were paramount on this hunt. Roy may have been there in spirit, but Mike Schwiebert was there in person. Mike had been on the SCI staff for a while before returning to Weatherby in California.
Also, Bob Kaleta from Zeiss was on the hunt. Bob’s a nice guy and serious hunter. It’s been a few years now, but he and I had a lot of fun on an Anticosti deer hunt in Canada. We’ve been on other expeditions, but there was something really nice about that particular Anticosti hunt that makes it stick in the mind so prominently.
Both Zeiss and Weatherby exhibited at this year’s SCI Convention in Reno, and both Bob and Mike were there. It was nice to stop by their booths and say “Hi” and while there, check out the other optics and rifles. Individually they are great – together they make an awesome package.—Steve Comus