Today on the Skre Country Podcast, we have Collin Averett sitting in for Mike Nielsen, who is out taking care of a mule deer buck his son tagged out on this morning. If you are familiar with Skre's YouTube hunting videos, Collin is almost always the guy behind the camera. He also is the Social Media Manager for Skre.
On our last episode, we had whitetail deer hunting legend Warren Womack. We were able to take in some of his vast knowledge and experience from hunting, self-filming, and keeping a hunting journal.
Today we are taking a turn from whitetail hunting to focus on antelope hunting with our guest Eric Stanosheck.
Introducing Eric Stanosheck
Eric is a pro staff for Skre Gear. He cut his teeth hunting as a young teen in Nebraska, but currently resides north of Fort Worth in Texas.
While he primarily focuses on antelope, Eric chases about anything; multi-colored Oryx in the desert, creek-bottom whitetails, and sheep in the mountains, but he focuses heavily on antelope hunting.
How many trophy antelope have you tagged?
Eric: "The pure numbers... I've taken 34 antelope bucks, 28 of 'em with a muzzleloader. Nine of those now are over the magic 80-inch mark for Pronghorn - the Boone and Crockett Awards bookmark, which includes one that is the current Long Hunter Muzzloader world record."
"Distance on the big boy was 91 yards. This year my combined shot distance, I think was 236 yards, maybe it was 263. But I had one at 78, one at 53 yards - crawled in on him bedded, and then my long shot of the year was 132, I think."
What draws you to muzzleloader hunting?
Eric: "I had a muzzleloader when I was a teen. Didn't clean it. Well, you know what happens there? The gun was no good after that. I didn't quite understand it when I was first gifted a muzzleloader."
"I cut my teeth with a 270 - my first big game rifle. And I shot a number of animals with that: mule deer, whitetail, antelope early on in Wyoming. And I liked it. It was fun. I moved to Alaska out of college. I bought a 300 win mag and I took some bears with that."
"In 2001...I was actually up in Alaska. I took a bedded Dall Sheep at 413 yards with my 300-win mag. My dad and I went down to Mexico that year and I shot a Coues deer at 315 yards. And then I took a Dall sheep in Alaska running at 351 yards. And all that was fine. I'd become a marksman. And I had an old guy that after that doll sheep hunt... he said, 'So you've proven you could shoot. Can you hunt?' "
"And it sat with me there. I'm like, 'Well, yeah, I was just hunting. I've been hunting.' But his words hit pretty heavy. And this old timer... I don't know the guy's name, never saw him again after that day. But those words have stuck with me. And I thought, 'I need to revisit this muzzleloader thing.' "
"And I bow hunt as well, but the muzzleloader, it's the romance of the smoke. That white billowing cloud... there is something special about that. And then the challenge that you have one shot. I like to consider myself pretty quick at reloading components into a muzzleloader. Takes me about 20 - 21 seconds to reload, which that's fast for a muzzleloader, but if you missed that first shot..."
Locke: "That's an eternity with an animal you just shot at."
Collin: "If they can run 60 miles an hour, that's quite a ways away."
Eric: "Yeah. If you're hunting in Colorado, you better have a Kansas tag at that point."
Locke: "I've pretty much gotten to the point now where I exclusively bow hunt for everything except turkeys... there is something really cool about shooting any animal with a bow and arrow."
"But it's not just the shot. It's also kind of the intoxication of the process of having to get that close. There's more strategy... when you have to get that close and remain undetected.
Eric: "That's been a campfire discussion, right? Time with the animal. Why do you hunt with a limited-range weapon? It's time with the animal. That's the only way you're gonna learn their habits and what they do. And to raise the bar on how successful you could be is to truly understand the game you're chasing."
Locke: "You learn so much more putting yourself in those situations than just observing from afar."
Pronghorn Antelope 101
History of Pronghorn Antelope
Eric: "They're a throwback animal - they're Pleistocene era. They are old, old, old. They used to have four horns 10,000 years ago - they had horns growing right behind the main horns. And every once in a while, in a really good moisture year, they will get that residual horn growth. You'll see it on social media every year - there are two or three pictures that show up. I finally took one two years ago that had those actually two horns.
Locke: "Do they get that score in the official scoring?"
Eric: "No. They count like they're not even there."
Pronghorn Antelope Horns
Locke: "There's a difference between an antler and a horn. And antelope don't shed their horns. So they just grow their whole life, right?"
Eric: "Not the case. The pronghorn antelope we have in North America are the only horned animal in the world that does shed their horn every single year. There's a bone core underneath there and it has hair, skin, veins, all of that. So they actually drop their sheaths in November every year. The bucks will lose those sheaths and then they start growing 'em again."
"So in a real bad drought year, generally speaking, you could have a buck that might be 16 inches the year before, and then it's a terrible nutrition year, that same buck could be a 14-inch tall buck the very next year. And then bounce right back."
Can antelope smell to the same extent as other big game animals?
Eric: "Yeah... in my experience, you don't need to play the wind at all until you're inside of a hundred yards. Their nose is not what they use. They use their eyes and the fact they can run 60 miles an hour."
"So if they see you and get up and decide to go, good luck. Their eyes have been compared to like an eight or nine-power set of binoculars. So they can see... they can watch a grasshopper or crawl across your hat at 200 yards."
Antelope can see nearly 360 degrees, right?
Eric: "Yeah. In fact, I've taken some pictures doing some photography on antelope straight from the backside of a buck. If he has his ears straight up, you can see his eyeballs on both sides and you're directly behind him."
Pronghorn Antelope Behavior
Eric: "And most of the time they're afraid of their shadow. They are very weary animals until you get them [a few] places: Either they're ready to bed and they've checked it out for 30 minutes - they know that they're safe right there. Or when they're heavy feeding. Or when the bucks are concerned with the does. It's like...rut time."
When is the antelope rut?
Eric: "That rut time, generally speaking, is mid-September to early October. It changes a little bit when you go north or south,..."
What is the average weight of a mature antelope buck?
Eric: "Most of the mature bucks are gonna be 110 to 130 pounds. And that is almost everywhere you go. The biggest-bodied one that I have personally seen is the one I shot up in Wyoming. And it was 160 to 165 pounds, based on gutting it and weighing the carcass once we got it back. It was 160 to 165, which that's unheard of in the antelope world. 130 is a normal big-bodied buck."
Do they put on more weight if they are in colder climates?
Eric: "It really doesn't. One of the smallest [body size] mature bucks I ever killed was in Montana, body size. He was mature. Most of 'em hit that Boone and Crockett for me at about four and a half to five and a half years old. However, at three and a half, most of your antelope reached their maximum trophy potential; they could just carry it for three years after that. But they mature really quickly."
Hunting Pronghorn Antelope
What are the typical regulations or restrictions on hunting antelope with a muzzleloader?
Eric: "That's a great question. It really depends on the state. It could be anywhere from having iron sites, use loose powder. It has to be a full lead cast ball or conical. And other states you can use a magnified scope on an inline with pellets and a sabot."
"I'll hunt with a muzzleloader during the rifle season. So everybody else is out there with their long-range rifles and their high-power rifles. But muzzleloader's kind of what I fall back to. And in most of those rifle seasons, you can hunt with any kind of muzzleloader because it's a firearm season. So there's no restrictions when you hunt during the regular firearms."
"But when it comes to the muzzleloader side, it's really state-by-state. And most of them have a caliber minimum. And then it depends on the sites, the powder, the bullet - it all depends on the state."
Do you have to draw an antelope tag or can they be purchased over the counter?
Eric: "The great thing about antelope is if you want to antelope hunt, you can antelope hunt every single year. There's a state that'll allow you to get one over the counter. If you bow hunt, in Kansas and Nebraska you can get a tag as a non-resident over the counter every single year and go out and bow hunt 'em. And they have a pretty liberal season on archery antelope hunting in western Kansas and Western Nebraska."
"Wyoming antelope hunting is all draw. Colorado mostly draws, but once you get into Colorado and even Texas and some of your Western states, you can get landowner tags."
"So you can hunt 'em every year. You just have to pony up a little bit more money for their tags depending on what type of quality they usually have there. Where there's a will, there's a way. You can chase 'em every year."
"And part of what pulled my attraction to antelope early on is two things: You can hunt 'em every year if you want to if you have the means to do so and the desire to get out there and hunt different places you've never been."
"And then the second thing that really got me is you're always gonna see 'em. They're not like a whitetail that buries itself in a brush pile during the day. They're not like, elk that go in the dark timber. They're out there, you're gonna see them."
"It doesn't mean you're gonna catch up to 'em. Doesn't mean you're gonna get a shot on 'em. But it's like the adult game of chess. You're gonna see 'em, but you're in checkmate most of your day."
What is the best state to hunt antelope?
Eric: "When we talk about the good old days of antelope, it's New Mexico. New Mexico is putting out more trophy antelope every single year than any other state. There are draw opportunities. But they also opened up an opportunity for landowners to decide how many people they want hunting their property. So all of us can go out there, go to Walmart, buy a tag for the non-resident price, go find the landowner who will sign your permissions slip and give you permission to hunt their ground in a handful of their units. It's not the entire state, but a handful of their units."
"Their [New Mexico] population's not as great as say Wyoming. Wyoming is one of those states for pure opportunity. There's more antelope than there are people in the state of Wyoming. So there is plenty of opportunity."
Locke: "Is it, is it hard to get those permission slips? Are people pretty amenable to it?"
Eric: "It'll take a lot of knocking on doors, but you'll find a handful. The last three years I hunted New Mexico was a different unit, different landowner, and totally different property I'd never been on, but permission we were able to access. There's a lot of door-knocking with that. And growing up in Nebraska, I was used to knocking on doors, when I was 13 - 14 years old, trying to find a place to hunt. And we lived in a little tiny town, so it's not like I had property. I was used to knocking on doors. Bringing a bag of cheese, a bag of jerky, and now that I'm old enough, it's bringing a bottle of whiskey, bringing a checkbook, something like that."
Stalking Pronghorn Antelope
Eric: "One thing about antelope is they're pretty habitual. Some of that stalking is actually sitting there 600 yards away just watching body language. Once they get comfortable for that mid-morning nap, they'll be there for a couple of hours. They're not going anywhere. If they search around, they know they're in a good spot, you can just slowly, patiently get in on 'em..."
Locke: How many stalks are unsuccessful?
Eric: "We have this thing in antelope hunting... We say once they go over the hill, they just blow up. Meaning, there have been dozens upon dozens of times that you think, 'Oh, they just went over that little hill. I can get there.' You get to the top of the hill and you can see for two or three miles there's not an antelope in sight. Where they went, I don't know. It ends up not working out probably four or five times for every time it actually works out."
So there is sitting over water holes and spot-and-stalk. How many other antelope hunting strategies are there?
Eric: "Those are the two. So you either sit water because they do drink water at least one time a day or it's spot-and-stalk. And for most people spot-and-stalk's what you do. I prefer the spot-and-stalk with my boots. There are guys spot-and-stalk with the truck or the ATV. And that's great. At some point in time, you're gonna have to get off of it. But there's nothing quite like walking after one and realizing you've put six or seven miles on following the same buck all day long, over one hill and moving around until you get the right opportunity."
"[Sitting on a] water hole is really your archery opportunity. I've archery hunted antelope a couple of times spot and stock and if you want to get frustrated and get close oh so many times and come home with a tag, that's the way to do it."
What's the best cut of meat on an antelope and the best way to prepare it in your opinion?
Eric: "I love the backstraps. You don't have to add much, because they've got the natural sage flavor infused in the meat. That's a large part of most of their diets, depending on where they are. A little bit of salt and pepper and throw it on the smoker."
"And the thing about antelope, there's no fat on those animals. They are lean, lean, lean. So you've got to err on that medium to medium-rare side or else it will get way too tough."
"But pretty well everybody does the same thing with the rest of it. It's ground sausage, summer sausage, breakfast sausage, and some hot links.
"I will tell you two biggest mistakes people make on an antelope because you do hunt them early: It's hot outside. In fact, I've had a handful of hunts where it's over a hundred degrees when you shoot that animal. And they have no fat on 'em. You've gotta get 'em cleaned and cooled down probably quicker than any other animal that I've hunted to protect the quality of that game. Because they will start to, what we call 'saging up'. It's like the meat gets a little gamey. If you don't get it cooled right away, it'll have a little bit of an odd flavor."
Locke: "I've done podcasts with quite a few different guys over the years that are heavily into wild game preparation and wild game cooking. And that is probably the most recommended practice for any kind of deer or big game: Get the deer field dressed and cooled down - or antelope in this case - as quickly as possible."
Antelope Hunting Stories
2022 Kansas Antelope Hunt
"I drew muzzleloader tag, and I knew one landowner that I'd called ahead of time and he had 6,000 acres. He was like, "Yeah, we got a few antelope." So I met with him on the first day. He had three antelope. Like literally three antelope on every acre he owned. And all of his neighbors that gave me slide-through passage. So I drove 178 miles on my truck that first day of scouting and found only 11 total antelope."
"And nothing that I would say made me want to even pull my gun out of the case. And the second day of scouting was really kind of the same thing. Found a couple more, knocked on a couple more doors - just to talk to some people, stopped a couple of ranchers on the road, and just chatted with them. But it wasn't looking like it was gonna be a great hunt opening morning."
"I actually took two muzzleloaders on this hunt. I took my old Hawkin octagon barrel 50 cal. And then I took my inline as well, not knowing exactly what I was gonna run into - big fields, wheat fields, or something where I was gonna have to take a longer shot than normal."
"So I took both guns opening morning. It's 4:30 in the morning and I'm getting ready to load my guns for the day - put 'em in the truck. I don't have my powder. I don't have my primers. I don't have any bullets with me."
"I'm 550 miles away and I call my wife, I wake her up and I said, 'Okay, I'm living a real nightmare here. Can you walk up to the trophy room and just take a picture of what's on my coffee table up there?' And she was like, 'Why do you want me to get up?' And I said, 'Please just do this for me.'"
"And she walks up there, she sends me a picture, and it's my powder. It's my primers. It's my bullets. They're still sitting there. I remembered where I forgot them. And boy, if you could be a fly on the wall... how frantic and panicked I was in the hotel that morning."
"So this is my number one problem. Even if I see a good antelope, I'm not shooting anything. I am 40 miles from Lamar, Colorado, and I decide, well, they have a sporting goods store that opens at 8:30 in the morning. I'm just gonna drive over there. Opening day of Kansas season, I'm driving to Colorado."
"I get over there and they can help me out a little bit. They have 45-caliber lead balls and I'm shooting a 50-caliber muzzleloader. 45 fives a little bit smaller. So I'm like, 'Okay, what do you have for patches?' And they had patches. So I figured I can double patch a 45-caliber ball, and make it work in my 50-caliber Hawkin. The only problem is now I still have no primers. I have no powder."
"So I start looking up little tiny shops. And here's what I love about the Midwest. If you have a cause that is worthwhile, Midwest are some of the best people in this world. They will fight for you to make it happen. I ended up finding a guy who had number 10 primers. And he wasn't even a gun store owner. This guy's got all kinds of stuff in his bunker. And he had number 10 primers."
"Well, now I still need bullets. I ended up hitting three or four different little gun shops and they finally steered me to a guy in the middle of nowhere who runs a gunshop out of his Quonset on his little two-acre corner parcel. And my gosh, if he did not have Pyrodex pellet 50-grain powder. So I've got a hodgepodge of a little bit of everything. It's one o'clock in the afternoon now opening day and I'm driving everywhere."
"I have everything I need. I get back to where I can shoot on the first rancher's property. I shoot - I'm good at a hundred. That's all I need to know. I'm ready to go. Well, as I was driving back from there to a new spot that I wanted to look at, I see a little antelope buck walk right across the road in front of me, right across the gravel road. And I thought, okay, this is looking better."
"What he was walking towards was the biggest Kansas antelope that I have seen in any of my time in Kansas. He was hanging out with three does. So get Onx Map pulled up, I see a name, and I went to the closest house I could find to that property and talked to that guy. Guy didn't know the owner, but he knew the people who farmed it. He gave me their phone number and I called this gal on a cell phone. She says, 'Well, I'll talk to the landowner and I'll let you know.'="
"I pulled over. I parked on the side of the road and watched those antelope til dark waiting for a call back because I knew how good this buck was. And I sat on him until dark that day."
"Finally... five minutes after the legal shooting light is over. Guess who calls me? Landowner. Imagine that. 'Oh yeah, you can shoot it. You didn't even need to ask, we don't like antelope around here.' "
"So that was a long night of sleeping. The next morning, I get up, I'm there, I'm ready. And of course, he's not there. They're not there. But a couple of hours into the day, they start coming outta the CRP field from the north. They come right down to where I can hunt 'em. They get across the road. I've got 'em at 200 yards. Keep in mind, I'm using an octagon barrel and iron sites, so I'm not shooting 200 yards. I'm keeping it 120 if I felt good about it, but most likely under a hundred for that gun."
"And they get in a little bit closer. And this white oil field truck pulls over, slams on his brakes, binoculars out the window, and blew him out of there. And they were coming right towards me."
"So I regroup, get Onx Maps out, more landowners to chase down. And I got a couple of no's when I knocked on doors. Antelope are still moving north about two miles north of where I was hunting them now. And I see this farmer driving his truck across a wheat field. You can't even tell it's a wheat field because it's barely grown."
"And I stopped him as he was coming out in the ditch and asked him. And I said, 'Do you give permission to antelope hunt? And he says, 'Well, I mean, guys pay me to antelope hunt.' I called his bluff on that and I was like, 'Oh, okay. But I was just wondering because you got four antelope out bedded in the middle of your wheat field.' And he goes, 'Oh, you want to chase them? Are you hunting with a muzzleloader? I don't think you can get on 'em. Okay, I'll let you hunt this section of mine right here. The only thing I ask is, if you actually get out there and you can kill that buck, you should call me. I'm like, 'Okay.' "
"So the game was on. I'm crawling face down in a flat, I mean western Kansas flat as a pancake wheat field. If it wasn't for tumbleweeds, I had zero cover. I would go from one tumbleweed to the next one."
"Long story short, 53 yards, they're all bedded. Sit up, put the gun across my knee, the doe sees me - everybody else facing away. She stands up, but she doesn't run. She doesn't know what I am. And then as soon as he stands up, I put him back down."
Locke: "So how far did you crawl...? Did you measure it or what's your estimate?
Eric: "I can tell you it was three-quarters of a mile. Three-quarters of a mile from the south road. It was one of those four square mile sections with no roads in between. So big, big section, all crop fields except for a little drainage ditch to my west."
"Shot him there, call the landowner, tell him I shot him. And he was like, 'No, you didn't. You didn't kill that buck.' And I said, 'I did. Do you mind if I drive in here?' And he says, 'I don't want you driving on my wheat field. You pack him out of there.' "
"So I hiked back to my truck, got my pack frame, hiked back to the antelope, gutted him, strung him on my pack frame, and hiked him out."
"I took him a case of beer afterward. And I gave him a $200 trespass fee just a thank you in case I ever draw that tag again. Because he let me know he has actually has access to about 30,000 acres out there."
"But after talking to him, the guy was just a jokester. He's a prankster. He is just a good old boy. But he said, 'There's no way in hell I thought you'd get out there. I thought if he's not gonna pay me, I'm gonna make him work for this.' I showed him the buck and the first thing he said is, 'Whoa, that buck's a lot bigger than I thought he was laying out there in the field. Had I known he was that big, I probably wouldn't let you go shoot him.'"
Tell us about your most recent Antelope hunt
Eric: "I did a three-state tour this year: Nevada tag, Wyoming tag, and then a Western Kansas tag. And I was successful in all three. Two of them are 80-inch plus bucks - Boone and Crockett award size."
Locke: "Is that kind of always a September into October kind of thing for you and you're done for the year as far as antelope or what's your timing?"
Eric: "It can start in August. Normally New Mexico starts about that time. This year it was August 22nd. I was in the middle of nowhere, Nevada hunting antelope. And then mid-September was Wyoming. The first weekend of October was in Kansas. So it's usually that mid-August to mid-October. Which is nice, because it extends the hunting season. Then I still have late October, November, and December to chase whatever else is on the list."
What else do you have planned for the year?
Eric: "I actually fly out to Florida with a couple of buddies tomorrow. We're gonna go wrangle some alligators... I did it last year with my wife and she got a good eight-foot gator and I got one just shy of 12 feet. They're just such a blast."
"And then, back to actually hunting big game animals, I'll be hunting Oregon muzzleloader hunt for Columbia Blacktail deer late November through the first couple days in December."
"And then I keep it open after that. In December, I'll most likely pick up a muzzleloader season tag in Nebraska. It's open the whole month in December and I got some family up in the area. So always a place to hunt."
"And then then I move into January. Every single year I'm in Mexico in January chasing Coues deer."
Locke: "Columbia blacktail. Is that a new adventure for you or have you done that before?
Eric: "I've hunted them three times. I've only killed one. I'm just looking for a little bigger and better one. Took me 14 years of preference points to draw this unit and it's the best unit in the state of Oregon for Blacktail. So, with any kind of luck, I may have a trophy story there."
Thanks For Joining
And we encourage you to reach out to us with any feedback about the podcast or episode suggestions. We want to continue to make this something that entertains and educates, so we want to cover what you want to hear. You can email Locke Wheeler at email@example.com. Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Skre Country Podcast.