Judging Speed Goats

Judging Speed Goats: Nick Oceanak

You’ve drawn a license for the fastest land animal in North America, the Pronghorn! Well that’s great but how do you know what to look for in a mature buck? The pronghorn is one of the most difficult animals to judge in all North America. I’m speaking in terms of antler size of course! Even after being a professional big game hunting guide in Wyoming for seventeen years I still misjudge pronghorn on the hoof. Now pronghorn are not antelope but are often referred to as such because they closely resemble the true antelope in Africa. So, I will use both terms as I refer to them in this article. We regularly call them “speed goats” as well (because of their similar features to goats and notorious speed).

A mature pronghorn buck harvested with a longbow.
A mature pronghorn buck harvested with a longbow. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

So why are pronghorn so hard to judge? First, their antlers aren’t very large to begin with. Therefore, a difference of twelve inches and fourteen inches is hardly anything at 800 yards but a world of difference up close. Due to the far distances from which you will be looking at antelope, you’ll need to know what to look for. I’m a firm believer that score means very little and that the trophy is in the eye of the beholder. However, to better help you understand what to look for in the antlers of a mature pronghorn I’ll be talking about SCI scoring a little bit. It’s also a good way to convey relative size to other people. You get one length measurement on each side starting from the base and ending at the tip. Then you divide that number by four to find where you will take your four mass measurements. Finally, you get one prong measurement on each side. (ex. figure below)

How to measure a pronghorn horn
Pronghorn horn scale

Mass is the most important factor when it comes to score. Now, you’ll see in the figure that two mass measurements fall below the prong and two above. If the third mass measurement spot falls below the prong you are getting a much bigger score than if it is above, so keep that in mind. When judging a buck, you’ll be critiquing three main things: mass, length and prong size.

OK, so how does one take this basic knowledge to the field and successfully judge a goat at 1,000 yards!? I’ll give you a couple quick, handy tricks to do so.

  1. Look at where the height in which the prong comes off the main antler. If it’s below the ear, then it is most likely a younger buck. If it’s equal the height of the ear or higher then you’re looking at a mature buck.
  2. Study each buck and make sure you get a good look from every angle possible. This will help you judge the three main aspects discussed earlier. The most important angle is the side or profile. This way you can determine relative mass, length, overall antler curl and prong size. Every buck is unique so the more angles the better. It’s easy to look at a buck from straight on and say, “oh that’s a big one!” But don’t fall for it! He may not have much mass, or he may not curl making him look taller that he is, or he may not have much for prongs.
  3. Think about all other factors at play. Is the buck alone during the rut? If so, did he get run off by a bigger buck? Are you looking at a buck among a big group of bucks during the rut? If so, he may be a younger buck hanging with other young bucks because they can’t get close to the does. Has it been a good year in terms of habitat? Is it an area known for producing big bucks?
The prongs come off the antler below the ear, so we are looking at a young buck. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

Body size can help in some cases when looking at comparable bucks at great distances. Look for a stout block body with a thick neck and a big belly. Sometimes older bucks are lighter in color, but I’ve found that color varies greatly and doesn’t always indicate a bucks age.

A very mature pronghorn buck. Notice how high above the ear the prong comes off. Block body, large neck and lighter colored cape indicate an older animal. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

So, let’s recap on the three main aspects of the antlers: mass, length and prong size.

Mass is the most important attribute in terms of overall antler size. Look at the eye in respect to the size of the antler from the side. If the antler is as wide as the eye or wider you know you’re looking at some decent mass. Big bucks will have a circumference at the base of 6 inches and more.

This beautiful antelope buck is extremely tall. If you were to put the ear up against the antler that would be approximately 6 inches up. You can see this buck has a lot of length past that. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

2. Length is perhaps the first thing we notice and the most impressive part in the overall “look” of a buck. Some bucks have huge curls that make them look cool (I love the heart-shaped ones). Some bucks don’t curl much which makes them look taller and that can be neat as well. Mature bucks range from 12 inches to 16 inches and up. When looking at a profile view try to estimate how many inches the tip of the antler is above the ear.

This buck was “massive” with over 7-inch bases and weight that carried all the way up. 84 5/8 SCI

3. Prongs are the awesome features that make the pronghorn so unique! They can stick out, go up, go down, curl in, curl out, etc. They usually aren’t more than 5 inches, but some bucks get huge prongs that go 7 inches and over. The prong adds another big contribution to the “overall” look of a buck.

Pronghorn are unique in so many ways and they all differ from one another. The next time you’re out chasing “speed goats” remember the guidelines for field judging them but also remember the true trophy is in the eye of the beholder!

A very cool non-typical buck taken by a 14-year-old Timberline client. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

To Travel With Firearms

TO TRAVEL WITH FIREARMS …
By: Craig Boddington

At the airport on the way to Argentina: Duffel bag, gun case, and carry-on. A gun case automatically means you’re traveling heavy; overweight baggage charges are part of the deal when you travel with firearms.
At the airport on the way to Argentina: Duffel bag, gun case, and carry-on. A gun case automatically means you’re traveling heavy; overweight baggage charges are part of the deal when you travel with firearms.

Just recently I got back from a “mixed bag” hunt in Argentina: where I did some wingshooting, deer, and water buffalo hunting. I took an over/under Blaser 12 gauge; and a Blaser R8 with .270 and .375 barrels. At this moment I’m on an airplane, headed toward Cameroon. I do not have a gun case in the cargo hold; I’ll be using a “camp gun.” In this article I will be discussing the pros and cons of flying with and without  firearms while traveling to hunt.

Mindsets vary. If you’re a hunter who views a firearm as an essential tool, then, so long as a suitable tool is available, it may not be important for you to bring a favorite firearm. On the other hand, if you’re a “gun guy,” it may be important for you to bring a firearm you consider perfect for game you’re hunting. Destinations vary. Sometimes it’s fairly easy to bring guns; other times it’s a major hassle, but still possible. And there are places where the hunting is great but it is not possible to bring a firearm. You simply must use whatever is available.

I’m both a hunter and a “gun guy.” Given a sensible choice I prefer to bring my own. However, I’ve hunted several places where bringing a firearm isn’t possible. That’s easy: I’ll use whatever is available! Where decisions get hard are situations where practicality and convenience enter in. Essential to consider: Game and hunting conditions; and what firearms are available?

ARGENTINA AND CAMEROON

Hunting partners Gary Wells and Heather Smith elected to use camp rifles and save the hassle. They did fine; Gary’s stag is a lot bigger than mine! This huge red stag was taken with outfitter Marcelo Sodiro’s McMillan .300 Weatherby Magnum…pretty good “camp gun.”
Hunting partners Gary Wells and Heather Smith elected to use camp rifles and save the hassle. They did fine; Gary’s stag is a lot bigger than mine! This huge red stag was taken with outfitter Marcelo Sodiro’s McMillan .300 Weatherby Magnum…pretty good “camp gun.”

My two situations, Argentina and Cameroon, although quite different, are good examples that led to different decisions. Argentina is the largest destination in the world, up to 20,000 foreign hunters per year. Their police and customs officials are no strangers to firearms. Foreign hunters can get temporary permits on arrival, or in advance at the nearest Argentinean consulate. It isn’t really a problem, but there are costs: Their government charges for the permit and your outfitter will probably charge to help expedite the permit. If you are flying to various places around Argentina, you must check the firearms in and out with the local airport police with every transition—much like South Africa. It is not a problem, but it’s a hassle. My hunting partners, Heather Smith and Gary Wells, elected to use camp firearms…and they had to wait for me in every airport!

I was filming, so using sponsor firearms was essential. But, absent compelling justification, there is no reason to bring firearms into Argentina! Outfitters there have good guns. Bird lodges have racks of shotguns, usually Benelli and Beretta. Big-game areas will have well-scoped bolt-actions in appropriate cartridges. I used my guns while Gary and Heather borrowed; at the end of the hunt we were all equally successful.

In Argentina I carried a .270 and .375 barrel for my Blaser R8. As expected, the .375 barrel was used just once to take this water buffalo. These water buffaloes are huge and I needed the .375…but in this camp they had sturdy CZ .375s available for use.
In Argentina I carried a .270 and .375 barrel for my Blaser R8. As expected, the .375 barrel was used just once to take this water buffalo. These water buffaloes are huge and I needed the .375…but in this camp they had sturdy CZ .375s available for use.

Cameroon is a different deal. I wanted to take the perfect rifle, and had my heart set on a 9.3x62mm from Montana Rifles. I could have…but the only way to get a gun permit is through their Washington embassy and I ran out of time. Outfitter, Phillippe Bernon suggested (politely) that they had three good scoped .375s available: A Blaser R93, a CZ, and a Sako. This is a forest hunt. The range will be close, a .375 is fine. I decided it wasn’t worth it to fight city hall. I don’t even know which of the three I will use…but it really doesn’t matter.

TRAVELING WITH FIREARMS…

A hard case has to be sturdy with all hinges intact…and all lock holes must be filled with locks. I disassemble my guns inside the case and add a gun lock…the idea is to make the security folks as comfortable as possible.
A hard case has to be sturdy with all hinges intact…and all lock holes must be filled with locks. I disassemble my guns inside the case and add a gun lock…the idea is to make the security folks as comfortable as possible.

Anywhere in the world the most important thing is to know the rules. Within the United States it’s simple: In checked baggage, sturdy gun case, unloaded, disassembled if possible, all lock holes in the case filled with locks. Ammunition cannot be in the gun case, but can be in other checked baggage. The magic litany: “In original factory containers, less than 5 kilograms (11 pounds).” Always check the airline’s website for any special rules, and for sure announce firearms and ammunition when you check in. Here’s the first caveat: The rules change! Some carriers will not carry firearms. Period, end of story. Make damn sure!

Traveling outside the U.S. is more complicated. Basic rules are similar, but the check-in agent has the obligation to ensure that your firearm can enter your destination country. So, if a temporary permit is needed, do it in advance and have a copy…or make certain it’s right there in black and white (in the airline regulations) that you can obtain a temporary permit on arrival (Argentina, Canada, Namibia, and South Africa are popular examples of this situation).

Inside the U.S. ammo can be in a checked bag separate from the guns but elsewhere in the world it’s more common to check it separately in its own lock case. I’ve used this lockable ammo can for years; it starts unlocked in my duffel bag but can be locked and checked when required.
Inside the U.S. ammo can be in a checked bag separate from the guns but elsewhere in the world it’s more common to check it separately in its own lock case. I’ve used this lockable ammo can for years; it starts unlocked in my duffel bag but can be locked and checked when required.

Ammo is another story. In the U.S. you can technically put ammo in checked baggage separate from firearms. In much of the world ammunition is checked separately in its own locked container. Here’s what I do: My ammunition is packed in a small “military-style” ammo can…with a hasp and padlock in the can to be used when needed. I start with the ammo can unlocked in my duffel…but I can lock it, and check it separately as needed. Checking ammo separately in a locked container is standard throughout much of the world.

This U.S. Customs Form 4457, obtained by bringing your (cased!) firearm to any Customs office. There is no record kept, but it serves as a “U.S. gun permit” elsewhere in the world. Previously this form was valid as long as you owned the firearm, but today most of them have expiration dates in the fine print in the upper right corner…a current 4457 is essential.
This U.S. Customs Form 4457, obtained by bringing your (cased!) firearm to any Customs office. There is no record kept, but it serves as a “U.S. gun permit” elsewhere in the world. Previously this form was valid as long as you owned the firearm, but today most of them have expiration dates in the fine print in the upper right corner…a current 4457 is essential.

The permit process differs radically in various countries, but your outfitter and a gun-savvy travel agent (highly recommended!) can help. The real magic lies in a little piece of paper called “U.S. Customs Form 4457.” Available at any U.S. Customs office, it’s the same form used to record jewelry, watches, or cameras you’re traveling with…to prove you didn’t buy them overseas. No record is kept, so it’s a silly form…but essential for firearms.

Elsewhere in the world, U.S. Customs Form 4457 generally serves as a “firearms permit” to obtain a temporary permit. The problem is the game is changing. Historically, that magical little form 4457 was good as long as you owned the firearm. Today’s forms are dated with an expiration, fine print, top right corner. So, it’s wise (and in some countries essential for a temporary permit) to get new forms.

Ah, one more caveat. You need to know the rules. Unfortunately, many airline employees and even TSA and U.S. Customs folks don’t know their own rules! Congressman David Crockett of Tennessee liked to say “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Honest, you can’t argue with these people. You can go through various levels of supervisors, but you cannot argue and must be polite! Just now, coming in from Argentina, I got a belligerent inspector who refused to accept a copy of my 4457. That’s a first; it’s a form that no one has a record of, and copies should be fine…but not with this guy. He also insisted they do not expire, so, on this form, he was quite surprised to see, in fine print, “Expiration Date 08/31/2019” in the upper right corner.

The discussion, now calm, got more interesting when I commented that this form served as a “international” throughout much of the world. He insisted that our Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) did indeed “register” firearms and I needed to obtain proper permits. Yes, for certain situations…but in these United States, thank God, we have no nationwide registrations process. You would think U.S. Customs officials would know this—but they do not, and this is not the first time I’ve encountered this. Be polite, get your 4457, make sure it’s current, make copies, and carry the original!

…AND WITHOUT THEM

In 2018 I hunted Congo, one of several places where hunting is good but rifles cannot be brought in. We checked ahead; the outfitter had two Ruger Hawkeyes in .375 Ruger with choice of Aimpoint or low-power scope. Even if we could, there was no reason to bring a rifle.
In 2018 I hunted Congo, one of several places where hunting is good but rifles cannot be brought in. We checked ahead; the outfitter had two Ruger Hawkeyes in .375 Ruger with choice of Aimpoint or low-power scope. Even if we could, there was no reason to bring a rifle.

Trust me, it’s a lot easier to travel without firearms! It’s a relief not to have to schlep the gun case, clear its contents through various authorities…and worry about it! But that depends on where you’re going and what you’re doing. In several places I’ve hunted—Congo, Ghana, Liberia, Peru, Philippines—it’s been impossible to take a firearm so I’ve used what is there. Other times, like this hunt in Cameroon, it’s been too difficult. However, it depends on where you’re going. North America is rarely an issue; there are usually suitable firearms available. This is also true in Africa, Europe, South America, and South Pacific.

Firearms cannot be brought into Liberia. Rifles are generally illegal, but most of the hunting is at close range in thick forest so shotguns are perfect. On two different Liberian hunts I carried this well-used Mossberg 500…and it never failed. This is a zebra duiker, considered Liberia’s greatest prize.
Firearms cannot be brought into Liberia. Rifles are generally illegal, but most of the hunting is at close range in thick forest so shotguns are perfect. On two different Liberian hunts I carried this well-used Mossberg 500…and it never failed. This is a zebra duiker, considered Liberia’s greatest prize.

The biggest problem is Asia, largely mountain hunting where shots can be far. Flat-shooting, well-scoped, sporting rifles are rare throughout the region. I’ve done a couple dozen Asian hunts and, with just two exceptions, I’ve always brought a rifle. In the Philippines it was legally impossible; we borrowed a worn M14 from the local armory! But that was jungle hunting, where ranges are short. The last time I went to Pakistan I scrambled a hunt on short notice. Like this hunt in Cameroon, there wasn’t time to get a temporary permit, so I used the outfitter’s rifles. Mind you, before committing to the hunt I knew he had good rifles in camp and available.

Perhaps the weirdest “camp gun” I ever used was in the Philippines. Our outfitter had an arrangement with the local military and we “checked out” an M14 with military ball ammunition.
Perhaps the weirdest “camp gun” I ever used was in the Philippines. Our outfitter had an arrangement with the local military and we “checked out” an M14 with military ball ammunition.

No matter where you’re going, that’s a major key: If you choose not to bring your own guns, or you can’t, then you should find out what might be available for you to use. Honestly, you should do this anyway! Even with the best planning there is always the chance your baggage can go astray. Only rarely are guns permanently lost. This has never happened to me and, with heightened security, I think it’s extremely unlikely today. But delays happen and your hunt may be far from the airport; it’s good to know what’s on hand just in case.

The small tropical whitetail is the primary game in Peru. Rifles cannot be imported so “camp rifles” must be used and, for whitetails, must be accurate. This Model 70 in .270 Winchester was just perfect.
The small tropical whitetail is the primary game in Peru. Rifles cannot be imported so “camp rifles” must be used and, for whitetails, must be accurate. This Model 70 in .270 Winchester was just perfect.

Trust me, traveling with firearms is not getting easier! Recognizing this, smart outfitters the world over are “gearing up,” ensuring they have proper firearms to rent or loan. Heck, even though I’m completely left-handed, we keep a couple of decent right-handed rifles at the Kansas farm for hunters to borrow…and they see use every deer season!

Which is the Best Rifle Action for You?

Our beloved tradition of campfire arguments often centers around which cartridge we should choose. That’s always fun, but maybe by now you’ve gotten my oft-repeated message that, within broad parameters, it’s kind of silly. We all know that the 6.5mm Creedmoor is the hottest-selling cartridge right now, but is any deer or steel target likely to feel the difference (or lodge a formal complaint) if struck by a Creedmoor, a .270 Winchester, a 7mm-08, or any of dozens of cartridges we can think of?

I think not. Actually, so long as the projectile strikes the desired point, the launching platform also doesn’t make much difference. Although each has significant variations, there are essentially five rifle actions: semiautomatic, slide-action, lever-action, bolt-action, and single-shot. For completeness, I suppose one could add the double rifle. I like doubles in certain applications, but it’s fair to say that the double is mostly a break-open single-shot with a second barrel and firing mechanism.

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Roberts .257: A Quarter-Bore Worth a Comeback

The enclosed blind was warm, and it was still early; I was unlikely to see anything for a while. Truth is, I was wool-gathering… and when I glanced up there was a very large black boar standing broadside near the feeder. Oops! I raised the rifle, slowly got the barrel outside the window, and took a rest.

The distance was about a hundred yards; without further thought, I centered the crosshairs on the shoulder, a third up from the brisket. The shot felt good, but the pig lurched away, instantly lost behind some cedars. Now I needed to think about this. I’d taken the shot with a .257 Roberts and 117-grain Hornady SST. Hindsight being perfect, steady and at that distance, I could just as well have taken a head or neck shot, but I’d instinctively gone for my comfort zone, the shoulder shot, without considering that this was not a big gun for a large pig.

Well, done was done, and something else might come in. I waited until about 15 minutes after sundown, turned the scope down low, and went to check. The boar was every bit as big as I’d thought; he’d gone about 20 yards and was stone-dead. Impressive!

Wild Boar, Wild Hog, Texas Hunting
This big Texas hog took a 117-grain SST on the shoulder from the .257 Roberts and traveled about 20 yards.

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Vector Optics Continental Scopes: A Good Riflescope at Any Price!

A few weeks ago, my buddy Gordon Marsh of Wholesale Hunter sent samples of the new Continental riflescope line from Vector Optics. In the sport optics business for more than a decade, Vector offers extensive lines of scopes, sights, rangefinders, red-dot sights, and more. Their new Continental riflescopes are their “top of the line” scopes, manufactured offshore (which keeps prices down) using good German glass. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be as satisfied or impressed as I am!

rifle scopes, vector optics
From bottom, Continental scopes in 1-6x24mm; 2-12-x50mm; and 3-18x50mm.

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Getting a Tune-Up with Field Practice

Some of us are smart enough to service our vehicles regularly to forestall problems. Others, unfortunately like me, are constantly late with scheduled maintenance. It’s a testament to good design and manufacturing that I don’t have more mechanical problems than I do.

target shooting, steel targets, Weatherby Magnum
Boddington working out on steel targets, shooting over a pack with the rifle and scope he used in Mongolia, a Blaser R8 in .300 Weatherby Magnum with Zeiss 4-16x50mm scope.

Shooting is a bit like that: Constant maintenance, meaning practice, really is essential to keeping your shooting skills honed. I’m pretty sure all competitive shooters, in all disciplines, and at all levels from beginner to distinguished would agree. Practice is essential not just to get better, but to maintain skill levels.

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Joining the Creedmoor Club

Okay, I finally did it! After punching paper and ringing steel with at least a dozen rifles chambered to the 6.5mm Creedmoor, I finally got around to taking an animal with this amazingly popular little cartridge.

Actually, my wife, Donna joined the Creedmoor Club on the same hunt a few days before I did. We shared a Mossberg Patriot in stainless and synthetic, wearing a Riton 4-16x50mm scope. I chose Federal Premium’s 120-grain Trophy Copper load because we’d be hunting blacktails on California’s Central Coast, near our Paso Robles home. We call this area the “condor zone,” long mandated as a lead-free area for hunting. As the Creedmoor’s popularity continues its upward spiral load offerings continue to multiply, but as Opening Day neared, Trophy Copper was the only homogenous-alloy load I could get my hands on.

Creedmoor Club, bench shooting, Mossberg Patriot
On the bench with the Mossberg Patriot 6.5mm Creedmoor in preparation for the California deer season. Unleaded bullets are required for hunting, so the Boddingtons used Federal Premium 120-grain Trophy Copper…with good results.

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Two Great Truths About Optics

I’ve written a lot of magazine articles about optics, and for several years I even wrote a continuing optics column. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I know a little bit about optics. At least, I thought I did. Just last week, at the annual Outdoor Sportsman Group “round table,” Zeiss’s Kyle Brown gave us an update on new products. He started with two very astute comments.

The first one I’ve said wrong so many times that I’m embarrassed: “Optics don’t gather light; they manage light.” The second is something that I have long believed, but Kyle said it better and simpler than I ever have: “Magnification is over-rated!”

hunting Stone ram, Kimber rifle, Leopold scope
This Stone ram was taken with a Kimber .270 WSM mounted with a 3.5-10X Leupold. Variable scopes in this power range have been the most popular for 40 years, and are still among the most versatile for much hunting.

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Prairie Dogs: The Best Teachers

I probably should follow my own advice, but I’m no different than most in that I often don’t! I’ve often written that varmint shooting offers the best practice there is. Woodchucks in the East and rockchucks in the West are good, likewise small rodents like ground squirrels and gophers… but there’s nothing better than prairie dogs.

Benchrest shooting Wyoming prairie dogs
Gordon Marsh with one of his “long range” prairie dog rifles, a heavy-barreled Savage 116 in .204 Ruger. With a heavy rifle like this in .204 shots can be called through the scope, very difficult with the more powerful .22-250.

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Benchrest Shooting Tips

Serious benchrest shooting is one of the most demanding shooting disciplines. It’s essentially a scientific search for ultimate accuracy. I don’t pretend it’s my game. I’m primarily a hunter, and my preference is to get away from the bench and spend as much practice time as possible shooting from field positions.

However, shooting from the bench is essential for achieving the desired zero, as well as determining the level of accuracy your rifle delivers and which loads produce optimum accuracy. So, although I have never been and probably never will be a benchrest competitor, I do a lot of benchrest shooting.

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