The ever-increasing turnout of former team members led some years ago to formation of the Past Shooters Club, also headquartered in Lander. It is a separate organization responsible for many of the prehunt festivities. The One-Shot Antelope Club itself consists of the team members competing in a given year and the local citizens who run the hunt. The year after he shoots on a team, a one-shotter is eligible to become a past shooter and remains one for life.
"That's the best category," says Roy Weatherby. "There are really three stages of shooter at the One-Shot. First you come a few years as a guest, each time hoping that you will be invited to join a team the next year. You can sweat that out a long time. Then, finally, you make a team. Talk about pressure! That is when you really sweat. Rut once it's behind you, you can relax. The pressured off. The parties are on. And the pronghorn hunting is the best anywhere."
No one who has ever hunted the country around Lander will deny that. The mountains and prairies support more wild game—deer, elk, moose, bear and sheep as well as antelope—than any other sector of the U.S. Some of the finest fly-fishing streams in the state flow through its valleys, and its higher mountain streams and hidden lakes offer the kind of fishing anglers dream of. But of all the native riches, none is so bountiful as the fleet-footed antelope that prance upon its prairies.
The American pronghorn, Antilocapra americana (American goat-antelope), is technically not an antelope at all, but the misnomer is past correcting at this late date. It is a separate species, more closely related to the goat family than to the true antelope. The sole survivor of the Antilocapridae family that flourished in the Miocene and Pliocene Epochs, it is the only mammal in the world with pronged or branched horns.
The pronghorn is smaller than a deer, standing about three feet at the shoulder and weighing around 100 pounds, and much more dramatically marked than any other native species. Its cinnamon-buff coat is set off by bright splashes of white on its belly, throat and rump and accentuated by bold slashes of black on its face and cars. But beneath this fancy facade is an animal of extraordinary speed and stamina, capable of maintaining a pace in excess of 30 mph for as much as five miles and of reaching flat-out bursts of 60 mph.
At one time an estimated 50 million antelope roamed the plains from Illinois to the Pacific and from the Canadian prairies south to Mexico. By the late 1800s these multitudes had been so reduced by wholesale market hunting and the scourges of disease and decimated range that fewer than 20,000 animals carried over into this century.
During the next three decades conservationists worked frantically to strengthen the antelope's fragile grip on survival—establishing and enforcing laws for its protection, setting aside reserves and sanctuaries, refurbishing ranges, translocating herds and winter feeding.
By the early '40s several states had pronghorn populations promising enough to warrant carefully controlled hunting. Today there are some 500,000 antelope on the ranges of the West and the pronghorn is outranked only by the deer as the nation's most heavily hunted big-game animal.
The antelope gives the impression of being an easy mark. Unlike most big game, it makes no effort to conceal itself as it gambols across the open plains, but this is a hoax. The antelope may act unsuspecting—it is entitled to sonic sport, too—but only as long as the hunter is out of range. Add the fact that antelope normally travel in herds, which means many sets of sharp eyes alert for danger.
There is a tendency, because there is so little against which to gauge an antelope's size in such open terrain, to miscalculate range. The excuses for such misses are often as wild as the shots, and over the years those offered by one-shotters have become classics.