By Nick Simonson
For avid big game hunter Dusty Nielsen of Valley City, the recently-opened North Dakota pronghorn unit of 1D proved too attractive to pass up when applying for the license lottery this summer. With only 115 tags available in the area which had been closed since 2009 due to low population numbers, Nielsen knew the risk of coming up empty and earning another point was worth the reward of possibly hunting near-virgin territory for one of North Dakota’s most unique big game animals. His gamble paid off not only with a tag, but certainly one of the most distinctive pronghorn taken in the state, with the buck he shot on opening day about 20 miles southwest of Williston.
“I believe I had six preference points; I haven’t had a tag since 2007,” Nielsen recounted, “I saw the opportunity looking at the statistics on this new unit opening, pretty much deciding that I was going to put in for this unit, hoping for more of a chance at a trophy-class animal and just got lucky and pulled the tag,” he continued, having hunted pronghorn unit 4A in his previous efforts more than a decade ago.
Through friends and their connections in the area, Nielsen received word of the non-typical pronghorn, but didn’t pursue it immediately. Spending much of his archery hunts this fall in the southern stretches of unit 1D, he noted many quality bucks, but did not fill his tag. As rifle season approached, he received a tip from a friend on recent sightings of the large, splayed-horn buck. The day before the season, Nielsen spotted the animal as he was scouting on some unposted land in the area, and made contact with the landowner, Daniel Bearce of rural Williston, who had been observing the buck for a few seasons.
“I probably started seeing him three or four years ago,” Bearce related about the largest pronghorn on his land, “usually we don’t have them down here, they stay north and come down in the wintertime if it gets tough, but these guys have been hanging around down here all summer,” he continued, adding that three or four male pronghorns had been roaming the area with the buck Nielsen had spotted.
On Friday morning, Nielsen and his friends Marshall Hopp and Ben Simonson of Valley City who were along for the adventure, found the pronghorn in approximately the same area, bedded down in the field. Keeping the animal in the sights of their spotting scopes and binoculars, the trio awaited the midday start of the season. As the season opened, Nielsen set out under extremely windy conditions and got himself in position for the shot.
“He was laying down in the perfect spot and I ranged him and he was at 244 yards and I made the decision that he was laying in the perfect position to take a bedded shot,” Nielsen recalled, “I made the shot…he never got out of his bed and from there it was just kind of a celebration,” Nielsen concluded.
In addition to his spotters, Nielsen’s group was joined by a fourth member, District Game Warden Shawn Sperling, based out of Williston, who had watched the hunt unfold and validated that all was in order with the tagging of the animal and Nielsen’s license. In addition to the extremely splayed set of horns on the pronghorn buck, the length of each horn is impressive. Nielsen’s rough field measurements put both horns at just over 16 inches in length and the width of each was some of the thickest Nielsen had seen. Following the hunt and the meeting with the warden, Nielsen was congratulated by a number of local landowners including those he had worked with to learn more about the animal and set up the hunt.
“As we were scouting, we had talked to a guy and they had said [the buck] was kind of a legend around there, and today we had a couple different people stop and start talking about the legend antelope that everyone had been watching – the big goofy-horned buck,” Nielsen stated, “then after the kill, we had a few landowners come over and want to take a look at him and express that they had been watching him for the last six or seven years and that he was very well-known in the area, everybody seemed pretty excited about me getting him, so that felt pretty good,” he concluded.
Featured Photo: Dusty Nielsen of Valley City, N.D. with the pronghorn he tagged near Williston, N.D. on opening day of the 2019 season. Photo submitted.