Pumped on Pronghorns


Out west, one f the animals that I look forward most to seeing is the pronghorn antelope. The pronghorn is the only surviving species in the family Antilocapridae, and is found only in North America. All of the other members of the family became extinct prior to the end of the Pleistocene Epoch, which occurred about 12,000 years ago. In the early years of the last century, it looked as if pronghorns might join their brethren in the ashes of extinction, but  conservation oriented management efforts eventually helped to reverse the decline in antelope numbers. These days populations fluctuate between 1/2 to 1 million, up from their low of between 10-15 thousand when many feared they’d go Dodo. In Canada, almost all pronghorns occur in south-eastern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan. Here, at the northern limits of their range, it’s winter that is the main factor that limits populations, although hunting is also an important consideration. Saskatchewan does not allow non-resident hunting of antelope, while Alberta does (same is true with respect to pheasants, elk and for the most part, mule deer). However, hunting in both provinces is well-regulated, and tags are limited. In Alberta, it usually takes nine to 12 years – or more – to draw a tag for a buck antelope. I’ve been applying annually for 12 years, and have been drawn once, three years ago. The winter following the year I drew a tag was very harsh, and many pronghorn perished. Even though many antelope migrate south into the US to escape the worst of winter, lots of animals failed to return north the following spring. Antelope season takes place mostly in October in Alberta, and where we were bird hunting the season had been closed for a couple of weeks. We noticed that there were few big bucks in the herds of antelope we observed, although we did see one nice one (that’s the one in the picture) and a number of smaller bucks. Wildlife managers in Alberta have said they recognize the quality (i.e., horn size) of male pronghorns isn’t on par with what they’d like to see, at least in some areas, and there is some effort being taken to find out exactly why that is. About the only practical thing to do would be to allow hunters to take even fewer bucks, so as to let more males reach an older age. In so doing, biologists believe the ratio of bucks to does should be kept about 1:5. That means that in Alberta, as elsewhere, there are usually more doe;fawn permits available than there are buck tags. As in deer, good (trophy) horn size usually occurs in animals four years old or older. “Average’ horn length on an adult ale is about 12″; a 14” is ‘real nice’. Some female pronghorns also have horns, but they’re small (usually shorter than the ears). They’re small animals, with males weighing only up to about 65 kg (140 lb). Females weight about 25% less. They are gorgeous. In Alberta, I regularly see them alone, in small groups as well as in herds of many dozen. Because they are small, they don’t do much damage, if any, to fences (which they’d rather crawl under than jump over), nor do they compete much with cattle for food. As such they are tolerated, even liked, by ranchers. That’s a good thing. Real good.

1 comment
  1. Karen Cederwall said:

    glad you have more time to spend exploring Bruce

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