Rocky Mountain Pronghorn Forecast

Rocky Mountain Pronghorn Forecast

Intermountain pronghorn populations respond quickly to favorable weather, the right amounts of moisture at the right times, and quality habitat. Check this annual preview to find out where you should hunt this year. (July 2006)

Mitch Lamoreux's 2005 Wyoming pronghorn was his first ever. He should see more of the prairie speedsters this year.
Photo by Daniel D. Lamoreux.

On the whole, pronghorn populations throughout the Intermountain Region are stable to improving. A little water can do wonders where these critters are concerned!

Here's our forecast for this fall season.

ARIZONA

"If you are fortunate enough to draw an Arizona permit, any unit has the potential for producing a trophy-class animal," said Brian Wakeling, big-game supervisor for Arizona Game and Fish. "We had good rainfalls for the last one to two years, but it was quite dry for several years prior to that. Many herds have begun to respond to favorable conditions."

Dedicated efforts on the ground have been added to this bit of precipitation, and that investment has paid dividends.

"There has been a great deal of habitat renovation by a consortium of ranchers, sportsmen's groups, land managers, and wildlife managers on the Anderson Mesa near Flagstaff, and this population is responding quite favorably," said Wakeling. "Arizona's pronghorn population is below our strategic objective, but statewide they have been improving for about two years."

When put on the spot and asked to gaze into his crystal ball, Wakeling was honest and straightforward.

"I dropped mine when they first issued it to me, so my crystal ball isn't nearly as clear as it once was," he said. "I am less impressed with the likelihood for good conditions during summer fawning periods if precipitation doesn't increase. Fires and competition for forage with other wild and domestic ungulates increases when there is little production. The real crystal-ball-gazers are the weather forecasters and they continue to predict bleak rainfall outlooks for the Southwestern deserts and grasslands. This isn't a favorable forecast for Arizona's pronghorn herds."

All of that aside, his original statement still holds true: Draw a permit, and your potential for tagging a trophy is good.

"Units north of the Mogollon Rim are traditionally good producers, as are units north of the Colorado Plateau," Wakeling explained. "The Prescott area remains robust biologically. Access and habitat fragmentation are increasingly an issue in that area, but it routinely produces good bucks."

Hunter success rates generally run better than 80 percent for general-season hunters, and archers routinely fill their tags at a rate in the mid-20s. There is no reason to believe this kind of quality experience will change for this season.

The Arizona Game and Fish Web site, at www.gf.state.az.us, contains regulations, applications, draw results, hunting-unit reports and other information valuable for planning a hunt. The main telephone number is (602) 942-3000.

COLORADO

The pronghorn harvest was relatively static in the Centennial State last year, with total numbers varying by little more than 3 to 4 percent. While the overall take in 2004 was above that of 2003, the total number of bucks taken by hunters was down, while does and fawns contributed more to the tally.

Success rates have also remained relatively even, with those involved in the Ranching For Wildlife hunts maintaining the highest success rate at 94 percent. Rifle hunters averaged 74 percent, muzzleloaders average 46 percent and archers averaged 17 percent. Statewide averages for all combined hunts came in at 64 percent hunter success.

We do not anticipate much variation for this fall, when sportsmen are expected to put about 5,500 pronghorns in their freezers.

You can access the Colorado Division of Wildlife's Web site at www.dnr.state.co.us/hunt, where you may find applications, regulations, draw results, harvest stats, preference point stats, hunting reports, maps and other resources. Call the DOW headquarters by dialing (303) 297-1192.

IDAHO

Poor habitat conditions, modest annual precipitation and a low social carrying capacity because of conflicts with agricultural interests have all played a part in maintaining the Gem State's meager reputation as a pronghorn destination. It simply cannot produce or support large populations. Nonetheless, those few who are fortunate to secure a tag can anticipate reasonable opportunities to take home winter meat.

During the 2004 seasons, about 66 percent of controlled hunt permittees filled their tags, with about 79 percent of those being bucks. Archers in the general season experienced roughly 22 percent hunter success.

Total statewide harvest over the last five seasons has ranged from 1,248 to 1,363 animals, and there is little reason to believe the coming season will see much variation.

The Idaho Fish and Game Web site, at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov, contains information on regulations, licenses, access maps and more. You may also contact their headquarters office at (208) 334-3700.

MONTANA

The pronghorn report out of the Treasure State is primarily good news, according to Andrew McKean, information officer for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Two good winters in a row had a positive influence on antelope herds, and last spring was "optimum, with great forage."

"We had a lot of twins and good fawn survival," McKean explained. "Parts of the extreme northeast corner of the state are still below objective and the numbers of reproducing adults are still too low, but populations are rebounding from two years ago. Conditions are less severe south and west. Overall, pronghorn herds are stable to rebounding."

By far, the place for finding high numbers of pronghorn is Region 7.

"This area has more classic antelope habitat and is a good place to hunt," McKean said. "We issue 13,000 permits in that huge southeast corner of the state, and harvest remains in the upper 70 to 80 percent range."

However, like any other type of hunting, numbers alone do not define a hunt.

"Around Helena, we have some very large bucks. Hunt district 390 from south of Townsend nearly to Helena offers good hunting, and neighboring district 380 is also pretty good," McKean explained. "While it is hard to get access, the Deer Lodge valley and around Dillon are also good areas."

McKean had two other comments that are important to keep in mind for this season. "We're seeing a strange trend in hunt violations," he said. "Hunters come here from elsewhere and have a valid tag for Region 7, but end up hunting in other regions." Sportsmen need to be aware that this will get them a ticket. Know your areas and hunt accordingly.

His other concern is the prevalence of road hunting in recent years. "I just don't understand this from either the ethical standpoint or that of hunt satisfaction," McKean said. "Antelope are the most fun to hunt by stalking. Not only is road hunting a crime, but it is also a shame."

The MDFWP Web site is at http://fwp.state.mt.us/default.html, where you can find license applications, regulations, draw statistics, harvest reports and other useful trip-planning information. Dial the state headquarters at (406) 444-2535.

NEVADA

Chris Healy, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, set the tone. "Last year was a good year for hunters and antelope herds," he said. "We're pretty happy with the way things have been going. Nevada has more antelope to hunt in more areas than we've ever had in modern times. Everybody is excited!"

Big-game biologist Mike Cox agrees. "Our population estimate in 1985 was 12,000," he explained. "Fawn ratios have been good and slowly increasing each year over the last five years. The 2005 population estimate was 20,000, the highest estimate since 1970."

Those areas experiencing the highest herd growth rates are in western Elko County and northern Washoe County. Pershing County has also enjoyed consistent moderate growth.

"Units 041 and 042 contain marginal habitat," Cox said. "Ten years ago, the herd estimate was 600. In 2006 it will be over 1,200 animals, and that's amazing!"

All the stars are beginning to line up in the Sagebrush State, and there are good predictions for this season.

"Other than spring and early summer for production, the key for the 2006 buck harvest is the recruitment of fawns four and five years ago. Fawn production in 2001 was slightly above the long-term average, and these are (now) going to be the trophy bucks. How big they are is dependent upon moisture."

Cox explained that the largest Boone and Crockett-qualifying bucks continue to be taken from units north of Reno to the Oregon state line, such as Units 011, 012 to 014, 021, 022 and 033.

"We had two bucks that scored over 86 B&C in 2005 and several that scored over 80. We are also seeing strong growth and great bucks with scores in the mid-80s coming from unit group 041, 042."

Some of the largest pronghorn populations are in western Elko County and northern White Pine County, but large populations don't always equate to large horns because age, structure and genetics may be lacking.

"These areas certainly provide the opportunity to harvest a 78- to 80-class buck," Cox said. "But I would not apply for these units, thinking you're going to harvest an 82 B&C buck or larger."

Humboldt County unit groups 031 to 035 also continue to provide a large number of tags and great hunts, but while plenty of nice respectable bucks can be found here, the area doesn't necessarily produce huge bucks.

Healy offered one request of sportsmen heading into the field for this coming season. "The start of antelope season and the fire season coincide in Nevada," he explained. "We would ask hunters not to camp on water holes and be careful about fire suppression. One wildfire can ruin antelope hunting for decades."

Go to www.ndow.org to see the Nevada Department of Wildlife's Web site, where you will find applications, regulations, draw results, harvest stats, hunter information sheets, links to guides and other helpful information. The main office telephone is (775) 688-1500.

NEW MEXICO

"Statewide, the overall health of pronghorn populations in New Mexico is good," explained Julie Cummings, wildlife biologist for the Game and Fish Department, "and populations have benefited from the wetter than normal conditions experienced in early 2005."

In the southwest area of the state, antelope populations are stable to slightly increasing, but drought conditions are a major factor influencing pronghorns.

"There will be fewer than 100 public draw licenses available for the southwest rifle hunt," Cummings said. "However, for the fortunate few who draw a rifle tag, expect the success rate to be high. Presently, the best units in the southwest for both population size and trophy quality are AMUs 12 and 13."

Overall numbers in the northwest area of the state are not expected to differ from last year.

"Hunts in the northwest area are small extensions of the other areas," Cummings explained. "The AMUs in the northwest area of New Mexico generally do not produce many trophy bucks. Currently, AMUs 39 and 43 offer the best success, though hunter success rates throughout the northwest approach 90 to 100 percent."

Mark Madsen, the southeast area public information officer for NMGFD, explained that antelope numbers in that region are holding their own.

"Drought conditions have reduced recruitment for the last several years," he said. "However, last year was a good year precipitation-wise, and we're looking at good recruitment in most of our areas. We should see a spike in overall antelope numbers in most of southeastern New Mexico for the next couple of years."

Madsen said that the best hunt areas in this region are AMUs 24, portions of 25, 34, 36, and portions of 37 and 38.

"AMU 36 has consistently produced the best overall pronghorn hunt experience -- good numbers and good quality bucks," he said. "Several book-quality bucks came out of portions of AMU 37 north of the Capitan Mountains. However, public hunter opportunity is extremely limited."

Overall numbers in the northeast area of the state are showing steady and growing populations. Recommended AMUs include 45, 54, 55, 56 and portions of 41 and 58. Areas that are recommended for trophy opportunities include AMUs 46, 47, 54 and parts of 55 and 56.

Call the main office of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish at 1-800-862-9310. Log on to their Web site at www.wildlife.state.nm.us to find contains applications, unit maps, drawing odds and other information.

UTAH

"Pronghorn populations are generally stable but below objective on many units, due to recent drought conditions that existed through the late 1990s until 2004," explained Craig McLaughlin, the big-game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "Given improved precipitation levels, we expect some recovery throughout the state into 2007.

"We continue to capture and transplant pronghorn from the Parker unit to others, including the Book Cliffs in our northeast region, San Rafael in the southeast and Escalante National Monument in the southeast in late 2005," he said. "We expect this program to continue in the near future in order to speed recovery of herds in the north, northeast and central portions of Utah."

Hunting prospects remain high. Additional permits were issued in 2005 over those in 2004, and minor increases are anticipated for the 2006 season.

"The Plateau Unit in south-central Utah is our best unit by far," McLaughlin explained. "We have a new objective here of 1,500 animals, but the unit is far above objective with about 3,000 animals on the ground. We are also opening a new unit to hunt: The Kaparowitz Unit in south-central Utah will have several permits issued for the first time in 2006."

Call the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources at (801) 538-4700 or go online to www.wildlife.utah.gov, to find applications, regulations, draw results, big-game statistics and annual reports.

WYOMING

"The overall health of pronghorn populations are good, not great," said Jeff Obrecht, information officer for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "Wyoming has experienced an increase in pronghorn production the last couple years because most of the state has experienced two years of closer to normal precipitation.

"But Wyoming still needs multiple years of above-average moisture," he continued. "The area that can tolerate drought's grip the least, the Bighorn Basin, has had the least drought relief in the state. That region of north-central Wyoming has never been real productive antelope range, so it's not surprising it would be slower to bounce back."

Obrecht advised that as always, the Red Desert remains a traditional highly sought destination for pronghorn chasers and is still at the top of the list for trophy enthusiasts. But record-class animals seem in short supply.

"It seems we have a lot of 4-year-plus bucks out there that don't have racks corresponding with their age."

He said the hunt areas immediately north of Casper seem to be producing a good contingent of noteworthy bucks. "Antelope harvest success is always good, with 85 percent plus," Obrecht said. "And field observations back that again."

For those having difficulty in securing tags, it is important to note a new system being established in Wyoming.

"In 2006 non-resident antelope applicants can begin accruing preference points for future drawings," Obrecht explained. "Hunters wishing to hunt in hard-to-draw areas such as the Red Desert will want to get on the ground floor of the preference point system by purchasing a preference point this year."

The phone number for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Customer Service Center is (307) 777-4600, or you can log on to http://gf.state.wy.us, where you can find application forms and information, license draw results, regulations, draw odds, harvest reports and much more.

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