Your Intermountain Pronghorn Outlook
October 04, 2010
Amazing things happen when rain falls on pronghorn antelope habitat, and as the spigots turned on this past winter, these prairie speedsters got a reprieve from a tenacious drought.
Author Dan Lamoreux filled his 2004 Wyoming antelope tag with this quality buck despite hunting in drought conditions.
Photo courtesy of Daniel D. Lamoreux
From Arizona to Wyoming the single greatest factor in pronghorn declines has been a lack of sufficient moisture. Wildlife biologists across the West continue to pray for substantial rain and snow but most have been at least thankful for our recent break in drought conditions.
Mother Nature has opened the spigot ever so slowly, and pronghorn antelope herds are responding in kind. Gradually growing herds, robust fawns and more substantial trophy headgear have been the results and this season holds significant hope that the trend will continue.
Here's our intermountain pronghorn forecast for this fall season.
Brian Wakeling, big-game supervisor for Arizona Game and Fish, had some encouraging news for pronghorn hunters this year.
"We've started to see some rainfall and that is somewhat of an uncommon sight," he said. "Antelope herds have been at the low end of management objectives for a while now, but we are cautiously optimistic. We had a good late fall and early winter. This (trend) needs to continue."
While overall pronghorn populations are holding relatively stable, Wakeling indicated that things are improving in some areas.
"Some areas in the northern part of the state are still a little low," Wakeling explained. "But the northern herds are doing better than those in the south."
Ongoing efforts to improve habitat conditions on the Mesa are also proving to be beneficial.
"Making improvements to the landscape takes a lot of time," he said. "But once it starts, a lot of good things begin happening." The future bodes well for this collaborative effort. Antelope recruitment is improving and overall herd health is on the upswing in that region.
Because of the conservative management approach in the Grand Canyon State, those who are fortunate enough to come out on top of the long odds for drawing a tag can be assured of a good hunt.
"Hunters who draw tags in Arizona usually take some pretty dandy antelope," Wakeling said. "And we are going to have some good quality animals again this year."
Those units considered prime, in Wakeling's estimation, include the Strip, Prescott Valley and just north, and any units along Interstate 40.
The Web site for Arizona Game and Fish can be accessed at
www.gf.state.az.us/ and contains regulations, applications, draw results, hunting unit reports and other information valuable for planning a hunt. You may also call the main AGFD office at (602) 942-3000.
"We're still struggling due to the drought along with some other factors we don't understand," explained Tyler Baskfield, public information specialist with the Division of Wildlife. "There will be more cuts in the number of licenses issued this year."
Because of concern over the low levels of fawn recruitment, the Colorado Wildlife Commission decided that a further reduction of licenses would be appropriate to help alleviate pressure on the herds.
"We did better last year and things look more positive than in the past," Baskfield explained. "But it is going to take a few years for the pronghorn populations to recover."
In addition to more conservative tag issues, the division is also engaged in a number of studies to gauge those factors that may be contributing to pronghorn difficulties. Baskfield indicated that consideration is also being given to potential transplants in the future to help some of the populations get a boost.
"The big thing is to get some decent moisture," he said.
During the interim, Baskfield recommends hunting the higher parks where the habitat is more resilient to drought. Despite the negative connotations, he also indicated that tags are issued on a conservative basis so those who draw can still anticipate a good hunt.
"The drought has impacted horn quality," he explained. "But the diminishing number of tags has also left some good animals out there."
The Colorado Division of Wildlife Web site can be accessed at
www.dnr.state.co.us/hunt/ where you will find applications, regulations, draw results, harvest stats, preference point stats, hunting reports, maps and other resources. DOW headquarters can also be called by dialing (303) 297-1192.
The news out of Idaho exemplifies the double-edged sword that is the vagary of weather. Speaking of the 2003-'04 season, Brad Compton, state big-game manager, explained, "We had high over-winter survival with our antelope herds because of the lack of snow pack. That was good news. The down side is that we then experienced a drop in fawn production because less water meant a lack of forage production."
The concept of a "good" winter takes on new meaning when you consider that snow is the source of water throughout the balance of the year within the Intermountain region. However, the animals that did survive under these conditions fared relatively well.
"The herds went into (this last) winter in good shape with large thrifty fawns," Compton explained. "I don't think we'll see the negative repercussions of this latest drought and the poor forage effect until 2006."
The overall concern at the present is with the broad ecological health of the sagebrush/steppe environment. Declines in this habitat type have had deleterious effects beyond pronghorns, to include declining populations of grouse and mule deer.
To address these concerns, the department is engaging in many habitat improvement projects including cost-sharing programs with private landowners and federal land agencies.
While the Gem State is not typically associated with huge antelope, Compton advised that last season did see a trophy come out of Unit 46 with horns measuring 17 inches. He also advised that Unit 41 is a good hunt area for large numbers of antelope and pretty decent bucks. Unit 45 also holds good animal densities.
As an aside, Compton related that hunting for antelope with archery equipment is becoming much more popular, in part because tags for the bow season are unlimited. However, this popularity has had its share of negative consequences.
In particular, Compton said that they have experienced difficulties with hunters abandoning blinds or getting into territorial altercations when staking out waterholes.
His request is concise and smart: "Please share."
The Web site for Idaho Fish and Game is at
http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/ and contains information on regulations, licenses, access maps and more. You may also contact the IDFG headquarters office at (208) 334-3700.
The Treasure State is also providing good news for goat chasers. The 2004 season, with a take of 30,439 animals, produced an impressive 11 percent increase in antelope harvest over that of the previous year's kill of 27,334.
That improvement came despite the intensity of the 2002-'03 winter.
"That year produced a tremendously severe winter," explained Ron Aasheim of Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "In fact we've changed a half-dozen of our districts due to migration changes brought on by that winter season."
This most recent winter season portends better potential.
"We had a mild winter with good population carry-over from last year," Aasheim said. "The southeast part of the state is still suffering from some drought so this fawn group could be off but our harvests should be similar and maybe even a little better."
Regarding trophy potential, Aasheim indicated that horn growth is dependent upon vegetative growth.
"Two years ago it was really good and last year was a good year," he said. "The bottom line is that we need moisture!"
On another front, Aasheim advised that the Block Management Program, which provides public hunting access to private lands, was reauthorized by the Montana Legislature. It is exactly this kind of cooperative, win-win scenario that will help preserve our hunting heritage long into the future.
While overall numbers were up, the harvest statistics paint a very similar picture to that seen in years past. Region 7 continues to produce about 37 percent of the total filled tags statewide. Region 5 and Region 4 follow in line respectively, with 26 percent and 19 percent. Region 6 gave up about 11 percent of the total kill and Region 3 another 7 percent. Region 2 again produced roughly 13 animals.
The Web site location for the Montana DFWP is
http://fwp.state.mt.us/default.html, where you can find license applications, regulations, draw statistics, harvest reports and other useful trip planning information. You may also contact state headquarters by calling (406) 444-2535.
The secret to improved pronghorn populations in the Land of Enchantment is very similar to that found elsewhere -- just add water. According to Julie Cummings, wildlife biologist for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, they experienced additional rainfall last year and that can only help.
A review of harvest statistics for the 2003-'04 season (the most recent available) compared to those of the previous year reflected an overall increase in antelope harvest of just over 17 percent. Archery and muzzleloader hunters didn't do quite so well but rifle hunters more than made up the difference.
Total harvest for 2002-'03 was 2,744 pronghorns while 2003-'04 jumped up to 3,225. While we certainly don't want to say everything is hunky-dory, it is great news when things take a turn for the better. Anticipate high hunter success and comparable numbers this year.
The main office of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish can be called at 1-800-862-9310. You may also find their Web site at
www.wildlife.state.nm.us/ where applications, unit maps, drawing odds and other information is available.
We have a tendency to take snapshots in time and gauge the health of our herds thereon. The most accurate picture, however, may come over time.
"We're pretty optimistic," explained Mike Cox of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. "We've had fairly steady pronghorn increases since 1993 when a nasty winter dropped the population to below 15,000 animals statewide. Last year we had about 18,500 antelope and we should have something in the 19,000 range this year."
As should be expected, some areas are making a stronger comeback while others are basically holding their own. Overall, the conservative approach to license issues has increased the potential for successful hunting.
"Hunter success continues to be around 80 percent," Cox said. "I don't recall any Boone & Crockett or Pope & Young records last year but we are seeing some nice bucks with B&C scores in the 80 range."
Some of the units holding the largest herds, and thus offering the most tags, include north Washoe County, Humboldt County and the eastern part of the state east of Ely. But large herds do not necessarily offer any better trophy potential.
"There are a lot of smaller unit groups that people overlook that offer a lot of great hunts," Cox said. "There simply is not a bad pronghorn unit in the state." He highly recommends taking advantage of the hunter information sheets offered on the Web site when making your hunt unit selections.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife Web site can be accessed at
www.ndow.org, where you will find applications, regulations, draw results, harvest stats, hunter information sheets, links to guides and other helpful information. You may also contact their main office at (775) 688-1500.
"There has been a little bit of improvement in the last year because of better fawn production," explained Jim Karpowitz, big-game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "But there will not be a big increase in permits."
The Beehive State, like most of its neighbors, hunt pronghorn herds conservatively with two primary objectives: bolster low population numbers while still maintaining a quality hunt for those who draw.
"Sportsmen can be assured of a good hunt because our permit numbers are based on herd numbers," Karpowitz said. "We issue tags planning on 100 percent success, and hunters normally have a 90- to 100- percent success rate."
Karpowitz explained that the western desert herds have suffered most throughout the drought cycle and that region is where su
bstantial concerns remain. Sportsmen are not likely to see much change in hunt opportunities in that area anytime soon.
The best herds are to be found on the Plateau, in south-central Utah and at Parker Mountain. In fact, about 500 head of pronghorn were removed from the Parker Mountain area last winter for transplant purposes. These animals were used in big-game exchange programs with other states as well as distributed to various areas in need around Utah.
As has been the case in years past, the obstacle in Utah is not so much bagging an antelope as it is bagging a permit. Good luck!
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources can be called at (801) 538-4700 or visit its Web site at
www.wildlife.utah.gov/ where you can find applications, regulations, draw results and big game statistics and annual reports.
The 2003 hunting season's kill of 34,393 antelope was the highest antelope harvest Wyoming has seen since 1995, when 37,068 pronghorn filled sportsmen's freezers. Final numbers are still not available for last year but Jeff Obrecht, public information officer for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, indicated that the harvest was comparable.
"Overall we had a little better horn growth, too," Obrecht said. "That was due to improved nutrition because we got good spring rains last year. We're certainly not over-moistured, but we are very optimistic for a good 2005 season. We may even see some slight increases in quotas in premium areas due to increased fawn recruitment."
As is always the case, greater license availability is generally found in the eastern part of the state. There is a good number of antelope in that region but the primary reason is the predominance of private lands.
"We just urge hunters to be certain they have a spot to hunt before getting their license," Obrecht cautioned. For those interested in getting an antelope tag, regardless of trophy potential, he definitely recommends the eastern part of the state.
"Doe access is a lot easier on private lands," he said. "And hunters shouldn't overlook public lands opportunities for does.
Obrecht also advised that there might be some light at the end of the tunnel for those who have had difficulty in securing a pronghorn tag in the past. Details have yet to be worked out but new legislation is in the works to help.
"Starting in 2006 we will begin assessing preference points for the antelope draw," Obrecht said.
As in recent history, the Red Desert of south-central and southwest Wyoming remains one of the most popular choices among hunters. That translates to one of the toughest to draw. For those fortunate enough to get the tag, "They have a heck of a hunt to look forward to," Obrecht said.
Though not directly related, one topic that seems to be on most sportsmen's minds is that of chronic wasting disease. Obrecht had some comments that would put CWD in focus for pronghorn hunters.
"Despite all efforts,, we cannot give antelope CWD," he said. "There is no indication that pronghorn can get it. The good news is that there seems to be a species barrier."
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Customer Service Center can be called at (307) 777-4600 or visit its Web site at
http://gf.state.wy.us/ where you can find applications forms and information, license draw results, regulations, draw odds, harvest reports and much more.