Pronghorn Prospects

Pronghorn Prospects

An in-depth look at the upcoming antelope season in your state. (August 2009)

Whether you choose to pursue pronghorns with a muzzleloader, centerfire rifle or archery equipment, the thrill of the chase keeps hunters coming back each fall for more. Hunters in the Great Plains states typically have plenty of opportunities to match wits with an animal at home on most any range.

Pronghorn populations are doing well, for the most part. Here's a look at what you can expect in your state.

Bruce Stillings, big-game biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said his state's pronghorn population has been doing very well over the last five years. There's been more hunting opportunity during this period than at any other time since the state's pronghorn season has been open.

The highest concentrations of antelope are in the extreme southwest portion of the state, especially in Bowman County, Stillings said.

As far as trophy potential, Stillings doesn't necessarily point to any one place over another. However, the southwest part of the state has the most animals and provides the best chance at drawing a license.

"Therefore, you certainly have a chance to shoot a decent animal down in that area," he said.

As far as public-land hunting opportunities, Stillings said the Badlands has more than 1 million acres available to hunters to search for goats. Private land is also available with permission from landowners.

North Dakota pronghorn hunters typically have good luck at finding mature bucks, too, when they venture afield.

From a statewide perspective, the highest percentage of bucks taken were 3 1/2 years old, according to 2007 harvest numbers, the most recent available. From 2 to 4 years old, the antelope typically grow their longest horns. "That was about 37 percent of our harvest for firearms, so we're pretty happy to see that mature bucks harvested more than any other year-class."

In 2008, there were 3,092 animals killed in North Dakota with firearms equipment for a 75 percent hunter success rate. A total of 4,143 residents took to the field with firearms in 2008. (There is no non-resident firearms pronghorn hunting in North Dakota.)

"It's a limited resource with such a demand from our resident hunters," Stillings said of the firearms non-resident exclusion. However, non-residents have unlimited opportunities with bow licenses.

Data from 2007 shows that 1,984 resident bowhunters pursued goats in North Dakota, and 119 non-residents did the same. The archery success rate normally runs about 20 percent.

The state sells an archery license that allows an either-sex harvest. Firearms permits are designated as any pronghorn, or doe or fawn. It's possible to get more than one permit.

The archery permit is available over the counter or online. The gun license is a lottery. Hunters must apply with a paper copy or online.

Permit prices are $20 for resident firearms or archery permits. Non-resident archery permits are $200. Non-residents also need a game and habitat stamp, which costs $13.

The archery season in North Dakota opens Sept. 4. The firearms season opens Oct. 2.

Pronghorn populations have been on an upward trend since 1998, but that year followed 1996 and '97 when severe winters killed about 75 percent of the population. The winter of 2008-09 was the worst since then. Early November snows lasted well into this year. Record snowfalls fell across much of the state. All this may lead to tougher conditions for hunters this fall after more than a decade of good opportunities.

"There are certainly going to be (fewer animals) this fall," Stillings said. "You're going to have to do your homework and do some early-season scouting and assessing what's out there and available as far as critters."

Tom Kirschenmann, chief of terrestrial resources for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, said pronghorn numbers there are strong.

"That also relates to increased hunting opportunities and those have been very good the last couple of years," he said.

The majority of pronghorns in South Dakota are west of the Missouri River. Kirschenmann said four counties in the northwest corner of the state — Harding, Perkins, Butte and Meade — are tops.

"We do have a few small units in some areas just east of the river with pronghorns, but by far most of them are west of the river," he said.

Talking about trophy potential, Kirschenmann doesn't necessarily point to one area more than any other.

"I think I'd relate it more toward that northwest corner because that's where we see the bulk of our antelopes," he said.

Pronghorn hunters in this state have plenty of options for both public land and private land, according to Kirschenmann. South Dakota has a walk-in program that leases private land for public access, which can be a good option depending on the tract. Other government-owned public lands also provide plenty of chances to see and take pronghorns in South Dakota.

Harvest figures from 2007 show that 13,500 pronghorns were killed during the firearms season. The success rate was 62 percent.

More than 10,000 resident firearms licenses were sold. Non-residents bought more than 1,000.

There were 1,300 resident archery permits sold that fall. Non-residents bought 530.

Archery hunters killed just fewer than 700 animals for a success rate of about 28 percent.

"The firearms success rate might have been down just a little from the previous five-year average," Kir­schenmann said. "Archery is pretty close to the five-year average."

Pronghorn hunters can purchase up to five firearms licenses through the first three lottery drawings in South Dakota. And then after the third drawing, whatever is left over is sold on a first-come, first-served basis. The permits are sex-specific and some may be two- or three-tag licenses.

The archery licenses also must be applied for, but there is no lottery for these licenses. K

irschenmann said you could apply for the licenses online or pick up a paper application at a license vendor or South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Office.

But more and more people are going to the Internet application process because it's convenient.

The cost of the license varies by type. A resident two-tag license, which includes an "any antelope" and a "doe-fawn" antelope tag, costs $45. The non-resident version of the same is $245. A two-tag doe-fawn license is $25 for a resident and $80 for a non-resident. Hunters pursuing only antelope need no further licenses other than those issued for antelope.

Archery seasons in South Dakota usually begin in mid-August and run through the end of October. The season dates for firearms typically start at the end of September or first week in October and run for two weeks, which include three weekends.

"Our winters have been pretty open, especially up there in the northwest," Kirschenmann said of the outlook overall. "It looks like things should be good for this fall."

Nebraska game officials estimate there are about 10,000 antelope in the state, said Kit Hams, Game and Parks Commission big-game program manager.

The northwest corner of Nebraska is home to the most goats, he said. The northwest also has one of the biggest public-hunting areas in the state. The Ogallala National Grasslands covers nearly 95,000 acres with pronghorns on certain parts of it.

"Access to private land is good, because generally pronghorns aren't seen in very favorable light by landowners," Hams said.

Hams admits trophy potential is good anywhere on private land. On public land, the potential might relate to accessibility.

"The whole Sandhills Region might be good with sparse pronghorns and very few roads, but there are some decent bucks out there," he added. "But it's hard to find them because the populations are small and scattered."

Nebraska's overall buck potential in general has improved over the years.

Hams attributed the change to a reduction in firearms opportunities over the last three years. This gives the bucks a chance to get older. Around 90 percent of the harvested bucks are at least 2 years old.

The most recent harvest figures for Nebraska found that 590 archers chased pronghorns and 107 of them managed to slap a tag on one. Eighty-four percent of the bucks killed were 2 years old or older.

Muzzleloader permits were issued to 113 Nebraska residents who killed 75 animals for a 66 percent success rate. Ninety-three percent were 2 years old or older.

Rifle permits were issued to 417 hunters, and they killed 330 animals for a 79 percent success rate. Ninety-one percent were at least 2-year-olds.

"That's the best we've seen in a while," said Hams of the rifle success rate.

Firearms and muzzleloader opportunities are limited for residents. There are no opportunities for non-residents. The resident cost is $28 for a pronghorn permit. Hams said resident hunters typically need at least two, three or four preference points in order to draw a permit for firearms or muzzleloader pronghorn hunting.

There are unlimited numbers of archery permits because we usually only have about 500 archers apply, said Hams. Resident permits are $28. Non-residents pay $133. Archers can hunt pronghorns anywhere in the state.

All pronghorn hunters need a $16 habitat stamp.

Season dates for Nebraska begin with an archery season that opens near the end of August and runs through the end of the year. The firearms season starts the second Saturday in October, while the muzzleloader season opens the third Saturday in September. Both gun seasons last 16 days.

"There are a lot of things to see and do during pronghorn season, in addition to hunting pronghorns," Hams said. "You can make it a mixed bag hunt for turkeys, grouse or other things."

"Our pronghorn hunting opportunities are good right now, perhaps improved slightly over the last couple of years," said Matt Peek, pronghorn biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. "It's fairly stable."

Kansas pronghorn populations are restricted primarily to the western one-third of the state. The highest concentrations occur in firearms Unit 2, which includes all or portions of Sherman, Thomas, Gove, Trego, Wallace, Logan, Greeley, Wichita, Scott, Lane and Ness counties.

The two units to the south, 17 and 18, follow in numerical order of abundance and contain counties south to the Oklahoma line.

Peek doesn't point to one area with higher trophy potential than others.

"There is similar potential in most counties out there," Peek said. "There are some counties that have more pronghorns, but the percentage of trophy potential isn't necessarily higher there than any other one."

Public-land hunting opportunities in Kansas are slim. It's typically considered to be a state poor in public lands. Some of the walk-in hunting areas open Sept. 1 and may provide some potential for success, according to Peek.

"Most of the access is on private land that requires landowner permission," Peek said. "Most hunters are able to obtain access if they put a little bit of work into it because a lot of the landowners out there don't view pronghorns favorably. Some of them are willing to grant access."

Roughly 335 pronghorn permits are sold each year. Only five are non-resident archery hunters. Pronghorn hunters in Kansas killed 138 total goats in 2007. One hundred and nine were adult bucks.

Eighty-seven of the total pronghorns killed were shot with firearms (70 percent success rate), and all but seven of these were bucks.

Twenty-five of the total animals were killed with archery equipment (12 percent success rate). All but two were bucks.

Twenty-six animals were killed with muzzleloaders (60 percent success rate). All were bucks.

A resident pronghorn firearms hunter must apply. It typically takes as many as six or seven years to draw one of the coveted firearms permits. Muzzleloader permits are a bit easier to come by. They usually require about four years of preference points. Archery permits are available by application and can be purchased up until the next-to-the-last day of the season.

A resident antelope permit, archery or firearms, costs $47.15, while a non-resident permit costs

$202.15. A resident also needs a $20.15 annual hunting license. A non-resident license is $72.15.

The season dates for Kansas pronghorn hunting typically remain the same from year to year. The archery season opens for about nine days at the end of September and then again for the last couple weeks in October. The muzzleloader season is open for eight days during the first part of October, and the firearms (centerfire) season typically coincides with the last four days of this season.

The Kansas pronghorn population continues to be stable, according to Peek.

"We haven't documented any winterkill," Peek said of problems that plague other pronghorn states. "Even a couple years ago when we had a very harsh winter, the pronghorns were able to get to places to find food, either windswept corn stubble fields or haystacks."

So, it appears if pronghorn hunting is your game, you've got more to look forward to this fall no matter where you live or hunt in the Great Plains. If you've ever thought about archery hunting, permits are even easier to come by in most states, so even a last-minute trip can be thrown together with a little planning and preparation. And whether you hunt the fastest land mammal in North America with string and stick or more modern machinery, there's little doubt about all the enjoyment chasing these animals provides each fall.

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