Rocky Mountain States Pronghorn Outlook
October 04, 2010
Some states are better than others. But hunters in every Rocky Mountain state can look forward to excellent pronghorn hunting this season. (August 2009)
Trevon Stoltzfus took this big-horned buck in Montana last year. The state has nearly 11 million acres of public land and 216,000 antelope. Photo courtesy of Trevon Stoltzfus.
Crouching, trying to remain frozen behind my silhouette imposter, I watched the streak of orange and white rage across the prairie like a dust devil. In seconds, the magnificent pronghorn turned the 150-yard gap between us to 30, before sliding to an abrupt halt.
He pounded the arid ground with his hooves, sending puffs of dust into the air. Slowly, easing over the decoy's back I came to full draw. The buck made the fatal error of turning broadside. With a yellow pin floating behind his front shoulder, I squeezed off a shot. Stung by the razor-sharp Rocket Broadhead, he lunged forward, and then exploded across the prairie. My adrenaline peaked as the buck slowed, wobbled, and then collapsed.
The sage-sprinkled plains and vast prairie expanses of the West are a haven for North America's fastest land animal. Regardless of your weapon of choice, you can count on an amazing adventure.
Western states offer pronghorn addicts a plentiful buffet when it comes to options. Some states are renowned for their trophy potential. Others offer booming populations providing hunters with guaranteed tags and multiple opportunities.
The Grand Canyon State produces phenomenal animals, according to the Boone and Crockett Club. Arizona boasts a tie for the top spot between two 95-inch behemoths.
The Meyer buck was harvested in Mohave County, and the Woods buck came out of Coconino County.
Brian Wakeling, big-game supervisor for the state Game and Fish Department, said there are many theories and rumors about why Arizona produces monster bucks.
"Truly, I would like to think it's because of our department's dedication to game management."
Wakeling credited good nutrition, which allows animals the ability to put on extensive horn growth, especially at a young age. He also noted the mild winters and solid genetics.
Like most Western states, Arizona has plenty of public land for hunters to stretch their legs on. However, unlike the state's deer and elk populations, most of the pronghorns frequent private ground.
"The vast majority of Arizona is public land, but pronghorns kind of go against the norm in the public-private mixture," Wakeling said. "Not to say we don't have some tremendous public-land pronghorn hunting, but hunters need to be aware of the private land issue."
Currently, the state's pronghorn population is around 11,000, and has remained fairly stable over the last few years. Ongoing habitat work, along with transplanted animals from Utah into units 1, 21 and 27 keep the future looking bright.
Hint: Those of you dreaming about a future pronghorn excursion in this great state, start applying this coming February and pick up a bow. Hunters looking to draw a rifle tag have long odds of success -- less then 5 percent. Archery hunters, however, fare much better. Close to 40 percent of the state's total antelope tags are issued to archery hunters. Look to find success in units 1, 2A, 4A, 5A, 7, 9, 10, 19A and 19B.
Like its neighbor to the west, New Mexico is renowned for its big goats. Over the last 10 years, the state has put 236 B&C pronghorns into the record books. The only Western state with more entries in the past decade is Wyoming.
Darrel Weybright, the state's big-game manager, said that he has been surprised by the tremendous horn growth that many of the goats are putting on.
"We definitely have fewer pronghorns then the states to our north, but we are seeing a lot of animals in the 15- to 17-inch range, and some even bigger than that," he said.
As is the case with many Western states, New Mexico has been plagued by drought in past years, which has led to a decline in pronghorn numbers is many areas.
Weybright did say the population is down from 2008, but said there are plenty of animals for hunters to go after.
Currently, the state does not have what Weybright would call accurate pronghorn estimate. This is because they fly over only a small portion of the animals' range each year.
Two-thirds of New Mexico is public land, but much like Arizona, most of the pronghorns roam private tracts. The good news is that the Game and Fish Department has signed contracts with many ranchers allowing hunters access through their property to reach hidden public lands. In some cases, depending on the license, hunters actually get access to the private ground as well.
Those wishing to apply for a New Mexico license in 2010 should study pages 41-44 of the Big Game and Rules Brochure at www.wildlife. state.nm.us/recreation/hunting/index.htm.
In the last 10 years, Nevada has jumped to the No. 3 spot in the top B&C-producing states. Add to this a solid population, along with millions of acres of public land, and you have all the ingredients to make a great pronghorn destination.
According to Tim Humes, committee member of Nevada Wildlife Record Book, a Nevada pronghorn hunt should be atop every hunter's "gotta-do" list.
"I'm addicted to antelope, and there is no other place I would rather hunt than here in my home state," Humes said. "Our population as a whole is on the uptrend, and we have so many units that have the right mixture hunters are looking for."
Humes said Unit 033, which is basically the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, is entirely public and has solid trophy potential. "Hunters are going to see good numbers of goats," he said.
Humes' favorite units are 012, 013 and 014. They are known for their numbers and trophy potential.
"I've had the tag which allows an individual access to all of these units four times. There are loads of public ground, antelope are everywhere, and I've killed some great animals," he said.
Humes also recommends that hunters don't overlook units 032, 034, 035, 041 and 042, especially when it comes to harvesting a trophy.
Populations are exploding in 041 and 042, plus a trend of trophy quality animals are being harvested in these units, said Hume.
"Past trends showed 012, 013 and 014 as the best trophy units, but we are seeing a shift," Hume said.
The number of trophy entries has been slightly up in the last five years. To make the Nevada record book a pronghorn must score at or above 78 inches.
As a resident of this magnificent state, I can attest to the fact that Colorado has plenty to lure public-land pronghorn hunters. For one thing, most GMUs, especially those in the southeast, offer over-the-counter archery tags to both residents and non-residents. Rifle tags, like most states, are much harder to come by, and usually require several preference points.
But another draw is the endless public land. Take the Comanche National Grasslands in the southeast, for example. Here, hunters have access to 435,000 acres of premier pronghorn habitat.
If you're looking more in the northwestern part of the state, check out units 3, 4, 5, 13, 14, 214, 301 and 441. They have the highest concentration of pronghorns in the state. Colorado Division of Wildlife biologists estimate that nearly 18,000 of the state's 72,000 speedsters roam these units. This area is also where most of Colorado's record-book entries come from.
Parts of the Centennial State have been hammered by severe drought and harsh winter conditions in past years, but the overall outlook appears promising for 2009, according to CDOW biologists.
An estimated 12,000 pronghorns live in the Beehive State, and nearly all of them reside on public dirt. Most of these prairie ghosts dwell on the high plateaus that stretch across the landscape, but a few linger in the west desert region. The current problem in the desert is that drought conditions have led to low fawn reproduction. So, hunters should stick to those plateaus.
Anis Aoude, the state's big-game program coordinator, pointed out that the Parker Mountains in the Plateau Unit are teeming with pronghorn, and it's an area that has received good rainfall in past years.
"This is a unit where we give a lot of tags," said Aoude. "Hunters have solid success rates here, and there is no shortage of public land."
When it comes to a trophy state, Utah's pronghorns don't raise the eyebrows of hunters like their elk and mule deer. Aoude said this to be more of a moisture issue than anything else rather than genetics.
"I truly believe that moisture leads to productive horn growth, and the units that get good rainfall produce better goats. We do see some sizable animals taken, but the majority are average," Aoude said.
With 11 million public acres crawling with nearly 216,000 pronghorns, the Big Sky State is a hunter's paradise.
Once again in 2009, regions 4, 6 and 7 are expected to be extremely productive. These regions of the state have experienced mild winter conditions over the past few years. Winter mortality rates have been extremely low. The northeast was the only region of the state to see massive accumulations. According to Jeff Herbert, Wildlife Division assistant administrator, populations were not affected.
"After the snows we net-gunned some animals in the northeast and radio-collared them," said Herbert. "All of the animals we radio-collared survived, and we anticipate that the majority of the other antelope in this region did as well."
Montana is recognized more for its healthy population of speed goats then its trophy potential. However, hunters should note that the state ranks fifth in the top B&C-producing pronghorn states in the all-time category.
Hunters are encouraged to visit the "Hunt Planner" at fwp.mt.gov/hunting/planahunt/default.aspx.
"Overlooked" is the word that comes to mind when I think about the pronghorn potential in the Gem State. Sixty-eight percent of Idaho is public land, and the fact that the majority of the state's prairie speedsters reside on these tracts make it a worthwhile destination.
Ed Mitchell, conservation public information supervisor for the state, told Rocky Mountain Game & Fish that hunters should have above-average success in the units on the southeast side of the sate.
"We have strong populations in the Salmon River area to the south towards Utah and east toward Wyoming. Hunters also shouldn't ignore units 40, 41 and 42 in the southwest corner," he said.
As is the case in most states, Idaho offers no general tags. Hunters hoping to draw a rifle or bow tag in the future must start putting into the limited draw, which typically takes place around the first of May.
Hunters looking to research, plan and prepare for the coming season should go to fishandgame.idaho.gov. This is the state's home page where you can click on hunting, and access the "Idaho Hunt Planner." This site offers a plethora of knowledge about hunting pronghorn here. You can check draw odds, harvest statistics, hunt area maps, climatology information and the list goes on.
"The Hunt Planner is something we are really proud of, and if you want to hunt Idaho, it is the best resource I know," Mitchell said.
According to Mitchell, Idaho's 8,500 pronghorns have remained stable over the last three years. The state has had drought issues, but the overall outlook for 2009 is positive.
Each year, throngs of hunters flock to the Cowboy State looking for towering ebony horns. With more antelope than people dotting this scenic landscape, those visions quickly become reality.
Wyoming is the top B&C-producing antelope state of all time, and also has the most entries in the last 10 years: 341. The only problem hunters encounter is that there is private land mingled with many antelope hotspots. To help with this, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has implemented the Hunter Management Program. The purpose is to increase access to private ground.
Hunters are required to obtain written permission from the WGFD before hunting in a specific Hunting Management Area. Hunters may apply for an HMA permission slip online, or by sending a photocopy of their hunting license and vehicle information to the Casper Regional Office.
Currently, 888,752 huntable acres have been gained through the HMA program.
Another program gaining positive attention in the state is the Walk-in Area Program. For this program, the state leases ground from private landowners and open it up to hunters. The latest numbers show 655,973 acres in the program. Travel is restricted to foot traffic, which keeps the crowds down and allows fantastic opportunity for hunters.
When it comes to the "where" part of the hunt, it's really hard to go wrong. There are just so many options to explore. The famous Red Desert area remains a top choice, but drawing a tag is awfully difficult. Area 62 continues to put out some excellent trophies, and you can't go wrong in the units in the southeast and northeast.