Antelope. History and Identification. Characteristics

The antelope, in common with many other forms of North American big-game animals, was misnamed by the early explorers, and such errors are long-lasting. In most of the areas in which it is abundant, this animal is known as the " Pronghorn Antelope " or merely the " Pronghorn . " The latter, at least, is accurate, for the pronghorn is neither an antelope, nor a goat, nor an "antelope-goat" which the Latin term specifies. The pronghorn is a true American, with no relative in any other part of the world, and is the lone descendant of a genus that during the Pleistocene A g e was broken up into several species and sub-species.

History. As recently as 1925 the future of the pronghorn was in some doubt. Of the millions of these animals that once roamed the plains from Kansas to the Rockies, the Biological Survey census of 1924 revealed that approximately 26,000 remained in this country, with an additional 5,000 scattered over the rest of the continent. Many conservationists predicted that the pronghorn was due to follow the extinct passenger pigeon.

Since that time, the pronghorn has made one of the greatest revivals in the history of conservation and has given proof positive of the value of adequate protection and sound management. At the present time, the annual legal kill by hunters in the United States exceeds 75,000, more than twice the total living population of 1924! Others are taken in the three western provinces of Canada and in Mexico. Hunter success runs from 60 to 90 per cent. Wyoming is the major pronghorn state, with the latest census indicating a population of at least 350,000 animals.

Identification. The pronghorn is one of the easiest big-game animals to identify, even at a great distance, because of its distinctive coloration and its habit of using its white r u m p patch to signal. T h e pronghorn is able to erect the hairs of this r u m p patch, causing them to flash. It is a HORNED and not an ANTLERED animal (see Glossary), but is unusual among horned animals in that it sheds these horns each year. Many who have seen the pronghorn only at a distance insist that the horns are not shed. T h e outer, pronged sheath is shed early in Autumn , but the bony, fibrous core remains.

Characteristics. Probably the most outstanding characteristic of the pronghorn is his speed, and next to this, his keen vision. These animals have been paced by automobiles and airplanes, and while many bucks have been paced at 60 miles per hour, several motorists have reported pacing does at as much as 68 and 70 miles per hour. The y are by far the fleetest of all North American game animals. Many experienced hunters have made careful studies on the vision of the pronghorn, and the general opinion is that the average pronghorn can see as far as a man equipped with eight-power binocidars.

Another distinction of the pronghorn is its feet. Unlike the deer, for example, the pronghorn has on each foot only two hoofs rather than the conventional four, as the dew claws are missing. In coloration, the pronghorn is among the brightest of his race. His white belly and r u m p merge to a glistening tan, buff, and dark brown, and the throat is sharply marked by brown and white bars. The average pronghorn weighs about 80 pounds, and a 100-pound buck is an exception. Does are small, in comparison, weighing about 65 pounds, and the horns are much shorter.

The record head, with horns measuring just under 20 inches, was taken in 1878 in Arizona; but there seems to be no scarcity of 17- and 18-inch heads. Unlike the deer, the older the pronghorn the larger the horn, and while the old bucks make strong, tough eating, the average hunter will sacrifice flavor to a good trophy.

Pronghorn antelope a victim of curiosity

Breeding. The mating season of the pronghorn runs from early August until mid-September. The period of gestation of the doe is longer than that of sheep. The young normally are born during May and June, and twins are the rule rather than the exception.

Immediately after their birth, the fawns are carefully hidden by the doe. She feeds in that general area but returns to the fawns only to let them suckle. During this period the greatest predation losses occur from coyotes and eagles. The only other period in which their predators cause large losses is during the early spring, when the pronghorn is weak after winter privations.

The fawns are able to follow the doe after about ten days. Then the does that have left the herds of their own sex during bearing once more gather into small groups accompanied by the fawns. The fawns normally remain with the doe until the following year. When the time arrives for her to bear more young she drives the yearlings from her.

Range and Distribution. T e range of the pronghorn is much broader than many realize. The states in which they are most abundant include: California, Colorado, Montana , North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming . They are found in reasonably large numbers in Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico , Oregon, Texas , and Utah . There are a few herds as far north as Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba , and herds in Chihuahua and Sonora, in Old Mexico, are on the increase. It is estimated that there are approximately 750,000 of these animals on the North American continent, with the number increasing each year. The 1964 big-game census shows the following distribution in the U.S.

Distribution of pronghorn antelope

Although normally a browser, the pronghorn also is a grazer (see Glossary). The preferred food, however, is low shrubs and weeds, although they feed heavily on various forms of cactus d u ring the flowering stage of these plants. The y prefer rolling plateaus and plains that are cut by gullies and ravines and dotted with occasional thin forest growth. Normally they seek out high ground during the summer and are driven to the low valleys only by snow and cold.

Although the herds seem to scatter into smaller groups during the summer, large herds seem to form during the winter, possibly for protection from the elements and predators. As a rule a herd will have a definite range, encompassed by a circle from 10 to 15 miles in diameter. Unless driven from this range by drought, severe storms, or unusual hunting pressure they may be found on this range year after year.

Pronghorn antelope at a water hole

The curiosity of this animal often is its undoing, for it seems impelled to investigate anything it cannot classify. On the other hand, it is extremely nervous, and is very easily frightened. This faculty, in part, atones for the curiosity.

Among other unusual characteristics is the tendency of age groups to herd together, namely, two-year-olds with two-year-olds, etc. Except during the mating season, which runs from early August to mid-September, the bucks and does do not run together, and as the best hunting period is during

May, June, and July, the hunter has little difficulty in differentiating between sexes. The coyote is the pronghorn's worst enemy, running just ahead of the illegal poacher. In areas where experimental coyote trapping has been carried out, the herds have shown remarkable increases. The greatest inroads by coyotes are made on the fawns, for the adult pronghorn can outrun the coyote with ease. In areas where doe herds are found with but one fawn to two does, excess predation is apparent, and it is a clear sign that coyote control is required if the pronghorn is to survive. Herds with a ratio of three fawns to two does indicate satisfactory predator control.


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