Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra Americana)
Many people are unaware that top quality Antelope hunting is available in southern Alberta, and that Pronghorns inhabit the short grass areas of the province. The long standing record of 86 2/8, taken in 1913 has been bested twice in the last 5 years, and the archery record was established in 2002 at 84 4/8. Pronghorns are very adapted to life in the grasslands. For example, the sandy colours of their bodies provide some camouflage protection from the barren landscape of the flat lands. With large protruding eyes located further back on their head, they have a wide range of vision so they can see when a predator is coming (up to 6 km away). Though the scientific name translates to “American antelope goat” the pronghorns are in fact more deer-like and are the only animals having branched horns (not antlers). The name “Pronghorn” comes from the odd shape of their horns – forward facing prongs. Female horns are smaller than males. In the late fall or the beginning of winter, the horns will break off to make room for the new ones already starting to grow in. Pronghorns have a distinctive white patch on their rump that they bare to the herd if there is danger. Their main predators are coyotes. Pronghorns are roamers and like to feed off of the grasses and other shrubbery they live near. Pronghorns have good endurance even at high speeds.
Given the opportunity to mature, Alberta pronghorns typically exhibit outstanding mass. Several bucks exceeding 80" Boone and Crockett are taken annually and the presence of these truly big antelope is increasing. A trend towards modest harvest quotas in the province should solidify Alberta's growing reputation as one of the top trophy Antelope destinations in North America.
Alberta has plenty of the classic prairie grass and sagebrush habitat usually associated with Antelope hunting, yet hunters will be pleasantly surprised to find opportunities in a multitude of habitat types. Antelope have readily adapted to the plentiful irrigated agricultural areas that have sprung up all over their traditional range. When hunting the 3 major river systems in southern Alberta (the Bow, Red Deer and Old Man) it is very common to locate large numbers of Antelope right in the coulees with the mule deer. As one travels northwards to the parkland fringe, Pronghorn will be encountered in the rolling hills, brush patches and slough bottoms that comprise this habitat. Some of the best bucks are taken in lightly pressured, obscure areas with small populations that retain the single most important variable involved in producing a big antelope; a buck's ability to live to 6 or 7 years of age. When bucks shed horn sheaths after mating season, they assume female form and become difficult for predators to detect. The loss of the horn sheath is unusual; in other bovids, the sheath is permanent. In mating season, bucks are territorial in some populations, harem herders in others.
The tactics for hunting Pronghorn remain relatively common throughout the range of habitats. It is typical for hunters to comb the country by pickup, stopping often to glass likely locations. Once a suitable trophy is located, an approach on foot is usually in order. As with Antelope hunting everywhere, a hunter can expect to spend a lot of time on his hands and knees or belly crawling. The Antelope's first line of defence is their eyesight, which is unparalleled amongst big game in the world. Many stalks are blown at the last moment when an over anxious hunter tries to sneak a look before a shot opportunity is presented. A good suggestion is to pack knee and elbow protection to enable low positioning movement forward in cactus and short grass terrain.
Equipment is fairly standard for all western hunts, with top quality optics being the most important item you can bring. A pair of premium quality binoculars and a spotting scope with both window and tripod mounts are absolute essentials. Camouflage clothing is highly recommended and several sage country style products are available and acceptable. Pair of well used, mid-calf length hiking boots is required as well as a warm jacket and gloves. The autumn weather can vary dramatically from day to day in Alberta and a hunter is advised to bring a variety of clothing options to deal with this unpredictability. A fast, flat shooting rifle complete with a bipod that the hunter is comfortable with is the suggested weapon.
Archery hunting opportunities for antelope in Alberta are probably without parallel in North America. With next to nothing for hunting pressure, the non-resident archer is in for a real treat. The season coincides with the rut in early September and the decoying opportunities abound. Few experiences in the hunting world compare with having a big antelope buck charge in with evil intent while you crouch behind your immature buck decoy, hoping he stops before he runs you over. Spot and stalk and, for the patient hunter, ground blinds over water holes are also tried and true methods of taking antelope bucks. No matter what tactics are used, a quality range finder is the archer's most important piece of equipment. A bowhunter should be prepared to take shots in the 40-50 yard range.
The species reflects the harsh predator regimes under which the American ungulates evolved, for no mammal is more fleet of foot. The extinct American cheetah probably helped shape the Pronghorn, as did the erratic prairie environment with its grass fires, blizzards, droughts and floods. These factors resulted in a highly social, short-lived species which possesses a large brain indicative of adaptability and learning. Sexes move together and readily travel hundreds of kilometres to avoid bad winter conditions or vacate burned-over areas. It’s very high reproductive rate (twins are the rule) permits rapid restoration of losses from catastrophic kills by blizzards, drowning or fire. A breeding pronghorn’s first litter will be a fawn and then other litters will be twins. Although some prefer to live alone, many stay in small groups in the summer and form large herds during winter. Pronghorns are very active day and night, and tend to balance their time between napping and eating.