Pronghorn antelope can offer rewarding challenge


While mule deer, elk and bighorn sheep get most of the attention when it comes to big-game hunting in Nevada, the pursuit of pronghorn antelope can be challenging and rewarding.

The pronghorn antelope is one of the Pittman-Robertson Act success stories. Historically, these animals were documented from Canada as far south as Mexico City and west of the Mississippi River. But near the turn of the last century, pronghorn antelope were nearing extinction. Today, however, they can be found and hunted in much of their historic range. In the past decade, Nevada’s pronghorn population has grown from an estimated 18,000 animals to more than 28,500.

That growth has leveled off the past couple of years, but hunter opportunity has reached an all-time high. More than 3,700 tags were available for the 2013 archery, muzzleloader and any legal weapon seasons.

Though they resemble some species of antelope found in Africa, pronghorns more closely are related to the goat family and are unique to North America. Pronghorns are the smallest of Nevada’s big-game animals, standing only about 3 feet high at the shoulder. A mature buck generally will weigh between 125 and 150 pounds.

The pronghorn primarily is known for two traits: its incredible eyesight and unmatched speed. Considered to be the world’s second-fastest land mammal — only the cheetah is faster — pronghorns can reach and sustain top speeds nearing 60 mph. These traits are why antelope generally would be seen on the valley floor and where the vegetation is low-growing. This terrain enables them to use their eyesight to spot predators, such as coyotes and hunters, and their speed to create distance.

To be successful, a hunter has to find a way to get past the pronghorn’s eyesight and negate its speed. This often requires great patience and luck.

Since the antelope seasons get underway in early August, and the daytime temperatures still are quite warm, some hunters choose to hunt from blinds placed near water holes. One of my friends arrowed a nice buck in Area 22 while using this technique. He had to wait a couple of days for the buck to present a good shot choice, but his patience paid off with a heavy-horned buck. While this approach is common to archers, it is not unheard of for hunters using firearms.

Spot-and-stalk probably is the most common approach to taking antelope during the firearm seasons, and as the name implies, this technique involves spotting an antelope you want to harvest and then stalking to within shooting distance. Given the terrain these animals call home, it is wise for a hunter to carry a pair of quality leather gloves and a set of construction-grade knee pads. There always is the chance a significant part of the stalk must be made on one’s hands and knees.

Hunters who rather would remain on their feet should look for terrain features than can be used to hide their movements. Even a shallow draw might be enough to make a successful stalk possible. What hunters cannot do is get complacent during their stalks. Pronghorns are curious animals. If a buck sees a hunter drop out of sight, he might walk over to the place where he last saw the hunter and peek over the edge to see where the hunter went.

Though conventional wisdom tells us to look for antelope on the valley floor and in open terrain, they have been known to hang out in the low foothills.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.