Pronghorn Antelope

 

pronghorn antelope


Pronghorn antelope are true American natives. Found nowhere else in the world, pronghorns are unique in every sense of the word.

In fact the pronghorn is so unique, it is the only member of its family, Antilocapra. Its latin name Antilocapra americana, literally means the "American goat-antelope." But the pronghorn is directly related to neither New World goats nor Old World antelopes.

Pronghorns are the quintessential prairie animal. It is at home in the wide-open spaces of the American West where other animals may find food and cover in short supply. In Oklahoma, these striking creatures can be spotted in the short and mixed grass prairie of Cimarron and Texas counties. Pronghorn populations in the state are quite healthy and were recently estimated at approximately 1,200 animals.

If pronghorns are known for one thing it is speed – dazzling speed. They can sprint up to 70 miles per hour, making them the fastest animal in North America. They sometimes seem to fly across the prairie, covering up to 20 feet in a single stride. Besides their legs, pronghorns rely on their keen eyesight and sensitive noses to avoid danger on the prairie.

Meriwether Lewis, on his epic journey west, was fascinated by this odd animal and was the first to record it into the annals of science. On September 17, 1804, he made these observations which are just as true today as they were 200 years ago.

"… when at rest they generally select the most elevated point in the neighborhood, and as they are watchful and extremely quick of sight and their sense of smelling very acute …they will frequently discover and flee from you at the distance of three miles.... I beheld the rapidity of their flight along the ridge before me it appeared rather the rapid flight of birds than the motion of quadrupeds."

With rich tan coloration contrasting with brilliant white patches on the neck, stomach and rump, pronghorn antelope are beautiful specimens. Males have black patches on the lower jaw below the eye and a black mask extending back from the nose.

Pronghorn feed on a variety of grasses and forbs and will travel great distance to find good grazing grounds. Adult pronghorn have few natural predators, although the young can be vulnerable to mountain lions, coyotes and even golden eagles.

Both pronghorn bucks and does have horns, although the female’s horns are much smaller than the male’s which are 10 to 16 inches long. The horn is made up of two parts: a bony core and a black outer sheath. Unlike true goats or antelopes (or any other animal for that matter), which grow horns that are never shed, the pronghorn sheds a sheath of its horn each year and grows another sheath the next year.

Mature pronghorn bucks stake out their territories and assemble harems of up to 10 does each fall. Although brief fights may break out between rival males, confrontations are usually decided with a few head butts and a lot of posturing.

The young are born in late May or early June and twins are quite common. Within one month the young are up and running with the rest of the pronghorn herd. Pronghorns travel in herds numbering from just a few to more than 20.

Each fall a lucky group of Oklahoma sportsmen have the unique opportunity to hunt pronghorn in Cimarron and Texas counties through the Department’s popular controlled hunts program. In 2003, 65 hunters participated in the hunt and 60 of them took home a pronghorn, that’s an impressive success rate of 92 percent.

If you have not ventured West to the home of the pronghorn antelope, then determine to do so soon. When you spot a pronghorn on the wide-open prairie you know you have seen one of Oklahoma’s most wild and unique creatures.