Did you know that an estimated 30- 40 million pronghorns once roamed North America—and some scientists believe they outnumbered bison? But at the turn of the century, after a slaughter by the European settlers, as few as 13,000 pronghorns were found only in small, isolated areas.
By the 1920s, the public was clamoring for action to save pronghorns and other game species that had been literally hunted to death. California closed pronghorn hunting in 1883, and Montana, Nevada and Oregon followed suit by 1909. The first thorough survey of pronghorn numbers in Canada, the United States and Mexico was conducted 1922-24, and published in 1925 by the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey (later renamed the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) biologist Edward W. Nelson. He estimated their numbers at 30,400 animals. To further boost pronghorn protection, the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (today’s Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge) in eastern Oregon was established on Sept. 6, 1935. On Dec. 21, 1936, the Charles Sheldon Antelope Range was established in northern Nevada.
In 1968—52 years after Nelson’s report— the results of the next comprehensive pronghorn population survey was presented at the Pronghorn Antelope Workshop in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Based on 1964 data, it showed a population estimate of 386,300 pronghorns—an increase of more than 1,000 percent. In 1976 another survey was conducted, and it showed a population of 431,600 pronghorns. In 1985 yet another survey was conducted, this time showing a population of slightly more than 1 million pronghorns. In spite of increased human population growth, and energy and agricultural development in pronghorn country—as well as controlled sport hunting—the animals had more than doubled their numbers during that decade.
I haven’t been able to track down a concrete figure showing current population numbers; however, estimates put it somewhere around 750,000. Numbers—and available hunting permits—fluctuate annually, depending on how the animals survived the winter, and predation by coyotes, eagles and other animals.
With few exceptions, all pronghorn tags are issued through lottery drawings. So when you apply, you have to decide whether you want to hunt where you have the best chance of success, or maybe roll the dice and try to tag a record-class buck. With the minimum score of 82 inches it takes to make the Boone & Crockett Club’s record book, finding a buck in that class is no easy task, and only a few areas consistently produce them.
While not necessarily my top choices for the chance at a record-book buck—those states issue few nonresident permits that can require a decade to draw—the sidebar below shows my top five picks for the best overall pronghorn hunting today.