Pronghorns on the Rebound
By Gary Lewis
If you’re one of those hunters who makes a point of applying for an antelope tag every spring, you will, by the law of averages, get to go afield for antelope once every eight to twelve years. If this is your year to hunt or you’re expecting to draw a tag next season, read on.
According to Craig Foster, a biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Lakeview, there won’t be a shortage of antelope. “Across the board, antelope numbers are doing very well,” Foster said. “We’ve had very good fawn ratios for the last three years.”
ODFW monitors the pronghorn population by calculating a fawn-to-doe ratio. Counts in Lake County this year revealed lows in the 40s, with a high in the Warner unit of 70 fawns per 100 does.
That translates to more antelope opportunity. “If you look across the state compared to last five or six years, our antelope tag numbers are up substantially,” Foster said. “We’re getting to the point where we have to be concerned with the hunt quality.” It might feel a little crowded on opening day.
If you drew a tag, consider hunting the second half of the season as most of the hunters will be headed home by the third day. And be careful about where you camp.
“It was a very dry winter and it’s shaping up to be a water-restricted summer,” Foster said when we spoke in May. “The ethical hunter won’t camp by the waterholes. Be very cognizant of the desert animals’ need for water.”
Be prepared to look at a lot of animals.
"For the successful applicant this year, there’s a new problem,” Foster said. “There are a lot of very young bucks out there. And because we haven’t had exceptional fawn crops in prior years, there aren’t as many of the older bucks.”
"If it is your goal to shoot a better than average buck, you’re going to wade through a lot of 12-inchers,” Foster said. “Hunters are going to have to be patient and look at a lot of animals.” That’s the fun part.
If your next antelope tag is still in the future, take heart. With more tags being issued these days it won’t take as many preference points to draw hunts as it has in the past.
"The number of preference points it takes to draw a rifle tag is coming down a little bit,” Foster said.
"Looking in my crystal ball, I don’t think those high tag numbers will continue forever. The coyote index is coming up. We are seeing recovering rodent and rabbit cycles and more coyotes.” And more coyotes will eventually mean fewer pronghorn fawns that will make it to breeding age. But for the next few years, we’ll probably see more antelope.