Pronghorn Harvest Project


Pronghorn are a cherished species of big game and an iconic part of Wyoming and the West. Although many may view them as commonplace in Wyoming, they are an ecologically remarkable species with a suite of traits that differ drastically from any other species of wild game in North America. Compared with all other game species in North America, pronghorn males reach their peak horn size much earlier in life, typically around 3-4 years of age. Indeed, some of the largest pronghorn ever harvested in the world were only 3 years old. With highly conservative harvest in many states throughout North America, designed to maintain high buck:doe ratios, the majority of males present on a landscape surely exceed 4 years of age and consequently, likely grew their largest horns years prior. The overarching goal of this work is to understand how hunting might influence horn size and growth of pronghorn.

Our hypothesis:

We aim to assess if allowing more opportunity for harvest of males can occur without compromising horn growth and availability of large males.

What's the issue?

In Wyoming, pronghorn are a fundamental part of the landscape, and represent an important species of game that generates millions of dollars annually for wildlife conservation and management through hunting. Management and harvest of pronghorn has remained largely the same for nearly a century, despite recent evidence indicating that the ecologically distinct traits possessed by pronghorn may warrant a reconsideration of what hunting opportunities pronghorn populations may offer. Unlike other ungulates that take from 4 to 10+ years to grow large antlers or horns, pronghorn may do so within 2–4 years of birth making an old age structure or high buck ratios unnecessary to produce large males. Therefore, more opportunity for harvest of males may be possible without compromising horn growth and availability of large males.

How're we tackling it?

Data collection for this project will be focused on sampling horn size and age of as many pronghorn as possible that are harvested across multiple hunt areas in the heart of pronghorn country in Wyoming, USA to understand how pronghorn grow horns as they age, and in differing habitat and weather conditions.

What are our findings?

This project began in the autumn of 2019, and will continue for the next three hunting seasons. Findings to come!

What's the issue?

Pronghorn are often the first big game species that hunters pursue. A lot of work has been done to understand what hunters think about many other species of big game (mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, and elk), but little is known on what hunters think about hunting pronghorn. We hope to provide a better understanding of what motivates hunters in pursuit of pronghorn.

How're we tackling it?

We will survey hunters in Wyoming who have successfully drawn a hunting license for pronghorn in the past five years to understand better what their attitudes and desires are when it comes to pronghorn hunting.

What are our findings?

We will send out the first survey in the spring of 2020, results to come!

People working on the project:

Lee Tafelmeyer, Tayler LaSharr, Rhiannon Jakopak, Kevin Monteith

Funders

Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission

Publications

LaSharr, T. N., R. A. Long, J. R. Heffelfinger, V. C. Bleich, P. R. Krausman, R. T. Bowyer, J. M. Shannon, E. M. Rominger, C. P. Lehman, M. Cox, and K. L. Monteith. 2019. Biological relevance of antler, horn, and pronghorn size in records programs. Journal of Mammalogy.
Bighorn sheep outline Mule Deer pronghorn Moose White-tailed deer Elk

Project updates

  • Project PDF download here