Pronghorn guru question!

jims

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For all those pronghorn guru's out there I have a question that has been haunting me since this past year's hunt. 2012 was one of the driest year's in Wyo's history in Carbon County, Wyo. I heard rumors from a reknown pronghorn expert that bucks born in years with drought will have smaller diameter pedicles/horns from the day they are born onward. Although conditions for horn growth may be favorable in years after being born bucks born in years with drought may never produce horns compared to bucks born in years with favorable conditions. I was wondering if there may be truth to this theory?

One thing that makes me wonder if this may be true is I shot 2 of the biggest bucks of my life in years with close to historic droughts.. To top it off I had a super tough time this year finding whopper bucks in a unit that historically produced many B&C bucks. This was after several mild winters and excellent fall and early spring moisture conditions. I originally would have thought this would have been a perfect scenerio for producing super horn growth.

I'm curious if drought may have lingering affects on horn growth on the same buck in future years?
 

ShootsManyBullets

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Maybe those big bucks you killed were born before the drought and had solid initial development. Also, is it possible that those bucks had access to decent feed and water that year?
 

BuzzH

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Considering that pronghorn numbers are in the tank in WY and have been declining due to disease, poor fawn recruitment, etc. for the last number of years...it just makes sense there are less trophy class bucks to be had.

Lower total numbers, lower total available bigger bucks. Only a small portion of pronghorn bucks will ever be a B&C buck, even in perfect habitat conditions. Genetics, age, population density, etc...as well as luck play a big part in making a B&C critter.

Some people have a knack for over-thinking the blatantly obvious.
 
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EliAGrimmett

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BuzzH:

Total numbers doesn't explain the ratio difference. There were units last year where it was nearly impossible to find a record book head out of thousands of antelope bucks. Several years ago, in those same units, we found dozens of record book heads. The total population was probably only double what it is now. The ratio of trophy bucks to total bucks was probably 1 in 100, whereas now it's probably 1 in 500. That ratio has to be caused by something.
 

EliAGrimmett

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Just so I'm clear on your assertion - are you saying that you believe weather and feed and water have no affect on pronghorn horn growth? Only that total numbers mean more total trophy antelope? Because that's what it sounds like you're saying.
 

BuzzH

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Just so I'm clear on your assertion - are you saying that you believe weather and feed and water have no affect on pronghorn horn growth? Only that total numbers mean more total trophy antelope? Because that's what it sounds like you're saying.

Nope, no question that weather, feed, and water impact horn growth...genetics, disease, missing age classes, those all matter as well. I think genetics expressing themselves is cyclic as well. Many theories, and all probably have some merit.

Its also no question that lower total numbers mean less bucks, less bucks, less B&C bucks. What percentage of bucks in WY, even in favorable conditions, ever make B&C? Judging by the number killed VS number entered, I'd have to conclude not a very high percentage.

Unless your population is to the point that its reducing or degrading available habitat, it makes sense that a bigger over-all population will produce higher numbers of B&C candidates.

Sure looking that way in Wyoming...
 

BuzzH

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The good news is, fawn recruitment this last year was the highest its been since the mid-90's for both deer and pronghorn. Pronghorn can recover pretty quickly in a pretty short time frame with favorable conditions.

While one year doesn't mean a lot, if we can get some decent rains this spring/summer/early fall and have 2-3 or more years of good recruitment, there could be a nice turn-around.

Last year in Wyoming 12,000 pronghorn tags were cut...and I'm not sure it was enough.
 

gwhunter

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Wow. I did not realize it was that bad. That is alarming to say the least.

I agree. Last year was my first time out to hunt pronghorn in Wyoming and I thought there were animals everywhere. I couldn't imagine how cool it would be if there were 200K more :hump:
 

jims

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I think this year ought to be an eye-opener in regard to the lingering effects drought has on mature buck horn growth. As mentioned in my original post 2012 was one of the driest years in Carbon County history. I hunted Carbon County in 2012 and it was the first year in my life I saw sagebrush die from drought….that’s how dry it was! It generally takes at least 3 years for pronghorn to grow to B&C proportions and 2015 will be year 3 after the 2012 drought. Carbon County hasn’t had a super bad winter for quite some time so there ought to be plenty of 3+ year old bucks in the herds. That is what really shocked me about what I saw during the 2014 hunting season…few to 0 B&C bucks with excellent moisture conditions after quite a few mild winters in one of the best units in Wyo. This raised a big red flag to what actually may be going on! I am guessing the substantial drop in antelope numbers in Wyo isn’t likely a result of winterkill but lack of fawn recruitment due to drought and possibly disease.

There was excellent fall and spring moisture last year and I saw a lot more antelope fawns. Keep your fingers crossed the same thing is true this spring. I am guessing most bucks made it through the drought years ok but if they were born in the years with drought and are plagued with the drought-poor horn growth syndrome for their lifetime this may become apparent again this year even if excellent moisture conditions for horn growth have existed 2 years in a row.

Some may think I am over-thinking things but this will become apparent this year! If this is true it may still be tough finding B&C bucks in Carbon County again this fall even if overall antelope numbers increase and there is excellent moisture. There may be a lagging affect that takes place until years when fawn bucks are born in years with decent moisture. My prediction is that 2017 will be a banner year for B&C bucks if there is decent fall and spring moisture in 2016/2017 with little winterkill between now and then. If you look through the B&C books you will notice that in particular counties there may be 1 or 2 years when there are huge influxes of new listings. There are likely reasons for this!
I guess what I’m saying is the ratio of B&C bucks in a herd may be a lot lower in years following drought even though there are a lot of mature bucks in a herd and herd numbers are very high. Moisture and all other factors may help or hinder but may not matter as much as bucks being born during drought years. It would be interesting if biologist could measure horn growth/diameter/lengths on buck fawns born during drought vs moist years to see if there actually are differences!

I have always wondered about trends and swings in B&C numbers throughout Wyoming and this may open up a new way of thinking many have never considered. Those that have a bunch of Wyo antelope pref pts may want to consider this before burning a bunch of points!
 

LopeHunter

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Anyone have an opinion on the theory mentioned early re a buck fawn born when nutrients are subpar will subsequently be incapable of producing the same horn mass as a buck fawn when nutrients were normal? Perhaps a biologist somewhere collected measurements of the skull features on bucks over several years and that could be correlated back to the year the doe was pregnant and then the buck born and the mass of the horns at death. Otherwise, I place this theory in the hmmmmm category.
 

VAspeedgoat

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I felt that many of the bucks we saw this year had heavy mass and the prong was high enough above the ear to be about 14, but the length above the pring was shortened and made the horns look out of proportion. My buck was 14.5 but appeared to be younger than others we saw based on general body size and general look. Its not very scientific I know. It was just an observation that may correlate to the question being asked. My taxidermist said it was one of the better bucks he had and that he only had one 15 inch buck. He said that it was unusual but gave no explanation

Didn't Big Fin have a post on this a few months ago?
 

EliAGrimmett

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Of course I believe this theory (I believe I'm one who originally posted about it).

The theory wasn't born of much research, only observations over the course of 20 years of hunting and filming antelope.

It makes sense that bucks born who eat very little or nutritionally poor feed will develop and grow slower and may not ever reach the potential they could've reached had they been well fed during their development.

jims: I'd never think anyone was overthinking things when it comes to big antelope! It's all I ever think about (I know I should probably get another hobby, but what can I say.)
 

Backcountryhunter

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Very interesting thoughts, as someone relatively new to pronghorn hunting, this is interesting stuff. I hunted in Wyoming in 2010, had a great hunt and am planning on going back this year, wondering how people feel the quality will be this year.
 

EliAGrimmett

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I think the quality will always be there, however it may rise and fall in certain units making it difficult to know where to apply.

As for what we've experienced while hunting Wyoming:

In 2012 we killed 67% (8 out of 12) of our bucks over 85 B&C.
In 2013 and 2014 only 31% (12 out of 39) of our bucks scored over 85 B&C.

Both are great numbers, but the 2012 number is over double that of the last two seasons.

Not to mention what jims has been saying - the usual best units that we've hunted haven't been nearly as productive lately. Our biggest bucks have been coming from second and third choice units.

I do think you'll be able to find 82 B&C bucks in the best units in 2015, which is what most hunters are after, but the higher end bucks may still be very hard to find.

BuzzH: Maybe you know this since you seem to be pretty well versed in Wyoming - does the state publish pronghorn survey data anywhere? It would be super useful in deciding where and when to apply.

Edit:

Here's another bit of info on what's considered one of the Top 5 areas in Wyoming on a yearly basis - Area 61. These are the average B&C scores of what we've taken out of that unit since we started hunting Wyoming in 2011.

2011: 88 4/8
2012: 87 1/8
2013: 85 4/8
2014: 83 4/8

There's an obvious trend. Let's hope it begins to reverse itself this year.
 
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ShootsManyBullets

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I hunted about a week last year and scouted another unit I've hunted quite a bit in the past for a day and I noticed quality had improved in 2014 vs 2013 in the unit I'd been hunting the last few years. Numbers weren't awesome but I didn't spend enough time to be able to definitively say one way or the other how much better the population was. Locals I talked to thought there were a lot of younger animals around and with the big tag cuts there is a chance for continued herd improvement.

What I did notice right away was that mass on the animals I did spend time observing was much better than the previous seasons, and the condition of the range was very good. Not quite like 2013 where it looked like spring in October but still very good in comparison to 2012.
 

DrH

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Research on deer, where the people who thought they knew it all were culling spikes as inferior animals, the theory being the same, that they would never be worth anything as trophies, has shown that many of the spikes were produced by later breeding of does, and had the same potential to be trophies in 3 or 4 years as those that had more antler points as yearlings. Pronghorn grow their horns during the winter and spring. If forage is lousy, they do not grow the horns they might have because energy is being used to stay alive. Exceptions even in years of drought and bad winters are those pronghorn lucky enough to be hanging around places with good feed, like alfalfa fields. Those bucks go into winter in better shape and get better feed while growing their horns. My experience in 45 years of hunting pronghorn and 28 years managing them is that bucks coming out of a bad winter or during drought have horns that are long and skinny with no mass or mass with no length. Some have neither. And, of course, they have to be old enough to produce both mass and length. As Buzz said, increased production produces more pronghorn, thus more bucks, and more bucks equals more with potential to be big bucks, if genetics, the weather and the habitat are suitable.
But, don't think that a good rainfall year and a mild winter reverses what happened to pronghorn habitat from 1985-2012. Herds rebound only as far as the habitat will allow, and if they rebound too much, they set the shrubs they depend on in winter back again. We were told by a habitat expert we could not successfully rehabilitate habitat for deer because unless we severely reduced the deer population, the remaining deer would just eat all of the habitat improvements. Hunters would never allow what was needed to improve things for deer. Hell, they wouldn't even kill a doe outside of private lands! In the early 1990s we found that shrubs on deer ranges contained only 5-6 parts per million of protein, when a doe deer required 17 ppm to produce milk that would support a fawn or fawns. So, sometimes even if things look good, they aren't. This wildlife management stuff is simple, just ask any hunter!
In the places I hunt, there are no more wet meadows(and haven't been since the 1980s)due to reduced water tables, shrubs are heavily hedged by big game, and grazing by cattle has helped reduce coverage of forbs(succulent plants) that does need to eat to produce milk to support a fawn or pair of fawns. I have no idea of the protein content of the forage left in those areas, but the pronghorn herd there once supported 15,000 licenses and now supports less than 2,000. We will never see pronghorn or deer or moose numbers like we saw in Wyoming in the 1950s to 1980s because there were just too many of all three species for too long, despite our best efforts to keep them under control.
 

JLS

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DrH,

Very interesting information.

As an aside, there was a study done out of Fort Keough on precipitation and range conditions. What many folks overlook is the importance of fall precipitation. Horn growth and twins don't just happen because of easy winters and wet springs. Good body condition in the late summer and fall is also very important.
 
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