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Antelope numbers across 6 states

 

Antelope buck number two
Photo credit: Steve Barker

The antelope is one of the greatest wildlife restoration success stories. In the early 1800s, antelope numbered between 30 and 60 million, ranging from as far north as Canada to as far south as Mexico City. By the turn of the century, however, European settlers had nearly hunted them to extinction, bringing the antelope population to a low of approximately 13,000. At this point, a number of state legislatures began instituting laws that made it unlawful to kill, ensnare or trap antelope and for nearly 50 years, the species was given complete protection. State authorities also initiated trapping and transplanting programs, further helping to reestablish antelope populations. By the 20th century, antelope populations increased to nearly one million animals. Today, antelope have a scattered but widespread distribution throughout western North America and, while the overall population has undoubtedly recovered, some regions are faring better than others.

Arizona 

Beginning in the late 1980s, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) began expressing concern over the loss of high quality antelope habitat that was being reduced at an alarming rate due to urban development and human population expansion into rural areas. Throughout the 1990s, the effects of urban growth on antelope populations had become evident, as the number of antelope in the state began to decline significantly. AZGFD recognized the severity of the situation and began implementing management strategies to address the issue.
 
Today, declining antelope populations in regions of Arizona continue to be a concern. While the statewide antelope population estimate in 1997 was around 10,000, the current population is estimated to be approximately 5,000. In addition to the loss of high quality habitat, livestock grazing, historic fencing practices, drought and predation have all impacted populations to varying degrees. The combination of such factors has lead to a substantial decline in fawn recruitment and poses a significant challenge for future recovery.
 
Arizona antelope population numbers

Colorado

Throughout the 1960s, there were only about 15,000 antelope left in the state of Colorado. Thanks to concerted conservation efforts, that number rose to 30,000 in the ‘70s and in 2008, Colorado’s antelope population was estimated at more than 70,000. During 2010, antelope peaked to roughly 79,000 but then saw a slight decline to 71,000 the following year. As of 2013, Colorado’s estimated statewide post-hunt population is near 66,000. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife Big Game Manager, Andy Holland, “the population reduction is attributable to increased doe harvest, List B licenses, and late seasons designed to achieve population objectives in the Southeast Region. Additionally, drought conditions have negatively impacted populations by reducing fawn production and recruitment.”
 

Colorado antelope buck
Photo credit: Getty Images

Throughout the 1960s, there were only about 15,000 antelope left in the state of Colorado. Thanks to concerted conservation efforts, that number rose to 30,000 in the ‘70s and stands at about 71,000 today.  In 2008, Colorado’s antelope population was estimated at more than 70,000. During 2010, antelope peaked around 79,000. Today, Colorado’s estimated statewide post-hunt antelope population is near 66,000. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife Big Game Manager Andy Holland, “the population reduction is attributable to increased doe harvest, List B licenses, and late seasons designed to achieve population objectives in the Southeast Region. Additionally, drought conditions have negatively impacted populations by reducing fawn production and recruitment.”
 
Colorado antelope population numbers

Montana

The severe winter of 2010-11 took a significant toll on antelope populations in northeastern Montana. Yet what is more concerning according to state biologists, is the increasing difficulty antelope face in making their seasonal migrations. Urban development, fencing, new roads, pipelines, oil and gas wells are expanding throughout many parts of the northern Great Plains. This growth has pushed its way into established wintering habitat and summer grounds where antelope rear their fawns. It has also fragmented portions of prairie habitat into isolated pieces. Biologists maintain that it will take five to 10 years before populations in northeastern Montana to recover.
 

Solo antelope buck
Photo credit: Getty Images

Across the rest of the state, antelope populations are relatively abundant. Despite the previous years’ winter mortality and reduced recruitment in central and eastern Montana, populations are continuing to recover.
 
Montana antelope population numbers

Nevada

Nevada has found significant success through conservation efforts. The state’s dedicated trap and transfer measures during the late 1980s and early 1990s have helped the antelope population rise from about 9,000 to 27,000 statewide. This growth has meant significant opportunity for hunters.
 
According to Nevada Department of Wildlife public information officer, Chris Healy, Nevada antelope hunters had 3,814 tags available last year. This represents a 3% increase over what was available in 2012 and a 40% increase from the past 10-year average. Total antelope harvest in 2013 was 2,330, a 5% increase over what was harvested in 2012 and a 27% increase over the last 10-year average. Buck harvest actually declined slightly from the 2012 level while female harvest rose 100% over the previous year due to an increase in tag availability. A total of 762 tags were available across 15 unit groups targeting female antelope in an attempt to reduce rancher conflicts, maintain herds within compromised carrying capacities, or provide hunting opportunities. During these hunts a total of 408 adult does were harvested by hunters.
 
Nevada antelope population numbers

New Mexico

Antelope populations across much of New Mexico have been in decline over the past three decades. Poor fawn survival has plagued antelope populations in recent years and is suspected to be the primary driver of population declines. According to New Mexico Department of Fish and Game’s deer and pronghorn biologist, Ryan Darr, the “loss of suitable grassland habitats exacerbated by drought has potentially made antelope fawns more susceptible to predation leading to low fawn survival.”
 
Each year, the Department collects composition data to determine buck:doe ratios and fawn:doe ratios across select game management units. Five-year regional averages are displayed below.

New Mexico regional buck:doe and fawn:doe ratios

Region

Bucks: 100 does

Fawns: 100 does

NE 38 34
NW 32 33
SE 32 26
SW 36 25
Statewide 35 29


Darr notes that the “most robust and stable populations in the state remain in the Northeast Area and on the Plains of San Augustin (around GMU 16E). These locations host an abundance of healthy grasslands as required for pronghorn survival and population growth. Moderate populations are found in portions of the Southeast Area. Antelope are more isolated and in lower numbers in the Northwest and Southwest Areas. Despite overall population trends for the state, many areas of New Mexico continue to provide hunters with the opportunity to take an antelope. Quality bucks can also be found throughout the state, but most trophies come from the northeastern quarter of the state and the Plains of San Augustin — including the new B&C World Record taken in 2013.” 

Wyoming

Wyoming’s antelope populations have been declining rapidly over the past decade. Just several years ago in 2010, there were more than 500,000 antelope in the state. Today, that number has dropped to slightly more than 400,000. According to Senior Wildlife Biologist Grant Frost much of this can be attributed to poor habitat conditions that did not allow antelope to sustain numbers or rebound from population declines as quickly as they used to. The drought over the past several years has also posed additional challenges, but the state has seen above average precipitation since then and in 2014, there was much better fawn survival.
 

Pair of antelope bucks
Photo credit: Getty Images

“We should see our first increase in several years in estimated population when biologists finish their year-end work and reports. Another few years like 2014 would do wonders for habitat condition, nutritional status, and antelope survival and numbers,” explains Frost.
 
Wyoming antelope population numbers

FACTORS IMPACTING ANTELOPE POPULATION LEVELS
PREDATION The role of predation in limiting antelope recruitment is dependent upon a number of factors. In circumstances where there is diminished habitat quality and marginal water availability, predator control can be used to actually increase fawn survival. Antelope predators include coyotes, cougars, wolves, bobcats, as well as black bears and golden eagles. 
   
LIVESTOCK
LOSS     

Cattle, sheep and horses are the primary domestic livestock species sharing rangelands with antelope and about 99% of antelope roam rangelands with livestock at some time during the year. Although these animals have historically coexisted with antelope, growing competition for a limited quantity of land reduces the availability of forbs and grasses that are a critical factor in antelope fawn survival. 

   
HABITAT
LOSS
A critical limiting factor in antelope habitat is the lack of succulent forbs and grasses on spring/summer ranges. This is the result of xeric, low annual precipitation conditions, combined with persistent early spring grazing practices. 
   
DISEASE The most common diseases that affect antelope are bluetongue and epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). The most important vectors for bluetongue and EHD are no-see-um gnats and die-offs can be expected to terminate shortly after temperatures drop below freezing. Bluetongue caused the loss of 3,200 antelope in eastern Wyoming during 1976 and an additional 300 in 1984. Die-offs due to EHD are not well documented, largely due to the difficulty in distinguishing it from bluetongue, but significant losses have been suspected in a number of Western states and Canadian provinces. 
   
FENCES, HIGHWAYS, RAILROADS Highways, railroads and fences that are not wildlife-friendly pose a threat to antelope population. Antelope prefer to crawl beneath fences and some are set too close to the ground. Each of these factors prevents herds from migrating freely, which can lead to inbreeding, poor health and more stress on the antelope. 
   
ENERGY DEVELOPMENT    Increasing energy development has been shown to pose a serious threat to antelope populations. Based upon research, biologists from the U.S., Mexico and Canada concluded that habitat fragmentation and loss from industrial infrastructure development is one of the most pressing threats to antelope. Petroleum and natural gas extraction, wind and solar power developments and the pipelines transmission lines and roads needed to transport the resource and access to the sites have deeply impacted antelope resources.

 

10 Comments

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Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 3 years ago on 07-18-2016 03:56:30 pm
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Hi Delaney. The graphs for each state were developed with help from the state wildlife agencies. So you can credit the state wildlife agency as the source. Let me know if you need any further information.

Delaney Williams_1124950120881424
Delaney W. - posted 3 years ago on 07-18-2016 03:21:22 pm

Hello! I'm doing a project on Pronghorn and was wondering if I could get the sources you used to get these numbers. Thanks!

Bruce_Hutcheon
Bruce H. - posted 4 years ago on 06-30-2015 08:31:25 am
Colorado Springs, CO
goHUNT INSIDER

Craig,

Follow up on Dave L insights cause he knows the west better than most anyone in the biz. Check out the B&Cor P&Y record books for the counties that list Wyoming areas that have yielded great bucks in the past. Their genes are still there also think about the fact there are more antelope than people in the great state of Wyoming. apply and keep applying til you get the tag of your dreams

Dave Loescher
Dave L. - posted 4 years ago on 06-30-2015 08:07:27 am
Cedar City, UT
goHUNT Team

@Craig S. Hunting antelope in WY is a great goal because it is very attainable. Some of the very best units may take several years to draw, but so many others are easy to draw. Although WY antelope numbers are lower than they once were, they still have the most and offer an incredible experience! Watch for INSIDER articles related to WY antelope prior to next year's application deadline. Thanks for being an INSIDER!

Bruce_Hutcheon
Bruce H. - posted 4 years ago on 06-30-2015 07:56:55 am
Colorado Springs, CO
goHUNT INSIDER

We have hunted on large ranch cover 100 of square miles for over 20 years and the last three years have been unable to draw doe or fawn tags for the grand kids due to significant die off. Where there use to be over 1000 doe/fawn tags there are now less than 400. Grand kids are really bummed.

kg6itc
Craig S. - posted 4 years ago on 06-29-2015 10:41:13 pm
Scottsdale, AZ
goHUNT INSIDER

Hunting Antelope in Wyoming is a dream for me.

Robert H. - posted 4 years ago on 03-04-2015 07:32:01 pm
Colorado
goHUNT INSIDER

The bad winter of 2011 was what stopped us from going back to Wyoming and getting leftover doe tags for the kids. I believe in Wyoming things are getting better.

Bruce_Hutcheon
Bruce H. - posted 4 years ago on 02-25-2015 02:09:12 pm
Colorado Springs, CO
goHUNT INSIDER

Great summary of the state of the Antelope herds in the west.

brettporter
Brett P. - posted 4 years ago on 02-25-2015 09:32:53 am
Heber/Mesa, AZ
goHUNT INSIDER

I think these numbers are a good representation of where the antelope population is headed. Over the years I have noticed a decline in the amount of antelope I would see when going out in different units where antelope used to run literally all over the place. I'm speaking from white mountain/mogollon rim group of units here in AZ. Units 1-4 basically.
In that same time I have seen coyote populations increase and I try take care of each and every one of those things I see. I have noticed the amount of people predator calling decrease as well and even I haven't gone predator calling in these areas in several years.. This article motivated me to change that!
Predators are a big problem for those fawns and we all need to get after those yotes!
I feel that tag numbers for those units are too high as well. They even raised some rifle tags this year as well which is craziness. As you know rifle hunts are 90+% success rate.
Putting more fence crossings for them would help a lot as well.
Bottom line is the populations may vary from the areas we are all observing them from and each area will have different factors effecting the herds. Overall the population of AZ antelope is low and not getting much better.
Some sort of incentive from azgfd for killing coyotes would be nice to see and would get people more involved I think. Also opening antelope units up to night calling would help too. Especially when the fawns are dropping.

willtcooper
Will C. - posted 4 years ago on 02-24-2015 05:05:02 pm
Ponder, TX
goHUNT INSIDER

Great write up ! This is a species I would love to go after. Hate to see the decline but we as hunters need to see this kind of information in order to help where we can.