Pronghorn: An Animal from the Distant Past

By Dave Hanks

Although it is commonly called an antelope, that is a misconception. It is neither an antelope nor a goat, but a holdover from 20 million years ago – the only species of its kind in the world and a true survivor. Africa, not America, is the antelope kingdom of the world.

Their deer-like body might weigh between 90 and 125 pounds and has plenty of white on the legs, underside of belly and neck, and on the back end. The extensive white on their posterior is used to signal others, who can see the signal from two miles away and smell their musk at a mile distance.

The name comes from their prong-shaped horns. Antlers are shed but horns are not. The Pronghorn’s horns are different however. They consist of a hollow sheath over a bony core. The sheath is periodically shed as the horn grows.

Pronghorn live in wide open habitat where, with their superior eyesight they can spot danger a long way off. If pressed, they then rely upon speed. This fastest American mammal (40 plus mph) is not as fast as the Cheetah (70 mph) but they can maintain that speed over a much great distance. Fences are no barrier, as they run under or through them (unlike deer that jump over). The newborn’s defense against predators like Bobcats, Coyotes, and eagles is an odorless body and the ability to remain motionless for hours. Wet weather is a greater hazard than predators and about 40% of the young do not survive the first month of their life. Those that make it to adulthood can expect a life span of 9 to 10 years.

Pronghorn meat is low quality. A fact my wife can attest to. The first winter we lived in Montana, a carcass was given to us. We were very poor at that time, and though we were grateful for the meat, it took courage to ingest it.

I have seen cartoons and heard tales of cowboys trying to rope them. If they ever caught one, this high strung animal would make them regret it. I can imagine the tangled mess in which the horse and rider would find themselves.

(A curious individual on the National Bison Range in Montana checks me out)