- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota hunters will be able to go after pronghorn in the Badlands this fall for the second consecutive year, after not being allowed to hunt the fastest land mammal in the U.S. for five years. They’ll also be allowed to bag more of the animals commonly referred to as antelope, and in a wider area.

The pronghorn population is slowly rebounding after being decimated by three severe winters starting in 2008. A Game and Fish Department survey of nearly 10,000 square miles of pronghorn range in the southwest of the state estimated the population at 5,500 animals. That number is down slightly from 5,700 in 2014, when the state allowed pronghorn hunting for the first time since 2009.

The numbers are up markedly from 3,600 in 2012, as is the buck-to-doe ratio. There are now about 44 bucks for every 100 does - about double the ratio in the five years in which hunting was closed - and more bucks means more hunting opportunities.

“Licenses are for any pronghorn, but history tells us that 99 percent of the time those licenses are filled with bucks,” state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said.

Game and Fish is making 410 licenses available in three hunting units this fall, up from 250 licenses in only one unit last year. The number is still small - in 2009, more than 2,300 licenses were issued - but state wildlife officials feel the pronghorn population is on the right track.

Concerns about habitat damage due to rapid energy development and the loss of Conservation Reserve Program grassland remain, Big Game Management Supervisor Bruce Stillings said.

“Pronghorn can move upwards of 100 miles from winter range to summer range, so any time we’re creating roads and reducing patches of habitat, it’s a concern,” he said.

Recent mild winters have helped stem the population decline, and there are a lot of bucks in some areas, Williams said.

“We’re on the lower end of our (population) objectives, but can still offer some (hunting) opportunities,” he said.

Pronghorns are unique to North America, although they resemble the antelope that are native to Africa. Southwestern North Dakota is on the edge of their western range. They have a history of rebounding from bad weather in North Dakota, but it isn’t a quick process.

After the harsh winter of 1977-78, hunting was closed through 1982. After the bad winter of 1996-97 in which three-fourths of the population died, there were only limited hunting seasons the next few years. By 2005 the population had rebounded to a record level of more than 15,000 animals.

This year’s bow-only pronghorn season is from noon Sept. 4 through Sept. 27. Bow and gun hunting is allowed from noon Oct. 2 through Oct. 18. The deadline to apply for a license is Aug. 5. Last year, 89 percent of hunters who got a license bagged a pronghorn.

The limited number of pronghorn licenses are being offered only to North Dakota residents. That hampers hunting guides like Kevin Swanke, of Marmarth, who said almost all of his clients are from other states. But he’s happy that the pronghorn population is recovering.

“I get a lot of calls from people wanting to hunt antelope,” he said.

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