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On the heels of a mild winter and improved precipitation, most Western antelope hunters will find some of the finest hunting in years. With a few exceptions, pronghorn populations are stable or increasing, especially in the high production states of Montana and Wyoming.

Clinton Kujala, statewide big game chief in MONTANA, reports that "Antelope are doing well. We expect good hunting opportunities this fall." In Region 7, which encompasses the southeastern portion of the state, antelope numbers remain high. In addition to the 13,000 either-sex tags available, additional doe/fawn tags will again be offered. Abundant public access and the reasonable potential to find a trophy buck make this region popular with resident hunters.

To the north, pronghorn stalkers can anticipate increased quotas in some districts in Region 6. A number of fine bucks are killed there each fall on public and private land. Similarly, antelope numbers (and license quotas) are on the rise in the southwestern portion of the state. Public access in this area is more difficult, but many ranchers are more benevolent toward antelope hunters than those holding deer or elk tags.

For trophy hunters, last year's good habitat conditions and spring's abundant moisture should be a boon to horn growth in central Montana. Look for good hunting on the eastern side of the Snowy Mountains and on the prairie country east of Great Falls.

With a statewide estimated harvest of 39,500 antelope in 2005, WYOMING hunters took about 10 percent more animals than in 2004. Jeff Obrecht of the state's Game & Fish Department believes this trend will continue. "We had good wintering conditions with snowpack in the mountains, but milder conditions in the basins and valleys," he said. As a result, antelope came through the winter in fine shape, prompting wildlife managers to bump license quotas a bit higher in several areas.

Although the southwestern portion of the state has historically produced the most trophy bucks, it continues to suffer from persistent drought. Tag holders in this area will have a great hunt this fall, but horn growth isn't likely to meet the region's long-term potential. Similarly, antelope country in the northwest has suffered from low precipitation.

On the upside, herds in the central and northeast regions are doing well. "Productivity is good in the Gillette area," said Obrecht. Drawing a tag in the Gillette area is often as easy as mailing the application and required fee. However, along with the numerous antelope there's frantic energy development in the region, which may cause some disruption to hunters.

In COLORADO, the state wildlife division's Tyler Baskfield is happy to report that antelope are doing a little better. Populations are gradually rebounding after suppression by extended drought. For hunters, that means a little more opportunity in terms of total tags available. However, the increase for this fall will be seen only in doe/fawn tags, which have been raised 33 percent.

Last season, Units 3 and 4 in the state's northwest corner were two of the best in terms of total harvest and hunter success (better than 90 percent). However, there's excellent hunting to be found on the east-central plains in units that are easier to draw such as 120 and 121, where more than 80 percent of last year's hunters filled their tags. The 2005 statewide harvest numbered 6,229 animals, up significantly from the 5,509 taken the previous year.

NEVADA'S improved habitat conditions have done wonders for pronghorn, noted Mike Cox, state biologist. Last season hunters took a record 1,608 antelope, nearly 300 more than a year earlier. Overall numbers continue to creep upward as well; an estimated 20,000 antelope now populate the state, an annual increase of about 1,000 animals for the past several years. With hunter success rate running at or above 80 percent in most areas, there's no bad antelope hunting in Nevada. The largest herds inhabit Humboldt and Washoe counties and the Ely area.

ARIZONA hunters can expect excellent hunting this fall. Although biologist Brian Wakeling reports that the state is back in drought mode, population gains in the past few years prompted wildlife managers to boost 2006 license quotas in most areas. Despite being slightly below management objectives for overall numbers, Arizona is still a top destination for trophy bucks. Wakeling recommends districts 2-5, 13a, 13b, and 19a.

In NEW MEXICO habitat conditions are nearly a mirror image of Arizona. Antelope benefited from robust precipitation in 2005, but the state is currently very dry. Nonetheless, biologist Julie Cummings anticipates an excellent hunting season. Hunter success in many antelope districts exceeds 90 percent. The southern portion of the state generally produces the best bucks. Units 12 and 13 in the southwest offer an exceptional mix of high numbers and trophy bucks, though tags are very difficult to draw. In the southeast, Units 36 and 37 kick out a number of eye-poppers, but public access in 37 is very limited.

OREGON isn't often associated with antelope hunting, but its herds have been gradually increasing for several years, says Tom Thornton, wildlife biologist. The major pronghorn population roams over the high desert in the state's southeastern region--more than 3,000 licenses have been issued this fall, up more than 100 from last year. Hunts on the Hart Mountain Refuge are highly coveted by trophy hunters, but Thornton doesn't believe the refuge is the only place to find a bragging-size buck. "We hunt our antelope conservatively," he explained. "There are good buck:doe ratios statewide with quality animals in most units."

Antelope numbers are inching upward in IDAHO. Biologist Brad Compton noted slight increases over the last couple years, with good fawn production this spring. License quotas for the fall are similar to last year's. For overall numbers, units in the southwest and south-central portions of the state are most productive. For the best bucks, Compton suggested Units 41, 42, 44 and 45.

CALIFORNIA'S antelope hunting is limited to just a few hundred hunters, but the animals are faring well. License quotas for the fall are similar to last season, with some increase in junior hunting opportunities.
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Title Annotation:2006 BIG GAME REPORT
Author:Ballard, Jack
Publication:Petersen's Hunting
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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