Field Judging – Pronghorn

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Video how to measure antelope horns

The unique pronghorn, its population reduced to some 15,000 head in the early 1900s, is one of America’s greatest conservation success stories. Now legally hunted in nearly every western state, it has become one of our most numerous game animals, second only to deer. For the pronghorn hunter, it is also one of the most difficult animals to judge in the field. Nearly always, the first-time successful pronghorn hunter finds the horns of his buck to be much smaller than they appeared to be when he made the shot.

The current B&C scoring system was adopted in 1950 and was first reflected in the 1952 B&C records book. There were 67 total pronghorn entries listed meeting the minimum score requirement of 70 points. In contrast, the latest 1999 book lists 1,443 entries with a score of 82 or more. Only 21 achieved that score in the 1952 book.

A pronghorn with heavy 14-inch horns and four-inch prongs will score about 70 points and is a trophy no one need be ashamed of. If, however, a trophy qualifying for the current B&C all-time records minimum of 82 is the hunter’s goal, a buck with 15 to 16 inch horns, 6 to 7 inch bases, and 5 to 6 inch prongs must be found.

When guiding and hunting for pronghorn in several states over the past 36 years, I have used the following methods of evaluating the most critical features of trophy heads. Hunters who have attended the pronghorn hunting seminars where I have recommended these methods say they have worked well for them also.

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HORN LENGTH

Horns should appear to be much longer than the length of the pronghorn’s head, measured from base of the ear to tip of nose. This distance averages around 13 inches. Also check the horns against ear length. If the horns appear to be 2-1/2 to 3 times the ear length, which averages 6 inches, they are probably long enough. Remember, horns that have pronounced, rounded curves inward with horn tips ending in downward hooks, may be half again as long as they appear to be, while straight horns with little hooks at the very tips will not yield much of a bonus.

PRONGS

The prongs of most record-class buck will appear extremely large and will project from the horn at or above the level of the ear tips. Prongs are measured to the rear edge of the horn they project from, so a 6-inch prong will appear to extend about four inches from a heavy horn — or twice the width of the horn viewed from the side. A head with very high prongs may cause the third quarter circumference measurement to be taken below the prong instead of above it, which usually helps the score.

HORN MASS

As four circumference measurements are taken on each horn, it is obvious that heavy horns are a must for record-book pronghorn. The eyes of a pronghorn are located directly below the horn base, so they are a convenient feature to judge horn mass. As viewed from the side, the horn base should appear to be twice the width of the eye, which generally measures a little over 2 inches. This equates to horn base that measures 6 to 7 inches in circumference.

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Pronghorn are usually found in open country and have exceptional vision. Therefore, good binoculars and a spotting scope are necessary to evaluate potential trophies at the distances required to avoid spooking them. Good optics and careful use of them will save the hunter many needless stalks when searching for a record-class buck.

A major factor in pronghorn trophy quality is seasonal weather. While not directly related to field evaluation, it may be a factor in where you choose to hunt. Pronghorn shed their outer horn sheaths in the fall, leaving a bony core upon which regrowth of horn material soon begins. A mild winter coupled with a warm, wet spring, and early summer providing abundant feed can result in much larger horns than will a severe winter and drought conditions the next summer.

MAXIMUM VS. MINIMUM A COMPARISON OF TWO RECORDS-BOOK PRONGHORN

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>