Unit Reopening Evidence of Pronghorn Rebound
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDG&F) announced last week that 1,790 tags would be available for the pronghorn hunting lottery in 2020. While this number was up significantly from the 1,330 licenses made available in 2019, it’s the expansion of the units open to hunters that better evidences the improving size of the pronghorn herds found in the state’s western half. Most notable was the reopening of Unit 13-A, located in northwestern North Dakota, bounded by the Canadian and Montana borders, Highways 52 and 8 on the eastern end and the Missouri River on the south. This large unit had been closed to pronghorn hunting since 1993.
“There are various locations north and east of the Missouri River all the way down to the South Dakota line for that matter where there are some isolated pockets of pronghorn; this particular area in the Northwest is an area we’ve been keeping our eye on for the last couple of years just because the numbers have been improving,” said Jeb Williams, NDG&F Wildlife Division Chief, “we felt it was time with the numbers we’ve been seeing on the landscape,” he added in regard to the opening of the unit which has been closed for 27 seasons.
The area has struggled to regain pronghorn numbers since the 1990s, due to weather and other factors including habitat fragmentation, with the winter of 1996-97 playing a major role in knocking back populations. Tough winters since that time have also hindered recruitment of pronghorn in the region falling under Unit 13-A, which Williams related is not primary territory for the unique big game animals.
With recent mild winters however, and close observation by NDG&F agents and reports from the public, the agency okayed the opportunity to open the area up to hunting, based on certain benchmarks. “Different management units in the state have some different measurements [and] different goals as far as that data collection goes,” Williams related, “13-A is a little bit different just because we made the decision to go with a bigger unit, size wise, looking for some good opportunity to get people back on the landscape chasing pronghorn,” referencing the size of the space and the added chances to hunt.
With the opening of 13-A, along with units 8-A north of Dickinson and 11-A west of Mandan, the latter two having been closed since 2009, hunters may see some opportunities to harvest impressive, unpressured buck pronghorn which likely have not seen pursuit in their lifetimes. With the years spent under no hunting seasons, it is likely that many bucks in those newly-opened areas will have large horns and be sought after by those sportsmen lucky enough to draw one of the 240 tags combined over the three reopened units. It’s a prospect that will have many hunters considering their options, as 11,721 people applied for the 881 lottery tags which remained after the 449 gratis tags were deducted from last year’s total number.
“When there are some units that have not been opened up for a while there’s the potential of an opportunity to have certainly a handful or more of pronghorn bucks that have gotten some age on them,” Williams commented, “at that five to six years of growth, you’re talking about a pretty mature pronghorn in North Dakota and so there’s no doubt there’s some opportunities there,” he added, cautioning that hunters should be realistic in their expectations, and that not all bucks they see or have an opportunity to tag will be monsters.
Tags awarded in the 2020 pronghorn lottery are good for both an archery season running from Sept. 4 through Sept. 27 and a firearms season which is open from Oct. 2 until Oct. 18. The application deadline for the resident-only online lottery is Aug. 5 and the turn-around time for the awarding of tags is approximately one to two weeks, allowing sportsmen the back half of the month and a few days in September before the archery season for scouting and making contact with landowners to set up their adventures. More information on the 2020 North Dakota pronghorn hunting season can be found at gf.nd.gov/hunting/pronghorn.
By: Nick Simonson