Distribution and Abundance of Antelope in Nebraska
Fossils show the pronghorn antelope has roamed North America in its present-day form for over one million years. Historical records indicate the pronghorn population may have numbered nearly 40 million, which is as abundant as bison. During the early 20th century only about 13,000 remained, but thanks to competent management there are about one million pronghorns alive today.
In 1907 Nebraska passed a law prohibiting the taking of elk, deer, antelope and beaver, and there was no antelope hunting season until 1953. A 1925 publication cited that only 10 small bands totaling 187 animals remained from the thousands of antelope which once roamed the Nebraska plains. In 1955 the population was estimated at 3,500 antelope, and by 1974 there were about 10,000 antelope in Nebraska. From the mid- 1970’s the population declined due to the 1978-79 winter when some herds suffered moralities of 60 to 100 percent. Today, the number of antelope in Nebraska is estimated at about 6,000.
Antelope occur primarily in the western half of Nebraska with their major range in the Panhandle. Highest densities are in northern Sioux and Dawes Counties.
Antelope Habitat in Nebraska
Northwestern Nebraska has the best antelope habitat. The low rainfall results in thin vegetative cover that encourages forbs and shrubby growth. The Pierre Hills range land of northwest Nebraska contains Nebraska’s best antelope range and carries the most pronghorn. Aerial surveys in 1991 indicate the North Sioux Management Unit supports five antelope per square mile while density for the entire Panhandle averages less than one per square mile.
The pronghorn has a social nature resulting in small family groups to large wintering herds. Pronghorn may cover a large area during the year when the range is poor. The antelope’s unique ability to erect patches of its bristle-like stiff body hair allows it to release body heat in the hot summer, while the hollow air-filled hair insulates it against sub-zero temperatures in the winter.
The pronghorn’s’s diet is composed of forbs browse plants, and very little grass. A study in Kansas indicates cacti made up 40 percent of the antelope’s diet, forbs 36, grasses 22 and browse two percent. In Nebraska where browse species are lacking on the antelope’s range, pronghorns utilize winter wheat and alfalfa.
Nebraska Antelope Hunting Statistics
Due to the low population of antelope in Nebraska in 1989, the only unit open to antelope hunting was the North Sioux, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commissioners authorized the issuance of only 50 buck-only permits. The number of antelope increased in 1990 and 100 hunting permits were issued, and as the herd continued to grow, that number increased to 325 Permits in 1991.