Dennis Cassinelli: An up-close sighting of pronghorn antelope
On a recent hunting/camping trip to Humboldt and Elko counties, my son, John, and I had a remarkable close-up experience with a group of the elusive pronghorn antelope abundant in the area. It’s rare to approach close to these beautiful animals, so this was a special treat to see them and their activities up close.
After camping for two days on the shore of Willow Creek reservoir in Elko County, we decided to return home, since the deer habitat in the area was in such poor condition due to recent fires which had devastated the area. We were traveling south between Midas and Golconda through a portion of the range that had been turned to scorched earth along the east side of the highway. On the west side there was the yellow grass from BLM revegetation operations.
During our trip through the mountains and desert country, we had seen many groups of from one to 30 or more pronghorn antelope running in the distance. It seems they always see us long before we see them, since their eyesight is so remarkable.
Suddenly, a small group of three antelope does dashed across the road directly in front of us. They immediately stopped and looked back across the road where they had left two fawns behind. We stopped the truck with the camper to get a look at the animals. We noticed the two fawns were still behind the barbed wire fence alongside the road. Pronghorn antelope don’t jump over fences like deer do, but rather, they prefer to crawl under the bottom wire of the fence.
Crawling under the wire of a fence was obviously not a skill the fawns had yet learned, since they just paced nervously back and forth waiting for the does to come back to rescue them. Amazingly, the does ignored us, parked just a few feet away, and dashed back across the highway to rescue the fawns. After a few minutes of encouragement from the mature does, the fawns figured out they had to crawl under the wire and join the does.
The tiny heard then galloped back across the highway and took off through the tall grass.
The need to rescue the fawns overpowered any fear the does may have had of us parked in the highway just a few feet away. Their maternal instinct saved the tiny baby antelope from abandonment. We can be sure the fawns will know what to do the next time they need to cross a fence. The BLM requires all fences in antelope habitat have a bottom wire high enough for the antelope to scurry under.
For those of you not familiar with pronghorn antelope, I’ll tell a few things many people don’t know about them. Native to the western United States, pronghorn antelope, (Antilocapra americana), though not a true antelope, was first described by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804-1806. They’re the fastest running land animals in North America, reaching speeds of up to 45 mph. Tan and white in color with black nose and markings, they’re smaller than mule deer. They have a short mane similar to a horse. Males have huge eyes set just below the black horns and they often run with their mouth open in order to take in more oxygen. Females also have horns, but they’re smaller.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.