I've hunted pronghorn in southwestern North Dakota, and seen them in the wild in McIntosh County and Sargent counties, east of the Missouri River and well away from their population center in the state. I've also heard of people spotting them in Steele and Traill counties in years past, and no doubt they've been sighted in just about every corner of the state over the course of decades.


By the summer of 2010 pronghorn numbers had fallen by roughly 50 percent in just two years​

But given the climate and geography of North Dakota - we're on the northern and eastern edges of the primary pronghorn range - it's not a shock the population is susceptible to extreme weather conditions. Pronghorn can decline rapidly from direct winter mortality, out-migration from the state to regions with less snow and cold during winter, and lack of production and recruitment following difficult winters.

Wildlife managers and biologists, hunters and even citizens who understand and appreciate the diversity of big game in North Dakota, were disappointed when all those negative factors converged during and after the winter of 2008-09. While the population decline wasn't enough to close the season in 2009, by summer of 2010 pronghorn numbers had fallen by roughly 50 percent in just two years, and Game and Fish closed the season.

In that same light, after some better cooperation from nature, the pronghorn population has started to turn the corner, with a limited hunt in 2014, and a slight expansion from that this fall.

This year, 410 pronghorn licenses are available in three open units, compared to 250 licenses and one unit last year, according to Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for the State Game and Fish Department.

Along with unit 4-A, which was the only open unit in 2014, units 3B and 4C are open this year. Unit 4-A has 250 licenses available, 3B has 100 and 4Chas 60 in. All licenses are valid for any pronghorn.

Similar to last year, the three units will have a season that is split into an early "bow-only" portion, and a later gun/bow season.

The bow-only portion of the season is from Sept 4 (noon) - Sept. 27. Anyone who draws a license can hunt pronghorn with a bow in the unit printed on the license.

From Oct. 2 (noon) - Oct.18, hunters who still have a valid license can use legal firearms or bow equipment, and again must stay in the assigned unit.

Survey results indicated the number of pronghorn in the primary range was similar to last year, Williams said.

"Pronghorn in the three units have maintained a high buck-to-doe ratio, so we are having another limited season to take advantage of a surplus number of bucks and provide hunting opportunity, while still encouraging population growth," Williams said.

Only North Dakota residents are eligible to apply for a 2015 pronghorn license. Williams said people who have accumulated bonus points and choose not to apply this year will not lose their points.

In addition, state law allows youth who turn age 12 on or before Dec. 31, 2015 to apply for a license.

Applicants can apply online at the Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov. The pronghorn license fee is $30, and the deadline for submitting applications is Aug. 5.

While the supply will likely never meet the demand for North Dakota pronghorn hunters, the population is able to support more hunting opportunity than last year, and that's a good thing.

Leier is a biologist for the Game and Fish Department he can be reached by email at [email protected]