The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


September 29, 2012

Don Steese column: Antelope the king of the wild

The animal that, to me, symbolizes the west and especially the high prairie is the pronghorn antelope. They are very special animals for so many reasons.

Antelope are, first off, extremely beautiful. Their distinctive white markings, visible from great distances, differentiate them from the mule and whitetail deer which also make this great area home. Even though you can see pronghorns from great distances, there’s no chance of getting close. They can see you long before you see them and will be in the next county before you even start your approach. Pronghorns can run like no other animal on the great plains.

Other members of the deer family adjust well to man’s encroachment. They will tolerate quite a fair amount of human interaction. Pronghorns, on the other hand, are much more elusive. I guess that’s why I like them so much. They symbolize, at least to me, the wildness of this part of the world.

Back five or six years ago we’d frequently see pronghorns in this part of the Canadian prairies. That all changed a couple years ago. Some say it was a couple really bad winters in a row, others blame a lack of sage, which they, apparently, need in their diet. Whatever the reason, we saw fewer and fewer the past few years. This year we went for about 10 days without seeing a single pronghorn. That all changed the other morning as we headed home from our morning hunt. We were driving very slowly along one of the many gravel roads that crisscross this area when we happened upon a small herd of about five animals. I stopped for some picture taking and was really reluctant to leave. There were four does or youngsters and one herd buck. He was so unconcerned about us spying on him that he lay down for a nap, right out there in the open. We were happy to watch him snooze for a few minutes.

We saw another small herd today as we were on our way to the biggest little town around these parts. Sure am glad to see they’re not completely gone. These parts wouldn’t be the same without them.

Another strange wildlife phenomenon is taking place around here. The area is becoming home to a burgeoning moose population. Normally these creatures would be found only in the wooded northern areas of the province, but moose have been filtering into the virtually treeless areas of the prairies for some years now. At first they were a real novelty here. Now, just about everyone has seen one. I haven’t seen any this year but I saw tracks and piles of moose dung at one spot. I’m sure this was a bull, too, because he had some of the bushes and trees all horned up. Pretty exciting stuff, but I’m glad we didn’t run into him while roaming around looking for birds. A bull moose in heat can be a very dangerous creature indeed.

So far I’m putting the sharptail population as greatly improved this year. Huns, not so much. We’re seeing a lot of small coveys, but few with a dozen or more birds, which is what we like to see. Things are coming back from last year’s dismal numbers, but how much is still uncertain. It may take a few years to rebound from what was the worst year in anyone’s memory.

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