Have you ever watched our pronghorn males fight?
As a toddler we didn’t locate them in our haunts north of Sentinel Butte, ND It wasn’t until the mid 50’s that a group moved into my parents west range from the country from Square Butte to the southwest of Medora. They were a huge novelty and the talk of the whole neighborhood with their big bushy white rumps and their peculiar habits of a high-speed jaunt only to circle around halfway to spot you from afar.
In fact, the majestic mule deer, our most abundant ungulates, had just made a comeback after being reduced to near extinction as the main staple of crowded communities with large families. He almost made the front page of the local weekly if someone placed a “Muley”. I’ve often wondered how many game wardens grew up in this environment – I know one personally. Was it only in 1953(4)? that our region held its first legal hunting season.
Like everyone else in our way of life, I’ve never taken the time to watch a pair of well-matched pronghorns fight. The antelopes were extremely well behaved and are so common that we ‘natives’ hardly give them a second look, let alone waste time stopping and watching them. Even the long, harsh winter of 2010-2011, when other communities suffered heavy losses, we did not.
Another unexplained habit, to me anyway, is the way small herds group together during the cold winter months. The harsher the winter, the larger the herds, so much so that one would think they were competing for hard-to-find food sources. Perhaps the only thing that comes to mind is the benefit of sharing body heat, but like I said, I don’t spend a lot of time studying them – I’m busy.
Their term of gestation is apparently a little longer than our Muleys which go into “rut” at the beginning of November, the male antelopes go into battle at the end of August and September.
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Years ago, our local Soil Conservation Service field engineer came across a pair of bucks that were sure to be fatally horn-locked without the help of a third party, to which he called the proper authorities . As time slowly passed waiting for their arrival, he took several very unusual photos of such a rare event.
I always assumed he had more time available than most of us, but over the years and as I became much more “mature”, I budgeted the same, if not more, time on my productive use of time. At the end of August, we were locked in with sweltering temperatures of 95 to 100 degrees. From my invincible youthful attitude and two near-heat strokes, I only “pushed harder” in sun-bleached weather. My father always said jokingly, “So early old and so late smart.”
So, to save time, I crawled into the air-conditioned cabin of the loader tractor and headed towards grouping the bales into semi-loads to save time for further transport. Two old boys had been in my presence all afternoon, moving away from each other, but for about an hour before sunset they came closer with their heads down and launched themselves at the assault. Almost 60 feet away, they paid no attention to me as I sat down my two magazine rounds and decided to “pass the time watching”.
As they thrust back and forth, I clocked them at 26 action-packed minutes before they got tired, both facing the same direction, each with one horn locked on the other as they were standing, inflating their lungs. Six minutes later they turned around and were at war again for another eight minutes before one of them had had enough, turned around and ran away. Both extremely exhausted, the victor chased his defeated foe for three-quarters of a mile and out of sight, clinging to his hindquarters with every jump. Two days later, I came across a recently dead male antelope in this area.
I’ve since had a figure-eight chase around my semi, bales and tractor as I charged, in a desperate attempt to find help to survive.
Once, while stopped at an intersection, two played pronghorns came running to the corner of the fence on the other side of the ditch. The lead narrowly escaped being gored by his pursuer as he crawled under the bottom wire and past me. I jumped to avoid the pursuer, as he came straight at me I yelled, “I had a dozen FBI agents shaking in their shoes at the Salt Lake City airport.” It stopped him in his tracks, then turned and turned around. I felt powerful with authority.
I and others saw a male chasing another with his tongue hanging out as we rode, not really realizing what led to it – now we know.