By Shannon Marvel
A pronghorn antelope or mule deer sighting is an unlikely happening in the northeastern region of South Dakota, but there are small herds living quite a ways east of the Missouri River.
Nick Cochran, Brown County conservation officer, said a small herd of antelope still roam their native land in the Spink County area.
“They like those open spaces. They’re a native species to this area, but they don’t do well in blizzards and snow,” Cochran said.
“It’s pretty rare to see them in the regions over here.”
Agriculture development, overhunting and lack of species diversity contributed to the decline of antelope populations in the eastern region.
Pronghorn antelope can reach speeds around 55 mph, but cannot jump high fences like white tailed deer. That makes it difficult for an antelope to find food or shelter, especially in the winter.
The decline of antelope populations in eastern South Dakota was partly the result of the near extermination of bison.
The bison would trample pathways in the snow that served as a natural highway by antelope.
But somehow, the small herd of the Spink County antelope have adapted to the changing habitat.
“They do have grasslands. There’s not much pasture land, but we see them a lot in the wheat fields there. They must’ve found an area that just suits them,” Cochran said.
The western half of the state has more wildlife habitat than the eastern half, though it’s not uncommon to find antelope, mule deer, rattle snakes and other native grassland species in counties bordering the east side of the Missouri River.
Mule deer can be found in the Elm Lake area in Brown County, as well as western Edmunds County and McPherson County.
“It’s interesting that some of those species are still hanging on because of the agricultural practices and the amount of people that have moved in. McPherson County has a lot of grassland. And that’s why those mule deer are doing well in that area,” Cochran said.
There is no antelope hunting season for East River South Dakota. For more information on how to acquire a big game hunting license, or to check hunting restrictions and requirements in your area contact the state Game, Fish and Parks Department or visit the department’s website at www.gfp.sd.gov.
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Pronghorn antelope fast facts
• Pronghorns are related to goats and antelope.
• Their average lifespan is around 10 years.
• They are about 4.5 feet long, 3 feet tall and weight between 90 to 150 pounds depending on sex.
• In the 1804 journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition, it was noted that pronghorn occurred in vast numbers over most of the Dakota Territory.
• South Dakota has the fifth largest pronghorn population in North America, with an estimated 34,200 animals in 2011.
• Antelope rely on their peripheral vision, the safety of their herds and their ability to reach speeds of nearly 60 miles per hour to detect and elude predators, which may include coyote, bobcats and golden eagles.
Source: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks