Pronghorn can likely be deemed the easiest path to a trophy in 2014, as success rates tend to run north of 80 percent in states with strong populations. The strongest is in Wyoming, which at one time had more prairie goats than people. That's changed. Pronghorn populations have slipped from a high of 565,000 in 2007 to about 368,000 last year.
That decline is due to a number of factors, but Wyoming Game and Fish spokesman Al Langston says the state went through several tough winters and a number of abnormally dry years. As a result, hunters can expect tougher draw odds and fewer antelope, particularly on management units that are primarily public.
Drought is taking a toll on pronghorns in other states, particularly in regions that tend to be dry in the first place. West Texas, for example, has seen a major decline in antelope. So much, in fact, Texas Parks and Wildlife is now allocating only 100 buck tags for the region. That's down from 800 in 2007. The good news is that antelope in the Texas Panhandle are doing fine, thanks largely to the region's farmers.
"There are about 12,000 antelope in the Panhandle, and they are doing fine," says TPW biologist Shawn Gray.
Antelope aren't fine in the drier regions of Utah, which has also been hit by a prolonged drought. They are stable, however, in the rest of the state, says Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Big Game Coordinator Kent Hersey.
"The biggest bucks tend to come from the desert regions, but the Parker Mountains and Plateau units have the highest populations," he says.
Montana antelope also suffered a significant winter kill several years ago and are still recovering. Some herds were also hit with hemorrhagic disease last year. As a result, there will be a reduced number of tags, says Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Management Section Chief Quentin Kujala. "Region 7 licenses have been cut to 3,000," he says. "It used to be around 10,000."
Drought has hurt antelope in parts of Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, three of the best states for trophy-class pronghorns. New Mexico Game and Fish biologist Ryan Darr says the northeastern quadrant of the state did not experience the drought much of the rest of the state did. Numbers are stable or increasing.
"Populations are strong in that region, although there is still good hunting in other parts of the state," he says.
Wyoming leads the country in antelope population and hunting opportunity. The best regions tend to be in eastern Wyoming, where private land dominates the landscape.
3. New Mexico
Southwest New Mexico also produces some giant pronghorn, but most hunting takes place on private ranches or with an outfitter...unless you draw a prime tag.
Arizona typically ranks as the top trophy producer. The region east of Flagstaff produces some big specimens.