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Field Judging - Pronghorn

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Field Judging - Whitetail Deer

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Field Evaluation for Boone and Crockett Score

Pronghorn

The major features that make up a B&C score for a pronghorn: C - Length of Horn, D - circumferences, and E - Length of Prong.


When early explorers first chronicled the existence of pronghorn antelope, their journal entries referred to this animal as a goat, for lack of a better description. Sometime later, still unclear on how to classify this new oddity, its similarities to African antelope resulted in another misnomer, and the species became known as the pronghorn antelope. By the time proper evaluation revealed that this was not a true antelope, the name pronghorn antelope had become common. Today, they are technically known as pronghorn, and affectionately referred to as goats by our western hunting culture.

By any name, the pronghorn is uniquely North American; its entire evolutionary path and current distribution are exclusive to this continent. Like many of our big game species, over harvest and habitat loss reduced pronghorn populations from an estimated 10 million animals prior to European settlement down to some 15,000 head by the early 1900s. Estimates today show the pronghorn populations at over 1 million animals. Although the vast unbroken plains no longer exist, the recovery of the pronghorn is one of America's greatest conservation success stories.

Now legally hunted in nearly every western state, it has become one of our most numerous game animals, second only to deer. For hunters, the pronghorn is also one of the most difficult animals to judge in the field. Nearly always, the first-time successful pronghorn hunter finds the horns of his buck to be much smaller than they appeared to be when he or she made the shot.

 

The current B&C scoring system was adopted in 1950 and was first reflected in the 1952 B&C records book. There were 67 pronghorn entries listed that met the minimum score requirement—70 points at the time. In contrast, the latest 2018 book lists 2,905 entries with a score of 82 or more. Only 21 achieved that score in the 1952 book. As pronghorn populations recovered, so did the size of animals being harvested. In response, the Boone and Crockett Club raised the minimum score to 80 points.

A pronghorn with heavy 14-inch horns and four-inch prongs will score about 70 points—a trophy no one need be ashamed of. If, however, a trophy qualifying for the current B&C All-time records minimum of 82 is the hunter's goal, a buck with 15- to 16-inch horns, 6- to 7-inch bases, and 5- to 6-inch prongs must be found.

The following methods of evaluating the most critical features of a pronghorn’s horns in the field have proven the most useful in accurately field judging for B&C score.
 

Horn Lenght

Horns should appear to be much longer than the length of the pronghorn's head, measured from base of the ear to tip of nose. This distance averages around 13 inches. Another observation to make is to check the length of the horns against ear length. If the horns appear to be two-and-a-half to near three times the ear length, which averages 6 inches, you’re looking at horn length of 15 to 17 inches, which is plenty.

Tip: It’s worth noting that horns that have pronounced, rounded curves inward with horn tips ending in downward hooks, may be half again as long as they appear to be, which means deceivingly longer horns. Conversely, straighter, upright horns with little curve or hooks at the very tips will not yield much of a bonus in length.

 

Prongs

The prongs of most record-class bucks will appear extremely large and will project from the horn at or above the level of the ear tips. Prongs are measured to the rear edge of the horn they project from, so a 6-inch prong will appear to extend about four inches from a heavy horn—or twice the width of the horn viewed from the side. A head with very high prongs may cause the third quarter circumference measurement to be taken below the prong instead of above it, which usually helps the score.

Horn Mass

As four circumference measurements are taken on each horn, heavy horns are a must for a records-book pronghorn. The eyes of a pronghorn are located directly below the horn base, so they are a convenient feature to judge horn mass. As viewed from the side, the horn base should appear to be twice the width of the eye, which generally measures a little over 2 inches. This equates to horn base that measures 6 to 7 inches in circumference. This mass carried up the horn to at least the base of the prong is what you’re looking for.

Tip: The spread or width of a pronghorn’s horns does not factor into its score, which means narrow or widely set out horns are not a factor. Either configuration could, however, present a challenge when evaluating in the field. Narrow can look tall and long, as can horns that splay outward. It is best to stick with the nose-to-base-of-ear or length-of-ear measurements to estimate horn length.

Other Factors

Unlike other species of big game where horn and antler size are greatly influenced by age, a pronghorn buck can grow an exceptional set of horns as early as age 2, and then fluctuate in subsequent years based on range conditions. Therefore a major factor in pronghorn trophy quality is seasonal weather, and while not directly related to field evaluation, it may be a factor in where you choose to hunt. Pronghorn shed their outer horn sheaths in the fall, leaving a bony core upon which regrowth of horn material soon begins. A mild winter coupled with a warm, wet spring, and early summer providing abundant feed can result in much larger horns than will a severe winter and drought conditions the next spring.

Good Glass

Pronghorn are usually found in open country and have exceptional vision. Therefore, good binoculars and a spotting scope are necessary to evaluate potential trophies at the distances required to avoid spooking them. Good optics and careful use of them will save the hunter many needless stalks when searching for a record-class buck.

Maximum vs. Minimum

A comparison of two records-book typical whitetail deer

Pronghorn scoring 95 points

  • Length, length, length – Right 19-3/8, Left 18-5/8
  • Exceptional mass – bases and 1st Quarter over 7 inches with D-3s of 4-6/8 inches and 4-4/8 inches
  • Strong prongs – 6-7/8 inches and 7 inches
  • Only 1-6/8 inches symmetry deduction

Pronghorn scoring 80 points

  • No significant weaknesses
  • Slightly above average horn length – both measuring over 16 inches each
  • Average prong length – both over 5 inches
  • Average mass – bases both over 6 inches and third quarter measurements at 2-4/8 inches