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Antelope licenses cut

A significant number of licenses have been dropped from this year's pronghorn antelope season.

The North Dakota Game and Fish announced this week the number of licenses this fall will drop to 4,631, a decrease of 2,284. The total licenses issued in 2008 will consist of 2,141 any-pronghorn licenses and 2,490 doe/fawn licenses.

"We've got population objectives for all our management regions based upon a number that can be sustained over an average North Dakota winter and fits within the available habitat so it provides hunting opportunities for our sportsmen," Game and Fish wildlife biologist Bruce Stillings said. "Last year we were above those objectives and we had an aggressive harvest on the female segment of the population to decrease the population."

According to the results of Game and Fish surveys taken in late June and early July, a decrease in population is exactly what happened.

Officials estimate there was a seven percent drop from last year's estimated 15,000 pronghorn to 14,000 this year, but Stillings said the pronghorn population is still above the state objective.

"They're doing quite well and are within population objectives in all the major management regions," said Stillings, who added that licenses are, "still above what would normally be issued in the past."

Adjusting the number of licenses each year is all a part of setting the appropriate management scheme to maintain the population at a healthy level Stillings said.

Since 2004, the Game and Fish has had an extra tool in its toolbox - they placed GPS collars on antelopes and have been tracking their movements since.

The project, which end December 2008, has helped with the Game and Fish's management strategy.

"We wanted to see if, in fact, are these animals staying put in October when we've put the harvest strategy in place," Stillings said. "Or are, in fact, these animals maybe moving into a different hunting unit that had a different hunting strategy applied based on the July counts."

Stillings said one of the biggest surprises is how far the animals actual move in a given year. The data shows a pronghorn can move up to 200 miles in a given year and has helped them with their management decisions.

For example, pronghorns will summer in northwestern North Dakota and then move to the southwestern corner of the state in the fall and winter months.

Pronghorns will move to where the food which - depending on the severity of the winter - can be difficult to find.

"We've got objectives established that are based upon what could normally exist in a normal North Dakota winter, when they're above that we need to crop them down and keep a number of animals the habitat could support," Stillings said. "It would certainly be irresponsible to simply let the population grow and then have the winter of 2008 and '09 and simply have all these animals starve to death."

Stillings said he remembers the winters of '96 and '97 when antelope could be seen north of Interstate-94, stacked up and looking for food.

Despite recent mild winters, the Game and Fish wants to keep the population in what it sees as the best possible situation if a rough winter does occur.

Population stability and opportunities for hunters is the long-term goal Stillings said.

"The 2008 harvest strategy is one more of looking for population stability, whereas in 2007 we were trying to reduce numbers towards management objectives," Stillings said.

Prospective hunters are encouraged to apply online, or print out an application to mail at Paper applications will also be available soon at local Game and Fish offices, county auditor offices or license vendors.

The deadline for applications is Wednesday, Aug. 6. Only North Dakota residents are eligible for pronghorn gun licenses, but the archery season is open to residents and nonresidents.

Gun season runs from Oct. 3, at noon, to Oct. 19 and bow season runs from Aug. 29, at noon, until Oct. 5.