Nevada was more than happy to share its pronghorns with Washington last weekend.
“We have really good summer range but limited winter range, so we don’t want our herd to get too large,” said Ken Gray, Nevada Department of Wildlife regional big-game manager in Elko.
In a tough winter, they’ll start looking for alternative forage, such as farm fields, he said. They’ll also forego the safety of the open range for more dangerous locales in search of food.
“We’ve had up to 90 killed at a time by trains as they bunch up along the tracks looking for food. So it’s a benefit to us to move some of these surplus animals,” Gray said.
Nevada has developed expertise in rounding up pronghorns in three previous helicopter operations to capture and move animals elsewhere within the state, he said.
This was the first capture of pronghorns destined for outside of Nevada, he said.
“We’ve been the recipients of pronghorns from Wyoming, Utah and Oregon, but this is the first time we’ve been able to give back to another state,” he said.
The bonus was that Nevada’s costs were covered by a Shikar Safari Club grant to the Yakama Tribe, which paid about $250 a head for the roundup of 100 pronghorns.
“The costs run $600-$700 a head for bighorn sheep, but we’ve become very efficient with getting pronghorns and keeping costs down,” Gray said.
Helicopter pilots who specialize in game capture herded the pronghorns into staging areas where they were netted in groups of up to five or six. Volunteers rushed to subdue the floundering animals, covering their eyes with blindfolds to calm them and securing their legs with hobbles.
The animals were ear-tagged and Peregrine Wolff, Nevada state wildlife veterinarian, checked each animal and drew blood samples. She also gave the pronghorns a mild tranquilizer before they were loaded into three stock trailers.
The rigs were driven by the Yakama Tribe and Safari Club International volunteers from the Yakima area.
One pronghorn was reported injured in the capture, and another was hurt in transport and had to be dispatched, said SCI volunteer Glenn Rasmussen of Wapato, Wash.
“These animals are moving around 30 mph when they get tangled in the nets and they have sleek, fragile legs,” Gray said. “We’re pretty proud to have a low 2.5 percent mortality rate for our trapping and transport operation.”
About 100 people were involved with the trapping project, mostly volunteers from Nevada sportsmen’s groups and a few local ranchers plus about a dozen people from the SCI’s Central Washington Chapter, Gray said.