I think more than any other big game animal an antelope’s horn growth is more weather-dependent than all others. When the West encounters a bad winter or a tough drought the antelope horn growth reflects this more than any other species. No other animal on the Western landscape grows a horn almost continuously throughout the year, then drops the horn or antler and starts over again each year, like antelope do.
Not all lack of antler growth can be simply blamed on age or poor genetics. Moisture and winter conditions play just as much of a role in antler development as genetics and age, if not more. Last year, the antelope in Wyoming were faced with a tremendous drought and dry winter. Subsequently, the horn growth was extremely poor. In one of my best areas, one that usually holds a few 80-inch or better bucks; the unit struggled to produce even a single 73-incher. Their prongs were short, mass was lacking and the length was beyond pathetic. Based on their body conformation, many of these bucks were older bucks but their horns were seriously lacking in the size and mass department.
This year, 2013, has been a different story altogether and man, what a difference a year makes. A good, soft winter with average snowpack down low and a wet spring and summer have combined to produce some very good antelope bucks this year.
This 2013 DIY buck has a five- and-half-inch third circumference measurement above his prong, which is outstanding! This is the first part of the horn that grows in late winter and is an indication that the buck wintered in very good shape.
An antelope hunter can learn how to read an antelope buck’s horn growth to determine the buck’s winter, spring and summer conditions. This process is very similar to reading a core out of a tree or a glacier. Mike Eastman has agreed to cook up an article for an upcoming issue of EHJ on how to read the core of your antelope buck, so be on the lookout.