By Darrell Arnold
HUERFANO- Shortly after his arrival to Huerfano County in 1975, then Colorado Division of Wildlife Officer Lonnie Brown began improving the pronghorn population.
Brown recalls, "When I first came here, there was a good population of pronghorns east if I-25, but very few on the west side. There were about a dozen antelope near La Veta, most of them north of town. So, sometime there in the late ‘70s, I got 15 head from out at Hugo and released them north of the old truck stop on 160."
There was always a fairly good herd north of the Huerfano County line, in Custer County around Westcliffe, and, according to Brown, many of those pronghorns have historically migrated all the way to Walsenburg during harsh winters.
"The snows will push them down here, and then they’ll go back up in the spring. Some of them stop up around Redwing, south of Wolf Springs Ranch. A couple hundred will stay in there, and a couple hundred will come out to that Red Rocks Road area."
He continues, "They got hit really hard by that blizzard of ‘97. The Westcliffe antelope that migrated down got fed for 30 days that year, basically the month of December. We were feeding about 900 in three locations around Walsenburg."
Brown remembers how horrible it was. " The biggest herd was a good 400 right out west of the Rambler Motel. The coyotes just moved in and cleaned up. They were taking a lot of cripples. The antelope were breaking legs and popping joints in that hard crusted snow. There were a lot of them with two brokens legs trying to live. It was sad."
Brown says, "Some we could get to and some we couldn’t get to were eating cholla. We’d watch them bite that cholla off and wallow it around in their mouths and chew it, and their mouths would be bloody. But apparently that cholla has good feed value. They did well on it, once they could get by the spines. About the only thing the antelope were eating that wasn’t good for them was juniper trees.
Prior to that ‘97 blizzard, there were not very many pronghorns west of I-25 according to Brown. But he says a lot of those immigrants stayed rather than moving back up to Westcliffe.
"Today, we have good numbers of them north and south of the Huerfano River." In fact, the pronghorn population in Huerfano County is thriving, and that has provided area hunters with good opportunities.
"There are three hunting units in Huerfano County," says Brown. "One north of Highway 10, north and east of Walsenburg, and one south of Highway 10. "There are 60 or 70 buck licenses out there and 40 or 50 doe licenses.
"Then there is a large grouping of units that takes in everything west of I-25 and includes the Westcliffe herd, both sides of Greenhorn Mountain, and all the way down here to La Veta. There are something like 150 buck licenses and 75 doe licenses available in those units."