California Pronghorn Antelope
The pronghorn antelope is commonly found on the open plains of the American West. More typically associated with states like Montana or Wyoming, it can be seen even here in Central California. Places like the Carrizo Plain or the open and treeless hills of eastern San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties.
A group of Pronghorn Antelope stopped by a fence on the Jack Ranch, east of Parkfield
The pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) is a common feature of the western landscape, and certainly famous in the old song – Home on the Range. There is an error in the lyrics of that tune and it is that generally, deer and antelope prefer slightly different habitats. Deer like open areas as long as there are trees nearby; while the antelope prefer the wide open spaces, at least here in Central California.
But that aside, these antelope can be seen at the eastern edge of Central California, especially on the back roads of San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties.
Antelope on the Carrizo Plain
The antelope are quite fast, and often reported to be second only to the cheetah. But they are very poor jumpers, as shown by the photo at the top of the page. These antelope were alarmed by my presence as I drove by and stopped and are clustered in front of this fence, which would be no problem at all for a deer to jump.
I suppose that this can be explained by living on treeless plains where speed is essential, but jumping obstacles a much less important skill.
A good side view of a pronghorn couple in Montana
Where to see Pronghorn Antelope in Central California
There are two main areas in Central California where you may find the pronghorn – the Carrizo Plain National Monument in eastern San Luis Obispo County and the treeless hills just west of there and extending northward into Monterey County.
These areas might seem to be “howling wastelands” to some, but are interesting places with features of cultural, geological and historical significance. In addition to the wildlife that can be found there, the springtime also rewards the visitor with lavish displays of wildflowers.
If you are traveling these backroads and enjoying the scenery, you may also see some Tule elk in the same areas as the antelope. There are several herds through here and they cover quite a bit of territory.
I once saw a calf elk (it was quite large) on the road outside of San Miguel. It was separated from the herd and was very confused. It finally did move off the road and went in search of its mother.
This is the other half of the herd shown in the top photo. They were on the other side of the fence and were waiting for the others to make their way in.
As you can see in the background, this is winter and snow does frequently fall in the higher elevations.
If you are heading out specifically to see pronghorn, be sure to take binoculars. But also be aware that you might be disappointed. They do spook easily and aren’t always approached easily.