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 Bill Bernbeck
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Walkabout Journal

North Park Antelope

My name for them is the Cowdrey herd.  For the past few years, I have glimpsed this group of several dozen pronghorn antelope along the east side of State Road 125, just south of the hamlet of Cowdrey, Colorado. The herd has been within that same locale during my late September visits for several years. They do not seem bothered by the highway traffic.  If, however, a car stops too near to them, they are apt to lope off to a safer distance.

 Over time, I became familiar with the landmarks that defined their immediate range. The main body of the herd stayed a distance from the road, but there were usually small groups of antelope that would be closer in. I formed the theory that these smaller groups were sentinels. They were mostly does, although sometimes a young buck was with them.

One day, approaching a hillside road cut, I spotted the herd in the distance. I parked the car within the banks of the cut, gathered my camera gear, and tried to make my way quietly up the slope of the hill to get a better view. That hilltop would be a good place for sentinels to station themselves. I was downwind and out of sight. Here was a chance to get closer to them undetected.

I was within ten feet of the crest when I saw the sentinels, and they likewise saw me. We all froze in place. Their ears perked up sharp. They stared directly at me. My downwind position kept them from immediately bolting away. I very slowly raised my camera, and was able to capture only a few exposures before they decided to move away. Their lope was relatively casual, well, casual for an antelope. They sprinted a few yards closer to the main herd and looked back to see what I would do. That was enough.  Any further movement on my part would send them dashing off across the sagebrush.

Sentinals by Bill Bernbeck

On another day, I encountered …The Buck. I spotted him along one of the local dirt roads. He was perhaps a quarter mile ahead when I stopped the car. Even at that distance, I could see that he was magnificent. He was only a few yards off the road, closer than I had seen any other antelope before. Immediately behind him, a sage covered hillside was breaking out in autumnal hues. A quick look to the south verified the rest of the herd scattered farther out on the prairie.

With the car stopped, I got my camera gear together, put on the long lens, made some settings, and got ready to take advantage of this opportunity. I rolled down the windows and let the car creep forward at idle, controlled with my foot on the brake, and steered with my knees.  Every few yards I would stop, aim the camera through the open passenger side window, and capture an exposure.

It took an eternity of five minutes before the car was immediately abreast of him. He stayed in place all the while, just watching. I probably got twenty or more shots of him from the various angles of my approach.  My God, he was a grand specimen. His coat color and markings were so vibrant and distinctive. His chest was broad and muscular, and his overall look was sleek and healthy. His antlers looked like polished ebony.  He must have been aware of his handsomeness. I swear he was actually posing for the camera.

Pronghorn Buck by Bill Bernbeck

The pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) is the fastest animal in North America, capable of reaching speed bursts of 60 mph. They have very keen eyesight and prefer a habitat on the open plains. Just a few miles to the north, in Wyoming, the pronghorns are numerous and everywhere. Their population is significantly less here in the high prairie of the North Park basin.

Finding and photographing the Cowdrey herd adds an element of excitement to my visit to the area. I have enjoyed my brief encounters with these graceful animals. It is always a privilege to capture some small part of them within their own world.

Where the Antelope Play by Bill Bernbeck

Bill Bernbeck
November 2008

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