Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Shadows on the Trail Trilogy - Pronghorns in the Pleistocene!

Pronghorn antelope buck looking out across his prairie kingdom.
Photo taken in Wyoming by Author. 
Recently, I was driving down a graveled county road in Wyoming on an early morning jaunt to one of my favorite artifact hunting ranches. A sea of sagebrush and prairie surrounded me in every direction I looked. Then, my peripheral vision from my right eye caught movement out on the prairie alongside my pickup truck. I glanced over and there was a pronghorn antelope buck racing with my pickup. I peered down at my speedometer and saw that I was traveling right around thirty miles per hour. I looked over at the pronghorn buck and he did not appear to even be breathing hard. I took a gander down the stretch of county road in front of me, saw that the road was straight and punched the gas pedal. We will just see how fast Mr. Pronghorn Buck is!



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The pickup truck picked up speed to around thirty-five miles per hour and the pronghorn buck still matched my speed without too much trouble. I checked the road again and sped up to forty miles per hour. At forty miles per hour, the pickup was all over that rutty county road. I decided that forty miles per hour was my limit. I was hoping that it was the limit for the pronghorn buck, as well. I looked over at my pronghorn friend and saw that at forty miles per hour, he was still not finished with me. He lowered his head and found another gear. His legs chewed up the prairie as he accelerated past the front of my pickup truck. He literally left me in his dust.
 
I backed off to thirty-five miles per hour and that was when the pronghorn buck decided to zoom across the road right in front of me. The last thing I remember was that pronghorn buck’s white rump waving goodbye to my pickup truck and me. After crossing the road, the pronghorn buck headed out onto the prairie where he finally slowed down and stopped. I watched the pronghorn buck in the rear view mirror as I headed on down the road. I guess he was just showing me he was the fastest dude on the prairie. 

Pronghorn antelope are the second fastest land animal in the world, right behind cheetahs. At thirty miles per hour, pronghorns are loping along. At forty-five miles per hour, they are cruising along. At sixty miles per hour, they are simply hauling!   
 

High Plains archaeological sites are well represented with the remains of pronghorn antelope. The
Folsom projectile point. This was what the Folsom People
used to bring down pronghorn antelope.  




archaeological record of the Folsom People, the main characters of Shadows on the Trail, demonstrates that pronghorn antelope were an important part of their diet. Investigators have found the remains of pronghorn antelope in Folsom-aged strata at two key archaeological sites, the Lindenmeier Site in Colorado and the Agate Basin Site in Wyoming.

It is now time to climb into our time machine and set it for the late Pleistocene, sometime around 8,700 B.C. We will join three young hunters from my prehistoric odyssey novel called Shadows on the Trail on a difficult trek across the Arid Plains. The three young hunters named Chayton, Wiyaka, and Keya are almost out of water and food. From this passage, it appears things are getting worse not better.       

Wiyaka suddenly stopped in his tracks, causing Keya to run into the back of him. After scolding Keya for his clumsiness, Wiyaka pointed his finger towards the parched prairie, northwest of them, where a huge dust cloud rose into the clear blue sky. The three hunters watched the dust cloud with curiosity, unable to determine what was causing it.

“Prairie fire!” Chayton spoke into a strong northwesterly wind.

Hee ya, – No,” Wiyaka responded. “It is the wrong color and we are downwind, we would smell the smoke.”

“Animals?” Chayton suggested.

“Perhaps, maybe bison, I am not sure?” Wiyaka yelled into the wind. “Let’s get closer.”

The three hunters slowly crept forward, hiding behind the tall sagebrush and greasewood, their spears ready to thrust. As they got closer, a low rumbling sound filled the dusty air. Crouching down, Wiyaka signaled to Chayton and Keya to join him.

“We are close enough!” Wiyaka called out to his companions.


Pronghorn antelope buck cruising along on the prairie. 
The dust cloud was heading directly at the three hunters and Chayton looked around for something for them to climb up, but the naked prairie offered nothing. The rumbling sound became louder and the dust in the air became thicker. As the dust cloud headed straight at the three hunters, Chayton covered his watering eyes against the barrage of dust and dirt. The dust cloud was right in front of the three hunters when Wiyaka’s dirty face lit up in a broad smile. He jumped to his feet, waving his spear and screaming at the top of his lungs. Chayton and Keya still hunkered down, looked up at Wiyaka as if he had lost his mind. Wiyaka jumped high in the air, throwing his spear while screaming at the top of his lungs.

In as much time as it took to scream, the lead animals of the herd sharply veered to the right of the three hunters. The hunters watched hundreds, if not thousands, of tatoke – pronghorn antelope race past. The three hunters could no longer see each another in the dense dust cloud that shrouded the plains. When the sound of thundering hooves finally faded away, the dust cloud dissipated and the hunters looked at each other.       

On a wide-open environment like the Arid Plains, pronghorn antelope are almost unapproachable. They have phenomenal eyesight and they miss very little, even at very long distances. If you are a hunter from the Folsom People tribe, armed with a spear or two and without any mode of transportation besides your feet, it is not hard to imagine the dilemma you would have hunting pronghorn antelope.

However, for prehistoric hunters hunting pronghorn antelope there was hope. Although pronghorn
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antelope are unapproachable on a wide-open prairie, they become confused when dealing with physical barriers or surrounded by humans. Trap them in some kind of arroyo or manmade fence and pronghorn antelope will run around in circles until they literally fall over with exhaustion without ever attempting to break free from the enclosure. Prehistoric hunters took advantage of this by building brush fences that funneled the pronghorn antelope herds into enclosed areas. There, the prehistoric hunters dispatched the pronghorns with spears or stone mauls.

Pronghorn antelope also have another weakness, they are excessively curious. If most pronghorn antelope see something unusual on the prairie, they have to find out what it is. They will go as far as walking towards the object just to find out what it is, even if it is a hunter. I have tested pronghorn antelope’s curiosity more times than I care to admit while hunting for artifacts on the wide-open prairie. When I see a pronghorn in the distance, I will wave my walking stick in the air to get its attention. Once it locks on to me, then I have it. I will wave my walking staff occasionally and usually I can get the pronghorn to walk towards me a few steps each time. The game usually ends when I lose interest, not the pronghorn.        

Read the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy novels and see how I used pronghorn antelope in the books. 

 


The newly released finale of the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. 
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