I was in the Oklahoma panhandle in late June for fieldwork in the Morrison with Anne Weil and her crew at the Homestead Quarry. It’s always a fun trip, in part because we see a lot of wildlife out there. One of my favorite panhandle critters, and in fact one of my favorite animals, period, is the pronghorn, Antilocapra americana. Pronghorns are North America’s fastest land animals, and probably the fastest land animals in the world after cheetahs. That’s because they evolved to outrun American cheetahs, Miracinonyx, which went extinct about 12,000 years ago. Once you are familiar with pronghorns, you could never mistake one for a deer. Body profile alone is enough to tell, even at great distances: deer are graceful-looking animals with long, tapering legs, whereas pronghorns look like lozenges on stilts.

On June 21, we were heading back to Black Mesa after checking out some new-to-me Morrison outcrops north of Boise City, Oklahoma (see Richmond et al. 2020). I was driving my Kia Sorento, with a couple of students also in the truck. I came over a hill going about 65 mph (105 kph), and a female pronghorn that had been grazing in the ditch decided that would be the perfect time to bolt across the road. I thought I was about to have a fairly disastrous high-speed collision with a large-ish ungulate, but between my braking and her veering off a bit, we narrowly missed colliding. Instead, she ended up running down the road, parallel with my truck, seriously about 1 meter ahead and left of the driver’s side front tire. For a few seconds, I was driving 55 mph (89 kph) and she was keeping pace, and it didn’t look like she was really taxing herself. Then I realized that she was technically out ahead of the bumper and could still decide to run in front of the truck, so I accelerated and got past her, but the key point is that I had to speed up to about 60 mph (97 kph) to do it. Once I was past her, she trotted to a stop and stood in the middle of the road, watching me drive off (the road ahead was empty, and I was watching her in the rearview mirror).

I’ve read other anecdotal accounts of people driving alongside pronghorns that were really booking it — some memorable ones are recounted in the Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats (Wood 1982) — but I never imagined that I’d get to experience something like that. It was cool as heck, and one of the best wildlife encounters of my life. It all happened too quickly to get any photos, so I’m illustrating this post with pronghorn photos I got on a stargazing expedition to Black Mesa in September, 2020. I also have some half-decent pronghorn photos in this post from 2016.

References

  • Richmond, D.R., Hunt, T.C. and Cifelli, R.L. 2020. Stratigraphy and sedimentology of the Morrison Formation in the western panhandle of Oklahoma with reference to the historical Stovall dinosaur quarries. The Journal of Geology 128(6): 477-515.
  • Wood, G. L. 1982. The Guinness Book of Animals Facts & Feats (3rd edition). Guinness Superlatives Ltd., Enfield, Middlesex, 252 pp.