The Antelope Complex is located in southeastern Elko County and northeastern White Pine County approximately 60 air miles south of Wells, Nevada. The area is within the Great Basin physiographic region. This region is located in the Great Basin which is one of the largest deserts in the world. The Great Basin is effectively cut off from the westerly flow of Pacific moisture. Orographic uplift of crossing air masses by the Sierra and the Cascades provides cooling and precipitates much of the moisture out. The result is a Dry Steppe cold climate classification for most of the Great Basin. The climate is typical of middle latitude, semi-arid lands where evaporation potential exceeds precipitation throughout the year. Precipitation normally ranges from approximately five to seven inches on the valley bottoms to 16 to 18 inches on the mountain peaks. Most of this precipitation comes during the winter months in the form of snow occurring primarily in the winter and spring with the summers being quite dry. Temperatures range from greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months to minus 15 degrees or colder in the mountains in the winter. The Antelope Complex is characterized by long wide valleys and long narrow steep mountain peaks covered with heavy pinyon-juniper woodlands. On many of the low hills and ridges that are scattered throughout the area, the soils are underlain by bedrock. Elevations within the Antelope Complex range from approximately 5,000 feet to 10,200 feet.
The boundary between the Antelope Herd Management Area (HMA) and that portion of the Antelope Valley HMA east of Alternate Highway 93 does not have a continuous fence or natural boundary and wild horses move regularly between the HMAs for water and forage. The boundaries between the Antelope Valley, Goshute, and Spruce/Pequop HMAs are not fenced nor do they have any natural boundaries. As a result, wild horses move regularly between the HMAs for water and forage.
The Antelope Complex is very dry with very few perennial waters. The majority of the limited water resources which are small seeps and springs are mainly found in the mountains. As a result of limited water, the Antelope Complex is prone to drought every few years. When this occurs, horses can rapidly cause extensive ecological damage to their environment as they stay close to water.
Wildlife in the area includes mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, kit foxes, cottontail rabbits, badgers, jackrabbits, and several species of ground squirrels. There are also sage-grouse, chukar, golden eagles, several species of neo-tropical birds, and occasionally in the winter bald eagles. Reptiles include many species of lizards, poisonous (rattlesnakes) and non-poisonous snakes.
Human interest in the Antelope Complex has been historically limited to livestock ranching, hunting, prospecting, hiking, camping, firewood gathering, and pine nut harvesting. In recent
years, outdoor tourism has become increasingly important, and eastern Nevada is evolving into an important area for those seeking vast unoccupied expanses of public lands.
In general, the vegetation consists of big sagebrush-grass and low sagebrush-grass, montane shrub, salt desert shrub, black sagebrush, winterfat, pinyon-juniper, and montane riparian communities.
The foothills and mountain areas are dominated by big sagebrush-grass and low sagebrush-grass types. Primary shrubs are big sagebrush, low sagebrush, and rabbitbrush. Major grass species include bluebunch wheatgrass, Indian ricegrass, Sandberg’s bluegrass, needlegrass, and bottlebrush squirreltail. Forbs include milkvetch, arrowleaf balsamroot, lupine, phlox, and aster. The higher mountainous areas support mountain browse species that include serviceberry, snowberry, and antelope bitterbrush. Riparian areas at high elevations support cottonwood and wild rose.
The Antelope Complex includes the Antelope HMA which is managed by the Schell Field Office, Ely District. and Antelope Valley, Goshute, and Spruce/Pequop HMAs which are managed by the Well Field Office, Elko District. Appropriate management level (AML) for the Antelope Complex is 427-788 wild horses. These numbers were developed based on evaluation of the horses’ habitat which indicated that between 427 and 788 wild horses could be sustained in the area without interrupting the balance of the ecosystem. In order to keep wild horse numbers in balance with their environment, the BLM periodically gathers some of these wild horses and places them into the National Wild Horse and Burro Adoption program.
Wild horses in the area can be found throughout the Antelope Complex at different times of the year. Typically, horses will remain in the pinyon-juniper, mountainous areas or on lower benches during the day and graze in the valley bottoms in the evening and early morning. During winters when there is snow in the mountains, the horses will move to the valley bottoms. In the valley bottoms they exist on the sparse grasses such as Sandberg’s bluegrass, needle-and-thread grass, and Indian ricegrass. In addition to utilizing grasses, horses in the region have adapted to a diet high in shrubs such as winterfat and saltbush as well.
The history of the Antelope Complex wild horse herd is somewhat clouded. It is known that these horses are descendants of ranch stock, miners, and settlers in the area. There is also some evidence that the Army Remount Service was active in at least part of the area. Army Remount Service ranches were active throughout Nevada during the early part of the 20th Century. The current horses are probably descended from quarterhorse, thoroughbred, Morgan and some draft breeds.
Due to the probable ancestry of the Antelope Complex wild horses, and the rigors of survival in this harsh environment, Antelope Complex wild horses can be very dependable, sturdy riding and packing horses. Average heights vary depending whether horses were born during drought years or not, but tend to be around 13 to 14.3 hands. Colors are also variable, but are dominated by darker black, bay, and sorrel with flaxen manes and tails. Wild horse foals in northeastern Nevada are born in the spring, mostly during the months of April or May. Births are timed to coincide with spring forage green-up which affords the most nutritious forage to nursing mares and foals.
Wild horses are very social creatures and are formed into what is known as a “Matriarchal Society.” A matriarchal society is one which is led by a dominant female. This dominant mare is responsible for daily activities of the band. Contrary to popular belief, the stud serves the band in a secondary role only. He does influence the structure of the band and is responsible for gathering up the component mares and maintaining and protecting the group, but has little to do with daily activities. Bands can range in size from two to more than twenty animals. Wild horse bands generally consist of one dominant stud and one to several unrelated mares. Offspring either wander off or are forcibly ejected from the group before becoming reproductively mature to limit inbreeding. Young mares which leave their parental band are quickly gathered up into surrounding bands, while young studs join together into bachelor groups. Young studs will remain in bachelor herds for several years until they are mature enough to take their own mare group.