By Joshua Scheer, lead reporter, County10.com
(Lander, Wyo.) – The Wyoming Game & Fish Department held its last 2013 hunting season meeting in Lander Thursday night, and the message of the evening was the deer and antelope are struggling locally.
G&F Wildlife Biologist Stan Harter said mule deer were “hurt pretty severely” in a the region due to drought and loss of habitat. Last year, in an effort to help deal with declining mule deer numbers, G&F instituted a three point antler restriction. Harter said the restriction reduced hunters by 30 percent, helping to ease pressure on the herds. Generally, antler restrictions are used to help increase the buck ratio. Harter said the drought conditions didn’t allow for a healthy boost in buck to doe ratio.
“It reduced the pressure, it reduced the harvest,” Harter said. “But unfortunately, mother nature didn’t help us.”
Hunter surveys this last year, he said, showed a near even split in those who wanted to retain the general license structure and those who thought it should go to a limited quota structure. Regional Wildlife Supervisor Jason Hunter said a change in structure might be proposed by the end of the year to take effect in 2015.
One attendee asked what else could be at play besides hunter pressure on the herds. Harter said habitat conditions have a role as well as some predator pressure. A review of mountain lion and black bear hunting seasons will be done soon to see if those management levels should be adjusted.
“When you get a drought like last year, there’s not a lot you can do to make it better,” he said.
Harter added that while G&F is proposing a three point antler restriction again this year, it is not a good long-term plan. He said such hunting could encourage the survival of large two-prong bucks instead of the three- or more-pronged preferred.
While doing counts, Harter said he saw a number of deer that appeared to be in decent condition but also some that were not too healthy. “There were a lot of those does and fawns that are very very skinny,” he said.
Last year, G&F reduced a significant number of doe and fawn licenses to encourage growth in the population. This year, even more are being cut.
Deer hunt areas 157 and 170 north of Riverton are receiving some of the deepest cuts in the region. Type 1, or buck, licenses are being reduced from 450 to 300 limited quota. Type 6, doe/fawn licenses, are being reduced from 850 to 400.
In most areas, doe/fawn licenses are being reduced by some. Area 171 in northwestern Fremont County is getting a slight bump in license numbers.
In all, with antelope and mule deer in the region, Harter said most populations were between 50 and 65 percent of objective.
Harter said when he was doing counts he saw some antelope who ribs were showing through their thick fir. Because of the species’s struggle, G&F is proposing significant reductions in most licenses, but especially with the doe/fawn ones. In area 68 toward the eastern part of the region, doe/fawn license numbers are being proposed to be reduced from 350 to 25. In the Dubois area, herds are doing a little better.
One attendee suggested asking the One Shot Antelope Hunt for a voluntary reduction in the amount of licenses they use to save some for others.
Elk seem to be fairing much better. Harter said the bucks in the South Wind River herd when doing counts this year were some of the best he’s seen. Green Mountain is still over objective, Harter said, noting that finding a balance between overcrowding hunters and clearing an appropriate amount of elk has been difficult.
In the Lander foothills, the population is also above objective.
There are no proposed changes to moose seasons, though the population appears to be improving, Harter said.
Minor changes are present in bighorn sheep and game bird seasons.
Below are proposed hunting season numbers and maps: