G&F releases fall hunting forecasts; Elk doing great, deer and antelope doing poorly in Lander region
(Photographer Karl Brauneis submitted this image taken on Crooks Mountain on a trip in the Red Desert.)
(Cheyenne, Wyo.) — Hunters can expect fair to excellent hunting for elk, deer and antelope this hunting season depending on hunt areas and weather conditions during high hunter activity periods for fall hunts. The following forecast gives hunters an idea of what they can expect during the upcoming hunting season.
Pronghorn populations continue to be down significantly throughout the Lander region with most below population objectives. But hunters with licenses should experience good success even though they may see fewer pronghorn than what they’re accustomed to. Adult buck-to-doe ratios, given mild winter and good spring conditions, are better than expected. In addition, many mature bucks have attained quality size and hunters should expect good harvest success with a little more effort.
Similar to pronghorn, mule deer populations have continued to decline over the last couple of years due to poor fawn productivity. Of the six herds within the Lander region where wildlife managers have estimated population size, all continue to be below objective following the 2012 hunting seasons. Overall fawn ratios throughout the region, with the exception of the Dubois and Sweetwater herds, were down in 2012. Buck-to-doe ratios remained relatively stable in most areas. As a result, hunters will experience shorter seasons, a reduced opportunity to harvest an antlerless deer, and antler-point restrictions. Any-white-tailed-deer seasons continue to be in place in the Lander, Riverton, and Jeffrey City areas to allow hunters additional opportunities.
Like much of Wyoming, elk populations are doing exceptionally well across the Lander region. Bull-to-cow ratios remain high throughout most of central Wyoming. Calf survival in 2012 was similar to previous years. Favorable weather conditions during this fall’s hunting seasons should result in excellent harvest rates and hunter success in all hunt areas. With elk herds above-objective throughout most of the region, the number of licenses available and season dates have been designed to reduce populations toward management objectives.
In the Jackson region, pronghorn hunting is limited because the region does not have the vast acreages of pronghorn habitat found in other regions, but hunters who’ve obtained licenses should have good success. What the Jackson region lacks in pronghorn habitat is more than made up for with opportunities provided to deer and elk hunters. The Wyoming Range should again offer excellent opportunities for hunters to find older bucks. The herd is designated as a special management herd which provides high-quality hunting opportunities, mature deer, and high buck-to-doe ratios. Deer numbers increased over the last two years because of high over-winter survival. Bucks two years and older should be well-represented this year. Early spring green-up on winter and spring transition ranges allowed bucks an early start on antler production. Summer rains were timely and maintained forbs in a high nutritional state. As a result, hunters may notice bucks with exceptional antler growth-similar to 2012.
Elk hunters also should have good hunting. The region has mostly general-license seasons with many opening in late September through mid-October. Hunters should check regulations for season dates for the areas they plan to hunt. In addition, hunters should be aware that a number of areas have a spikes-excluded regulation intended to add more bulls to the population. Many areas also have liberal harvest regulations that allow taking any elk on a general license. As with hunting season dates, hunters should check the elk regulations for restrictions specific to each hunt area.
Pronghorn hunters in the Cody region should expect good success. A number of doe/fawn licenses have been issued due to an abundance of pronghorn in agricultural areas. As a result, most of the doe/fawn licenses (type 6, 7, or 8) have limitations on where pronghorn can be harvested (on or within a half-mile of irrigated lands). Hunters are reminded to read the regulations carefully for limitations on where their hunting license is valid. Pronghorn numbers in the southern Bighorn Basin are slightly below average, but hunting is still expected to be good.
Following the 2012 hunting season, Game and Fish personnel surveyed slightly fewer deer on the west side of the Bighorn Mountains. While total deer numbers were down slightly, buck/doe ratios remained similar to previous years. That should translate to fair to good hunting conditions—similar to last year. Weather immediately before and during the hunt plays an important role in the distribution of bucks. If it’s been warm and dry, search at higher elevations in the Bighorns. Mule deer hunting should be good on both the North and South forks of the Shoshone River. No significant mortality was documented during the winter of 2012-13, so plenty of bucks should be available to hunters if weather conditions trigger migrations prior to the end of the hunting season. Opportunities to harvest mature bucks in hunt areas 105 and 106 should be good later in the general-license hunting season and November limited-quota seasons. Mule deer numbers are down in the southern portion of the Bighorn Basin and hunting is expected to be fair.
Elk hunters should have great opportunities to hunt bull elk in the Bighorn Mountains this fall due to many good quality bulls on the Bighorn National Forest. Hunters will have to work hard to find them because bull elk can be difficult to locate during the rush of hunting seasons. Deer and elk hunting open Oct.15 and crowding can be an issue for many hunters. Elk numbers remain high on the western slopes of the Bighorn Mountains. With long seasons for antlerless elk there should be time to hunt. In some areas near Cody, elk numbers exceed management objectives and antlerless elk hunting opportunities have been increased. In other areas decreased calf survival has reduced herd productivity and required reductions in both antlered and antlerless harvest. In hunt areas 50, 51, 52 and 53, general-license antlered elk seasons were replaced with limited-quota seasons in 2010 to reduce bull elk harvest. Some areas have had seasons change from previous years and have regulations to exclude spikes. Hunters should check regulations carefully for limitations in each hunt area.
In the Sheridan region the outlook for pronghorn is generally good. Northeast Wyoming has abundant herds and high populations in several herd units, so hunting seasons have been designed to give hunters plenty of opportunities in those areas. However, in hunt areas north of Gillette and Moorcroft, pronghorn populations are lower than a few years ago, so fewer licenses are available than in the past. In Sheridan region pronghorn hunt areas, hunters are allowed to buy a second any-antelope license and up to four doe/fawn licenses. However, most pronghorn hunting is found on private land and potential hunters should make arrangements with landowners before buying licenses. Hunters willing to wait until after opening day, or the first weekend of the season, may find it easier to get permission to hunt on private lands.
Deer hunting in the Sheridan region will be similar to recent years. However, deer hunters in areas near Gillette and Moorcroft can expect to see fewer deer than they did a few years ago. Hunters with access to private lands should have high harvest success, while hunters on public lands will see greater numbers of hunters and comparatively lower success. Buck antler growth and body condition are good this year in areas where animals had access to better forage.
The Sheridan region is home to some of Wyoming’s best-known elk hunt areas. Hunters who successfully drew limited-quota any-elk licenses for a hunt area in the Bighorn Mountains, the Rochelle Hills, or the Fortification area will have opportunities for great hunts with the possibility of bringing home a trophy. The limited-quota any-elk hunting season in hunt area 123 will be open this fall for the first time since 2011. Because potential hunters know there are large bulls in this area, it was one of the state’s hardest licenses to draw. For hunters who didn’t draw a license, there are still some leftover antlerless elk licenses available. Residents can buy a general license to hunt in areas 36 and 37. Success for general-license hunters and limited-quota antlerless elk license-holders tends to be much lower than for those who have a limited-quota any-elk license,
GREEN RIVER REGION
Depending on animal population, pronghorn hunting opportunities will vary throughout the Green River region. Many pronghorn populations were significantly affected by the harsh winter of 2010-11 and lower fawn production and survival during the summer of 2012. Hunters will note few yearling bucks this year due to poor fawn survival last summer. However, fawn numbers are much higher. More moisture this year, coupled with a relatively mild winter, resulted in better horn growth on adult bucks. Across the region, license numbers and season lengths will be similar to 2012.
Deer hunters will likely experience better hunting for mule deer in 2013. Green River region deer herds experienced increased fawn production this summer, with the exception of hunt areas 131 and 100. Overall deer survival was relatively good during the winter of 2012-13 and should result in a slight increase. Some hunting seasons have been shortened, with limited opportunity to hunt does. Antler point restrictions remain in hunt areas 82, 100, and 132. Wildlife managers recommend seasons using observed buck-to-doe ratios and overall deer numbers. Areas with better buck and total deer numbers have longer hunting seasons. Hunters will likely observe fewer two- and five-year-and-older males in the Uinta, Baggs, and southern Wyoming Range herds due to winter losses during the winters of 2007-08 and 2010-11. Buck-to-doe ratios remain fair in these herds, but ratios are lower than those observed before 2007. Mule deer numbers in the South Rock Springs herd (hunt areas 101 and 102) are similar to last year, and field personnel saw large bucks this summer. The season in hunt area 102 will be open for any deer, but hunters will be restricted to taking only antlered deer in area 101. Hunters may expect to see good numbers of older bucks in these areas.
Elk numbers remain high and continue to increase across the region, with most populations above objectives. Regional personnel expect another above-average hunting season for elk hunters with more licenses available and longer seasons. Hunting was liberalized across much of the Sierra Madre elk herd to address a population that has been significantly above-objective for many years. A combination of general any-elk, general antlerless, and reduced price cow-calf licenses will increase the harvest of antlerless elk in hunt areas 13, 15, 21, and 108. The Green River region has some of the hardest to draw, high hunter-success areas in the state. Hunters who hold licenses in the region’s limited-quota areas should have excellent hunting again this year.
With good spring moisture and recent summer rains, pronghorn should be entering the fall in very good body condition and hunters should expect to see a lot of bucks. Many of the region’s pronghorn herd units are at or above their population objectives despite last year’s drought conditions. As a result, hunting should be excellent for hunters who can gain access to private lands. In the Medicine Bow and Elk Mountain areas, pronghorn numbers have been reduced to address poor habitat conditions, but hunters can still expect a good hunt. Much of the land in southeastern Wyoming is privately owned, which limits access in some areas. Consequently, hunters should be cautious when buying leftover licenses in those areas with limited access. Healthy populations and good buck-to-doe ratios will provide ample opportunities in areas where hunters can find a place to hunt.
Hunters should expect to see improved deer hunting in the Laramie region compared to last year. Mule deer herds across the region experienced good over-winter survival rates and late-summer precipitation should contribute to both good body condition and antler growth. Hunters are encouraged to review the 2013 deer hunting regulations as season dates and limitations have changed substantially in some hunt areas. For antlered mule deer, a limitation of three points or more on either antler applies to the Sheep Mountain (hunt areas 61 and 74-77) and Shirley Mountain herds (hunt area 70). Hunt areas in the Platte Valley herd (hunt areas 78-81, 83, and 161) are now limited-quota deer areas. Resident general licenses and nonresident Region D licenses are no longer valid in these Platte Valley hunt areas. If unseasonably warm temperatures persist during the first part of October, deer will be dispersed and hunters will have to hunt much harder in higher-elevation areas or on timbered north-facing slopes. Good buck-to-doe ratios in the Laramie Mountains and Goshen Rim herds should benefit deer hunters this fall, although access is always an issue in eastern portions of the state. White-tailed deer hunting in southeast Wyoming should be good, especially for hunters with access to private lands.
Several elk herds in the Laramie region are above their population objectives and should provide hunters with excellent hunting opportunities. Hunters should read regulations for their hunt area, as many seasons have changed from the 2012 season. In the Snowy Range herd, general-license seasons in hunt areas 9 and 10 were changed to a two-week any-elk limitation running from Oct. 1-14. Beginning Oct. 15, season limitations shift to antlerless-elk-only until the end of October. A spikes-excluded limitation has been added to the general-elk season for hunt areas 12 and 110. Areas burned by 2012 wildfires in Hunt Area 7 have started to recover and should provide better hunting conditions. Elk have learned to avoid areas with high hunting pressure, but plenty of good hunting should be available away from well-traveled roads and trails.
Pronghorn hunting throughout most of the Casper region will be good in 2013, but may not of the same quality hunters experienced during the past decade. Due to elevated winter losses during the winter of 2010-11 and two consecutive years of record-low fawn production, hunters will not see the high densities of pronghorn that were common a few years ago. However, appropriate license reductions were made for the third consecutive year in an effort to sustain hunter success rates and hunting opportunities. Pronghorn numbers remain noticeably low in hunt areas 30 and 31 south of Douglas and Glenrock, in portions of the Thunder Basin, and in much of the Cheyenne River drainage between Lusk and Newcastle. Hunters in southern Niobrara County should continue to expect good success along U.S. Route 18/20, although local wildlife managers report pronghorn densities will not be as high as they have been in recent years. In this area, good hunter access to private lands via the department’s Private Lands Public Wildlife access program continue to provide outstanding opportunities. The western portion of the Casper region is more of a mixed bag. Pronghorn numbers south of Casper remain at near-average levels, while in areas west and northeast of the city, hunters will see fewer pronghorn than they’ve been accustomed to in recent years. While overall buck availability will be lower in most areas, buck quality should be a little better than normal. Mild weather during the winter of 2012-13 enabled pronghorn to devote much of their energy to horn growth as winter energy demands were not as high as in most winters. Given that the majority of pronghorn horn growth occurs during winter and early spring, bucks were able to get a good head start with the mild winter weather, and received an additional boost with good precipitation throughout spring.
Public lands on the Black Hills National Forest continue to provide reasonable hunting opportunities for white-tailed deer. However, following harsh conditions during the winter of 2010-11, subsequent mediocre fawn production, and losses from epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), white-tailed deer numbers are lower than during the early- to mid-2000s. Hunters can expect to see reduced densities of deer in the Black Hills this fall. Following several years of poor fawn productivity, the number of mature bucks has declined across much of the region, especially on public lands where hunting pressure is heavy. For the most part, already-conservative seasons remain unchanged for this fall. In 2013, Game and Fish implemented a three-point or better season in Hunt Area 66. The changes will likely reduce the harvest of yearling bucks and result in fewer hunters. To reduce hunting pressure, the nonresident quota was cut substantially in Region D. Deer hunting in limited-quota hunt areas 34 and 89 west of Casper should continue to be good this year. Although these herds have declined to the same extent as herds that are hunted with general licenses, recent license-quota reductions should ensure higher hunter success rates. Hunters should again expect to see some nice trophy bucks in these limited-quota areas.
High elk numbers continue to provide outstanding hunting opportunities throughout the region. Opening dates and season lengths for nearly all elk areas in the Casper region are nearly identical to those for 2012. Hunters should continue to enjoy remarkable numbers of elk and good hunting success, especially if the weather cooperates. Those hunters with general licenses should not plan to hunt in Converse, Niobrara, or Weston counties unless they have secured access on private lands known to contain elk. General-license areas within these counties are not managed for a sustainable elk population so hunters will likely only find elk in isolated areas on private lands in hunt areas 126 and 129. Hunt area 116 has been converted from limited-quota to a general-license area to better facilitate elk harvest on private lands because elk numbers remain well above desired levels. Because elk almost exclusively occupy private land in Hunt Area 116, general-license holders are encouraged to secure private-land access before going afield.
Population estimates for the northern portions of the Sublette pronghorn herd (hunt areas 87-90) are slightly below desired levels. Lack of water sources and poor forage quality have forced pronghorn to search harder for food and water, resulting in a more scattered distribution of animals across more typically used habitats. Based on below-average snow accumulation last winter and observations from this summer’s surveys, adult mortality during the winter of 2012-13 was “below normal” on most winter range complexes. Despite dry conditions this year, mature buck-to-doe ratios are good and hunters should expect high success.
The Sublette and Wyoming Range deer herds are two large populations with management strategies intended to provide high-quality hunting opportunities, older deer, and high buck-to-doe ratios. Hunting conditions should be good this fall. Hunting seasons in all regional hunt areas have been designed to increase overall deer numbers and reduce buck harvest below the five-year average. A single closing date (Oct. 6) for all general-license hunting seasons in the Sublette herd unit is intended to disperse hunting pressure.
The past several years’ liberal seasons for elk have been designed to drive populations down to management objectives while maintaining at least 20 bulls per 100 cows in post-hunt populations. A combination of mild temperatures and negligible moisture continue to hamper hunter success in the Pinedale region despite current hunting opportunities. The Piney elk herd has exceeded its population objective during the last several years. In an effort to reduce this herd, seasons have been liberalized. Hunters should check the elk regulations for season dates. The 2013 hunting season in the Hoback herd is similar to 2012 for hunt areas 86 and 87. The herd is being managed to provide maximum recreational opportunities, but overall numbers of elk declined below management objectives the past four years. Conservative antlered-only seasons are in effect for Hunt Area 87 north of U.S. Route 189/191 to build elk numbers. For the Upper Green River herd, this year’s hunting seasons will offer more antlerless elk hunting opportunities. The department is using a combination of general- and limited-quota licenses to meet management objectives for this herd.
Additional information on hunting season forecasts for 2013 can be found on the Game and Fish website wgfd.wyo.gov.