2023 Lander Region hunting forecast released

    (Fremont County, WY) – The anticipation for hunters has been building for months and alas, the time has come or is rapidly approaching as seasons for big and small game are about to open across Wyoming. Some trends — good and bad — figure to hold true once again in 2023. Mother Nature always plays a role in hunter success and animal survival, but how much?

    Whether you are after pronghorn along the plains, deer or elk in the mountains, bighorn sheep high in the mountains or birds along the flatlands and wetlands, check out the 2023 Wyoming Game and Fish Department hunting forecast from eight regions around the state. The forecasts from each region are based on data and observations from the field by department biologists and game wardens.

    A few reminders:

    • Before heading out be sure to review the 2023 hunting regulations for any season changes.
    • Hunters who harvest a deer or elk in any of the state’s chronic wasting disease focus areas are encouraged to get it tested. The information is valuable and will help Game and Fish’s long-term monitoring and management efforts.
    • Hunters are reminded to be mindful of the spread of invasive plant species and to report locations of cheatgrass to the county Weed and Pest District. 
    • Hunters are reminded to be bear-aware when recreating this fall. Hunters should take the necessary safety precautions and be on the lookout for bears — and signs of bears.
    • Big game hunters are reminded that hunt areas denoted with an asterisk (*) have limited public hunting access and are largely comprised of private lands. In these areas, hunters should get permission to hunt private land before applying for a license, or at least recognize that hunting small isolated parcels of public land can be difficult and frustrating at times. 


    Hunters can expect fewer animals this fall following severe winter conditions throughout much of the region – particularly in the Rawlins/I-80 areas. Throughout the region, we expect buck quality to be lower than in past years due to winter severity, loss of older age classes and fewer animals. As a result, license numbers were reduced in 2023. Hunters who draw a license and are willing to put in effort should expect good harvest success. 

    Throughout most of the region, mule deer populations declined in 2022-23 due to harsh winter conditions. With several years of reduced fawn recruitment resulting in the loss of at least three age classes, mule deer numbers remain below management objectives. Antler-point restrictions continue but changed from a 3-point to 4-point or more in hunt areas near Lander and Rawlins. Elsewhere, hunters will have opportunities for similar harvest success — mostly with young bucks. Continued any white-tailed deer seasons are in place in the Dubois, Lander, Riverton and Jeffrey City areas. Hunters should expect tougher mule deer hunting and likely lower success compared to last year.  Mandatory CWD sample submission is required for hunters who hunt in Hunt Areas 157 and 171. Hunters can get their deer tested for CWD by collecting a sample themselves and sending it to the Wildlife Health Lab or by bringing the head to a game check station or Game and Fish regional office during office hours.

    Elk populations are doing well across the region and were relatively unaffected by winter conditions.  Last year’s calf production remained on par with previous years and should result in continued, robust numbers. Observed bull numbers remained strong during mid-winter surveys. If favorable weather conditions are realized during the fall, hunters should experience excellent harvest opportunities.


    Moose are at or below desired levels and the hunting season framework includes continued conservative quotas. For the past three years, more moose were counted in Hunt Areas 2 and 30 and it appears this population is stable. Winter counts in the Dubois country continue to yield fewer moose and remain at historically low levels. Hunters fortunate enough to draw a license can expect good harvest success in the region.

    Bighorn sheep
    Lamb production in the Whiskey Mountain herd was higher than in previous years, but is still low and continues to be a concern. Lamb productivity has been depressed in the herd for more than 30 years and while it has impacted population growth, there are rams available for harvest. Those who draw a tag in these areas should expect fewer rams than in the past but should experience reasonable success depending on their expectations. The Ferris-Seminoe herd (Hunt Areas 17 and 26) continues to grow and has reached its objective.  Winter losses were higher than normal in portions of the herd, but most bighorn winter ranges avoided the deep, crusted snow that severely impacted neighboring deer and pronghorn herds. Twenty Type 6 and 7 (ewe/lamb licenses) were issued in the herd unit – 17 in Hunt Area 17 and three in Hunt Area 26. In addition, 12 Type 1 (any ram) licenses were issued – 10 in Hunt Area 17 and two in Hunt Area 26. Hunting is expected to be excellent.    

    Upland game
    Relatively wet spring and summer conditions will likely favor sage-grouse, blue (dusky) grouse, ruffed grouse, pheasants, chukars and gray partridge productivity. It is likely hunters will see more birds due to anticipated increases in chick surviva. Pheasant hunting at the Sand Mesa and Ocean Lake Wildlife Habitat Management Areas continues to be popular with hunters throughout the state. The one-day youth hunt at Sand Mesa and Ocean Lake will be on Saturday, Nov. 18.  


    Small game
    Cottontail rabbit populations seem to be down, in some places quite significantly due to RHDV2 outbreaks and severe winter conditions. Snowshoe hares and red squirrels appear to be similar to 2022 within the region and harvest opportunities should be good.

    Weather and habitat conditions
    Most of the region has enjoyed increased spring and early summer moisture with good vegetation production. Animals that pulled through the severe winter of 2022-23 should be in great shape and flourishing with improved habitat conditions. The portion of the region in the Red Desert has seen improved precipitation as well and, unlike the previous few years, is in good condition with regard to available forage and open water availability. 

    Check out the forecasts in the seven other regions across the state here.


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