Thayne Wildlife Biologist Gary Fralick, along with area game wardens, recently completed the annual post-hunt season deer survey for the northern half of the Wyoming Range mule deer herd near LaBarge. This winter range supports a substantial portion of the renowned Greys River deer herd.
While the proportion of fawns did not increase much from previous years, at 59 fawns per 100 does, they’re still better than last year’s number of 54:100. The ten-year average is just 63:100, so not a lot higher. Fralick notes that over the last 35 years (or since the 1980s), high winter mortality has been observed in the Wyoming Range herd on average about every three years, and currently this herd is still recovering from the most recent hard winter of 2016-17.
The overall proportion of bucks seen was the same as last year at 29 bucks per 100 does, which is also directly related to the effects of the 2017 winter. The ten-year average buck:doe ratio is 35:100. “Despite the somewhat lower buck ratios, the hunting this past fall was still quite good with the preliminary harvest results showing right around 40 percent success,” said Fralick.
“Additonally, we expect buck ratios to increase over the next few years as more fawns are being recruited into the population,” said Fralick. “During the recent survey, the proportion of mature bucks observed, especially trophy-class bucks, was noticeably higher than in 2016 and 2017. The exceptional antler growth is likely a result of bucks utilizing high quality habitat in late spring and early summer due to the moisture that fell in early 2018.”
Managers do not attempt to make a population estimate based on the total number of deer counted during the survey as it is just a sizeable sample, but the overall number of deer seen and counted does tend to provide a picture of the population trend. The overall sample size of deer classified this year was 8,043, which is up somewhat from last year’s count of 7475 and similar to the average of what is typically seen.
In February of 2018, wildlife managers from the Jackson, Pinedale and Green River regions teamed up to do an exhaustive count of the entire Wyoming Range Deer Herd, which stretches from the Snake River Canyon near Alpine on the north to Evanston on the south. Well over 100 hours were spent in a helicopter covering over 1,600 square miles to perform the most comprehensive count of this herd ever done. A total of 25,300 deer were counted, and with the sightability correction factor, they were estimating the herd at 29,000 at that time.
With deer numbers still recovering after the winter of 2016-17, wildlife managers will likely continue to propose conservative hunting seasons for 2019 that will retain bucks in the post-hunt population by (ensuring hunt seasons close or closing seasons) prior to the onset of the annual fall migration when bucks are more vulnerable. “The road to recovery for this deer herd began last winter,” said Fralick. “And it will continue to bounce back with successive years of mild winters and high fawn survival just like it has done over the last 35 years.