CHEYENNE - Two years of drought have been detrimental to antelope hunting this season, deer prospects are mixed, but elk hunting could be very good as long as weather cooperates.
The Game and Fish Department’s wildlife management coordinators, or head biologists for each region, offer their perspectives of 2001 big game hunting across Wyoming.
Joe Bohne in the Jackson region says winter pronghorn loss in northwest Wyoming wasn^t terribly severe. Hunters should fare well this season in this region as most hunt areas have favorable buck:doe ratios. The future looks a little dimmer though, following two consecutive poor fawn crops attributed to the consequences of poor nutrition due to drought.
The mule deer situation looks better. Last winter’s loss wasn^t severe and herds are growing. Following three good fawn crops, deer hunters in northwest Wyoming should enjoy their best year since 1991.
Says Bohne, "Hunters will be pleased with the numbers of deer they see. There is a good number of older age class bucks."
This should also be a good year to hunt bull elk, according to Bohne. Elk herds in the district are nearing population objectives and calf recruitment was better last year. Late hunts, which typically feature high hunter success, will be run into January.
Two consecutive warm, dry autumns have hurt moose hunter success, but all herds have high bull:cow ratios. "This fall should be a good opportunity to take trophy class bulls," says Bohne.
The Jackson bighorn sheep herd is being looked at as a source of transplants for other herds. Over-winter survival and lamb production have been favorable for several years. Hunting should be good.
The four mountain goat hunters in area 2 north of Alpine should have memorable outings. The herd, part of a bigger Idaho population, seems to be expanding.
In southwest Wyoming, rainfall has been sparse and the country remains in drought. Forage is suffering and winter range conditions may not be favorable. "They don^t call it desert for nothing," quips Bill Rudd of the Green River region. With lowered fawn production, pronghorn populations are down and licenses were cut accordingly, but hunters who draw will have reasonable success.
Elk herds in southwest Wyoming are above objective levels and seasons are liberal. If weather cooperates, the fall hunt should be a good one.
Deer herds are in good shape and this fall^s hunt should be satisfactory. "Winter mortality was less than we thought it would be," says Rudd. Desert herds are, of course, feeling the effects of the dryness more so than herds at higher altitudes, and poor reproduction for two years now points to reduced herd sizes for the near future in these herds.
"Our moose herds are all at objective levels and we^re trying to hold them there," says Rudd. He advises hunters not to focus on major drainages because their high expectations may not be met there due to hunter concentrations. Hunters who make the effort to get back into the forest may be rewarded with a bigger bull.
From Lander, Joe Nemick also says dryness is a big problem this year. "Springs, creeks and wet meadows are drying up," he reports. The drought complicates the effects of last winter in the Lander Region which, although not terribly severe, was a long one with too much crusted snow.
Pronghorn hunters should still find good success this fall although horn quality may bear the effects of the drought. For the future, however, prospects may be less bright as fawn production appears to be down.
Prospects will not be as good for deer hunting. "Deer hunting might be a little tough this year," says Nemick. Weather problems have kept deer numbers from rising and even successful hunters may find antler growth retarded due to the poor quality vegetation. Fawn production this year doesn^t look promising either. General hunting seasons will be short again and mainly restricted to antlered-only deer.
Elk numbers are good in the Lander Region. "Depending on this fall^s weather, we could have a pretty good hunt," says Nemick. If conditions are too dry however, the elk will be more scattered, and forests will be noisy.
Nemick predicts high hunter success for both moose and sheep hunters in the Lander Region.
Daryl Lutz in the Casper region says elk hunting will be excellent this fall. "Elk are doing great," he says.
Mule deer populations are slowly bouncing back. "We^ve seen good recovery in some areas," says Lutz, "but overall numbers are still not as high as a few years ago." Hunters should find good to excellent buck ratios this fall and hunting should be profitable in the Casper, Douglas and Sundance areas and fair in the Newcastle and Thunder Basin areas.
Hunters looking for white-tailed deer will have decent prospects region-wide. Lutz reports that moisture has been good in pockets and that the Black Hills are nice and green.
Lutz says pronghorn recruitment rates have been suppressed since the early 1990s. Licenses are reduced, but hunters who do draw will find high buck:doe ratios. Horn quality may not be affected as much by drought here as in other parts of the state. Lutz reports he has seen lots of good-looking bucks.
In southeast Wyoming, big game numbers continue to struggle with weather and declining habitat conditions. "Fawn ratios in recent years have been down because of drought,” said Bob Lanka, in the G&F’s Laramie office. “And last winter west of the Laramie Range was fairly severe. Snow crusted over from late October until May. We haven^t seen that for a while."
Mule deer numbers in southeast Wyoming are slowly increasing, but Lanka says he doesn^t yet have a good feel for last winter^s impact. "I suspect we had a higher than average winter loss," he says.
Observations of deer forage show much of the feed is nutritionally inadequate due to dry conditions. Thus the drought may send many of the region^s deer into the winter in less than optimum body condition.
Elk are faring better but getting to them may be difficult in certain areas. In the Shirley Mountains, elk numbers are leveling off near management objectives. In the Snowy Range, Lanka says, "We need another harvest like last year. If we can get that, we^ll be in good shape. Right now, we^re a little above desired management levels."
There are plenty of elk in the Iron Mountain area too, but access is very difficult and hunters are advised to get permission prior to buying a license. Access to private lands is not uniform throughout the area and is getting more restricted. The situation results in uneven distributions of hunters and elk with the likely outcome that not enough animals will be harvested.
"Basically, for the Sheridan region, it looks like it will be a pretty good hunting year, " says Lynn Jahnke. "We have plenty of elk hunting opportunities with many licenses and long seasons. Elk herds are generally above the desired wintering objectives so we would like to get a good harvest."
Sheridan area deer hunters should see some nice bucks this fall. Jahnke says it has been long enough since the bad winter of 1996-97 that there will now be more 3- and 4 -year-old bucks around compared to what hunters have found in recent years.
Pronghorn hunting will be spotty according to Jahnke. Some areas have good-sized herds but other herds are still below desired population levels.
John Emmerich of Cody, says elk hunters in that part of Wyoming can look forward to a good season. "We have lots of elk. We^re still trying to reduce the numbers and there are plenty of mature bulls," says Emmerich. Hunting seasons are, of course, weather dependent, but Emmerich says, "If we get a normal fall and winter pattern, it should be excellent hunting."
Mule deer hunting this fall should be similar to last year^s: good, but not outstanding. Mule deer numbers are not yet back to desired levels in most of the Bighorn Basin. Deer numbers are approaching objective levels in the Cody area, but the fall hunt is very dependent on the animals^ seasonal migration west of Cody. If weather cooperates, hunting should be reasonably good in the Cody and Sunlight areas. Hunters will find decent success this fall throughout the Basin but not enough to rival that of the early 1990s.
Pronghorn hunters will find decent hunting in northwest Wyoming this fall, but due to erratic moisture patterns, animals will be concentrated near water and green feed. Also, horn growth may not be as good as usual on account of the poorer than normal forage conditions.
Moose hunters can expect good success, although in the Thorofare area, where numbers are down, they may have to work a little harder. This is the first year for a season in hunt areas 42 and 43 on the west side of the Bighorn Mountains, and Emmerich predicts an excellent hunt with a good opportunity to harvest some large bulls.
Bighorn sheep hunting has been rewarding for those hunters lucky enough to draw. In hunt areas 3-5 there have already been some nice rams taken. Past harvest success rates have been 70 percent or better. Even in hunt areas 1 and 2, where hunting is more difficult because sheep numbers are below management objectives, Emmerich feels harvest success will equal or surpass 50 percent.
Mountain goat populations are doing well in the Beartooth Mountains. Emmerich predicts 100 percent success for goat hunters this fall, with several already checked in.