Wyoming hunting forecast: The good, the bad and the ugly

Written by: Christine Peterson of the Star-Tribune

If a hunting season can be measured by the number of animals on the landscape and amount of meat in freezers, then fall was good. Really good.

Hunters killed the second-highest number of elk in recent memory – while herds in many places still sit above objective.

Mule deer numbers were more positive in some areas than they’d been in years, and so were pronghorn.

This fall will be different.

Split the state in two along the Continental Divide, and wildlife either fared relatively well or they died by the hundreds.

On the eastern side of the state, temperatures dropped and snow fell, but most of the deer and pronghorn survived. Hunting seasons may see change slightly in some places, but most seasons will likely offer more opportunities.

The western side, however, is a radically different story. It’s possible most of the mule deer fawns born in 2016 in the Jackson and Pinedale areas will have died this winter from record snow and cold, said Doug McWhirter, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Jackson and Pinedale wildlife coordinator.

In Green River, between 200 and 300 pronghorn likely perished to trucks and trains while stuck in right-of-ways, said Mark Zornes, the region’s Game and Fish wildlife coordinator.

“This kind of precipitation and weather is always a double-edged sword. It’s bad for sportsmen and bad for us who have to deal with these animals every day… but all the moisture will do nothing but good for the country,” he said. “It will improve habitat conditions; we just don’t like how it happened.”

Game and Fish’s wildlife officials recently gathered to compile preliminary information for this fall’s hunting season. Each region will hold a series of public meetings to collect input before the final regulations are sent along to the Game and Fish Commission in April for approval.

In preparation for the public meetings, the Star-Tribune compiled a brief rundown of what to expect in each corner of the state.

Central and northeast
Portions of Wyoming from Casper to the Black Hills are finally recovering from the harsh winters of 2010 and 2011 followed by one of the driest years on record that took its toll on wildlife, said Justin Binfet, the region’s wildlife coordinator. But as weather patterns changed to mild winters and wet summers, fawn production increased.

“We’ve made in some areas modest gains, and in some areas serious gains throughout the region,” he said. “Expect to see improved deer and antelope numbers throughout.”

Mule deer numbers are still below objective but have improved in recent years except in the Black Hills, where they are at objective. Elk numbers are solid and steady. Pronghorn license numbers are increasing slowly from levels seen before the 2010-2011 winter.

Hunters in the southeast corner of the state will likely see more chances for pronghorn and deer this year.

“We have some of the highest buck ratios we’ve seen in some time,” said regional wildlife coordinator Corey Class. “So we’re hoping to liberalize the season in length of time and remove antler point restrictions in some areas.”

In many areas there are 40 to 50 bucks per 100 does, when in the past they’ve seen 20 to 30. “We’d like to allow the sportsmen to use some of those bucks before they die of old age or disease or other things.”

Elk numbers are increasing in some places and decreasing in other where wildlife managers are trying to bring herd numbers down. “Better groceries means more babies and higher survival of fawns and calves,” he said. “In a lot of ways, we’re a just an add rain kind of place.”

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