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2003 Hunting Great Compared to Work; Mixed Compared to History

CHEYENNE – Hunting will be great this fall – at least compared to being in the office. But compared to past years, it’s a checkered forecast.

As Wyoming’s terrain is hard to generalize, so is it’s hunting, yet these common themes are found: elk hunting should be good – especially if the weather cooperates, deer good in spots but a shortage of young bucks in many areas due to drought and improved horn growth in antelope but continued low numbers by Wyoming standards.

Elk numbers are slowly being lowered by increased licenses the past few years, but hunters are long overdue for a season with optimal elk hunting weather. Even with dry warm weather through most of the season and hunt areas Wyoming has continued to lead western states in elk harvest success.

John Emmerich, assistant chief of the Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Division, says snow during elk season helps move elk to hunters and makes the animals more visible. “But recent history shows we sure can’t count on that, so hunters need to plan their strategy expecting dry conditions,” he said.

That includes hunting the dark timber of north facing slopes and being willing to hike to places the “average guy won’t go.”

The advent of additional cow/calf licenses in some areas and the publicity of high elk numbers appears to have convinced some hunters that elk are easy to find. “But elk are rarely easy to hunt,” Emmerich said. “They are very elusive like white-tailed deer.”

Many mule deer hunters may notice a decline in yearling and 2-year-old deer this year. The recent drought reduced the forage nutrition, which in turn reduced the number of fawns recruited into the herd. Poor buck/doe ratios in the Big Horn Basin have prompted the G&F to instill four-point or better restrictions for some hunt areas in the Big Horn Basin and to consider the restriction in other hunt areas next year.

The mule deer hunting in the Snowy Range between Laramie and Saratoga seems to being faring better than many general hunt areas of the state. Limited quota areas, such as 102 south of Rock Springs, also have good prospects due to a healthy population of bucks over 3 years old.

Prospects are also favorable for whitetails in the popular general license areas of the Black Hills despite a lack of 2-year-old deer.

During the first five days of firearm deer seasons, the G&F will be stationed at meat processing plants and check stations across the state gathering samples for chronic wasting disease.

Archery hunters are confirming some G&F observations that buck antelope are sporting increased horn mass this year. Improved forage from abundant spring moisture help promote the growth, which is welcome by those hunters fortunate enough to draw one of Wyoming’s coveted public land licenses. Like the last three years, hunters will not see the numbers of pronghorn of most of the 1980s and ‘90s, but the number of buck licenses is pared accordingly. Doe/fawn licenses have actually been increased this year to help habitat recover from the drought.

Emmerich predicts traditional good hunting for bighorn sheep and moose, because populations are comparatively small to deer, elk and antelope and hunter numbers are carefully calculated to be in concert with the game population and management goals.

Upland game bird hunting could be a little better – but that’s just a little better from last year’s abysmal conditions. The exception is blue and ruffed grouse, which haven’t been impacted as much by drought as Hungarian and chukar partridge. Partridge look to be up slightly in a few areas, but still merely a shadow of the late ‘90s. Sage and sharp-tailed grouse appear to be up slightly, too. The exception is northeast Wyoming where West Nile virus has inflicted a noticeable number of birds in a research study. Due to the uncertainty of overall loss, the G&F has closed the sage grouse season in Johnson, Sheridan and Campbell counties this fall.

Probably the best response to this spring’s improved nesting conditions have been pheasants, but with our limited pheasant range the Equality State will never stand up to eastern Great Plains states.

Turkey hunting also has a favorable fall forecast. Area 1, Wyoming’s best area for public turkey access, still has licenses available.




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