Below is a news release from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
A successful hunting season can mean a lot of different things. For some hunters, it’s seeing lots of game, but being selective in the take. For others, it might mean spending time outdoors with friends and family, harvesting second to the memories made. Whatever the definition, Wyoming’s fall hunting season offers it up for grabs to those who head outdoors.
“Wyoming has a tremendous hunting season upcoming, and I want to extend a thank you to hunters for their support to conserve our state’s wildlife,” said Brian Nesvik, Wyoming Game and Fish Department director. “Enjoy your time, and don’t forget to think about our young aspiring hunters by giving them new opportunities to experience the things that keep seasoned hunters coming back season after season. Inspire a kid; it’s for life!”
Hunters should know many parts of Wyoming are facing another year of drought, following several impactful wildfires. Game from bears to birds are contending with less water, less food and less cover. In turn, game will select the best habitat. Those are the lush places with water holes and something green to eat. That’s where hunters should head.
Again this fall, Game and Fish is asking hunters to help with chronic wasting disease management. Hunters are a key part of CWD management.
Hunters are asked to provide a lymph node sample from your deer, elk or moose, for chronic wasting disease testing especially if hunting in a CWD priority monitoring area or a mandatory testing area. These samples are important to determine and monitor CWD prevalence for the health of the herd.
Additionally, Follow all carcass transport and disposal regulations to help limit the spread of CWD, both within Wyoming and other states. Please read all you can about CWD, how you can help and the requirements for hunters on our website.”
New hunters who haven’t been able to take a required hunter safety course can participate in the hunter mentor program. The program gives new hunters or those who have been unable to attend a hunter education course the opportunity to hunt under the close guidance of an experienced mentor. Forms are available on the Game and Fish website.
Hunters finalizing plans can use the Game and Fish Hunt Planner for maps and previous year’s harvest statistics. Maps are available for offline use, making the hunt boundary and land status lines clear for even the most remote hunt areas. As always, big game hunters are reminded that hunt areas denoted with an asterisk (*) have limited public hunting access and are largely comprised of private lands.
Hunting regulations are available on the Game and Fish website. Public access information is available through Access Yes, including walk-in hunting areas and hunter management areas.
Those with questions about regulations or licensing can call (307) 777-4600.
Antelope herd performance has been variable in the Casper Region in recent years, with herds around Casper now near or above population management objectives while antelope numbers in northeast Wyoming (from Douglas to Lusk to Sundance) remain far lower than managers would like to see.
After a period of strong population growth through about 2018, antelope numbers have since declined due to harsh winter conditions in back to back years coupled with poor fawn survival. The 2020-2021 winter was mild which helped over-winter survival, but it followed extreme drought conditions region-wide in 2020, with 2021 again experiencing severe drought in those parts of the region where antelope numbers are struggling most.
Although antelope populations have also declined in central Wyoming over this timeframe, they were near or over-objective to begin, so numbers remain fair to good in Hunt Areas 32 and 69-73. One notable exception is in Hunt Areas 30 and 31 between Casper and Douglas, where two massive spring snowstorms caused some localized die-offs resulting in much lower antelope densities in these areas compared to recent years. In northeast Wyoming, the compounding effects of winter mortality and summer drought have resulted in antelope populations well below desired numbers, especially in Hunt Areas 4 through 9.
Despite these lower populations, hunters should experience average to high harvest success as buck ratios remain strong and antelope license issuance has been reduced. Unfortunately, this also means several thousand licenses had to be cut this year, with Type 6 and 7 doe/fawn licenses taking the biggest hit in areas where populations have dropped the most.
West of Casper, many antelope hunters will again be asked to have their antelope’s horns measured and teeth pulled for aging as part of a research project aimed at optimizing buck ratios to balance hunting opportunity with maximum horn growth.
Mule deer populations have generally decreased or remained stable throughout the Casper Region over the past few years, with all populations being below their established objective.
As with antelope, mule deer experienced relatively harsh winter conditions in two of the past three years and relatively poor fawn survival with extended summer drought conditions. Despite lower-than-desired overall numbers, buck ratios remain high in most mule deer herds, and hunter success should be good for those hunters hunting on private lands and in limited quota areas.
Public land hunters in general license areas should experience low-to-moderate success in the face of higher hunting pressure and below-objective mule deer numbers. Private land hunters in the Cheyenne River area between Lusk and Newcastle should again see some large antlered bucks as in the past few years. Hunters lucky enough to draw a license in limited quota, conservatively managed areas should see very high buck ratios with modest trophy potential. In these high altitude desert areas (Hunt Areas 34 and 89), many prime-age mature bucks don’t grow large antlers compared to mule deer in other parts of the state. However, these herds are managed for relatively high numbers of older-aged bucks and produce some very nice deer every year.
White-tailed deer populations continue to do well in most of the Casper Region. Although, hunters are reminded the vast majority of whitetails occupy private lands. The notable exception is in the Black Hills, where high numbers of whitetails occupy the Black Hills National Forest. However, in the Black Hills, white-tailed deer numbers are significantly lower than they were just a couple years ago. While there are still good numbers of whitetail around, deer hunting on the Black Hills National Forest and other public lands in northeast Wyoming will definitely be challenging. This will also be the case on many parcels of private land in that area.
Elk numbers remain at or above objective levels in all herds in the Casper Region. Elk seasons therefore continue to be extremely liberal in terms of season length and license issuance. In recent years, elk harvest has approached or exceeded record levels in many Casper Region herds.
The Casper Region continues to provide excellent bull elk hunting opportunities, with many areas continuing to boast high harvest success on any-elk licenses and good antler quality. New for this year, the Casper Region is experimenting with a “raghorn” bull, Type 2 license in Hunt Area 7, with license holders being required to harvest a bull with 4-points or less. This season was instituted to reduce high bull ratios without reducing the number of larger mature bulls.
Antlerless elk hunter success continues to be good in most of the region, although high hunter densities on public lands often result in reduced hunter success in the early fall. In areas with interspersed public and private lands, antlerless elk hunters tend to require more days afield to harvest their elk as large cow/calf groups readily displace off public land. Overall, 2021 seasons will continue to emphasize female elk harvest throughout the Casper Region, while also providing good mature bull hunting in most areas. Those hunters willing to expend the effort should continue to enjoy remarkable numbers of elk and good success if the weather cooperates.
Spring and summer conditions throughout the region have produced above-average temperatures and little rainfall, posing serious wildfire concerns across the region. Unless there is good late summer/fall precipitation, the 2021 summer could negatively impact fawn survival over the 2021-2022 winter due to reduced habitat quality and the ability to build necessary fat reserves.
Wildlife Disease Management: Cody Region hunters are encouraged to assist wildlife managers in the collection of wildlife disease samples. Elk hunters who receive a brucellosis sample kit in the mail are asked to carry the sample kit and collect a blood sample following an elk harvest. Additionally, there are several priority chronic wasting disease (CWD) sample collection hunt areas within the Cody region. All hunters who harvest a deer or elk are asked to provide Game and Fish staff with the head and a few inches of the neck to collect a CWD sample. Priority deer hunt areas include: 41, 46, 47, 50, 51, 52, 53, 124 and 165. Elk priority CWD sample hunt areas are 41 and 45. Samples can be collected at a Game and Fish check station, or by contacting the regional office at (307) 527-7125 and making arrangements.
Over 125 adult female pronghorn have been collared since November 2019 in the Carter Mountain herd. These pronghorn experienced average overwinter survival over the 2020-21 winter. Additionally, managers have observed lower adult female survival rates over the 2021 summer season. Early field observations suggest low fawn production throughout much of the region. Overall, wildlife managers predict that 2021 recruitment will again be impacted by poor doe:fawn ratios. Pronghorn fawn production appears to be below average throughout much of the Bighorn Basin. Hunters should expect pronghorn hunting conditions and success to be slightly down for the 2021 season.
Deer overwinter survival appears to be at or below average throughout the Cody region. Collared doe mule deer in the northern Bighorn Mountains experienced average overwinter survival. Mule deer fawn production throughout much of the region appears to be lower than average based on preliminary field observations.
Winter deer classification surveys will provide managers with a better idea of what fawn production was for 2021. The Cody region observed below average fawn production for a majority of the deer herds during the 2020 deer classifications. A majority of mule deer herds within the Cody region are currently below their population management objectives.
Deer hunters should expect deer hunting conditions and success to be similar to or lower compared to the 2020 season. Prolonged drought and increasing CWD prevalence has had a negative impact on Bighorn Basin deer herds. Wildlife managers are hopeful for increased precipitation in the late summer and fall to help deer build fat reserves necessary for surviving the winter.
Elk overwinter survival was high for GPS collared adult female elk, and calf production for 2021 appears to be at or above-average for most herds. Most elk herds continue to perform well within the region, with many exceeding their management objective. Elk hunters should experience similar hunting conditions and success as the last few years.
Moose herds within the Cody region are improving. The Bighorn Mountain moose herd has reached record-high trend counts the past three years. Based on increased moose observations within the Bighorn Mountains, Hunt Area 42 has a new cow/calf license (Type 4) available for hunters in the 2021 season, with five licenses offered. Based on trail camera and field observation data from this spring/summer in Hunt Areas 9 and 11, the Absaroka moose herd is experiencing good calf production. Managers are observing a slight increase in overall moose numbers in Hunt Area 11, particularly within the Sunlight Basin area. Moose hunters should expect good moose hunting conditions and success in the 2021 season.
Bighorn sheep populations within the Absaroka herd (Hunt Areas 1-5) have experienced a decline over the past five years. Managers have decreased licenses in some hunt areas to provide opportunity and maintain a quality sheep hunting experience.
Cody regional sheep managers recently completed an intensive summer sheep survey of the Absaroka sheep herd, lamb ratios (production) based on preliminary data is above average, assuming lamb survival is average or above average from now through winter, this could provide a positive increase in the population.
Managers did identify some ewes within the North Fork of the Shoshone that had severe pneumonia (both collared and uncollared animals), but the extent of this die-off won’t be known until winter classification flights are completed. Devils Canyon (Hunt Area 12) sheep population continues to do well and produce large rams. Hunters should expect similar hunting conditions and success to the 2020 season.
Mountain goat numbers in Hunt Area 3 continue to increase. A recent sheep flight documented good numbers of goats within this area and good kid production indicating a growing population. Hunt Area 1 is experiencing lower-than-average populations and production over the past several years. Goat hunters in Area 3 should expect similar to improved hunting in 2021, whereas hunters in Hunt Area 1 should expect similar hunting conditions and success to that of the 2020 season.
The Hunt Area 3, Type 2 license is now limited to the portion of the hunt area that drains into the North Fork of the Shoshone. This change was made in an effort to focus harvest on the growing number of goats in this area, and the relatively limited harvest that occurs within this area currently. Hunters hunting this new area should expect to find goats in remote and difficult terrain.
Managers are reporting observations of broods for pheasants, sage grouse, chukars, huns and even forest grouse. Upland game bird hunting should be similar to last year, but hunters should remember upland bird populations have been down the past three years, so it will take a few good years for it to fully recover.
Upland bird production seems to vary across the Basin, some areas will be similar to or better than last year, some areas will not be as good as last year. Rabbit hunting in the 2021 season will likely be difficult as biologists report fewer observations.
GREEN RIVER REGION
The Green River Region is experiencing exceptionally dry conditions, and has been since last winter. The drought rating is severe heading into the fall. The majority of the region will show stressed range conditions if precipitation trends continue into fall. Current conditions will likely influence behavior and distribution of game species this upcoming season. Hunters are reminded to be very careful with campfires and vehicle exhausts this year as fire danger is currently high in much of the region, including the higher elevations.
In general, hunters will find good hunting opportunities and numbers of antelope in the Green River Region, and hunter success is expected to remain high. Pronghorn numbers were slightly variable to stable across herds within the region last year, even considering a fairly mild 2020-2021 winter. The summer started out mild with good moisture, but has dried significantly. Wetter, upper elevation habitats for the species appear to be in better condition, while the lower altitude sagebrush habitats are experiencing severe drought conditions and hunters will observe fewer fawns.
Mild winter conditions have been favorable for mule deer populations overall throughout the region. Fawn survival and production is up and deer numbers are beginning to increase following four years of severe winters and higher than normal winter mortality. Hunters will likely notice a few missing age classes of bucks that were lost during those years, but numbers of younger males are increasing. Deer hunting will be better in the higher elevation hunt areas in the Wyoming Range (especially Hunt Area 134 and 135), and in the Baggs area in Hunt Area 82. Older males will be harder to find in the remainder of the region due to recent winter losses, but opportunities still remain for quality bucks in all these hunt areas with appropriate effort.
Elk hunting will remain very good in nearly the entire region, including the special management herds (Steamboat Area 100 and South Rock Springs Areas 30-32). There is the potential for suppressed antler growth due to drought conditions; however, many quality animals have been observed.
Hunters can expect to harvest some nice bulls, including within general areas. Cow hunting opportunities remain liberal throughout much of the region given populations are above management objectives. Managers are expecting an average or above-average elk harvest this fall, depending on weather conditions and hunter effort.
There are significant opportunities for both small and upland game within the Green River Region. Hunters should find ample opportunities for rabbits which are an often under-utilized resource. Upland game opportunities will likely be better in wetter, higher elevation areas where suitable habitat is found.
Sage grouse broods were observed early summer in much of the region, however, with increasingly dry conditions observations of young birds have become less frequent. Wildlife managers are expecting to see lower chicks per hen in wing barrels this fall than what was observed in prior years. Even though overall grouse numbers are expected to be slightly lower than previous years, the Green River Region offers some of the best opportunities for sage grouse in the state.
The Jackson Region is experiencing severe drought conditions reducing forage growth in many areas, which could affect the distribution of animals, as well as their daily and seasonal movements. If exceptionally warm temperatures persist, this too could affect the daily patterns of big game and may require hunters to devote additional efforts to scouring the timber, and focusing on north-facing slopes.
The Jackson Region harbors a small migratory segment of the Sublette antelope herd in Hunt Area 85. Due to the rather small number of antelope, few licenses are offered. Because of the distribution of antelope and public access opportunities, most antelope hunting occurs in the Gros Ventre River drainage. Population estimates for the entire Sublette antelope herd are currently below desired levels, but hunters lucky enough to draw pronghorn licenses in hunt area 85 will have a great hunt and should experience high success rates.
Portions of the Sublette and Wyoming Range mule deer herds are managed in the Jackson Region, including Hunt Areas 150-152, 155-156 and 144-146. Both herds include large populations with special management strategies designed to provide high-quality hunting opportunities for older age-class bucks.
While harsh winters have complicated herd recovery, hunters willing to put in the time and effort should be rewarded with an opportunity to harvest a trophy-class mule deer buck from the abundant public lands in the Region. Antler point restrictions were lifted in 2020, so hunters will again have more flexibility in their choice of deer to harvest, while still maintaining older age class bucks. The Jackson Region also includes the Targhee mule deer herd (Hunt Area 149) and Hunt Area 148 of the Dubois mule deer herd, both of which contain very low deer densities, and as a result see limited hunter numbers and harvest.
Small populations of white-tailed deer may be found near riparian habitats throughout the Jackson Region, and all deer hunt areas in the region offer the opportunity for hunters to harvest whitetails during the general season. For 2021, seven hunt areas were combined (148-152, 155-156) to offer limited-quota Type 3, any white-tailed deer license holders more places to hunt during the Sept. 15 to Nov. 30 season. This same expansion of opportunity was made for Type 8, doe/fawn white-tailed deer licenses.
The Jackson Region manages four elk herds (Jackson, Fall Creek, Afton and Targhee), that currently contain approximately 17,000 elk, and are all at management objectives. These areas provide a wide range of hunting opportunities, from early season rifle hunts for branch-antlered bulls in the Teton Wilderness to late antlerless elk seasons on private lands in several areas to address elk damage to stored crops and comingling with livestock.
All or parts of the Jackson, Sublette and Targhee moose herds are found in the Jackson Region, and each are managed under a special management strategy to provide recreational opportunities while maintaining a harvest of older age class bulls. While moose numbers continue to remain below desired levels, hunters lucky enough to draw a license should experience high success and have a good chance of harvesting an older age class bull.
The Jackson (Hunt Area 7) and Targhee (Hunt Area 6) bighorn sheep herds are found in the Jackson Region. Sheep numbers in Hunt Area 7 are currently above management objectives, and hunter success and the average age of harvested rams is expected to be high in 2021. Because most sheep in the Targhee herd reside in Grand Teton National Park, and therefore unavailable to hunters, only one license is issued each year in Hunt Area 6. In 2021, this license went to a resident hunter. This makes for a very challenging, but exceptional opportunity to hunt sheep in a spectacular setting.
Mountain goat numbers in Hunt Area 2 are at desired levels, and hunter success is usually very high at 90-100% and made up primarily of older age class billies.
This will be the third year for the Type A license in Hunt Area 4. This hunt area and license type was created to reduce mountain goat numbers in the Teton Range and minimize the expansion of mountain goats into important bighorn sheep habitats of the Targhee herd. Unlike mountain goat Type 1 and Type 2 licenses, Type A licenses are not once-in-a-lifetime, and hunters could potentially draw a license and harvest a mountain goat every year. Due to the very difficult terrain, the low number of goats that reside outside of Grand Teton National Park and the intent of this license, hunter success could be quite low in 2021.
Bison numbers are currently very near the management objective of 500. Recently, mild weather and aversion to hunting pressure on the National Elk Refuge (NER) have resulted in delayed or little to no movement of bison from Grand Teton National Park into the open hunt area on the NER. These conditions make it difficult to achieve harvest objectives and can create challenges for hunters. Some bull hunting occurs on national forest lands, but bison availability there is intermittent and low.
Due to the very small and isolated population of sage grouse in the Jackson Region, no hunting seasons are offered. Hunters interested in upland game birds, however, can find some of the best blue (or dusky) and ruffed grouse habitats in the state, and seasons run from September through December. Small game hunters can pursue cottontails and snowshoe hares until the end of March, though populations can fluctuate dramatically from year to year. Late season hunters need to be mindful of winter range closures in some areas that begin in December.
The majority of the Lander Region does not seem to be suffering from the extreme drought conditions observed in other areas of Wyoming. The Lander area experienced near-average precipitation during the growing season. Grass and forb production appears to be good in many areas, and shrubs in the South Pass and Red Canyon areas have good leader growth, all of which contribute to the summer and fall diets for many game species.
While many wetlands, wet meadows and streams seem to be holding less water than in past years, habitat conditions in most areas seem relatively good moving into the late summer season. The Dubois area received normal to even slightly above-normal growing season precipitation, and conditions are good across most of the area.
Even though June exhibited much warmer temperatures than a normal year, periodic rainstorms and slightly cooler temperatures in early July appeared to compensate for the uncharacteristically warm June weather. The Jeffrey City/Green Mountain/Sweetwater Rocks country received slightly below normal precipitation through the growing season; however, well-timed early July rainstorms helped forage remain green all the way through the end of July. Wet meadows and spring/seep habitats are still wet, and streams are holding water later into the season this year. Upland areas are likely drying out quickly as the season progresses, but forage production across the area is good.
The Rawlins portion of the Lander Region is the most affected by the drought. West and north of Rawlins, in the Red Desert, severe drought conditions are being reported. Much lower-than-average growing season precipitation has contributed to decreased forage production and water availability.
These drought conditions are considered long-term, and are affecting health and quality of rangelands and wildlife habitat in the area. East of Rawlins, there is a slight improvement in conditions due to some late June/early July precipitation. There is, however, concern about the survival of sage grouse chicks and pronghorn fawns due to the lack of early season lush green grasses and forbs important for lactating does and growing chicks.
With expected decreased pronghorn fawn production and known low over-winter survival last year, populations decreased again throughout the Lander Region. Early observations this spring and summer indicate fewer fawns and pronghorn numbers in these herds are down as expected. Overall, throughout the region, buck quality is likely to be similar to that of 2020 .Hunters fortunate to have drawn a license should expect good to excellent harvest success.
Mule deer populations had markedly declined the last two years attributed to harsh winter conditions during the 2018/19 winter and again in the 2019/20 winter. These conditions resulted in poor fawn survival and increased adult mortality. This past winter was relatively mild, but with two age classes missing, mule deer numbers remain below management objectives.
Antler point restrictions continue for the second year in the hunt areas near Lander and Rawlins. Elsewhere, hunters will have opportunity for similar harvest success (mostly young bucks). Continued any white-tailed deer seasons are in place in the Dubois, Lander, Riverton and Jeffrey City areas and hunters should expect similar hunting opportunities and success as they did last year.
Like much of Wyoming, elk populations are doing well across the Lander Region and all herd units are near their objective. Calf production remains on par with previous years and should result in continued robust elk numbers. Similarly, observed bull numbers remain acceptable to strong. If favorable weather conditions are realized during the fall, hunters should experience excellent harvest opportunity and success.
Moose are at or below desired levels and the hunting season framework includes conservative quotas. However, more moose were counted in Hunt Areas 2 and 30 the past three years, and it appears this population is at least stable.
Winter counts in the Dubois country yielded fewer moose and remained at historically-low levels. Overall herd performance and population size in both herd units continue to be monitored closely. Regardless, 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 previous years, but still low at 29:100 and continues to be a concern. Lamb productivity has been depressed in the herd unit for over 20 years and while it has certainly impacted population growth, there are still rams available for harvest.
Hunters who drew a tag in these areas should expect to see fewer rams than in the past, but should experience reasonable success depending on their expectations. The Ferris/Seminoe herd, Hunt Areas 17 and 26 will be open for the ninth consecutive year in 2021 with eight licenses issued. Hunters will have an excellent opportunity to harvest, and for those who hold out, an exceptional ram.
Extraordinarily dry spring and summer conditions have likely impacted upland game birds (sage, blue, and ruffed grouse; pheasants; chukars and hungarian partridge) in the Lander Region. Hunters will likely have to spend more time searching for upland game birds this fall. Early field observations of sage grouse are revealing few hens with broods.
The Sand Mesa and Ocean Lake Wildlife Habitat Management Areas, and the one-day youth hunt at Sand Mesa continues to be very popular with pheasant hunters. This year’s youth hunt on Sand Mesa will occur on Saturday, Nov. 20.
Cottontails, snowshoe hares and red squirrels appear to be similar to that in 2020 within the Lander Region. For those interested in pursuing these animals, hunting conditions should again be good in 2021.
Drought conditions in southeast Wyoming were not as severe compared to other parts of the state, particularly within Platte, Goshen and Laramie counties. However, areas outside those garnered significantly less moisture. Hunters can expect to see ungulates concentrated in riparian areas and irrigated lands. Average to poor juvenile survival is expected which will affect what hunters see on the landscape for big game species.
Pronghorn population trends and corresponding hunting opportunities vary substantially across the Laramie Region.
Grassland herds in the north and east, including Iron Mountain (Hunt Area 38), Meadowdale (Hunt Area 11), Hawk Springs (Hunt Area 34) and Dwyer (Hunt Area 103) have declined over the past four years, along with notable decreases in fawn production. In addition there was a major snow storm that dropped over 30” of snow within portions of Platte, Goshen and Laramie Counties in the middle of March, resulting in an increase in winter mortality. As a result the Game and Fish reduced licenses in Hunt Areas 11, 34, 38 and 103. In addition, within Hunt Area 38, a Type 2 license was added, valid for any pronghorn south of Highway 34 from Oct. 5 to Dec. 31 with the goal of still providing opportunity for the eastern portion of the hunt area while relieving some pressure off the doe population. Decent buck numbers remain in these herds, but older animals will be harder to find. Sportspersons should expect pronghorn populations in the Laramie Valley to be similar to previous years, with comparable hunting opportunities.
The Medicine Bow herd is at objective so hunters shouldn’t expect to see this population increase beyond its current size. The Elk Mountain (Hunt Area 50) is performing quite well so hunters should expect to have plenty of opportunity to harvest a pronghorn. Hunters may notice decreased numbers especially in portions of herd units adjacent to the I-80 corridor. Prolonged winter conditions paired with poor spring and summer moisture mean hunters likely will encounter bucks with fair horn growth, but trophy quality animals may be difficult to locate. Due to low summer precipitation in much of the region pronghorn likely will be concentrated near wet meadows and other water sources.
Populations in the Sheep Mountain, Platte Valley and Shirley Mountain herds have been increasing slightly over the past three years. The Mullen Fire, which consumed over 176,000 acres has greatly altered the landscape in the Snowy Range. However, regenerating important grass and shrub species indicate the burn will have long-term positive effects for fawn rearing and survival. Hunters should be prepared for down timber on the forest service road system.
Within the Platte Valley Herd Unit, Hunt Area 83 was eliminated and the boundaries for Hunt Area 80 were expanded to simplify hunting season regulations. Buck ratios remain high across the Platte Valley, which allowed for an increase of 50 licenses in Hunt Area 81. However, due to the Mullen Fire, licenses were decreased to account for the high number of carry over licenses from 2020 in Hunt Area 78. If moderate weather conditions continue into the fall, hunters will most likely locate deer in higher-elevation summer and transition ranges.
Poor fawn production, coupled with high CWD prevalence, continue to suppress populations in the Goshen Rim and Laramie Mountains herds. Hunters may struggle to find older deer and should be prepared to hunt harder than normal if they are looking for a trophy buck. Department personnel will be present throughout the season to collect samples for CWD testing. If hunters harvest an animal, especially from the Sheep Mountain herd (Hunt Areas 61, 74-77), please submit a sample or contact the Game and Fish for assistance.
Elk populations remain above objective, with ample harvest opportunities throughout the region. The Mullen Fire will likely contribute to the already over objective herds by improving calving areas by setting plant communities back to early successional stage, which typically improves calf and adult survival. Hunters are encouraged to hunt south of Highway 130 within the Snowy Range Herd Unit to take advantage of elk utilizing the burn scar where vegetation improvements occur.
There were several changes made to the Snowy Range Elk Herd hunt areas as well as the Shirley Mountain Herd Unit (Hunt Area 16), so hunters should become familiar with the dates and limitations prior to going to the field. Given hunting pressure on public land, sportspersons should be prepared to pursue elk in areas that are a fair distance from well-traveled roads and trails. Look for additional access opportunities on hunter management Areas and walk-in areas; be sure to secure a corresponding permission slip, if required.
Bighorn sheep hunting should be excellent throughout the region. Hunt areas 18 and 21 are open again for the 2021 season following closure in 2019. Hunters typically experience more than 90% success in the Douglas Creek, Encampment River and Laramie Peak herds. The same is expected in 2021. The Mullen Fire burned within areas that bighorn sheep particularly prefer so habitat conditions are expected to improve within the Douglas Creek Herd Unit.
Laramie wildlife managers anticipate excellent moose hunting opportunities in the Snowy Range herd. Harvest success across both Type 1 and Type 4 licenses continues to be exceptional (98%), and the herd maintains both high bull ratios and good calf production. The Mullen Fire is expected to improve moose habitat as well but to what extent still remains to be seen.
Extremely low soil moisture, above average temperatures and reduced precipitation has led to severe drought conditions throughout the Pinedale Region. Through vegetation monitoring it has been found that on average, plant communities are reaching senescence two to three weeks earlier, even at high elevations in subalpine tall forb communities. In the most extreme examples on low elevation rangelands, some grass species failed to come out of dormancy altogether or were unable to successfully produce seed while some shrub species have started to show signs of defoliation. Widespread damage from insects and fungi have also been documented on a variety of plant species, which has been attributed in part to drought stress.
The impacts to wildlife as a result of the drought have the potential to be widespread due to the reduction of the quality and quantity of forage, especially as animals move back into winter range complexes where it is anticipated there will be poor leader growth on key shrub species and where drought conditions have been most severe.
The Pinedale Region encompasses the northern portion of the Sublette Antelope Herd, one of the largest pronghorn herds in the nation, and includes Hunt Areas 87-91. Population estimates for this herd are currently below desired levels mostly due to recent harsh winters, and 2021 hunting seasons remain conservative, similar to previous years. Hunters lucky enough to draw a pronghorn license in these areas will have lots of public land to roam and should experience high success rates.
Portions of the Sublette and Wyoming Range mule deer herds are located within the Pinedale Region, including Hunt Areas 130, 138-143, 146, 153 and 154. Both herds include large populations with special management strategies designed to provide high quality hunting opportunities with older age-class deer and at least 30 bucks per 100 does. While recent harsh winters have complicated herd recovery, those hunters willing to put in the time and effort should be rewarded with an opportunity to harvest a trophy-class mule deer buck from abundant public lands in the region. Antler point restrictions were lifted in 2020 and remain so in 2021, allowing hunters more flexibility for harvesting a buck.
While mule deer are far more prevalent in the Pinedale Region than white-tails, small populations of white-tailed deer may be found generally near riparian habitats, and all deer hunt areas in the Region offer the opportunity for hunters to harvest white-tails during the general season. Additionally, 50 limited quota Type 3 licenses provide the opportunity to harvest any white-tailed deer from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30 in Hunt Areas 138-143.
Nearly 10,000 elk in five herd units are managed by the Pinedale Region. Liberal seasons provide hunters with ample opportunity and bull numbers remain strong, ranging from 16 bulls:100 cows in the Hoback herd to 36 bulls:100 cows in the Upper Green herd. Calf:cow ratios averaged 29:100 among the four herds, indicating healthy and productive populations. Elk harvest was slightly lower in 2020 due to warmer than average conditions during fall and late arrival of snow, but elk hunting in the Pinedale Region during 2021 should offer excellent opportunities.
The Sublette moose herd is managed under a special management strategy to provide recreational opportunities while maintaining an average harvest age of 4 years for bulls to maintain trophy opportunity. This herd has a winter trend count objective of 1,500 moose, and the population has been stable to slightly increasing over the last decade. A total of 125 bull and 10 antlerless licenses were offered in the Pinedale Region for the 2021 hunting season, and hunter success should again be very high.
The Darby Mountain sheep herd and a portion of the Whiskey Mountain herd are managed by the Pinedale Region. In 2021, the Darby sheep herd (Hunt Area 24) will again be open with one license for any ram going to a lucky resident. While populations in the Whiskey herd continue to be under objective, sheep numbers observed during winter flights in Hunt Area 8 of the herd appear to be stable. A total of seven licenses were issued in 2021 in Hunt Area 8, providing opportunities for exciting hunts in awe-inspiring country.
Male sage grouse observed on leks during spring of 2021 indicate populations are in the low end of their cycles, so hunters should expect to get plenty of exercise while chasing sage grouse in the Pinedale Region this fall. Decent populations of dusky (blue) and ruffed grouse can be found in the forests of the Pinedale Region, providing hunting opportunity from September through December. Additionally, rabbit hunters can chase cottontails and snowshoe hares until the end of March, although cottontail populations appear to be depressed lately and the current drought is not helping with rabbit forage. Late season hunters need to be mindful of winter range closures in some areas that begin in November and December.
Drought conditions continue to persist for a second year in the region. The U.S. Drought Monitor reported July drought conditions in the majority of Campbell, Sheridan and Johnson Counties as severe or extreme. These conditions can result in low forage yield, elevated fire danger, increased dust, poor snowpack, and a reduction in surface water.
Hunters will help manage herds by achieving harvest objectives to balance herds with less productive habitat prior to the upcoming winter. Hunters should also note there have already been numerous range fires so extreme caution is advised this fall when taking to the field.
Interest in hunting remains high with more difficult license draw odds and fewer hunt areas with leftover licenses. Remaining licenses are primarily limited to private land hunt areas with difficult access (hunt areas denoted with an asterisk). Hunters are encouraged to secure access prior to purchasing these licenses. Hunter densities on many accessible tracts of public land can be high, especially on opening day and weekends. Results from the 2020 harvest survey confirmed that success rates are higher for hunters with access to private land. While overall hunter success should remain high, buck quality may be down given the forage conditions resulting from two years of extremely dry spring conditions.
Overall, license quotas for pronghorn have been reduced to account for observed and anticipated depressions in survival and recruitment rates due to the drought conditions. Quota reductions in some hunt areas are also aimed at addressing increased pressure on limited public and publicly-accessible property. In localized areas, pronghorn have experienced disease-related mortality in recent years, from Mycoplasma bovis, epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) virus or bluetongue virus and unknown causes. Field managers continue to monitor reports of sickly pronghorn to better understand population level impacts and to perform disease diagnostics.
Mule deer populations in the Powder River Basin appear to be fairly stable, although managers have observed lower fawn ratios and survival in recent years. Mule deer populations on the east slope of the Bighorn Mountains continue to be well below population objectives. In the Sheridan Region, harvest success was slightly down in all herd units in 2020, a trend that could continue this year. Harvest strategies are designed to provide buck hunting opportunity while maintaining conservative antlerless deer harvest to maximize herd growth and address localized areas of cropland depredation. Overall, buck-to-doe ratios remain high.
White-tailed deer seasons are very liberal. Nearly all hunt areas offer November hunting seasons for any white-tailed deer and many doe/fawn seasons extend into December to allow maximum harvest to manage this population. Most white-tailed deer are found on private land.
Deer Hunt Areas 1-6, 19, 24, 25, 27-33, 163 and 169 are part of the 2021 CWD monitoring focus areas. If you harvest a deer in any of the deer focus areas, we greatly appreciate your help in getting it tested. Hunter assistance with these targeted efforts will allow us to estimate herd unit CWD prevalence. This piece of information is incredibly valuable and will help Game and Fish with long-term monitoring and management efforts.
Now is a great time to be an elk hunter with ample opportunity to harvest an elk, especially if you are willing to hunt antlerless elk. Long seasons are in place to help achieve desired harvest levels. Limited quota any elk licenses continue to be difficult to draw but those lucky in drawing a permit have a reasonable chance at harvesting a mature bull. Several areas had leftover antlerless and cow/calf licenses available after the draw, but these tend to be private land areas where access to hunt is limited. Leftover licenses are available for purchase online, at license-selling agents, or at regional Game and Fish offices on a first-come, first-served basis.
Fall 2021 and spring 2022 wild turkey seasons in Hunt Areas 1 and 3 will again offer general license opportunity with Type 3 licenses also available in Hunt Areas 3. Type 3 licenses provide additional opportunity for hunters, particularly for those that gain access to private land where most turkeys are found.
MIGRATORY GAME BIRDS – Statewide Overview
With most of Wyoming in various levels of drought, fewer wetlands are available this year to breeding waterfowl and other wetland associated birds. This may have reduced breeding attempts and brood success in the area. Similarly, if drought conditions continue into the fall and winter, less habitat will be available for waterfowl migrating through the state. Hunters can expect below average numbers of ducks across Wyoming. Migration chronology and weather, as well as hunter efforts of scouting for birds and obtaining permission to hunt private land when necessary, will ultimately influence the success of migratory bird hunters throughout the state.
The annual May breeding survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and cooperators was canceled this year due to concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of Wyoming’s migrating ducks come from Canadian and United States prairies included in this effort. Drought in much of the prairie pothole region indicates poor habitat conditions for breeding and duck production. Prairie breeders including mallards and blue-winged teal will be affected by issues in this region. Conditions higher in the boreal forest are very favorable, though, and might help buffer numbers, particularly species like American wigeon and green-winged teal. Overall, lower than average duck numbers can be expected.
Canada geese harvested in the state come from two populations. The Rocky Mountain Population can be found west of the Continental Divide, in the Wind River and Bighorn River Basins, and in western Carbon and Natrona counties. Large geese found in eastern Wyoming belong to the Hi-Line Population. Goose numbers in recent years have been consistently high. Generally, Canada goose numbers during hunting season are driven by winter conditions and there should be plenty of geese present should the weather cooperate.
Production within Wyoming in 2021 was average to below average, based on anecdotal reports across the state. The majority of doves will migrate out of the state with the first cold snap, which usually occurs between late-August and mid-September. Doves from northern areas do migrate through the state in mid-September and good hunting can still be found after the first few days of the season.
Cranes which migrate through eastern Wyoming (Crane Hunt Area 7) are primarily from the Mid-Continent Population, which has been relatively stable since the early 1980s and exceeds the established objective range of 349,000–472,000. Cranes that breed and stage in central and western Wyoming (Hunt Areas 1-6 and 8) are from the Rocky Mountain Population. The fall pre-migration survey in 2020 counted 25,636 cranes, exceeding the 2019 count of 21,290 and the population objective. Cranes in Hunt Areas 4 and 6 tend to roost and feed in the same general locations every year. Roost locations in Hunt Area 4 are Hidden Valley, Riverview Valley and the south side of Ocean Lake. Roost locations in Hunt Area 6 are located north of Worland, the Otto area, from Powell to Ralston and Ralston Reservoir. For best success, scout for cranes prior to the season and obtain permission to access the fields they are using.
The 2021 greater sage grouse hunting seasons for Wyoming are similar to last year with the exception of a date shift to keep opening day anchored to the third Saturday in September. Hunt Area 1 covers most of the state and is open Sept. 18-30. A three-day season in northeast Wyoming has been set for Sept. 18-20 in Hunt Area 4.
Sage grouse numbers will be down compared to the last few years, and hunters should expect low rates of success. Sage grouse populations appear to be in the midst of a downward swing within their population cycle. The number of birds harvested each year is strongly related to hatching success and over-summer chick survival. The drought across much of the state this year will severely limit over-summer chick survival.
(Photo source: Wyoming Game and Fish Department)