Drought and rain may impact hunting season depending on the area
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This fall could be a tale of two hunting seasons in Wyoming.
Some animals in the northern half of the state look strong and healthy from a wet spring and green summer.
At the same time, hunters may see animals in the southwestern portion suffering the effects of a drought that won’t quit.
“Our antelope fawn production is just a touch better than last year, and last year was horrible,” said Green River game warden Duane Kerr. “Last year we had less than 30 fawns for every 100 does (in one herd) and this year is just a couple of points better than that. It takes at least 50 fawns for 100 does to keep the population from shrinking.”
Wildlife officials in the Cody region, on the other hand, offered plenty of doe and fawn licenses for pronghorn and deer to address crop damage.
Pronghorn, deer and elk will all look healthier and will be more spread out because of better forage in the hills, said Alan Osterland, regional wildlife supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Most deer and pronghorns will be in better shape in the Casper region, though numbers are still down. Last year’s dry summer took a toll on females, which translated into fewer fawns this year, said Brian Olsen, Game and Fish’s Casper regional wildlife supervisor.
Those that came out of winter alive are likely healthier after the wet spring and summer.
That’s ultimately a good sign for next year’s fawn numbers and future hunting seasons.
Below are a few hunting season highlights from each Game and Fish region.
For more detailed information about a specific area, contact a regional office or go to wgfd.wyo.gov.
■ Casper region: Expect most animals to be in better shape this year than last around Casper and northeastern Wyoming, Olsen said. Hunters should be on the lookout for sick white-tail deer.
Hot temperatures and standing water create a breeding ground for biting gnats carrying Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease.
The disease can cause deer to be lethargic, drool and congregate near water.
Once a deer has symptoms, it will typically die. Game and Fish has already received some reports of dead white-tail deer around Casper.
It is still too early to know how many will succumb. The gnats usually die after the first hard frost.
■ Sheridan region: Pronghorn populations are high and hunting should be good in the Sheridan region.
Hunters can buy two any antelope tags and up to four doe/fawn tags.
Most pronghorn hunting is on private land and officials recommend asking for permission before buying tags, according to a hunting forecast made by Sheridan Game and Fish regional biologists.
Deer numbers in the Gillette area are down.
Anyone lucky enough to draw a limited quota elk tag near Sheridan or moose license should expect high success.
■ Cody region: Hunters with limited quota elk tags in the Big Horn Mountains in the Sheridan or Cody regions should have received a brucellosis test kit in the mail, said Warren Mischke, Game and Fish public information officer.
In 2012, two elk tested positive for brucellosis for the first time in the Big Horns.
Biologists want to know if the disease is in other elk, and if so, how widespread it is, Osterland said.
Elk and bighorn sheep hunters in the South Fork area outside of Cody could have a harder hunt because of Forest Service closures from the Hardluck Fire in the Shoshone National Forest.
■ Green River region: Elk numbers are good in southwest Wyoming.
Pronghorn numbers continue to drop, though this fall will likely be similar to the 2012 season, Kerr said.
Expect short, antlered-only mule deer seasons with point restrictions in some areas.
Moose populations are still down, but could be better than in recent years.
■ Laramie region: General licenses are no longer available for mule deer hunters in the Platte Valley.
Also, buck mule deer shot in areas 74 through 77 on the east face of the Snowy Range must have one antler with at least three points.
The moose population in the Snowy Range is doing well, said Bill Haley, Laramie regional game warden.
■ Jackson region: Elk numbers are closer to desired levels in the Fall Creek Elk Herd after increased hunting seasons.
Hunters cannot shoot yearling males, or spike bulls, in an effort to add more bulls to the post hunt population, according to a hunting forecast by Jackson-area Game and Fish biologists.
Deer numbers have increased with mild winters and early springs.
Expect exceptional antler growth. Only 15 pronghorn licenses were offered this year.
■ Pinedale region: Despite dry conditions, pronghorn buck ratios are good and hunters should be successful.
The general license mule deer season will close Oct. 6 in the Sublette herd to spread out hunting pressure.
White-tailed deer numbers near many of the major rivers are increasing.
Mild temperatures and dry conditions will hurt elk hunter success near Pinedale despite liberal hunting seasons.
■ Lander region: Expect fewer antelope and fewer antelope hunters around Lander, Dubois, Riverton and Rawlins.
Mule deer numbers are also down.
Elk hunting will be good throughout the region, said Jason Hunter, Lander regional wildlife supervisor. ❖
Christine Peterson is a staff writer for the Casper, Wyo., Star-Tribune.