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Editorial

Game and Fish Article


Casper region hunting forecast 2012


09/01/2012 - Pronghorn

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Pronghorn hunting throughout the Casper Region in 2012 will be good in most areas, but will not be as good as the excellent years the region experienced for much of the past decade. Due to elevated winter losses from the 2010-2011 winter and subsequent poor fawn production, hunters will not see the high densities of pronghorn that were commonly observed through 2010. However, appropriate license reductions were made in an effort to sustain hunter success rates and continued quality hunting opportunities. In general, hunters should expect to see fewer numbers of pronghorn throughout the Casper Region. Pronghorn numbers in Thunder Basin and much of the Cheyenne River drainage between Lusk and Newcastle remain at especially low levels following the relatively harsh winter of 2010-2011. Hunters in southern Niobrara County should expect good success along Highway 18-20, although local managers report pronghorn densities will not be as high as they have been in recent years. In this area, good hunter access to private lands through the Department's PL/PW access program continues to provide outstanding opportunity. The western portion of the Region around Casper is a mixed bag. Pronghorn numbers to the south and east remain near average levels, while in areas to the west, northwest, and northeast of Casper hunters will see far fewer pronghorn than they have been accustomed to in recent years. As with northern Niobrara and Converse and southern Weston Counties, elevated winter losses coupled with poor fawn production and survival have resulted in significant population reductions in much of the Casper area.

While overall buck availability will be down compared to recent levels in most areas within the Casper Region, buck quality should be quite good. Extremely mild weather during 2011-2012 winter and 2012 spring enabled pronghorn to devote much of their energy to horn growth as the energetic demands for thermoregulation were not as high as normal. Given the majority of horn growth occurs during the winter and early spring months for pronghorn, bucks were able to get a good head start with the mild weather. As a result, hunters should expect to see bigger bucks than in the recent past, especially in areas west of Casper.

White-tailed Deer

The epicenter of white-tailed deer range in Wyoming is the Black Hills. Public land hunting on the Black Hills National Forest continues to provide some reasonable hunting opportunity. However, following harsh winter conditions in 2010-2011 and subsequent mediocre fawn production, white-tailed deer numbers have reached their lowest point since the late 1990's, so hunters should expect to see fewer deer in the Black Hills. As a result, hunters will notice less nonresident Region A licenses were issued and the season in hunt areas 1,2 & 3 will close again Thanksgiving Day, which is on November 22nd this year. Outside of the Black Hills, white-tailed deer are largely found on private lands along creeks and rivers. So, while hunters can expect good hunting opportunity, they should generally secure permission in these areas before purchasing a white-tailed deer license or going afield.

Mule Deer

Overall, general license hunters will have an increasingly difficult time harvesting buck mule deer throughout the Casper Region this year. Following several years of poor fawn productivity, the number of mature bucks available to hunters has declined in much of the Region, especially on public lands where hunting pressure is heavy. For the most part, the already conservative seasons are relatively unchanged. The Department implemented a 3-point or better season in Area 10 this year, which will likely result in decreased hunter numbers and harvest success. Hunters in the Black Hills and Cheyenne River drainage will likely experience another year of tough mule deer hunting on both public and private lands. There are good quality bucks available, but their numbers are low. Proposed doe/fawn license issuance has been eliminated throughout much of the region, and remaining tags have sold out. To reduce hunting pressure, non-resident regional quotas were cut substantially in Regions B, D, and J where mule deer numbers have declined considerably. The Bates Hole area is popular among resident and non-resident hunters and continues to provide a fair general license hunting experience. One noteworthy proposed change for 2012 is the elimination of the ability for general license holders to archery hunt in Areas 22 and 34 given declining deer numbers and public concern. Overall, deer hunting on public land in general areas throughout the Casper Region will continue to be difficult with declining populations and buck numbers. Deer hunting in Areas 34 and 89 west of Casper should be good to excellent this year. Despite the extremely hot, dry spring and summer, antler growth is very good in 2012 as deer came out of the 2011-2012 winter in excellent shape. Hunters should expect to see some nice trophy bucks in these conservatively managed areas.

Elk

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High elk numbers continue to provide outstanding elk hunting opportunities throughout the Casper Region. Nearly all elk areas in the Casper Region remain limited quota and season limitations including opening dates and season lengths are nearly identical to last year's. Elk hunters should continue to enjoy remarkable numbers of elk and good hunting success especially if the weather cooperates. Those hunters with general licenses should not plan to hunt in Converse, Niobrara, and Weston counties unless they have secured access to private lands known to have elk. Lands within these counties are not managed for a sustainable elk population. Thus, elk only occur in isolated areas on private lands in Areas 126 and 129.

Upland Game Birds and Small Game

Sage grouse numbers, based on lek counts, in the Casper Region continue to decline precipitously. This is likely due to the wet, cool weather experienced from 2007 2011 which likely impacted chick survival. In addition, West Nile Virus and other factors may have increased mortality of sage grouse, although this disease has not been confirmed in northeast Wyoming this year. Nevertheless, given the conservative seasons in place, grouse numbers should remain high enough to ensure those hunters that do pursue sage-grouse should not have much trouble filling their daily bag limits.

Blue grouse in the Casper Region may have been affected by the wet, cool spring in recent years, although anecdotal reports indicate chick production and survival may have improved over the past two years. So, their numbers will likely continue to be down compared to the good years but may be somewhat improved compared to the past couple of years.

Chukar and Hungarian partridge levels in the Casper Region are rebounding!!! So, hunting should again be improved in 2012. Good sized coveys of huns have been reported in multiple areas throughout the Casper Region. However, even in good years, hunters in the Casper Region should not expect to see chukars and huns in the densities that occur in the Bighorn Basin and areas around Buffalo and Sheridan.

Based on harvest and count data, turkeys in much of the Casper Region continue to do fair. Poult production has been poor to moderate in recent years resulting in relatively stable turkey numbers. Due to substantial losses during the 2010-2011 winter, turkey numbers in the Black Hills will again be relatively poor this fall and in the spring of 2013 when compared to the good years. While hunting opportunities remain fair in the Black Hills, overall turkey numbers are considerably lower than they were during much of the preceding decade. Regardless, turkey hunting this fall on a general license should continue to be favorable throughout the Region as access to hunt them on private lands remains fair.

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