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Around Our Town...Recreation

Summer Moisture Results in Good Hunting Forecast

09/01/2005 - by Jeff Obretch - Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Improved moisture equates to improved hunting for several Cowboy State species. Although some of that improvement will be more obvious in a year or two, the 2005 hunting forecast sounds better than sitting in the office.

Several factors contribute to a favorable statewide hunting forecast for antelope, reports John Emmerich, assistant Wildlife Division chief for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Pronghorn are usually easy to locate and relatively easy to harvest. So all Wyoming antelope hunting, unlike deer and elk that have general licenses in many parts of the state, is what the Game and Fish Department terms "limited quota." That means there are a limited number of licenses for each area and hunters are restricted to that specific area to hunt. So each year, the number of licenses is set in relation to the number of animals.

"That's the main reason antelope hunting success is consistently high nearly every year in Wyoming," Emmerich says of the 85-plus percent harvest hunters annually enjoy.

He adds that in years of lower populations it takes hunters a little longer to bag their antelope, but success stays high. The toughest year in the last five for Wyoming pronghorn hunters was 2001 with an average of 3.5 days per antelope harvested and 87 percent harvest success.

Emmerich anticipates this season's results to better reflect last year's statistics of 96 percent success and 3.1 days per harvest. "Hunters might even improve on that slightly this season," he says.

"We had good production (fawn crop) in 2004 and should have this year, too, so the population is up in most areas," he says. Hunters should expect to see more yearling bucks which should translate to an increase in nice bucks in 2007 and 2008.

Generous spring moisture should contribute to better-than-average horn growth and healthy fat reserves on the nearly 500,000 pronghorn roaming Wyoming this fall.

There will be extra opportunity for buck antelope hunting in northeast Wyoming. For the first year, hunters can pick up a second "any antelope" or buck license - if available - in areas 2-5, 8-10, 15-24, 28, 102 and 109.

As in past years, doe/fawn licenses are available in many hunt areas at local license agents. Call the Game and Fish Department at (307) 777-4600 for more information on leftover license availability.

Mule Deer - "Don't expect a banner year for mule deer," is Emmerich's initial response for the species. He sees a couple of parallels to the antelope forecast: improved antler growth as a result of improved moisture this spring plus a fairly mild winter in most parts of the state. Hunters should also see an increase in yearling bucks due to increased fawn production and survival.

As the head biologist, he does have some optimism about deer habitat. "We're seeing some shrub growth for the first time in several years," he says. "It will take shrubs several years to recover, but it's good to see a start."

The Cokeville, Kemmerer and LaBarge area was really the only part of the state vexed with a tough winter last year. Hence, hunters should expect tougher hunting in that region and not expect the increase in yearling deer much of the rest of Wyoming may witness.

Last year, mule deer hunters tallied a 58 percent hunter success. That breaks down to 52 percent for residents and 67 percent for nonresidents. Nonresidents typically register higher hunter success because they generally devote more time to the hunt, and are more likely to hire an outfitter or pay for private land access.

Elk - The elk population is still good - but overall elk success is still related to the weather. The series of relatively dry, snow-free falls has hindered mountain elk hunting. Snow helps bring elk to the elevation of hunters, plus makes the wily animals more visible.

Wyoming's 41 percent elk harvest success of 2004 tops the Rocky Mountain Region, but could increase several points with October snows. Residents tallied 39 percent and nonresidents 48 percent. Emmerich expects hunting to be at least as good as last year.

Bighorn Sheep - In the core bighorn sheep hunting areas 1-5 bordering the east and southeast sides of Yellowstone National Park, Emmerich expects hunting to be very good.

Hunters will probably have to work harder in the other hunt areas. He hopes for better lamb recruitment in the Dubois area to help that herd climb back to the reputation it once had for sheep hunting. That's his same wish for the Gros Ventre area northeast of Jackson where the herd suffered a pneumonia outbreak during the 2002-03 winter.

Moose - Moose licenses continue to be trimmed due to declining populations in western Wyoming. Hunter success continues to be relatively good, but hunters who drew licenses should expect to put out more effort to find animals.

Extreme southwest Wyoming, the Snowy Range in southeast Wyoming and the Bighorn Mountains stand out as the best areas.

Game Birds - Emmerich anticipates better chukar and Hungarian partridge hunting this fall due to a good carry-over of breeding stock from a mild winter and spring moisture creating good nesting cover.

Judging from an increase in sage grouse on breeding grounds, or leks, this spring, and a second year of good nesting and brood cover, hunters should experience one of the best sage grouse seasons in several years. The prediction is supported by observations of Game and Fish Department personnel, ranchers and recreationists across most of Wyoming. More modest increases were observed in northeast Wyoming and the Big Horn Basin.

Although the Cowboy State has few wild pheasants compared to our eastern neighbors, improved nesting cover should produce more birds than last year. Hunting on areas receiving pheasants from the department's two bird farms should be as good as ever due to excellent production at the facilities.

"We're always hopeful for mountain grouse (blue and ruffed) production, but you never know how it is going to end up," Emmerich said. He says the nesting cover should be good - but hatching success is often variable due to storms.

Preliminary observations suggest mourning doves had good production across the state. The limiting factor for hunting is always wet late August cold snaps that send the majority of birds winging south just prior to the Sept .1 opener. If we avoid those storms, we'll have good early season hunting.

Duck production looks very favorable in the western prairie provinces of Canada where most of the ducks that migrate through Wyoming are reared. Larry Roberts, the department's waterfowl biologist, said hunters should particularly see an increase in pintails in this fall's migration.

Although he rates Wyoming's Canada goose production as only "fair" due to water availability in early spring, he adds that it looks like arctic nesting geese had good production.

After several years of low populations, cottontail rabbits had a significant jump last year. Emmerich predicts that trend to continue this year.

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