The Carter Mountain pronghorn herd (Hunt Areas 78, 81, and 82) is about at population objective. There is continued need however for doe/fawn licenses due to too many pronghorn in crops. As a result, most of the doe/fawn licenses (type 6, 7 or 8) have limitations on where those pronghorn can be harvested (on or within ½ mile of irrigated lands). Please read the limitations for your license carefully. If hunters are not familiar with areas that their license is restricted to, contact local Game & Fish personnel. Hunters who have purchased doe/fawn licenses are asked to contact a local game warden for names and contact information of landowners looking for hunters to harvest pronghorn near farm ground. Many of those names are also available on the Game and Fish website under “Hunter Assistance Program” tab.
After being above population objectives for several years, pronghorn populations in the extreme northern portion of the Bighorn Basin (Hunt Area 80) have been reduced and as a result, permit levels for the 2013 season have been reduced also. Damage issues on many private lands have been resolved and there is less need for doe/fawn harvest.
Hunting for buck pronghorn in the northern portion of the Bighorn Basin should be similar to last year or a bit more difficult. Dry conditions for the second year will have bucks congregated near water (e.g., stock ponds, irrigation ditches, natural springs and creeks). With little vegetative growth this spring and summer, horn growth will not be spectacular this year. As in most years, the potential for “trophy” bucks in the northern interior of the Bighorn Basin will be low.
Most pronghorn populations in the southern Bighorn Basin (Hunt Areas 76,77,83,110,114,and 115) are slighly below their population objective; however, because of potential damage issues on private lands, we are again offering doe/fawn licenses throughout many of the hunt areas. As noted before, hunters need to be aware that most doe/fawn licneses and Type 2 licenses are only valid “on or within ½ mile of irrigated land.” Overall, pronghorn hunting in the southern Bighorn Basin for 2013 should be similar to 2012. Preliminary results from our 2013 pronghorn classification surveys conducted in August revealed that some good qulaity bucks still exist out there, along with some record setting fawn crops. If winter fawn survival is good for 2013, expect some additonal hunting opportunity in 2014.
Following the 2012 hunting season, Game and Fish personnel surveyed slightly fewer deer than in past years on the west side of the Bighorn Mountains. Total deer numbers were down slightly, but buck/doe ratios remained similar to past years. That should translate to a 2013 hunting season similar to last year. Weather immediately before and during the hunt plays a big role in where to look for bucks. If it’s been warm and dry, search at higher elevations on the Bighorns. If there’s been some snow by the October 15 opening date, deer have probably begun their migration so hunt near the Forest boundary. Deer and elk hunting both open October 15 and crowding can be an issue for many hunters. So, like many of the big bucks, if you don’t want to deal with hunters during that busy time, go to the least accessible canyons, thickest timber, or over a mile from the busy roads.
Although we believe deer numbers are down, there is still a need to harvest antlerless deer on the west side of the Bighorn Basin. Most of the doe/fawn licenses (type 6, 7 or 8) have limitations on where those deer can be harvested (on or within ½ mile of irrigated lands). Please read the limitations for your license carefully. If hunters are not familiar with areas that their license is restricted to, contact local Game & Fish personnel. Hunters that have purchased doe/fawn licenses are asked to contact a local game warden for names and contact information of landowners that are looking for hunters. Many of those names are also available on the Game and Fish website under “Hunter Assistance Program” tab.
Mule deer numbers are still struggling in the southern portion of the Bighorn Basin and because of this, the 2013 hunting season will be a little tough. For the past 3 years, mule deer numbers have declined. Most limited quota areas such as Hunt Area 37 and 119 should see fair to good hunting, while areas 116, 118, 120, and 125 should only be fair hunting. Most if not all the general license areas will be tough hunting. We still have several hunt areas with doe/fawn hunting to help with potential damage issues on private lands. As long as hunters put forth a little effort, they still should be able to find a few deer. For those hunters looking to pursue a white-tailed deer, you will likley have better luck than the mule deer hunters. White-tailed deer numbers are still doing well in most areas, and in some areas the hunting opportunity was increased.
Mule deer hunting should be good on the North and South Forks of the Shoshone River. A good migration of deer during the 2012 hunting season produced an average harvest of bucks, but one that included many large bucks. No significant mortality was documented for this past winter, so plenty of buck deer should be available to hunters in 2013 (if weather conditions trigger migrations prior to the end of the hunting season). Low fawn production and increased antlerless harvest in the recent past has brought deer numbers below objective levels, and as a result, antlerless deer hunting opportunities will be reduced for 2013.
Opportunities to harvest a mature buck deer in Hunt Areas 105 and 106 will be good in both the later portion of the general season and the November limited quota season in 2013. Recent changes in hunting season structures should also increase the percentage of older age class bucks in Hunt Area 109. Due to agricultural damage, opportunities to harvest an antlerless deer in areas between Cody and Powell have been expanded in Hunt Area 121.
There should be great opportunity to hunt for bull elk in the Bighorns this fall since there are many good quality bulls on the national forest. Unfortunately, hunters will have to work hard to find them because they are difficult to locate during the rush of the hunting season. Deer and elk hunting both open Oct. 15 and crowding can be an issue for many hunters. Due to a need for population control, crop damage, disease (brucellosis and CWD) testing and other management challenges, some hunting seasons for antlerless elk will begin before the Oct. 15 bull season. Once disturbed, those big, “smart” bulls head for the thickest timber, the steepest canyons, or the most undisturbed block of private land. Hunters will need patience, perseverance, and a lot of luck to bag their trophy bull.
During the 2012 hunting season blood tubes were issued to elk hunters in the Bighorn Mountains as part of routine surveillance for brucellosis. Two of those blood samples returned positive test results indicating those elk had, at a minimum, been exposed to the brucellosis bacteria at some time in their lives. Those blood tests do not indicate that the animal had brucellosis and as a result of those two positives, more testing will occur in fall 2013. All elk hunters will again be issued a blood sampling kit. Please fill the blood tube as soon as possible after getting your elk. Keep the blood cool, keep it from freezing, and return it to the Game and Fish as soon as possible per directions you will get with the kit. All Game and Fish personnel will have additional blood kits if you forget yours at home. There will be check stations and remote coolers placed at strategic locations where you can drop off the blood sample. Game and Fish personnel will also be collecting lymph nodes from freshly killed elk, so don’t be surprised if someone in a red shirt asks to help field dress your dead elk.
There are still more elk on the west side of the Bighorn Mountains than desired. With hunting seasons for antlerless elk often lasting three or four months, there should be time to find your cow or calf. The hunting season for antlerless elk in Hunt Area 41 has two closed periods (splits) this year to let elk settle down from the hunting pressure and go back out to more accessible areas. Consult hunting regulations for open/closed periods and other special limitations on your hunting license.
Both the South Bighorn (Hunt Areas 47-49) and Gooseberry elk herds (Hunt Areas 62-64) still have plenty of elk, with a lot of additional cow/calf licenses available in all hunt areas. Access in some portions of these hunt areas can be difficult; however, Hunter Management Areas are available in area 47, 62, 63 and 64, which provide additional hunting apportunity on private lands. Overall, there is ample opportunity for elk hunting in the southern Bighorn Basin, along with very good bull quality in most areas.
In some areas near Cody, elk numbers exceed management objectives and antlerless elk hunting opportunities have been increased; however, in other areas, decreased calf survival has reduced herd productivity and has required reductions in both antlered and antlerless harvest. In fact, in Hunt Areas 50, 51, 52, and 53 general license antlered elk seasons were replaced with a totally limited quota season in 2010 to reduce the harvest of bull elk. In 2013, a similar change was made from a general license antlered elk season to a limited quota season in Hunt Area 55. For similar reasons, the general license antlered elk rifle season in Hunt Area 60 was shortened by 10 days and will open on September 20 instead of September 10. With less productive elk herds in some areas (fewer calves produced), the opportunity to harvest bulls is less than in past years. Bull hunting in several hunt areas and on some license types will be “spikes excluded” in 2013, which restrict hunters to the harvest of mature bulls. A shorter general license antlered elk season outside of designated wilderness areas will be in place in 2013 for Hunt Areas 56 and 59, again to reduce harvest pressure on bull elk. Please consult your elk regulations carefully to see specific changes. Elk hunt areas currently doing quite well include Hunt Areas 54, 58, 59, 61, 65, and 121 where elk numbers currently exceed management goals and seasons are designed to increase the harvest of antlerless elk. Areas either near or below management goals include Hunt Areas 50, 51, 52, 53, 55, and 56. In these areas, seasons have been designed to either maintain or reduce the harvest of antlerless elk.
There are only five hunting licenses for moose in Hunt Area 42 on the west side of the Bighorn Mountains. The moose population is small and limited due to lack of large willow and aspen habitats on this side of the mountain. Past hunters have suggested there are fewer big bulls available, but some nice trophies have been taken. Moose hunters have usually concentrated in easily accessible areas (e.g., Porcupine Creek, Shell Creek, and Ten Sleep Creek), so the oldest bulls now live in areas not easily accessible. If you were lucky enough to draw a Hunt Area 42 license, put on your hiking boots or saddle your horse and look away from the highways and major Forest roads.
Moose numbers in the Absaroka Mountains are still at low densities; however, at current permit levels in Hunt Areas 9 and 11, hunters have been able to find and harvest mature bulls. We anticipate the 2013 season will again have good success with several nice (+45”) bulls being harvested.
Winter conditions during 2010-2011 significantly impacted sheep in Hunt Area 4, as these sheep reside year-round on high elevation ranges. As a result, permit levels were reduced to maintain ram quality. A current area closure due to the Hardluck Fire in the South Fork of the Shoshone River has affected access to a large portion of Hunt Area 4 and a very small portion of Hunt Area 5. As a result Hunt Area 4 sheep hunters were given the opportunity to “carry-over” their license to 2014. Population surveys and 2012 ram harvest information from Hunt Areas 1-3 indicate 2013 sheep hunters should experience good success on mature rams.
The winter of 2010/11 was severe enough in Hunt Area 5 to cause some winter kill, as well as weaken this sheep herd. Because of this, approximately 140 ram heads have been found in Hunt Area 5 since January 2011. Although this is significant, hunter success, harvest, and ram quality continues to remain favorable and this herd still has a lot of sheep to hunt. We predict the 2013 season will again have good hunting, but hunters will have to put a little more effort into their hunt, especially if you are looking for an older age-class ram.
The number of bighorn sheep observed in Hunt Area 12 has been holding steady the past few years and Game and Fish personnel counted 141 bighorns during a survey conducted in late July 2013. In 2011, 147 sheep were documented. The number of rams counted has also remained about the same during the past three years. Only two hunting licenses are issued for this area to allow some opportunity without having a major impact on ram numbers. Private land hampers most access to this population of bighorn sheep, so please contact Game and Fish personnel for advice and landowner contact information.
Mountain goats in Hunt Area 1 are doing well. Hunter success is generally 90 to 100 percent and drawing a license is the hardest part of hunting mountain goats in Wyoming. Hunt Area 3 was added to increase hunting opportunity in hard to access backcountry with low densities of goats, and this year we added a few more licenses in both Hunt Areas 1 and 3 to increase opportunity. The 2013 season should again see high success rates in the Beartooth goat herd.
UPLAND GAME BIRDS
In the southern portions of the Basin chukar numbers will be spotty, but overall hunting should be better than the previous three years. Brood surveys conducted this summer revealed several broods with good numbers of chicks. Hungarian partridge should again provide fair to good hunting throughout the southern Basin. Pheasant hunting will again be only fair in the southern portions of the Basin.
In the northern portion of the Bighorn Basin, weather during the hatching period last spring was fairly warm and wet, which may mean good things for upland bird hunters this fall. Cold weather has been shown to decrease survival of newly hatched chicks. Research studies in the Bighorn Basin documented good hatch success for marked sage-grouse hens in 2013. Similar success may have also occurred for other upland species. Dry conditions after hatch, however, may have decreased survival due to impacts on vegetation and insects that chicks rely on. Game birds closely tied to irrigated agriculture, such as pheasants and turkeys, should fare well. Those upland species away from agriculture may not have made it through the dry summer with similar success. Chukars, grey partridge, and grouse numbers are probably spotty depending on local weather and habitat conditions.
So far the summer of 2013 is revealing a very good number of morning doves in the southern Big Horn Basin. If weather conditions hold favorable into September, dove hunters should experience some good wing-shooting.