Pronghorn, deer numbers down but elk doing well in NW Wyoming

2014-08-19T11:13:00Z 2014-08-20T15:21:09Z Pronghorn, deer numbers down but elk doing well in NW WyomingWyoming Game and Fish The Billings Gazette
August 19, 2014 11:13 am  • 

Antelope and deer numbers are down in northwestern Wyoming while elk numbers are thriving, according to the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish.

The agency released its fall hunting update. Here are more specifics:

Antelope

Overall, pronghorn hunting in the Bighorn Basin is going to be tougher than previous years because of extended drought causing a reduction in pronghorn numbers and seasons designed to reduce numbers to address agricultural damage on private lands.

All pronghorn populations in the southern Bighorn Basin, which included the Copper Mountain herd (areas 76, 114, 115) and the 15-Mile herd (areas 77, 83, 110), are below target population objectives. Hunting seasons in these areas are going to be fairly conservative to either maintain or promote population growth. Damage on private lands from pronghorn in cultivated crops has subsided in recent years, therefore the 2014 hunting season will have fewer doe/fawn licenses in most hunt areas.

In addition, type 1 and 2 license quotas will be reduced in hunt areas 77, 110 and 114. Prolonged snow cover and several sub-zero cold snaps last December, January and February thinned these pronghorn herds. Hunters should expect conservative seasons for the next several years to allow the herds to increase.

In Hunt Area 80, both buck antelope and doe/fawn licenses have been reduced to allow the herd to grow. Areas 78, 81 and 82 should have similar seasons to 2013 and hunting should be good.

Near Greybull, WGFD suspects hemmorhagic disease has killed antelope. Biologists are seeing fewer antelope associated with farms so doe/fawn hunters may have to hunt a little harder. Hunters with a Type 1, any antelope tag should be pleased with the quality of buck antelope this year.

“Buck quality is as good as I have seen it for several years and is likely due to good spring forage conditions,” said Greybull warden Bill Robertson. 

Deer

Mule deer numbers are still struggling in the southern portion of the Bighorn Basin and because of this, the 2014 hunting season is predicted to be mostly fair to poor hunting.

For the past few years, these deer populations have struggled with harsh winters along with yearly outbreaks of hemmorhagic disease. Because these deer are below target levels, doe/fawn license quotas have been reduced or eliminated in many areas.

Some limited quota areas such as hunt areas 37, 119 and 125 should see fair to good hunting, while areas 116, 118 and 120 along with most general license areas will likely be tougher hunting. 

Those hunters pursuing white-tailed deer will likely see fewer deer than past years. In 2013 hemmorhagic disease caused a significant die-off of white-tailed deer in most areas. Because of this, most hunt areas will have fewer licenses and hunting opportunities in 2014. It will likely take a couple years for these populations to rebound, barring anymore disease outbreaks, so hunters should expect reduced deer numbers and tougher hunting for a couple years.

For the northern portion of the Bighorn Mountains, buck numbers have been holding steady with a slightly decreased buck harvest in 2012, and a slight improvement in 2013.

The overall population still has not increased to levels seen in the mid 2000s so buck hunting will be fair to good, whereas the doe/fawn hunting opportunity will be less in some areas.

Near Greybull, field personnel report numbers are down from previous years. There have been some nice older bucks observed but younger buck deer are not as numerous indicating poor fawn and yearling production/survival in past years. We reduced some doe/fawn licenses due to fewer damage complaints, but have kept many of those licenses in areas with chronic agricultural damage, despite the population being under objective.

Mule deer hunters may have fewer older buck deer available in the North and South Forks of the Shoshone River this season. Deer populations are below desired levels and buck harvest was relatively high during the 2012 and 2013 hunting seasons. A good fawn crop in 2012 translated into a good crop of yearling bucks in 2013, which should be noticeable to hunters in 2014. The nonresident quota was reduced and doe-fawn licenses remain at minimal levels in order to reduce harvest and increase the number of deer in these areas.

Opportunities to harvest a mature buck deer in areas 105 and 106 will be good in both the later portion of the general season and the November limited quota season in 2014. Recent changes in hunting season structures should also increase the percentage of older age class bucks in Hunt Area 109.

Elk

Both the South Bighorn (areas 47-49) and Gooseberry elk herds (areas 62-64) still have plenty of elk, with numerous cow/calf licenses available in all hunt areas. Access in some portions of these hunt areas can be difficult. Hunter Management Areas are available in Areas 47, 62, 63 and 64, which provide additional hunting access on private lands.

Overall, there is ample opportunity for elk hunting in the southern Bighorn Basin, along with some very good bull quality in most areas. Hunters are reminded that Game and Fish personnel will again be collecting blood and tissue samples from harvested elk this hunting season to monitor and test brucellosis seroprevalence around the basin.

The elk populations on the northern part of the Bighorns remains healthy and this fall there will be good opportunity to harvest an elk. Good forage conditions on the summer range will hopefully hold elk on public lands later this year than in previous years.

Bull hunting should be good for those hunters with a type 1 tag in their pocket, and success usually depends on weather and snow conditions. An early heavy snow may trigger their movement to private land, especially in hunt area 41. More licenses and longer seasons for cows (extended into December) should help cow elk hunters in 2014. While elk distribution in Hunt Area 41 over the past few years may have discouraged many hunters, longer seasons should give hunters a better chance of harvesting an antlerless elk.

Elk hunting near Cody has been excellent in most areas. In some areas, elk numbers exceed management objectives and antlerless elk hunting opportunities have been increased. In other areas, decreased calf survival has reduced herd productivity and required reductions in both antlered and antlerless harvest.

Changes adopted in 2013 for hunt areas 55, 56, 59 and 60 will remain in place for 2014. This includes the conversion of Area 55 to limited quota hunting, a shorter two-week general license season for nonwilderness in areas 56 and 59, and a rifle opening date of Sept. 20 for Area 60.

There will still be expanded opportunities to hunt antlerless elk in Area 61 on limited quota licenses and Area 66 on a general license. The opportunity to hunt bull elk on a general license in Area 66 will be limited to the month of September in 2014.

Hunt areas northwest of Cody have changed dramatically in an effort to better manage migratory and nonmigratory elk. Nonmigratory elk that roam the area from the Shoshone Canyon to the Montana state line along Rattlesnake Mountain, Pat O’Hara Peak, Bald Ridge and the Beartooth Face are all part of the same group of elk and were placed in the same hunt area (Area 54.) This change involved adding the eastern portions of areas 50 and 121 into Area 54 and eliminating Area 65, resulting in a much larger Area 54.

A similar change was implemented with the migratory elk of Sunlight and Crandall, as the western portion of Area 50 and nearly all of Area 52 were combined to create a much larger Area 51.

And finally, the western portion of Area 121 was added to the Dead Indian and Elk Creek drainages to form the “new” Area 53. Please review the 2014 elk hunt area map closely or call the Cody Regional office for a more detailed explanation.

Moose

Moose numbers in hunt areas 9 and 11 in the Absaroka Mountains are still at low densities. Despite low permit levels, hunters have had good luck and harvested mature bulls with several nice (plus 45-inch) bulls being harvested. 

Bighorn sheep

Overall, sheep hunting in the Absaroka Mountains should be good for those lucky enough to draw a license. In 2013, hunter success in hunt areas 1-5 was at least 90 percent with average ages of harvested rams between 7-8 years old.

Licenses were reduced in areas 3, 4 and 5 as a result of documented winter losses. Fewer ram tags will also help maintain the overall number of older age class rams in the population.

Several classification/trend flights have been conducted in Area 5 since 2011 and biologists have seen about 30-40 percent fewer sheep compared to the previous 10-year-average. The number of type 6 ewe/lamb licenses in Area 5 is reduced as the need to decrease densities of sheep on specific winter ranges has lessened.

Area 12 bighorn sheep herd in Devil’s Canyon continues to grow and do well, with several older class rams observed during summer and winter flights this past year. Hunters lucky enough to draw the coveted two licenses for this small herd will have a great opportunity to harvest a mature ram.

Mountain goat

Mountain goats in Area 1 are doing well and hunter success is generally 90-100 percent and drawing a license is the hardest part of hunting mountain goats in Wyoming.

The creation of Area 3 increased opportunity for hunters in hard to access backcountry with low densities of goats and the past three years hunters have had relatively good success there. The 2014 season should again see high success rates in the Beartooth goat herd.

Game birds

Upland game bird hunters shouldn’t expect much for upland bird hunting in 2014.

“2013 was likely one of the worst seasons for partridge and chukar hunting in the southern Bighorn Basin and 2014 will likely be about the same,” said biologist Bart Kroger.

Very few partridge and chukars have been seen this summer with no broods reported. Pheasant hunters may see a few more birds than previous years. Several pheasant broods have been seen this summer and it appears pheasants had a fair hatch and chick survival this spring and into the summer. 

Turkey hunter success was at about 50 percent this past spring with most hunters at least locating some gobblers. The spring of 2015 will be the first general license spring turkey hunt for the Bighorn Basin, excluding the Yellowtail WHMA which will remain a limited quota area.

Because of this general season, hunters should expect to see a few more hunters in the field this spring but hunter numbers will likely drop after a year or two. We are seeing an expanding population of turkeys into new country.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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