#getoutside, a new series focusing on our County 10 outdoor lifestyle, is brought to you by Wind River Outdoor Company in Lander.
(Fremont County, Wyo.) – When you’ve got the smallest human population of any state in the Union on the tenth largest land area, the hunting forecast is always a pretty dang good one. But a variety of other factors are having an impact this year, namely a hot, dry summer led to a very active fire season.
At best, hopefully the weather complications will just lead to a dry, noisy forest. But if it stays hot and dry, Wyoming could see additional fire bans and even some road and area closures inflicted by forest fires. To get the latest information, hunters are encouraged to check on possible restrictions at InciWeb or at local U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management offices.
With all of that in mind, The Wyoming Game and Fish Department anticipates an excellent hunting season. There are maps online and hunters can call regional offices or headquarters in Cheyenne with questions. Here are the latest hunt forecasts by species (click here to get the full forecast for each species).
Pronghorn – Wyoming has hunting worthy of championing under any circumstances and pronghorn is often considered our trademark. It is pretty easy to forecast, too, with Game and Fish officials across the state agreeing, “If you drew a license you should have a good hunt.” With more pronghorn than the rest of the continent combined, tremendous hunting is anticipated. Unlike deer and elk, there are no general pronghorn licenses – just a specific number of licenses to meet management goals for each hunt area.
Deer – Improved fawn recruitment is helping break the trend of depressed mule deer hunting forecasts. Now we’re not saying the mule deer decline throughout the Rockies has turned the corner, but we are confident in saying hunting prospects overall are improved for 2016.
Elk – Let’s visit some of Wyoming’s prospects. Commonly known as “Laramie Peak,” elk hunt area 7 stretching from Sybille Canyon to Glenrock should be offering the product of plentiful elk, high success and mature bulls that’s made it a very sought after hunt area. In the actual Laramie Peak area, Wheatland wildlife biologist Martin Hicks reports the elk are getting a boost from aspen rejuvenation following the 2010 and 2012 fires.
Bighorn sheep and moose – Those hunters diligently investing in preference points for years or literally winning the lottery by drawing a bighorn sheep or moose license in the random drawing should continue to experience Wyoming’s famous high harvest success.
Bison – Wyoming’s bison hunt north of Jackson has grown to 295 licenses, nearly 100 more tags than bighorn sheep, and with a long season running Aug. 15 to Jan. 31, the bison hunt has become an increasingly popular activity. Brimeyer says trimming bull licenses back last year to 45 tags appears to be improving trophy quality. Cow/calf hunters are cautioned to be patient and diligent awaiting those larger herds to work their way into open hunting areas during the season.
Cottontails –From all indications (including, unfortunately, the number killed on roads) this should be another excellent year of cottontail hunting. It will be hard to match last year’s epic population in much of the state, but still enjoy this opportunity while you can. Hunters are advised to wear rubber gloves when cleaning the animals, particularly prior to cold weather, with tularemia being diagnosed in several areas of the state.
Sage Grouse – Sage grouse surveys on their spring breeding areas or leks in Wyoming were nearly 20 percent higher in 2016 than 2015, reports Sage Grouse Coordinator Tom Christiansen. And 2015 was 66 percent higher than 2014. Better yet, the wet spring provided good brood-rearing conditions in most of the state. This is good news for grouse hunters this fall. In general, moist spring conditions lead to good plant and insect production, which results in higher nest success and chick survival. Mid-summer reports from the field suggest good numbers of successful hens with chicks so hunting should be at least on par with 2015 from the statewide perspective. Hunters may see local variation, including west of Saratoga where researchers report relatively low nesting success this year.
Other Upland Game Birds – In Wyoming’s prime chukar and Hungarian partridge range of the Bighorn Basin, there was a healthy carry-over of birds but brood production this summer faces some challenges.
Migratory Game Birds – High numbers of breeding ducks were reported in the western portion of the Central Flyway in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s May Breeding Survey. “However, wetland conditions are considerably drier in many areas this year, so production is expected to be lower than it has in recent years,” says Nate Huck, migratory bird biologist. “That said, a similar fall flight is expected.”
Sandhill Cranes – Cranes that migrate through eastern Wyoming (Crane Hunt Area 7) are primarily from the Mid-Continent Population (MCP), which has been relatively stable since the early 1980s and exceeds the established objective range of 349,000–472,000. Cranes that breed and stage in central and western Wyoming (Hunt Areas 1-6, 8) are from the Rocky Mountain Population (RMP). The fall pre-migration survey in 2015 counted 24,330 cranes a large increase over 2014. This is above the population objective of 17,000-21,000 cranes. The 3-year average that determines harvest allocation increased, allowing an additional 160 permits to be available in Wyoming.