By CHRISTINE PETERSON | Casper Star-Tribune
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — For the first time in a handful of years, biologists have good news about many Wyoming antelope populations.
Back-to-back years with few fawn born followed a harsh 2010 and 2011 winter. Hunting license numbers shrank as wildlife managers struggled to keep pace with the dwindling herds.
But that story line may be changing, said Justin Binfet, Casper wildlife management coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“Last year was excellent in terms of overwinter survival and fawn production,” he said. “This year, we’re on the track for good fawn production again.”
Antelope numbers in the Lander region are in the same position. Hunters can thank recent mild winters and wet springs and summers. Less snowpack and slightly warmers winter temperatures helped more animals survive, and rainy spring and early summer translated into better groceries and healthier mothers and young, said Daryl Lutz, the Lander region’s wildlife management coordinator.
Licenses haven’t changed notably in either area – wildlife managers are waiting to see the long-term impacts of the fawn number bump – but the prospects are good. And those hunters with buck license can expect to see healthier animals with bigger horns.
“My anticipation is we are seeing the beginning of a healthy antelope recovery pretty much region wide,” Lutz told the Casper Star-Tribune.
Mule deer populations look similar. Despite declines across the West, numbers in the central part of the state appear to be rebounding slightly.
“I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture for mule deer or antelope, but there is a little good news, “ Binfet said. “And we’ve had five years of bad news.”
Some archery antelope and elk seasons have already begun.
Below are species highlights including changes in seasons and populations from Game and Fish regional officials. For more detailed information on seasons, maps and quotas, go to wgfd.wyo.gov.
Antelope: Numbers are still below what they were before the winter of 2010 and 2011, but expect to see more animals than recent years. Hunters will still see fewer in areas south of Douglas and Glenrock, in parts of Thunder Basin and between Lusk and Newcastle. Hunt areas around Casper are mixed, with areas south and northwest doing better and areas west of town still struggling.
Deer: White-tailed deer numbers in the Black Hills are doing well, while those outside of the Black Hills are still struggling from 2014 losses due to die-offs from a hemorrhagic disease. Seasons are largely unchanged from last year. Remember Hunt Area 10 between Douglas and Gillette changed this year to a limited quota mule deer season to better manage hunter numbers on public lands.
Elk: Elk hunting is largely good and unchanged from previous years.
Sage grouse: Expect continued conservative seasons, but increased grouse numbers in central Wyoming. Numbers in northeast Wyoming have also gone up, but not by as much as other areas.
Antelope: Expect a similar hunting experience to 2014, but horn growth will be better. Some areas have even fewer licenses this year than last season.
Deer: Hunt Areas 59, 62 and 63 were combined into Hunt Area 59, and area 73 was combined with area 64. Otherwise, deer hunting in the Laramie area will be similar to 2014. As trees and plants continue to grow after the 2012 Arapaho Fire in the Laramie Mountains, hunting should also improve.
Elk: Most elk herds in the Laramie area are above population objectives. Watch for a new archery-only season for Hunt Area 11.
Moose: Snowy Range moose licenses were decreased in 2014 to maintain a healthy population. Hunting should be good this year for those who drew a license.
Bighorn sheep: Expect good bighorn sheep hunting in the Laramie Peak area. A new hunt area opened including the Bennet Mountains east of Seminoe Reservoir.
Antelope: Pronghorn numbers are still below population objectives, but numbers should be improving, and buck quality will be outstanding.
Deer: Mule deer antler point restrictions were lifted in all areas but 36, and the number of bucks has increased. Expect the season to ne similarly conservative to last year. White-tailed deer have extended seasons in the South Wind River Range herd unit, but numbers are still relatively low because of a hemorrhagic disease outbreak two years ago.
Elk: Elk hunting should be good, with herds above objective and license levels and season dates designed to reduce populations.
Upland game birds: Hunting hours on Sand Mesa and Ocean Lake Wildlife Habitat management areas will now close during the week at 2 p.m. Shooting times still open at 8 a.m., but instead of going until 4 p.m., it will end early. The change is intended to improve releasing conditions for birds, and keep birds on the unit longer. Shooting hours on the weekend are extended until sunset and from Dec. 7 to Dec. 31, runs from 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset.
Antelope: Hunters in the Sheridan region can buy a second any antelope license and up to four doe/fawn tags, though they should be aware much of the hunting is found on private land. Fawn production in 2014 was the highest in many years.
Deer: Remember deer Hunt Area 10 near Wright was changed to limited quota. White-tailed deer hunters near Buffalo and Kaycee will notice the negative impacts of a hemorrhagic disease on numbers. Several deer hunt areas from Sheridan to Kaycee open Sept. 1 for rifle season for doe and fawn licenses. Those hunters with access to private land will have success, those on public land will see large numbers of hunters and lower success.
Elk: Hunters who drew tags in the highly-sought-after, difficult-to-draw areas should see a great hunt this year. General license and limited quota antlerless elk hunters tend to have a tougher time.
Moose: Expect a good but challenging hunt this year.
Game birds: Sage grouse numbers are the highest they’ve been since 2008. Hunters should generally see better success with all game birds than in 2014.
Antelope: Expect similar hunting to 2014 in the Cody area, and conservative seasons for the next several years after some herds were hit from an early, cold, 2014 and 2015 winter.
Deer: Mule deer hunting will be tough for most of 2015 in the southern portion of the Big Horn Basin. The northern part of the Bighorn Mountains will be fair to good, with overall population numbers still below what they were in the mid-2000s.
Elk: Record high harvest in the southern Big Horn Basin has led to fewer elk, but herds are still over target. Populations in the northern Bighorn Mountains are healthy, and longer seasons should help hunters. Elk number near Cody are either at or above targets.
Bighorn sheep: Herd numbers have declined about 40 to 50 percent since the severe winter of 2010 and 2011. License quotas were reduced in area 5, and those hunters with tags should expect a tough hunt particularly for older rams. The ewe/lamb licenses were eliminated for the 2015 season. Hunting in the Absaroka Mountains should be good.
Green River Region
Antelope: Expect better hunting than past years with higher numbers and better quality.
Deer: Mule deer numbers are increasing. While hunters may notice more deer, hunt seasons and quotas are still conservative.
Elk: Numbers are generally above objective except in the South Rock Springs and Steamboat herds. License numbers were reduced in the Steamboat, or Desert elk herd.
Moose: Populations continue to struggle due to parasite issues in the Uinta and Lincoln herd units.
Sage grouse: Expect better hunting than recent years, especially in Carbon, northern Sweetwater, Lincoln and Uinta counties.
Jackson and Pinedale Regions
Deer: Mule deer numbers in the Wyoming Range herd have increased over the last few years because of high over-winter survival. General hunting in the Sublette herd will close Oct. 7 to spread out hunting pressure. Expect high buck-to-doe ratios and older age-class deer.
Elk: Recent hunting seasons have successfully reduced elk numbers near desired levels on the Fall Creek elk herd. Hunters are allowed to take any elk other than spike bulls through Oct. 18. The season was lengthened in the Afton Herd in the lower Greys River. Conservative seasons are proposed for Hunt Areas 70, 71, 79 and 81-83 to address low recruitment and maintain bull numbers. Liberal seasons are in place across the four elk herds in the Pinedale area, designed to reduce populations and maintain at least 20 bulls per 100 cows.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com