It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing, pumpkin spice lattes are out, and men and women across America are heading out for one of America’s favorite past times: hunting.
It is no secret that Wyoming and the surrounding states are the most sought-after lands when it comes to big game hunting. Check any Boone and Crockett record book, and Wyoming, Montana and Colorado are almost certain to be somewhere in the top 10; if not the top five.
Rob Marosok has owned and run Wyoming Wildlife Outfitters for 30 years now and knows the area around Sheridan and Johnson counties well.
One of the biggest things non-residents come to the area for are large mule deer and antelope. But that may be changing.
“The biggest thing I have noticed is the mule deer are declining in numbers, not sure why, but they definitely are,” Marosok said.
The 2013 harvest report from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department says the same thing.
Whitetail and mule deer harvest numbers are down significantly from the past 10 years.
“I don’t think you can make a general statement like that about whitetails,” said Bud Stewart, the public information specialist for the WGFD. “Typically whitetails are holding their own (for population) or on the increase.”
Marosok said that thanks to the moisture this spring, there are better than normal numbers of mule deer out there this season, and the fawns seem to be healthy going into the winter.
As for elk, harvest numbers are raising, too. According to the WGFD’s harvest surveys, the total harvest for 2013 was 25,968. This includes bull elk, spikes, cows and calves. Though 2013 was down about 1,000 from the harvest numbers for 2012, the numbers are much higher than they have been in the past 10 years.
Antelope harvest numbers double that amount for the state at approximately 40,000.
However, elk have the lowest success rate after mountain lions and black bears at 44.9 percent.
Antelope tops the list with a success rate of 89.2 percent.
As for where the best public spots are, that’s hard to say, especially for non-residents.
Much of the land in the central and eastern part of the Sheridan region is privately owned.
“The biggest challenge that non-resident hunters probably have is trying to find a place to hunt,” Stewart said. “In the Sheridan region, sometimes access can be hard to find.”
Marosok added that when non-residents do find those access points to public land, there’s not much left to harvest by then end of the season.
“The non-residents that come here and hunt on their own tend to get less quality of animals then ones that book with the outfitters,” Marosok said.
According to a northeast Wyoming hunting outlook released by Stewart, antelope, whitetails and elk numbers are in good shape this year for the region.
Mule deer, unless hunted on private lands, will be more difficult as there will be a lot of competition.
If you’re going out looking for mule deer this year, be sure to know your boundary lines (trespassing fees have increased to $420), or hire a private outfitter to ensure that trophy kill. Then celebrate with a pumpkin spice latte.
The Sheridan region contains some of Wyoming’s well-known elk hunt areas. Those hunters who were successful in drawing one of the highly sought after limited quota any elk licenses for a hunt area in the Bighorn Mountains, the Rochelle Hills, or the Fortification will have the opportunity for a great hunt with the possibility of bringing home a real trophy. The limited quota any elk hunting season in Hunt Area 113 will be open this fall after being closed since 2012. Because potential hunters know there are some large bulls in this hunt area, it was one of the hardest licenses to draw in the state. For those hunters who did not draw a license, there are still some leftover antlerless elk licenses available and residents can purchase a general license to hunt in Hunt Areas 36 and 37. Success for general license hunters and limited quota antlerless elk license hunters tends to be much lower than those who have a limited quota any elk license, but they can still enjoy time together hunting with family and friends. In a portion of Hunt Area 37, cow/calf hunting opened Sept. 1 and closed Sept. 30. This season is designed to allow rifle hunters the opportunity to harvest an elk before they leave a small portion of public land or harvest elk off the national forest. Antlerless elk (Type 4 license) hunting in Hunt Area 38 will again begin on Oct. 1 which should significantly increase hunter success. A second year of enhanced brucellosis surveillance will be conducted in the Bighorn Mountain elk hunt areas. Elk hunters are encouraged to collect blood samples from harvested elk in the blood tubes provided as part of the brucellosis surveillance project. WGFD personnel in the field will have spare blood tubes available and accept samples from successful hunters.
Antelope populations are still at high levels in several herd units, so hunting seasons have been designed to give hunters plenty of opportunity in those areas. The outlook for antelope hunting in most of the Sheridan region is once again pretty good. However, in those hunt areas north of Gillette and Moorcroft, antelope populations are lower than a few years ago, so license numbers have been set accordingly. In the Sheridan region, and all other antelope hunt areas in the state, hunters are allowed to purchase a second any antelope license and up to four doe/fawn licenses. However, potential hunters need to be aware that most antelope hunting is found on private land and they should make arrangements for a place to hunt prior to buying licenses. Hunters willing to wait until after the opening day and first weekend of the season may find it easier to get onto private lands. It is possible to find some antelope on the parcels of public lands scattered around northeast Wyoming, but hunters can expect to find other hunters also using those lands. Because of crop damage issues, Hunt Areas 22 and 102 near Buffalo will once again have early rifle doe/fawn seasons beginning Sept. 1 in portions of the hunt areas.
The Bighorn Mountains continue to have a thriving moose population. Limited quota moose licenses for any moose in Hunt Areas 1, 34 and 42 are some of the most highly sought after licenses in Wyoming. It is expected that there will be some large mature bulls harvested again this fall as some “trophies” have been observed during the summer of 2014. Although bull moose can be observed during the summer along roads and highways soon after the hunting season begins, many bulls head for deep cover making for a challenging hunt.
Deer hunting in the Sheridan region is forecast to be about average in much of the region with less than average conditions in the northeast part of the region. Deer hunters in areas around Gillette and Moorcroft can again expect to see less deer than they did a few years ago. White-tailed deer hunters in the Sheridan, Buffalo and Kaycee areas will notice the negative impacts of the 2013 EHD outbreak with lower numbers of white-tailed deer in some places. Overall, hunters with access to private lands are expected to continue to have high success, while hunters on public lands can expect large numbers of hunters and comparatively lower success. Antler growth and body condition of deer appear to be good in those areas where deer have had access to better forage during the summer. There will likely be some real nice trophy bucks harvested this fall in the Sheridan region. Hunters are advised that if they have access to private land they should consider buying reduced price doe/fawn deer licenses as several thousand doe/fawn licenses are available throughout the region with many of them restricted to private lands. Several deer hunt areas from Sheridan to Kaycee opened to doe/fawn rifle hunting beginning on Sept. 1 to address crop damage issues. In Hunt Areas 24, 27, 29, 30, 33 or 163, hunters can again purchase an unlimited number of doe/fawn deer licenses until the quota is exhausted. In Hunt Area 24, no quota (unlimited) was set for the Type 8 white-tailed deer doe/fawn licenses.
Game bird hunters in the Sheridan region during 2014 will likely have similar results as in 2013. There was some residual cover for nesting habitat in the spring of 2014. Field personnel report observing some hens with small broods. Spring “lek” (breeding ground) surveys of sage-grouse showed that sage-grouse numbers were still below long-term averages. Wild turkey numbers vary throughout the region. In the Buffalo and Sheridan areas, turkey numbers remain abundant. Pheasants from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department bird farm will again be released on several Sheridan region walk-in areas. Hunters are reminded that most game bird hunting occurs on private land except for blue grouse hunting on the Bighorn Mountains and pheasant hunting on the WGFD walk-in areas.