SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s regulation recommendation for the 2017 hunting season caused tension with hunters during a meeting in Sheridan Tuesday.
The main issue of contention was the number of older and large bucks in the Bighorn Mountains.
While many members of the public expressed fervent concern with the decreased number of deer, and said it was due to the number allowed to be hunted, WGFD personnel said the harvest isn’t to blame.
WGFD Management Coordinator Lynn Jahnke agreed that the overall population is down, but the limited harvest of does in hunt area 25, the Bighorn Mountains, over the last two decades tells them that there’s another factor at play.
“If we were hunting any deer up there and you were seeing a reduction of the population overall, you could probably point back and say yes, hunting is the main issue of what is going on,” Jahnke said.
While Jahnke noted Adenovirus, predators, exotic lice and increased speed limits as factors for decreased populations, department wildlife biologist Tim Thomas said the most important factor is an unconducive habitat.
Thomas said a study is being conducted that compares pulled teeth from bucks to the bucks’ antler size.
He said while they’re seeing bucks that get up to six point, they’re also seeing 18- to 24-inch antlers from bucks ages 4 to 8. He said this suggests nutrition is a limiting factor.
“They don’t have the nutritional quality up there to grow larger antlers,” Thomas said. “So I guess I’m not sure what putting more deer into an area that’s already stressed nutritionally is gonna do.”
Jahnke said some of the things that WGFD has already done in the last few years includes dividing nonresident Region C into Region C and Region Y and putting fewer nonresidents in Region Y. He said the department has also reduced the season length in area 25 and taken away the option of archers to hunt does in certain areas.
While WGFD officials and members of the public did not agree on the impact habitat is playing on the population, there was agreement that elk displacement is a factor.
Thomas said that though elk are grazers and deer are selective browsers and don’t normally compete for food sources, there’s the possibility that the larger population of elk has already diminished their source of food and is moving on to deer’s food sources.
Jahnke said the department is taking steps toward getting more elk harvested.
“We’re not doing nothing,” Jahnke said about the population problem, “but we may not be doing as much as you would like us to.”