Mullen Fire may mean improved hunting outlook in SE Wyoming - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Mullen Fire may mean improved hunting outlook in SE Wyoming

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CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department released a hunting forecast for the Laramie Region on August 26 with strong outlooks for species like elk, bighorn sheep and moose.

Southeast Wyoming was impacted by the Mullen Fire in fall 2020. That fire burned over 176,000 acres.

While that fire has “greatly altered the landscape,” Game and Fish said in the Laramie Region forecast that it could bring some positives for hunters in the region over the long term.

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Game and Fish add that drought conditions across the Laramie Region have not been as severe as other parts of the state, particularly in Platte, Goshen and Laramie County.

“However, as you move away from those areas there was significantly less precipitation events so hunters can expect to see ungulates concentrated in riparian areas and irrigated lands,” Game and Fish said. “Average to poor juvenile survival is expected which will affect what hunters see on the landscape for big game species.”

Elk populations in the region are “above objective” and hunters will have “ample harvest opportunities throughout the region,” according to Game and Fish.

“The Mullen Fire will likely contribute to the already over objective herds by improving calving areas by setting plant communities back to early successional stage, which typically improves calf and adult survival,” Game and Fish said.

Elk hunters are encouraged to hunt south of Highway 130 where Snowy Range Herd Unit elk are expected to be taking advantage of vegetation improvements in the Mullen Fire burn scar.

“There were several changes made to the Snowy Range Elk Herd hunt areas as well as the Shirley Mountain Herd Unit (Hunt Area 16) so hunters should become familiar with the dates and limitations prior to going to the field,” Game and Fish note. “Given hunting pressure on public land, sportspersons should be prepared to pursue elk in areas that are a fair distance from well-traveled roads and trails. Look for additional access opportunities on Hunter Management Areas, and Walk-in Areas, and be sure to secure a corresponding permission slip.”

The Laramie Region is expected to have “excellent” bighorn sheep hunting opportunities.

“The Mullen Fire burned within areas that bighorn sheep particularly prefer so habitat conditions are expected to improve within the Douglas Creek Herd Unit,” Game and Fish said.

The department adds that hunters tend to experience over 90% success rate in the Douglas Creek, Encampment River and Laramie Peak bighorn sheep herds. That success rate is expected again in 2021. Game and Fish notes that bighorn sheep hunt area 18 and 21 are open again after having been closed in 2019.

Moose hunters can expect “excellent”opportunities in the Snowy Range herd. The Mullen Fire is expected to improve moose habitat in the region, though the extent to which this will be the case “remains to be seen,” according to Game and Fish.

Hunters attempting to harvest moose in the Snowy Range herd have experienced “exceptional” success rates of around 98% under both Type 1 and Type 4 hunting licenses. Game and Fish says that the Snowy Range herd continues to see “both high bull ratios and good calf production.”

The outlook for mule deer could also improve over time due to the Mullen Fire.

“[R]egeneration of important grass and shrub species indicated the burn will have long-term positive effects for fawn rearing and survival,” Game and Fish said of the mule deer hunting outlook.

Sheep Mountain, Platte Valley and Shirley Mountain mule deer herd have seen slight population increases over the past three years, according to Game and Fish.

“Buck ratios remain high across the Platte Valley, which allowed for an increase of 50 licenses in hunt area 81,” Game and Fish said. “However, due to the Mullen Fire, licenses were decreased to account for the high number of carry over licenses from 2020 in Hunt Area 78. If moderate weather conditions continue into the fall, hunters will most likely locate deer in higher-elevation summer and transition ranges.”

The department notes that within the Platte Valley Her Unit, Hunt Area 83 has been eliminated and boundaries for Hunt Area 80 were expanded. This was done in an effort to simplify regulations.

Chronic Wasting Disease along with poor fawn production continues to impact mule deer populations in the Goshen Rim and Laramie Mountains mule deer herds, according to Game and Fish.

“Hunters may struggle to find older deer, and should be prepared to hunt harder than normal if they are looking for a trophy buck,” Game and Fish said. “Department personnel will be present throughout the season to collect samples for CWD testing. If you harvest an animal, especially from the Sheep Mountain herd (Hunt Areas 61, 74-77), please submit a sample or contact the Department for assistance.”

Pronghorn hunting opportunities vary across the Laramie Region.

“Grassland herds in the north and east, including Iron Mountain (Hunt Area 38), Meadowdale (Hunt Area 11), Hawk Springs (Hunt Area 34) and Dwyer (Hunt Area 103) have declined over the past four years, along with notable decreases in fawn production,” Game and Fish said. “In addition there was a major snow storm that dropped over 30” of snow within portions of Platte, Goshen and Laramie Counties in the middle of March, which resulted in an increase in winter mortality.”

“As a result the Department reduced licenses in Hunt Areas 11, 34, 38 and 103. In addition, within Hunt Area 38 a Type 2 licenses was added valid for any pronghorn south of Highway 34 from October 5 to December 31 with the goal of still providing opportunity for the eastern portion of the hunt area while relieving some pressure off the doe population. Decent buck numbers remain in these herds, but older animals will be harder to find.”

Laramie Valley pronghorn population numbers are similar to previous years, according to Game and Fish. The Medicine Bow herd is at the department’s population objective numbers and Game and Fish says that hunters should not expect to see the population of that herd increase.

“The Elk Mountain (Hunt Area 50) is performing quite well so hunters should expect to have plenty of opportunity to harvest a pronghorn,” the department said. “Hunters may notice decreased numbers especially in portions of herd units adjacent to the I-80 corridor. Prolonged winter conditions paired with poor spring and summer moisture mean hunters likely will encounter bucks with fair horn growth, but trophy quality animals may be difficult to locate. Due to low summer precipitation in much of the region pronghorn likely will be concentrated near wet meadows and other water sources.”