CASPER, Wyo— With cold fronts, freezes, and snow accumulations (in upper elevations) appearing in the forecast and signaling the coming of autumn, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Laramie office has released its hunting outlook for game in southeast Wyoming.
Game and Fish said population trends and corresponding hunting opportunities will vary substantially across the region.
“Hunters should expect pronghorn populations in the Laramie Valley to be similar to previous years with comparable hunting opportunities,” said Embere Hall, Laramie region wildlife management coordinator.
The Medicine Bow and Elk Mountain herds experienced above-average losses over the last two winters and subsequent “poor-to-fair fawn production,” Game and Fish said populations had decreased especially in portions of herd units adjacent to the Interstate-80 corridor.
“Trophy quality animals may be difficult to locate,” Hall said, adding that a prolonged winter paired with recent drought conditions had stunted bucks’ horn growth. Hall said pronghorn would likely be concentrated near wet meadows and other water sources.
Game and Fish reduced licenses in hunt areas 11, 34 and 103, noting that “grassland herds in the north and east, including Iron Mountain, Meadowdale, Hawk Springs and Dwyer have declined the past four years, along with notable decreases in fawn production.”
“In addition, Hunt Area 38 Type 6 licenses will open Nov. 1, a month later than usual. Decent buck numbers remain in these herds, but older animals will be harder to find.”
Mule deer populations in the Sheep Mountain, Platte Valley and Shirley Mountain herds are stable or slightly increasing, said WGFD.
“The general season was lengthened by four days in the Sheep Mountain herd to align buck ratios with recreational management guidelines and should provide hunters with additional harvest opportunities,” said Game and Fish. “Buck ratios remain high across the Platte Valley.”
“If moderate weather conditions continue into the fall, hunters will most likely locate deer in higher-elevation summer and transition ranges,” Hall said.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and poor fawn production have suppressed populations in the Goshen Rim and Laramie Mountains herds, WGFD said, and advised that hunters should be prepared to “hunt harder” than normal if they are looking for a trophy buck.
Game and Fish requests that hunters submit samples of harvested animals, especially those from the Goshen Rim or Sheep Mountain herds, to the agency as it continues to monitor for CWS throughout the season.
Elk populations remain above objective, with ample harvest opportunities throughout the region, said WGFD. “Given hunting pressure on public land, hunters 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; be sure to secure a corresponding permission slip,” Hall said.
Game and Fish said bighorn sheep hunting should be excellent throughout the Laramie region.
“Hunt Areas 18 and 21 are open for the 2020 season following closure in 2019. Hunters typically experience over 90% success in the Douglas Creek, Encampment River and Laramie Peak herds,” the agency said. “The same is expected in 2020.”
Game and Fish said it anticipates excellent moose hunting opportunities in the Snowy Range herd.
“Harvest success across both Type 1 and Type 4 licenses continues to be exceptional at 98, and the herd maintains both high bull ratios and good calf production,” Hall said.
Sage Grouse (Statewide)
Sage grouse numbers will remain close to or slightly lower than those observed in 2019, and hunters should expect similar success, said Game and Fish.
“Populations appear to be in the midst of a downward swing within their population cycle,” said Leslie Schreiber, Game and Fish sage grouse biologist. “The number of birds harvested each year is strongly related to hatching success and over-summer chick survival.”
Some season opening dates have been shifted to keep opening day anchored to the third Saturday in September, Game and Fish said:
“Hunt Area 1 covers most of the state and is open September 19-30, 2020. A three-day season in northeast Wyoming has been set for September 19-21, 2020 in Hunt Area 4.”
Migratory Bird (Statewide):
Game and Fish said brood success by breeding ducks and geese in all but the western region of Wyoming may have been negatively impacted by a heavy winter snowfall followed by a dry spring and summer.
“Hunters can expect average local populations of ducks across Wyoming,” said Noelle Smith, Game and Fish migratory game bird and wetland habitat biologist.
“Migrating ducks in Wyoming come from Canadian and United States prairies,” said Game and Fish. “Spring surveys in North Dakota found good to excellent wetland conditions, and overall, duck numbers were similar to last year.”
Smith said migration chronology and weather, as well as hunters’ ability to scout and access private lands, would ultimately determine the success of migratory bird hunters throughout the state.
Canada geese harvested in the state come from two populations:
1.) The Rocky Mountain Population is found west of the Continental Divide in the Wind River and Bighorn River basins and in western Carbon and Natrona counties.
2.) Large geese found in eastern Wyoming belong to the Hi-Line Population. Goose numbers in recent years have been consistently high. Generally, Canada goose numbers during hunting season are driven by winter conditions and there should be plenty of geese present should the weather cooperate.
“Mourning dove production was variable with central regions of the state seeing high numbers through the summer,” said Game and Fish.
“The majority of doves will migrate out of the state with the first cold snap, which usually occurs between late-August and mid-September,” Smith said. “Doves from northern areas do migrate through the state in mid-September and good hunting can still be found after the first few days of the season.”
Sandhill cranes that migrate through eastern Wyoming in hunt area 7 are primarily from the Mid-Continent Population which has been relatively stable since the early 1980s and exceeds the established objective range of 349,000–472,000, Game and Fish said.
“Cranes that breed and stage in central and western Wyoming (Hunt Areas 1-6, and 8) are from the Rocky Mountain Population. The fall pre-migration survey in 2019 counted 21,290 cranes, slightly below the 2018 count but above the population objective of 17,000-21,000 cranes.
“Cranes in hunt areas 4 and 6 tend to roost and feed in the same general locations every year. Roost locations in Hunt Area 4 are Hidden Valley, Riverview Valley and the south side of Ocean Lake,” Smith said. “Roost locations in Hunt Area 6 are located north of Worland, the Otto area, from Powell to Ralston and Ralston Reservoir.”
Game and Fish said said hunters should scout for cranes prior to the season and obtain permission to access the fields for best success.