Below is a news release from the Wyoming Game & Fish Department.
The anticipation for hunters has been building for months and alas, the time has come or is rapidly approaching as seasons for big and small game are about to open across Wyoming. Some trends — good and bad — figure to hold true once again in 2023. Mother Nature always plays a role in hunter success and animal survival, but how much?
Whether you are after pronghorn along the plains, deer or elk in the mountains, bighorn sheep high in the mountains or birds along the flatlands and wetlands, check out the 2023 Wyoming Game and Fish Department hunting forecast from eight regions around the state. The forecasts from each region are based on data and observations from the field by department biologists and game wardens.
A few reminders:
- Before heading out be sure to review the 2023 hunting regulations for any season
- Hunters who harvest a deer or elk in any of the state’s chronic wasting disease focus areas are encouraged to get it tested. The information is valuable and will help Game and Fish’s long-term monitoring and management efforts.
- Hunters are reminded to be mindful of the spread of invasive plant species and to report locations of cheatgrass to the county Weed and Pest District.
- Hunters are reminded to be bear-aware when recreating this fall. Hunters should take the necessary safety precautions and be on the lookout for bears — and signs of bears.
- Big game hunters are reminded that hunt areas denoted with an asterisk (*) have limited public hunting access and are largely comprised of private lands. In these areas, hunters should get permission to hunt private land before applying for a license, or at least recognize that hunting small, isolated parcels of public land can be difficult and frustrating at times.
Pronghorn population performance has been variable in the Casper Region in recent years, with herds around Casper remaining at or near population management objectives while herds in northeast Wyoming (from Douglas to Lusk to Sundance) remain far below objective. Over the past five years, pronghorn numbers have generally declined in much of the region due to multiple harsh winters coupled with poor fawn survival and periodic disease outbreaks (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease and Blue Tongue). In some cases, herds were well above objective and have declined to appropriate levels, while in places like northeast Wyoming, hunting seasons have become extremely conservative to allow herds to grow to desired levels. Then came the winter of 2022-23. As the historically harsh winter progressed, wildlife managers decided to remove Type 6 or 7 (doe/fawn) licenses from almost all of the hunt areas in the region out of an abundance of caution, with one notable exception in Hunt Area 32 south of Casper, where pronghorn have fared well. Thankfully, substantial pronghorn losses were not realized in much of the Casper Region despite severe winter conditions being prevalent in much of the state, partially due to the fact that pronghorn populations were already well below what the landscape could support. Regardless, most pronghorn populations are now under objective with conservative hunting seasons for the foreseeable future. Despite numbers remaining below-desired levels in much of the region, hunters should experience average to high harvest success as buck ratios remain strong and license issuance has been drastically reduced for the fourth consecutive year.
Mule deer populations have decreased or remained stable throughout the region over the past several years, with all populations being well below established objectives. Mule deer adult and fawn survival continues to be poor, which can be attributed to past summer droughts and habitat conditions, disease in some herds and predation. Despite lower-than-desired numbers, buck ratios remain high in most mule deer herds and hunter success should be good for those hunting on private lands and in limited quota areas. Hunters on public land within general license areas should experience low to moderate success, as seasons will remain conservative. In the Black Hills, unprecedented conservative 17-day general seasons will be held in conjunction with the elimination of most doe/fawn licenses in Hunt Areas 1-6, meaning hunters will have only two full weekends to hunt this year. Hunters lucky enough to draw a license in conservatively managed limited quota areas should see high buck ratios with modest trophy potential. In the high-altitude desert (Hunt Areas 10, 34 and 89) many prime-age, mature bucks don’t grow large antlers compared to mule deer in other parts of the state. However, these herds are managed for good numbers of older-aged bucks and produce some nice deer every year. Thankfully, 2023 experienced an extraordinarily wet spring and early summer, which should boost forage production and overall habitat quality. In turn, this should lead to good over-summer fawn survival while bolstering the nutritional condition of adult females as they enter the coming winter. This will hopefully result in improved winter survival and fawn production next year, something our mule deer populations could use. Mandatory CWD sample submission is required for hunters who hunt in Hunt Areas 88 and 90. Hunters can get their deer tested for CWD by collecting a sample themselves and sending it to the Wildlife Health Lab or by bringing the head to a game check station or Game and Fish regional office during office hours.
White-tailed deer populations experienced substantial die-offs in 2021 in much of the Casper Region due to a severe outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. This outbreak was more widespread and prolonged than usual due to unseasonably warm fall conditions that persisted well into November. White-tail hunters will see far fewer deer in 2023 compared to recent years, especially in the Black Hills where unprecedented conservative 17-day general seasons will be held in conjunction with the elimination of most doe/fawn licenses in Hunt Areas 1-6, meaning hunters will have only two full weekends to hunt this year. Despite being only one year removed from the large-scale EHD die-off, white-tail numbers are starting to rebound in the Casper and Douglas areas. In 2023, doe/fawn license issuance was liberalized in these areas to prevent rapid population growth, which can occur in central Wyoming when weather conditions are favorable and EHD remains at bay. Hunters are reminded the vast majority of white-tailed deer occupy private lands. The notable exception is in the Black Hills, where high numbers occupy the Black Hills National Forest, although numbers are relatively low this year due to the EHD outbreak of 2021.
Elk numbers remain at or above objective in all herds in the region. Seasons continue to be liberal in terms of length and license issuance. Modest increases in elk license numbers and liberalized limitations occurred in parts of the region, most notably in Hunt Area 117 where seasons were further liberalized to address a growing elk population and alleviate private land damage. The region continues to provide excellent bull-hunting opportunities, with many areas continuing to boast high harvest success on any-elk licenses and good antler quality. Antlerless elk hunter success continues to be good, although high hunter densities on public lands often result in reduced hunter success in early fall. In areas with interspersed public and private lands, antlerless elk hunters tend to require more days afield to harvest their elk as large cow/calf groups readily displace off public land. Overall, the 2023 season will continue emphasizing female elk harvest while providing good mature bull hunting in most areas. Those hunters willing to expend the effort should continue to enjoy remarkable numbers of elk and success if the weather cooperates.
Pronghorn populations and hunting success continue to be down through much of the Bighorn Basin and licenses have been reduced or maintained for the 2023 season in most of these areas. The northern portion of the Bighorn Basin’s pronghorn herds are relatively stable. Early field observations suggest good fawn production throughout much of the region. Hunting should be similar or better for those who drew pronghorn licenses within the region than last year.
Winter survival appears to be at or above average throughout the region. Based on preliminary field observations, mule deer fawn production appears to be similar or better than last year. The region observed improved fawn production in most deer herds during the 2022 deer classifications. Most mule deer herds within the region are currently below population management objectives. Hunters should expect conditions and success to be similar or slightly improved compared to 2022. Prolonged drought and increasing CWD prevalence have had a negative impact on Bighorn Basin deer herds over the past several years. Managers are hopeful the recent positive trends in precipitation will provide a needed boost to mule deer populations.
Most herds continue to perform well within the region, with several at or above management objectives. Based on improved precipitation and early field observations suggesting good calf production, elk hunters should expect good hunting within the Cody Region again this year.
Herds within the region have been performing better over the past several years. The Bighorn Mountain herd has recorded high trend counts for the past four years. Research conducted within the Absaroka herd (Hunt Area 9) suggests good calf production and survival in 2023. Managers are observing a slight increase in moose numbers in Hunt Area 11, particularly within the Sunlight Basin area. Moose licenses changed slightly this year to balance the new 90:10 resident/nonresident allocation. Moose hunters should expect good moose hunting conditions and success in 2023.
The Absaroka (Hunt Areas 1-5) and Devil’s Canyon (Hunt Area 12) herds are within the Cody Region. Sheep numbers are within management objectives for the Absaroka herd and have recently fallen below objective within the Devil’s Canyon herd due to a recent disease die-off. It is estimated that the die-off reduced the Devil’s Canyon herd by 40 percent, but we have observed promising lamb recruitment thus far and anticipate the herd will recover quickly. Ram licenses within the Devil’s Canyon herd were reduced to 2 licenses and ewe licenses were removed for the 2023 season. Licenses within the Absaroka herd were adjusted to align with the new 90:10 resident/nonresident license allocation. Overall, licenses within the Absaroka herd increased slightly for the 2023 season. Those fortunate to have drawn bighorn sheep licenses within the region should enjoy good hunting.
The Beartooth herd (Hunt Areas 1, 3 and 5A) is within its population management objective. The season structure has been designed to provide harvest opportunity in Hunt Area 3 while maintaining harvest levels within Hunt Area 1. Licenses in Hunt Area 3 were reduced for the 2023 seasons as goat populations are nearing their management objectives. Mountain goat licenses were adjusted to align with the new 90:10 resident/nonresident license allocation. Those fortunate enough to have drawn a goat license should have a good goat hunt.
Upland game and small game
The region has received more precipitation than last year at this time, thus improving upland/small game habitats. Upland bird hunters should expect similar or slightly improved hunting conditions compared to last year. Chukar and Hungarian partridge populations are rebounding but still aren’t at the peak of their cycles and field managers aren’t seeing as many broods as they usually do when populations are high. Early observations from field managers suggest sage-grouse production may have improved from last year. Rabbit hunting should be similar or slightly improved from last season. Squirrel hunting should be excellent this year in the Cody Region.
Wildlife disease management
Hunters are encouraged to assist wildlife managers in collecting disease samples. Elk hunters who receive a brucellosis sample kit in the mail should carry the sample kit while in the field and collect a blood sample from their harvest. Hunters should be aware that there are mandatory sample submission and focus sampling areas within the region for CWD. Mandatory CWD sample submission is required for hunters who hold a Type 1 license for Hunt Areas 41 and 47. In addition, elk hunters are encouraged to submit a CWD sample for Hunt Areas 55, 56, 58-61 and 66. Hunters can have their deer or elk tested for CWD by collecting a sample themselves and sending it to the Wildlife Health Lab or by bringing the head to a Game and Fish regional office during office hours or game check station.
Weather and habitat conditions
The 2002-23 winter was near the 10-year average to slightly above average across the region. Spring and summer conditions throughout the region have produced above-average precipitation and lower temperatures through July. These types of conditions bode well for wildlife within the region. Wildlife populations should benefit if conditions continue and there is good late summer/fall precipitation.
The Green River Region encompasses six pronghorn herds. Pronghorn numbers are down across the region due to harsh winter conditions in 2022-23. However, there is variability in these declines. While slightly suppressed in population numbers, the southern hunt areas of the Sublette herd should still offer quality hunting experiences. A similar outlook should be expected for the Uinta-Cedar Mountain and Carter Lease pronghorn herds. While winter conditions were exceptional, segments of these populations were able to find suitable locations to winter along Interstate 80 and Flaming Gorge Reservoir to buffer against losses. Baggs, Bitter Creek and South Rock Springs pronghorn herds also experienced declines as over-winter survival was suppressed due to winter range snowpack in Wyoming and Colorado. Lower population levels reduced Type 1 (any antelope) license allocations and eliminated all doe/fawn antelope licenses in the region. With the 2023 spring and summer starting mild with good moisture, individuals who made it through winter are experiencing excellent conditions. However, production is expected to be marginal at best, as females coming out of winter in poor body condition will likely have fewer fawns this year.
Severe winter conditions have been unfavorable for mule deer populations throughout the region. Through GPS collaring efforts, wildlife managers observed above-average mortality on winter ranges in the Wyoming Range and Uinta mule deer herds. Similar survival rates can be expected in the Baggs herd due to similar winter conditions. These winter losses prompted conservative general deer season structures and shortened season length for hunt areas 82,132-135 and 168. General hunt areas 100 and 131 have low-density deer numbers and will continue to have conservative seasons in 2023. Hunters should expect tough hunting conditions in these general areas. The South Rock Springs deer herd (Hunt Areas 101 and 102) experienced an above-average winter. However, it did not see the extremes like other parts of the region. In past observations, this deer herd typically responds favorably to above-average winters with increased fawn ratios and survival, likely due to improved range conditions in this otherwise arid area. Fawn production is expected to be down in other parts of the region, as most females coming out of winter will be in poor body condition and likely experience suppressed fawning rates. With most of the region’s deer herds under objective even before winter, finding older-aged bucks will likely be challenging, particularly in the low deer-density desert habitats.
Before the 2023 winter, most herds were at or above population objectives. Even with some known winter losses, elk hunting should remain good in the region, including the special management herds in Hunt Areas 100 and 30-32. Quality animals are being observed and hunters are expected to harvest some nice bulls, including areas under recreational management. General season structures were liberalized with added opportunity for antlerless elk due to increased conflicts across much of the region from the exceptional winter. Overall, cow hunting opportunities remain liberal throughout much of the region where the increased harvest is warranted, particularly in hunt areas 102-107 to keep or move populations towards objectives. Managers expect an average or above-average elk harvest this fall, depending on weather conditions and hunter effort.
Small and upland game
Hunters should find similar opportunities for cottontail rabbits in 2022-23 throughout most of the region, which are an often underutilized resource. Cottontails are being observed, but not in numbers that would indicate a significant increase. Snowshoe hare habitat is limited within the region, but opportunity exists in some higher elevations. Upland game opportunities should be slightly better than in 2022 due to increased moisture that improved nesting and brood-rearing habitats. There should be ample blue (dusky) grouse opportunities in the Sierra Madre and Wyoming Range. Ruffed grouse opportunities exist on the north slope of the Uintas in the Wasatch National Forest and Wyoming Range. This spring wildlife managers observed stable to slightly increased male sage-grouse lek attendance. However, populations are still at the bottom of the population cycle. It is also probable that the sage-grouse distribution slightly shifted as individuals searched for snowless areas to lek. With the increased moisture, there has been a noticeable increase in invertebrate abundance and forb production which should aid in brood survival and overall production going into September. Hunters should expect to put in significant effort to find sage-grouse, but quality opportunities still exist. Other upland opportunities exist within the region for partridge but are limited.
Weather and habitat conditions:
The Green River Region experienced one of the worst winters in recent memory. Heavy snowpack, below-average winter temperatures, and the overall duration of these conditions contributed to substantial impacts on wintering big game. Many parts of the region contain important winter range areas, and mule deer and pronghorn herds were negatively impacted. While below-average ungulate survival was seen across the region, there were areas with lower snow loads that facilitated the ability for individuals to winter successfully. These areas included basins in the Rock Springs and Green River areas and areas surrounding Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Despite the harsh winter, the over winter moisture, along with consistent spring rains helped much of the region crawl out of drought conditions. Current range conditions have improved compared to previous years thanks to substantial grass and forb production.
The Jackson Region harbors a small migratory segment of the Sublette antelope herd in Hunt Area 85. Antelope wintering in the Pinedale region experienced extreme winter mortality as a result of the unprecedented winter severity as well as an outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis this year. In early May, approximately 75 percent of radio-collared adult doe pronghorn from an on-going study had died. This prompted an emergency rule to reduce antelope licenses in the affected hunt areas, which included closing Hunt Area 85 for the 2023 hunting season. Regional managers will assess recovery of the Jackson segment of the Sublette herd and may recommend to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to re-authorize hunting seasons in future years as appropriate.
Portions of the Sublette and Wyoming Range herds are managed in the region, including Hunt Areas 150-152, 155-156 and 144-146. Both herds experienced substantial winter mortality due to winter severity this year. As a result, the Commission approved several changes to the 2023 season. Hunters will see shorter season lengths, three-point antler restrictions, reduced non-resident quotas and the elimination of the doe/fawn opportunity for youth hunters. The impacts of this winter were significant and Game and Fish managers continue to monitor these herds closely. Hunters should expect to see significantly fewer deer on the landscape this fall. However, we expect to document increased survival, body condition, fawn production and herd recovery in upcoming years, similar to what we have documented following previous severe winters. While the 2023 season will have fewer deer on the landscape, restrictive season structures, and fewer non-resident hunters, Game and Fish is confident that harvest will not restrict the growth potential of these herds in this or future years. Hunters can get their deer tested for CWD by collecting a sample themselves and sending it to the Wildlife Health Lab or by bringing the head to a game check station or Game and Fish regional office during office hours.
The Jackson Region also includes the Targhee mule deer herd (Hunt Area 149) and Hunt Area 148 of the Dubois mule deer herd, both of which contain low deer densities and see limited hunter numbers and harvest.
Small populations may be found near riparian habitats throughout the region, and all hunt areas in the region offer the opportunity for hunters to harvest white-tailed deer during the general season. There are limited quota Type 3 (any white-tailed deer) and Type 8 (doe/fawn white-tailed) deer licenses available to provide additional late season opportunities. Hunters holding a Type 3 or Type 8 white-tailed deer license for the combined hunt areas of 148, 150, 151, 152, 155 and 156 may obtain permission slips to hunt on the National Elk Refuge. Hunt periods on the Refuge are approximately 6-8 days long and run from Sept. 1 – 14 (archery only) and Sept. 15 – Nov. 22 (firearms and archery). Visit the National Elk Refuge webpage for more information or contact the Jackson Game and Fish Regional Office for assistance. Hunters are encouraged to have their deer tested for CWD by bringing the head to a Game and Fish regional office or hunter check station. Mandatory sampling is required for white-tailed deer harvested on the National Elk Refuge.
The region manages four herds (Jackson, Fall Creek, Afton and Targhee) that currently contain at least 17,000 elk and are within management objectives. These areas provide a wide range of hunting opportunities and vary from early-season rifle hunts for branch-antlered bulls in the Teton Wilderness to late antlerless elk seasons on private lands to address elk damage to stored crops and co-mingling with livestock. Despite the severe winter, overall elk mortality was relatively low because the majority of elk in these herds are supplementally fed on feedgrounds. Some feedgrounds had higher calf mortality this winter than normal, but hunters should still expect to see typical elk numbers in most hunt areas. Hunt Area 75 (Grand Teton National Park) licenses were reduced in quota and season length in an effort to shift management towards population maintenance as opposed to population reduction based on survey data and herd unit objectives. Hunters can get their elk tested for CWD by collecting a sample themselves and sending it to the Wildlife Health Lab or by bringing the head to a Game and Fish regional office during office hours or game check station. Mandatory sampling is required for all elk harvested in Hunt Areas 75 (Grand Teton National Park) and 77 (National Elk Refuge).
All or parts of the Jackson, Sublette and Targhee herds are found in the region, and all are managed under a special management strategy to provide recreational opportunities while maintaining a harvest of older age-class bulls. While moose numbers remain below desired levels, hunters lucky enough to draw a license should experience high success and have a good chance of harvesting a bull. Moose fared well last winter in the cold and deep snow conditions. Higher moose mortality has recently been observed during warmer winters. Moose hunters are encouraged to submit the two front incisors (lower teeth) from their harvested moose for aging, which is helpful for managers to evaluate herd status. Successful hunters are also encouraged to bring their moose head to the Jackson Game and Fish regional office for sampling to help with ongoing disease surveillance such as CWD, carotid artery worms, etc.
The Jackson (Hunt Area 7) and Targhee (Hunt Area 6) bighorn sheep herds are found in the region. Sheep numbers in Hunt Area 7 are above management objectives, particularly concerning in this herd. In previous years, when sheep numbers have neared their current levels, the population has experienced significant mortality events due to pneumonia outbreaks. The current season structure is designed to prevent a large-scale pneumonia outbreak; with a secondary benefit of curbing impacts to future hunting opportunities if an outbreak can be prevented. Type 1 (any sheep) license numbers were reduced this year due to trends of increasing hunter effort and decreasing harvested ram age. Type 6 (ewe/lamb) licenses were increased to 30 licenses to decrease the population to its objective. Ewe sheep hunters should plan for a remote, backcountry bighorn sheep hunt. Hunters willing to spend the time and effort should have a high opportunity for success. Type 6 ewe hunters should expect that most ewes will be found at high elevations of typically 9,000 feet or more during the archery and rifle seasons. Ewe hunters may hunt within the Gros Ventre drainage, which includes all tributaries that flow into the main drainage including Crystal Creek, Shorty Creek, East and West Miner Creeks. All sheep hunters (including ewe hunters) are reminded that they are required to register their sheep at a Game and Fish office within 15 days of harvest.
The Targhee herd quota was increased from one to two this year and includes one resident and one nonresident license, which the herd can biologically support. The regular season will open earlier in the northern portion of the herd to encourage a more even distribution of harvest throughout the herd. This is a challenging hunt due to the terrain and the fact that most sheep reside in Grand Teton National Park and are unavailable to hunters. However, it also provides a unique opportunity to hunt sheep in a spectacular setting.
The quota for Hunt Area 2 mountain goat licenses were reduced in 2023 to reflect a decline in the number of goats counted during the 2022 mid-summer trend count. The Palisades herd still offers hunters the opportunity to harvest trophy-class billies that typically are at least 5 years old. Hunter’s success is usually high at between 90-100 percent and is made up primarily of older age-class billies.
This will be the fifth year for the Type A (any mountain goat) license in Hunt Area 4. This was created to reduce mountain goat numbers in the Teton Range and minimize the expansion of mountain goats into important bighorn sheep habitats of the Targhee herd. Unlike mountain goat Type 1 and Type 2 licenses, Type A licenses are not once-in-a-lifetime, and hunters could potentially draw a license and hunt mountain goats every year. Due to the success of past hunting seasons in Hunt Area 4 and Grand Teton National Park efforts, mountain goat densities are currently low throughout the Teton Range. License numbers were increased from 4 to 5 in 2023 and are available for residents only, but hunter success is still expected to be very low. No mountain goats were harvested last year in this area. In previous years, Hunt Area 4 Type A licenses were valid in Hunt Area 5 and vice versa. However, that is not the case this year with the closure of Hunt Area 5 for the 2023 season.
The Jackson bison herd is at the lower end of the annual trend count objective. As a result, the Type 4 (any female or calf) licenses were removed and the Type 1 (any wild bison) quota was reduced. The early snow and weather during the 2022 season resulted in high harvest success but was an anomaly compared to recent years. Recent trends by which mild weather and aversion to hunting pressure on the National Elk Refuge have resulted in delayed or lack of movement from Grand Teton National Park into the open hunt area on the Refuge. These conditions make it difficult to achieve harvest, often with an extremely limited number of days when bison are available for harvest on the Refuge. Some bull hunting occurs on national forest lands, but bison availability is intermittent and low. For this reason, Type 1 license holders are encouraged to capitalize on any harvest opportunity that is available as opposed to selecting for bulls only. To hunt on the Refuge, bison hunters must obtain an access permission slip through the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s AccessYes program. Since there are few bison hunters this year, the Refuge is not using hunt periods. Instead, bison hunters can obtain a permission slip valid from Aug. 15 – Jan. 1 on the Refuge. Bison hunters are reminded that they must obtain a harvest reporting card, tooth envelope and blood collection tube at the Jackson Game and Fish office before their hunt.
Upland and small game
Due to the region’s small and isolated population of sage-grouse, hunting seasons are not offered. Hunters interested in upland game birds can find some of the best blue (dusky) and ruffed grouse habitats in the state. Seasons run from September through December. Late-season hunters need to be mindful of winter range closures in some areas that begin in December.
Weather and habitat conditions
Mule deer and pronghorn that summer in the Jackson region and winter in the Pinedale region will take multiple years of favorable weather conditions to recover from the 2022-23 winter. The 2023 spring moisture will aid in providing a prolonged growing season, however if the hot/dry weather of late August persists, early fall conditions could result. The Jackson Region represents a small portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and is a weather-driven system. Game and Fish managers continue to work with partners to increase habitat resilience and permeability for animal movement to increase the ability of wildlife to buffer the impacts of extreme weather events and to manage wildlife populations towards management objectives.
Hunters can expect fewer animals this fall following severe winter conditions throughout much of the region – particularly in the Rawlins/I-80 areas. Throughout the region, we expect buck quality to be lower than in past years due to winter severity, loss of older age classes and fewer animals. As a result, license numbers were reduced in 2023. Hunters who draw a license and are willing to put in effort should expect good harvest success.
Throughout most of the region, mule deer populations declined in 2022-23 due to harsh winter conditions. With several years of reduced fawn recruitment resulting in the loss of at least three age classes, mule deer numbers remain below management objectives. Antler-point restrictions continue but changed from a 3-point to 4-point or more in hunt areas near Lander and Rawlins. Elsewhere, hunters will have opportunities for similar harvest success — mostly with young bucks. Continued any white-tailed deer seasons are in place in the Dubois, Lander, Riverton and Jeffrey City areas. Hunters should expect tougher mule deer hunting and likely lower success compared to last year. Mandatory CWD sample submission is required for hunters who hunt in Hunt Areas 157 and 171. Hunters can get their deer tested for CWD by collecting a sample themselves and sending it to the Wildlife Health Lab or by bringing the head to a game check station or Game and Fish regional office during office hours.
Elk populations are doing well across the region and were relatively unaffected by winter conditions. Last year’s calf production remained on par with previous years and should result in continued, robust numbers. Observed bull numbers remained strong during mid-winter surveys. If favorable weather conditions are realized during the fall, hunters should experience excellent harvest opportunities.
Moose are at or below desired levels and the hunting season framework includes continued conservative quotas. For the past three years, more moose were counted in Hunt Areas 2 and 30 and it appears this population is stable. Winter counts in the Dubois country continue to yield fewer moose and remain at historically low levels. Hunters fortunate enough to draw a license can expect good harvest success in the region.
Lamb production in the Whiskey Mountain herd was higher than in previous years, but is still low and continues to be a concern. Lamb productivity has been depressed in the herd for more than 30 years and while it has impacted population growth, there are rams available for harvest. Those who draw a tag in these areas should expect fewer rams than in the past but should experience reasonable success depending on their expectations. The Ferris-Seminoe herd (Hunt Areas 17 and 26) continues to grow and has reached its objective. Winter losses were higher than normal in portions of the herd, but most bighorn winter ranges avoided the deep, crusted snow that severely impacted neighboring deer and pronghorn herds. Twenty Type 6 and 7 (ewe/lamb licenses) were issued in the herd unit – 17 in Hunt Area 17 and three in Hunt Area 26. In addition, 12 Type 1 (any ram) licenses were issued – 10 in Hunt Area 17 and two in Hunt Area 26. Hunting is expected to be excellent.
Relatively wet spring and summer conditions will likely favor sage-grouse, blue (dusky) grouse, ruffed grouse, pheasants, chukars and gray partridge productivity. It is likely hunters will see more birds due to anticipated increases in chick survival. Pheasant hunting at the Sand Mesa and Ocean Lake Wildlife Habitat Management Areas continues to be popular with hunters throughout the state. The one-day youth hunt at Sand Mesa and Ocean Lake will be on Saturday, Nov. 18.
Cottontail rabbit populations seem to be down, in some places quite significantly due to RHDV2 outbreaks and severe winter conditions. Snowshoe hares and red squirrels appear to be similar to 2022 within the region and harvest opportunities should be good.
Weather and habitat conditions
Most of the region has enjoyed increased spring and early summer moisture with good vegetation production. Animals that pulled through the severe winter of 2022-23 should be in great shape and flourishing with improved habitat conditions. The portion of the region in the Red Desert has seen improved precipitation as well and, unlike the previous few years, is in good condition with regard to available forage and open water availability.
Pronghorn herds throughout the Laramie Region did not succumb to the harsh winter conditions to the same extent as those in south-central and western Wyoming. However, Hunt Areas 50, 51 and 52 experienced higher winter mortalities compared with herds to the east, and as a result Type 1 (any antelope) and Type 6 (doe or fawn) licenses were reduced. Grassland herds in the north and east, including Hunt Areas 11, 34, 38 and 103, have declined over the past six years, along with notable decreases in fawn production. Decent buck numbers remain in these herds, but older animals will be harder to find. Hunters should expect fewer pronghorns in the Laramie Valley and Shirley Basin compared to previous years with reduced hunting opportunities. However, populations in Hunt Areas 47 and 48 are experiencing an increase. Winter snowpack combined with above-average spring and summer precipitation should provide the necessary dietary needs for lactating does. Managers expect to see an increase in fawn survival which translates to increased opportunities in the future.
Winter conditions most likely negatively affected mule deer throughout the Platte Valley and license numbers were slightly decreased to compensate for winter mortality. Wildlife biologists and game wardens will collect CWD samples throughout Hunt Areas 16, 78-81 to better understand disease prevalence. The population within the Sheep Mountain herd has been on a steady decline for the past several years. However, the regeneration of important grass and shrub species within the Mullen Fire burn scar should have long-term, positive effects for fawn rearing and survival. Hunters should be prepared for downed timber on the U.S. Forest Service road system. Increased snowpack and above-average spring and summer precipitation will likely result in better forb and shrub conditions that are vital for lactating does, so an increase in fawn survival across the region is expected to be documented when herd composition surveys are completed this winter. Hunters should expect an increase in buck numbers in two or three years. High prevalence of CWD within the Goshen Rim (Hunt Area 15) and Laramie Mountains Herd (Hunt Areas 59, 60 and 64), coupled with poor fawn production for the past five years, has resulted in declining populations and fewer older age bucks on the landscape. Hunters should expect to spend more time in the field if they are looking for a mature buck to harvest; however, an adequate number of younger class bucks are still available for harvest.
Populations remain above objective, with ample harvest opportunities throughout the region. Hunters are encouraged to hunt south of Wyoming Highway 130 within the Snowy Range herd to take advantage of elk utilizing the Mullen Fire burn scar where vegetation improvements occurred. Several changes were made to the Snowy Range and Shirley Mountain herd hunt areas, so hunters should become familiar with the new dates and limitations before going to the field. Given hunting pressure on public land, hunters should be prepared to pursue elk in areas far from well-traveled roads and trails. Look for additional access opportunities on properties enrolled in the Game and Fish Access Yes program and secure a permission slip if needed.
Hunting should be excellent throughout the Laramie region. Hunt Areas 18 and 21 now stand alone for the 2023 season, with three licenses available in Hunt Area 18 and two in Hunt Area 21. Hunters typically experience better than 90 percent success in the Douglas Creek, Encampment River and Laramie Peak herds. The same is expected this year. The Douglas Creek herd is expected to have improved habitat in the coming years as a result of the Mullen Fire
Excellent hunting opportunities are expected in the Snowy Range herd. Harvest success across Type 1 (any moose, except cow moose with calf at side) and Type 4 (antlerless moose, except cow moose with calf at side) licenses continues to be exceptional, and the herd maintains high bull ratios and good calf production. Vegetation regrowth from the Mullen Fire is expected to improve moose habitat.
Above-average precipitation across the region should result in decent brood survival for upland game birds, particularly sharp-tailed grouse, pheasants and sage-grouse. Blue (dusky) grouse should be in better shape given precipitation events in the higher elevations and vegetation recovery within the Mullen Fire burn scar. Game and Fish will continue to stock pheasants for the Springer Special Hunt and the general season throughout November and a portion of December on the Springer Wildlife Habitat Management Area and in areas enrolled in the Access Yes program. Release sites for the general pheasant season will be available to the public before Nov. 1. Pheasant hunters going to Glendo no longer need a permit to hunt on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, and hunters must be aware that shooting hours are now from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Weather and habitat conditions
Winter conditions were harsher compared to previous years. However, based on collar data from pronghorn, mule deer and bighorn sheep, winter survival was better in the Laramie Region than in the western portion of the state. Above average snowpack coupled with significant spring and summer precipitation, has resulted in tremendous plant production, which the region has been hoping for, given the drought conditions we have experienced for the past decade. These conditions have replenished stock dams, recharged watersheds throughout the region and wildlife are expected to be in better condition going forward.
The region encompasses the northern portion of the Sublette herd, one of the largest in the nation, and includes Hunt Areas 87-91 and 101. The 2022-23 winter was exceptionally harsh, which combined with an outbreak of the novel, pneumonia-causing bacteria Mycoplasma bovis, resulted in substantially elevated winter mortality for pronghorn in the Pinedale Region. Nearly 2,000 licenses were cut for the 2023 hunting seasons, including all doe/fawn tags and around 80 percent of buck tags, to maximize the opportunity for the herd to rebound in future years. Hunters lucky enough to draw a buck pronghorn license in these hunt areas should expect to see fewer pronghorn this fall.
Portions of the Sublette and Wyoming Range herds are managed in the region, including Hunt Areas 130, 138-143, 146, 153 and 154. Both herds include relatively large populations with special management strategies designed to provide high-quality hunting opportunities and at least 30 bucks per 100 does, and large-antlered, older-aged deer are harvested annually from both herds. Above-average snow depths and colder-than-normal temperatures during the 2022-23 winter resulted in above-average winter mortality in the Wyoming Range, and near-average mortality in the Sublette herd. Hunters in the Wyoming Range herd should expect fewer deer than normal this fall, and those hunting the Sublette herd will likely see fewer bucks than in recent years. Mule deer enthusiasts should remember that periodic elevated winter mortality is common in these mule deer herds, resulting in wide fluctuations in population abundance trends. While the populations are currently in the trough of the trend, these herds have demonstrated the ability to rebound relatively rapidly given several consecutive winters of below-to-average severity.
Small populations may be found near riparian habitats, and all deer hunt areas in the region offer the opportunity for harvest during the general season. Additionally, 50 limited quota Type 3 licenses provide the opportunity to harvest any white-tailed deer from Oct. 1 – Nov. 30 in Hunt Areas 138-143.
Nearly 10,000 elk in three herd units are managed in the region. Liberal seasons provide hunters with ample opportunities, especially for antlerless elk, with all general seasons providing an opportunity to harvest a cow or calf elk until Nov. 20. Bull numbers remain strong, with ratios ranging from 31 bulls per 100 cows in the Pinedale herd to 37 bulls per 100 cows in the Upper Green River and Piney herds. The herds also remain productive, with an average of 35 calves per 100 cows region-wide, indicating stable to growing populations. Bull harvest in 2022 was around average with many nice bulls taken, and cow elk harvest was slow early in the season but picked up into November as snow pushed herds into lower-elevation, more easily accessible areas. Elk hunting in the region during 2023 should offer excellent opportunities.
The Sublette herd is managed under a special management strategy to provide recreational opportunities while maintaining an average harvest age of 4 years for bulls to maintain trophy quality. This herd has a winter trend count objective of 1,500 and the population has been stable to slightly increasing over the last decade. A total of 125 bull and five antlerless licenses were offered in the Pinedale Region for the 2023 hunting season. Hunters are advised not to be discouraged when scouting or hunting for moose during the early season when warm temperatures can drive moose into forested habitats where they are generally less visible. Moose hunters who hunt during the later portion of the season typically encounter more moose. Hunter success for moose hunt areas in the region averaged 92 percent over the past five years and should be high during the 2023 season.
The Darby Mountain herd and a portion of the Whiskey Mountain herd are managed by the region. In 2023 the Darby Mountain herd — Hunt Area 24 — will have one license for any ram going to one resident. In the Whiskey Mountain herd, the overall population is struggling due in part to chronic pneumonia and poor lamb recruitment and remains under objective. However, non-migratory bighorn sheep numbers observed during winter flights in Hunt Area 8 appear mostly stable.
Observations of male sage-grouse on leks during the spring indicate populations remain at the low end of their trend, so hunters should expect plenty of exercise while chasing sage-grouse this fall. Decent populations of blue (dusky) and ruffed grouse can be found in the forested habitats and provide hunting opportunities from September through December. Rabbit hunters can chase cottontails and snowshoe hares until the end of March, though populations continue to appear depressed. Late-season hunters need to be mindful of winter range closures in some areas that begin in November and December.
Weather and habitat conditions
High soil moisture, resulting from above-average snowpack, along with higher-than-normal precipitation during the growing season has resulted in increased herbaceous plant production and leader growth on shrub species throughout the Pinedale Region. Increased foraging opportunities on summer and transitional habitats are anticipated to impact the body condition of wildlife entering winter positively and hunters can anticipate that some animals will be more broadly dispersed due to the availability of water this season.
Pronghorn numbers have declined in recent years for various reasons, including harvest, drought, disease and weather conditions. The largest declines have been in the Gillette area. However, populations have stabilized across most of the region. Quotas have been adjusted to reflect decreased populations. Spring and early summer conditions this year have provided much-needed moisture to the region and should help populations start to rebound. Opportunities to harvest a pronghorn will be similar to 2022. While numbers might be down, hunters should find average-quality bucks this year.
Mule deer populations throughout the region have been impacted by severe drought and disease-related mortalities since 2019 and weather conditions during this past winter. Harvest strategies are designed to provide buck hunting opportunities with limited antlerless deer harvest. Increased precipitation in 2023 has reduced the drought intensity, and the doe-to-fawn ratios should positively respond to the increased moisture and improved forage. Hunting opportunities are expected to be similar to 2022. CWD prevalence estimates in the region’s herd units range from 12-18 percent. Deer Hunt Areas 1-6 are part of the 2023 CWD monitoring focus areas. Hunters can get their deer tested for CWD by collecting a sample themselves and sending it to the Wildlife Health Lab or by bringing the head to a game check station or Game and Fish regional office during office hours.
All white-tailed deer hunt areas offer both October and November hunting seasons for any white-tailed deer, and many doe/fawn seasons extend into December, allowing ample opportunity for harvest. Most white-tailed deer are found on private land, with limited public land hunting opportunities. Hunters are encouraged to secure private land access before purchasing a white-tailed deer license. Some doe/fawn licenses are restricted to private land, so check the regulations. The Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease and bluetongue virus outbreaks in 2021 and 2022 affected white-tailed deer populations, resulting in reduced deer numbers. Depending on the location, hunters can expect to find similar or decreased deer numbers compared to 2022. Hunters might find fewer mature bucks this year due to the EHD and bluetongue virus outbreaks, which tend to affect adult males more than other age or gender cohorts. CWD prevalence is greater than 20 percent in some areas. Deer Hunt Areas 1-6 are part of the 2023 CWD monitoring focus areas.
Now is a great time to be an elk hunter with ample opportunity to harvest an animal, especially if you are willing to hunt antlerless elk. There are some changes in the 2023 seasons as compared to previous years in the region, so be sure to refer to the current hunting regulations. Changes in season limitations, opening dates and license types were designed to help achieve desired harvest levels. Limited quota, any-elk licenses continue to be difficult to draw but those lucky to draw a license have a reasonable chance at harvesting a mature bull. Several areas had leftover antlerless and cow/calf licenses available, but these tend to be private land areas with limited access to hunt. Hunters are encouraged to secure private land access before purchasing a leftover license.
The Bighorn Moose herd continued to perform well. Winter conditions did not appear to affect moose in the Bighorns negatively. Moose license quotas changed slightly this year to balance the new 90:10 resident/nonresident allocation. Age structure suggests good cohorts of mature (i.e. 4+ years old) bulls in this population. Moose hunters should expect good moose hunting conditions and success in 2023.
Spring 2023 precipitation has been more favorable to upland-brood rearing habitats compared to recent years. The region supports sage-grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, gray (Hungarian) partridge, blue (dusky) grouse and wild turkey. Sage-grouse Hunt Area 4 is closed for the 2023 season. Sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge populations are currently low and scattered. There are limited public lands where hunters may find a few birds. Blue grouse are found at higher elevations in the Bighorn Mountains. While populations are scattered, hunting can be exciting once you find a few. Wild turkey numbers are doing well. Most turkeys are on private lands, with limited public land opportunity. Pheasant production at the Sheridan Bird Farm was excellent this year and hunters can expect birds to be released throughout the pheasant season. Areas requiring a Pheasant Management Stamp in Sheridan and Johnson counties will be open to harvest any pheasant — the same as 2022.
Weather and habitat conditions
The 2022-23 winter was a more normal winter, different from the relatively mild winters experienced the last several years. There was above average spring and early summer moisture, resulting in green forage well into the summer months. This flush of quality forage should benefit wildlife this year. The prediction for continued moisture through August should allow wildlife to enter winter in good body condition.
MIGRATORY GAME BIRDS – STATEWIDE
Wetland and overall water conditions in Wyoming are much improved from last year. Precipitation in spring and through the summer in much of the state has provided very good breeding conditions for local birds. There could be above-average success for local broods and improved habitat to pull in migrants in the fall and winter. Conditions in the Prairie Potholes of the United States and Canada are variable but below average in Alberta, where many of Wyoming’s harvested ducks are produced. Migration chronology and weather, as well as hunter efforts of scouting for birds and obtaining permission to hunt private land, when necessary, will influence the success of migratory bird hunters throughout the state. Before heading out be sure to review the 2023 hunting regulations for any season changes.
Most of Wyoming’s migrating ducks come from the U.S. and Canadian prairies. Initial reports indicate dry conditions in southern Alberta, northern Montana and parts of the Dakotas. Overall habitat conditions appear mixed for duck production, but local conditions in much of Wyoming appear excellent. Average to below-average duck numbers can be expected.
Canada geese harvested in the state come from two populations. The Rocky Mountain population can be found west of the Continental Divide in the Wind River and Bighorn River basins and in western Carbon and Natrona counties. Large geese found in eastern Wyoming belong to the Hi-Line population. Goose numbers in recent years have been consistently high. Canada goose numbers during hunting season are usually driven by winter conditions and there should be plenty of geese present should the weather cooperate.
Production within Wyoming in 2023 appears to be above average, likely due to the precipitation and wetter-than-usual conditions extending into the summer. Most doves will migrate out of the state with the first cold snap, usually between late August and mid-September. Doves from northern areas migrate through the state in mid-September and good hunting can still be found after the first few days of the season.
Cranes that migrate through eastern Wyoming — 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. 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 2022 remained high. Cranes in Hunt Areas 4 and 6 tend to roost and feed in the same locations every year. Roost locations in Hunt Area 4 are Hidden Valley, Riverview Valley and the south side of Ocean Lake. Roost locations in Hunt Area 6 are north of Worland, the Otto area, from Powell to Ralston and Ralston Reservoir. For best success, scout for cranes before the season and obtain permission to access the fields they use.
In Hunt Area 1, which covers the western half of Wyoming, the 2023 sage grouse hunting season is similar to last year with the exception of a date shift to keep opening day anchored to the third Saturday in September. Hunt Area 1 opens Sept. 16 and closes Sept. 30. One major change is Hunt Area 4, which covers northeast Wyoming, is now closed. Sage-grouse numbers will be similar to the last few years and hunters should expect low to moderate success rates. Sage-grouse populations appear to be stabilizing and trending slightly upward in some areas as their population cycle continues. The number of birds harvested each year is strongly related to hatching success and over-summer chick survival. Preliminary statewide population data shows minimal effects of this past spring’s persistent winter conditions that delayed lek attendance.
(Photo credit: Wyoming Game & Fish Department)