Wyoming has long been on the short list of states one should consider when talking about a mule deer hunt. Mule deer can be found throughout the entire state, though in pockets of Eastern Wyoming whitetails outnumber mule deer. In general, Wyoming’s mule deer densities are greater than Utah’s, and about on par with Colorado’s. Though the mule deer populations in most Western states have experienced significant declines since the 1980s, Wyoming is still one of the great strongholds.
As our least populous state, resident hunting pressure is generally minor and unlimited general tags are available for a majority of the units. However, the best places to hunt are completely limited. Wyoming does not have a preference system for residents to acquire those limited tags, but they offer an unlimited general tag.
Nonresidents must operate under a completely different system, with a hybrid preference-random draw, where 75% of the tags go to those with the most preference points, and 25% are allocated in a random draw. Wyoming also offers a chance at lowering your odds by putting 40% of their nonresident tags in a “special” price drawing. Essentially, the tag price is nearly doubled and in many, but not all cases, the draw odds are significantly better. The other major sticking point with Wyoming deer hunting is that nonresidents are not allowed to hunt the wilderness areas without a guide. So forget about mimicking the Eastmans on a September backcountry DIY deer hunt.
A little more about the Wyoming preference system seems in order here before delving into the major deer regions. Wyoming is new to the preference point draws, so the maximum number of points held by any nonresident applicant is presently just 5. So if you are planning a mule deer hunt in the not too distant future and don’t want to get left behind, you need to start applying soon. The last major wrinkle to Wyoming’s system is that you can purchase a preference point before September 30th each year, which allows you to avoid putting up the full price of the deer tag, and just paying $40 to up your odds for the next year.
I know that’s a confusing system, but once you’ve figured out how to apply (March 15th every year), you can now think about where to apply. Wyoming is broken up into 15 deer regions, within those regions are about 10 units each, some of which may be under a different management system than the other units in the region. For instance, Wyoming’s Region J encompasses part of the Medicine Bow National Forest, Laramie Peak Range, most of Albany County and small parts of Laramie, Converse, Platte and Carbon County. Within Region J are units 59 through 65, plus unit 73. Every unit except unit 60 is under an unlimited quota for residents. For nonresidents, one would either specify Region J to hunt all but unit 60, or just unit 60 when applying.
To further complicate things, many of the units within the region have different opening dates that may or may not overlap with elk or antelope season dates. Unit 61 opens October 1, Unit 60 opens October 20th and the rest of the units open October 15th. Additionally, there are also whitetail only permits that can be drawn in Region J. Units 59, 60, 62, 63 and 64 have an either sex whitetail only tag available instead of the standard antlered buck deer permit. Those tags are much easier to draw as most of the whitetail country in this part of Wyoming is along the river bottoms, most of which is privately owned.
For those just looking for a doe hunt, Wyoming offers some excellent opportunities at a reasonable price. For just $48, instead of $326, you can hunt mule deer or whitetail does. That is a hard price to beat for someone looking for a cheap western experience. And when combined with a similarly priced antelope doe hunt, you can buy a lot of action for a low price.
For today, let’s finish up by looking at the major ecoregions of Wyoming, with some generalizations about the deer hunting in each. Tomorrow I will begin to go into specifics about each of the 15 Wyoming deer Regions, and address some of the specific limited draw only units.
Northeast Wyoming’s major land feature is the Black Hills, much of which is public land in the Black Hills National Forest. This is home to Wyoming’s top deer densities, with whitetails being more prevalent than mule deer. Not only is it Wyoming’s top combined deer density, but few places in the west can compete with Northeast Wyoming’s 30 plus deer per square mile. Only about 12 of those deer per square mile are mule deer though.
Just west of the Black Hills, is a large expanse of plains. Public land is quite scattered here, though small parcels of National Grasslands and BLM are sprinkled throughout the area. This portion of the Great Plains is bordered by Douglas in the South, Buffalo in the northwest and Gillette in the east. There are good deer numbers here, but as a general rule, the landownership patterns make it tough to hunt effectively for the DIY hunter.
Southeast Wyoming is dominated by shortgrass prairie. This should be among the last options for most deer hunters, as there is little public land. The shortgrass prairie supports a few mule deer, but not in the numbers most hunters would expect if traveling a significant distance to hunt them.
Southcentral Wyoming, from Casper and Saratoga west to Pinedale and Green River is some of the famous mule deer country we’ve all read about. This is a region dominated by sage brush basins and rocky cliffs. BLM lands are plentiful, but the infamous Red Desert Checkerboard, where BLM owns every other square mile for nearly 200 miles can be frustrating to hunt. Tags here are in very high demand, though in my opinion are overrated. Visibility of deer is quite good here, and success quite high, but you’re looking at less than 4 deer per square mile.
In Southwest Wyoming, you transition out of the sagebrush basins to the northern foothills of the Wasatch and Uinta mountains coming out of Utah. This is another popular area, and with general tags, can be overrun with deer hunters.
West-Central through Northwest Wyoming puts you back into the Rocky Mountains. There are very few whitetails in this area, and the mule deer are largely migratory. Much of the backcountry here is designated wilderness, and therefore off limits to unguided nonresidents. This region can be a good option for a guided hunter, but the DIY hunter should not totally write off Western Wyoming, as there are units that can be effectively hunted.
North Central Wyoming’s predominant feature is the Bighorn Range. There are some very good deer densities up here, with several areas having between 10 and 15 mule deer per square mile. There is no shortage of public land, including vast tracts of BLM and Forest Service lands.
Next, we’ll kick off our look at Wyoming’s deer regions, starting in the Black Hills with Region A.