Combination hunts mean different things to different people. For most people, they refer to hunting two or more species in the same general area. I always felt that you are compromising your opportunities on both species by trying to hunt overlapping range, but if you are willing to look at a combination hunt as either two species in the same unit or two species in the same state during the same trip, then Wyoming has some very intriguing possibilities.
I’m going to be doing a combination deer and antelope hunt in Wyoming this year. While the original units I had considered were neighboring units, a couple scouting trips this past winter made it apparent that I needed to spread my efforts out to have a better antelope and deer hunt. In addition to the deer unit that I had targeted looking more like elk country, the antelope units that I normally hunt were looking like winter might be taking a toll. Other units that looked intriguing on paper, turned out to have poor public access. I don’t feel like I “settled” on subpar units, as they are both excellent, but they are about 3 hours away from each other and not the units I had originally targeted with my research.
The point of telling you all of this is that I felt that if we were going to have good hunts for both antelope and deer, they don’t have to be in the same spot. It still feels like a combo hunt to me, and by focusing on one species at a time, I think we are more likely to fill most of our tags.
Despite the fact that both mule deer and antelope inhabit the prairies, they utilize their habitats differently. Antelope feel most secure in wide open, flat country. Their primary defense is their vision, which allows them to outrun danger before it gets close enough. Mule deer feel most secure in broken terrain, as their idea of security is topographical in the prairies. They like having rough terrain that creates escape cover because mule deer cannot outrun most sources of danger.
In less broken habitat, a whitetail/antelope combination makes good sense. Throughout eastern Wyoming, whitetails inhabit most of the river bottom country. However, you’ll need some sort of private land access, as there is very little country in Wyoming that will allow you to hunt whitetails on public land. What Wyoming does offer throughout much of the east are Walk-In Access areas, many of which are along river bottoms.
Most of what I wrote last week in the Colorado combination hunt  blog entry applies to Wyoming in regards to looking at habitat and landownership patterns. One additional factor needs to be considered when choosing units though. Unlike Colorado, Wyoming has general deer tags available to residents, so if you want a lower pressure hunt, focus on a limited unit that will not have as much resident pressure. That same philosophy can be applied to the elk permits. Residents can hunt in any of the general units, and nonresidents who draw the general tag have a huge assortment of units to choose from. A limited quota area for both deer and elk can be hard to swing, so if you are having a difficult time anticipating when you will draw, a combo hunt may not be the best way to go. Focus on your primary interest, whether it’s deer or elk, and use a second choice as your guaranteed tag on your secondary species. To elaborate, if Wyoming elk in a limited quota area is your main focus, and you have a good idea of when you’ll draw, then use your deer draw on a Region General license that can be drawn with a second choice in a nearby area. Remember, they don’t have to be in the same units, and probably shouldn’t be if you want to kill both species.
Other combinations make a little less sense in adjacent or overlapping areas like elk and antelope or elk and whitetails, but I’ll give you a few options to consider. I guess this also brings up the need to do a Wyoming elk overview article, and I’ll do that in the really near future. Anyway, let’s take a look at a few options for staying within a single region of the state to pull off a combination hunt.
Wyoming Mule Deer and Antelope
As I mentioned earlier, it helps to have a primary focus. For me, it would be mule deer, as high quality antelope hunting is probably easier to find in Wyoming than mule deer hunting. Central Wyoming is tough to beat for a combination hunt and has some truly phenomenal deer hunting. Region E and Region M are my favorites. Both of those have limited quota deer hunts that would be my first choice before a regional general tag, but they will require several preference points. The Region M tag is my 2nd choice if I don’t draw this year. Both of these regions have a tremendous amount of BLM land to hunt. The antelope tags aren’t always easy to draw out here either, so these hunts will take a few years of forward thinking. If you wanted a mule deer/antelope combo in the same unit with no preference points, I’ve got a pick for you: Thunder Basin Grasslands (unit 27 antelope and unit 10 deer). Don’t expect to find older deer in this unit as they tend to get beat up pretty badly, but for a first western combo hunt in an area of high visibility, gentle terrain and good access, this will be tough to beat.
Wyoming Mule Deer and Elk
For most people, elk would be the primary target (unless you’re like me and have good elk hunting in your home state) of a mule deer and elk combination hunt. The Flaming Gorge country is a fantastic option for both. While border country hunting can be difficult if the neighboring states have differing management philosophies, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming all offer excellent elk and mule deer hunting in the surrounding areas. The west side of the Flaming Gorge and Green River is part of Region K in unit 132 and is a general unit. It gets pretty heavily hunted, but I’m talking about the West side, in unit 102 for deer, and 30, 31, and 32 for elk. It’s rough canyon country, but there’s very little private land and the game is tightly managed.
With no preference points, you’re better off looking at a general elk and deer unit. For that I like the Bighorn Mountains and the surrounding foothills. The mountain range is split east and west by deer Regions Y and R respectively. There’s a mix of limited and unlimited units for both deer and elk, so once again figure out your priority. If it’s to hunt sooner rather than later, you can draw a general tag for both fairly easily and get into good numbers of game animals. There are very few private inholdings in the Bighorn National Forest to mess with access.
Wyoming Elk and Antelope
It seems like an odd combination and it is. But only in Wyoming could you pull off such a combination. The Red Desert is the most obvious choice, as the antelope and elk seasons are back to back. Units 100 and 124 for elk are tough to draw, but success is very high, although trophy quality isn’t great. The elk can be just as visible as the antelope out here, but there aren’t very many of them. The other interesting elk/antelope combo area is in Thunder Basin Grasslands in unit 113 for elk. This is the same area as 27 for antelope and 10 for deer. Success rates are extremely high, so the Wyoming Game and Fish only has a bull hunt every three years or so.
Wyoming Whitetail and Elk
Don’t laugh, you can pull this off too. The Black Hills of Wyoming have a tremendous number of deer on public land. The combined whitetail and mule deer density is nearly 30 per square mile, with about 75% whitetails. The elk density is fairly low, and the Wyoming Game and Fish doesn’t have a very good handle on their population, but elk are living long enough to grow some tremendous antlers due to the interstate movements and light harvest in South Dakota. This is unit 1 and 116 for elk in the Black Hills National Forest and Region A or units 2 and 4 for deer.
Of course there are additional places where these combinations are possible, but if you’ve been thinking about trying to pull off a Wyoming combo sometime in the not too distant future, you’ve got some fun options to ponder.