Wyoming Hunting Forecast Suffering From Dry Spring and Summer

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After having a reprieve from the drought last year, dry conditions are back vexing Wyoming and impacting 2006 hunting prospects.

Antelope -- Hunters probably will not be seeing as many antelope on Wyoming’s plains as first thought in the spring - nor as much horn mass adorning the bucks’ heads. That’s due to the severely dry conditions vexing Wyoming this spring and summer, says Bill Rudd, assistant Wildlife Division chief for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Rudd explains the drought, due to reducing the nutritional content of antelope browse, impacted the number of fawns surviving through the summer as well as likely reducing the mass and length of the animal’s unique horns.

"Fewer fawns will not really impact this fall’s hunting," Rudd said. "But hunters should expect to overall see smaller horns."

In northeast Wyoming, even with the drought, antelope are plentiful, but often access is lacking. That is why, according to Lynn Jahnke, wildlife management coordinator or head biologist in Sheridan, hunters can buy a second "any" or buck antelope license in several areas.

Tom Ryder, with the same position in Lander, says the "hunting outlook is fantastic for pronghorn" in his region. He cites high buck ratios for his optimism and adds some hunt areas in the Jeffrey City area and northern Red Desert had "pretty good" fawn survival. But he is concerned about the beleaguered body condition of animals as they face the winter.

Mule Deer - This season’s drought will have a similar effect on lower elevation mule deer as it has on antelope, in addition to impeding the amount of fat adults will store for the winter, the conditions, predicts Rudd. But mountain deer should have weathered the summer better.

Rudd expects hunting to be at least as good as last year.

White-tailed deer -- In general whitetail hunting in the Black Hills of Wyoming should be good, reports Joe Sandrini, the Game and Fish's wildlife biologist for northeast Wyoming, the Cowboy state's principal whitetail range. The best hunting is on private land.

Buck numbers, especially for bucks older than two, are reduced on the national forest due to heavy hunting pressure and ATV use. "But, there are some good bucks to be found on public ground for the hunter who is able to get away from the roads," Sandrini said.

Elk - Elk are more "drought proof" than antelope and elk and hunting should not be impacted - except if the dry conditions persist hunting will be complicated by a noisy forest, warns Scott Smith, wildlife management coordinator or head biologist for the Game and Fish’s Pinedale/Jackson region.

"Snow is a great equalizer for elk hunters," Smith says. "But without it, elk hunters should be prepared to hunt harder."

Overall, elk populations continue to be healthy in most parts of the state. Licenses were added in the Laramie Range between Glenrock and Wheatland, reports Bob Lanka, coordinator in Laramie. Weather and hunter desire (and often luck) are always the determining factors for a successful season.

In his Cody Region, coordinator Kevin Hurley predicts elk distribution will be tied to available water and decent forage. "Elk patterns are likely to be rearranged this season," he said.

Bighorn Sheep -- Likewise with bighorns, Hurley anticipates the animals to be using some different habitats this season and hence license holders may have to hunt a little harder. "It may take hunters longer to find the animals and days per harvest may be up this year," he said.

Ryder says that outlook is being borne out this summer by observations on the famed Whiskey Mountain Herd south of Dubois.

Moose - Moose hunters should particularly be prepared for tough hunting if the hot temperatures persist into the season, Smith says.

"Moose will likely be timbered up in September," he adds.

Extreme southwest Wyoming, the Snowy Range in southeast Wyoming and the Bighorn Mountains stand out as the best Equality State areas. Because of a moose testing positive for chronic wasting disease in Colorado last year, the Game and Fish will be hoping to test all moose harvested from the Snowy Range, area 38.

Game Birds - Anecdotal reports combined with general habitat decline due to drought, point to diminished chukar and Hungarian partridge hunting this fall.

Sage grouse hunters can expect a good number of carry over adult birds from last year’s excellent hatch - but shouldn’t expect to encounter many young-of-the-year birds, reports Tom Christiansen, the Game and Fish’s sage grouse coordinator.

The absence of spring moisture led to the reduction of forbs, or leafy low-growing plants, which are a critical food for sage grouse chicks as well as being key to insect production. Without adequate forbs and insects to provide vital protein and minerals for developing chicks, survival was low, he said.

The Cowboy State has few wild pheasants compared to our eastern neighbors and even fewer this year due to impaired nesting cover. The Game and Fish’s two bird farms had excellent production again this year, but there are doubts the walk-in areas of southeast Wyoming have adequate cover to consistently hold the released birds.

"We’re always hopeful for mountain grouse (blue and ruffed) production, but you never know how it is going to end up," Rudd said.

He says the nesting cover should be good - but hatching success is often variable due to storms. Some scattered reports from western mountains lend a little optimism for that part of the state.

From all indications (including, unfortunately, the number killed on roads) this should be another excellent year of cottontail hunting. Hunters are advised to wear rubber gloves when cleaning the animals due to tularemia being diagnosed near Newcastle and being suspected in some other areas.

Preliminary observations suggest mourning doves had good production across the state. The limiting factor for hunting is always wet late August cold snaps that send the majority of birds winging south just prior to the Sept .1 opener. If we avoid those storms, we’ll have good early season hunting.

Eurasian collared doves are increasing their numbers, particularly in eastern Wyoming. The good news is, like pigeons, they are considered an exotic and there is no limit. Bad news is they prefer city life and are not consistently found in rural areas where hunting is permitted. The species is larger than a mourning dove with a black collar on the back of the neck and a squared tail.