Wyo4news Staff, [email protected] [PRESS RELEASE]
CHEYENNE, WYOMING — The anticipation for hunters has been building for months, but 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 2022. Mother Nature will play 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 2022 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.
A few reminders:
Before heading out be sure to review the 2022 hunting regulations for any seasonal changes.
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 incredibly valuable and will help Game and Fish’s long-term monitoring and management efforts.
Hunters and recreationists 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. If drought conditions persist, this could affect daily patterns of big game and may require hunters to devote additional effort to locate animals.
As always, 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.
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GREEN RIVER REGION – Much of the Green River region is still in a moisture deficit, however, timely rains in the central and eastern portion of the region have improved range conditions. The majority of the region experienced a mild winter with fairly low snow loads which was good for wintering ungulates, but reduced spring soil moisture. The moisture received through May and June was much needed and had a positive impact on grass and forb production, however, there is an increased abundance of cheatgrass across the region compared to previous years. The Baggs area received ample amounts of late-summer and early-spring moisture and has favorable range conditions, outside of large amounts of cheatgrass that have appeared across the area. Range conditions in the central portion of the region appear to be in good shape, particularly south of Rock Springs in the Little Mountain area where precipitation amounts have been decent. The southern end of the Wyoming Range is particularly dry and people recreating should be cognizant of fire dangers, including in the higher elevations. The eastern and central portion of the region has experienced more precipitation and conditions are dryer as you move west to the Utah/Idaho border.
Pronghorn – Hunters will find good hunting opportunities and hunter success is expected to remain high. Pronghorn numbers were slightly variable to stable across herds within the region last year. After the severe drought conditions, particularly in lower elevations that suppressed pronghorn production in 2021, the mild winter conditions should have been conducive to favorable over-winter adult survival. South Rock Springs experienced some of the more severe drought conditions in 2021 hampering production, which resulted in slight reductions in buck licenses. In the rest of the region pronghorn populations were mostly stable with buck ratios in a few herd units that warranted a slight increase in licenses. The 2022 summer started out mild with good moisture, which should result in favorable horn growth for bucks and an increase in fawn production across the region.
Mule deer – Mild 2021-22 winter conditions have been favorable for mule deer populations throughout the region. Favorable spring and summer moisture have range conditions in good shape where fawn survival and production should be up and deer numbers are beginning to show an uptick in numbers. Hunters may notice an increased number of 4- and 5-year-old bucks on the landscape following mild winters where fawn survival was higher. Deer hunting will likely be better in the higher elevation hunt areas within the region, such as in the Wyoming Range — particularly Hunt Areas 134 and 135 — and near Baggs in Hunt Area 82. With much of the region’s deer herds still under objectives, finding older-aged bucks will likely be tough throughout the region, particularly in the low deer density desert habitats, but opportunities still remain for quality bucks in all these hunt areas with appropriate effort.
Elk – Most herds are operating close to population objectives, which should create some quality hunting opportunities. Hunting will remain good in nearly the entire region, including the special management herds in Hunt Areas 100 and 30-32. With favorable moisture received this spring and summer, there is potential for good antler growth with the nutritional resources available. This has resulted in quality animals being observed and hunters are expected to harvest some nice bulls, including areas that are under general management. Cow hunting opportunities remain liberal throughout much of the region where increased harvest is warranted to keep or move populations towards objectives. Managers are expecting an average or above-average elk harvest this fall, depending on weather conditions and hunter effort.
Small/upland game – Hunters should find ample opportunities for cottontail rabbits throughout most of the region, which are an often under-utilized resource. Snowshoe hare habitat is limited within the region, but opportunity does exist in some of the higher elevations. Upland game opportunities should be slightly better than 2021 due to timely moisture that improved nesting and brood-rearing habitats. Sage grouse peak male attendance was shown to be variable to stable compared to last spring, however, populations are still at the bottom of the population cycle. There has been a noticeable increase in invertebrate abundance and forb production with increased moisture that will hopefully aid in brood survival and overall production going into September. Hunters are expected to put in significant effort to find sage grouse, but quality opportunities still exist. Other upland opportunities exist within the region for partridge and forest grouse but are somewhat limited.
MIGRATORY GAME BIRDS – Statewide
Much of Wyoming continues to be in moderate to severe drought. Precipitation in spring and early summer helped conditions in parts of the state, including the Wind River Basin, but some of Wyoming’s biggest waterfowl hunting areas like Goshen and Platte counties remain very dry. There could be a below-average success for local broods and reduced habitat to pull in migrants in the fall and winter. Conditions in the Prairie Potholes of the U.S. and Canada are variable but below average. This area breeds the bulk of ducks harvested in Wyoming. 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 2022 hunting regulations for any seasonal changes.
Ducks – Most of Wyoming’s migrating ducks come from the U.S. and Canadian prairies. Initial reports indicate dry conditions in southern Alberta, eastern Montana and parts of the Dakotas. Prairies in North Dakota and parts of South Dakota are holding significant amounts of water, but overall habitat conditions do not look favorable for duck production. Lower than average duck numbers can be expected.
Dark Geese – 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.
Mourning doves – Production within Wyoming in 2022 was average to below-average based on anecdotal reports. The majority of doves will migrate out of the state with the first cold snap, which usually occurs between late-August and mid-September. 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 crane – 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 2021 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 prior to the season and obtain permission to access the fields they use.
SAGE GROUSE – The 2022 sage grouse hunting seasons for Wyoming are 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 covers most of the state and is open Sept. 17-30. A three-day season in northeast Wyoming is set for Sept. 17-19 in Hunt Area 4. Sage grouse numbers will be down compared to the last few years and hunters should expect low rates of success. Sage grouse populations appear to be in the midst of a downward swing within their population cycle. The number of birds harvested each year is strongly related to hatching success and over-summer chick survival. Drought conditions from previous years have impacted populations and should statewide conditions continue, chick survival will be limited.
For other hunting forecast locations, please visit https://wgfd.wyo.gov/News/Hunters-2022-Wyomng-hunt-forecast-available.