Hunters: Game and Fish releases 2023 Wyoming hunt forecast

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Wyo4News Staff, [email protected] [PRESS RELEASE]

CHEYENNE – 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 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 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. 

GREEN RIVER REGION

Pronghorn

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. 

Mule deer
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.

 

Elk
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 under-utilized 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 the 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 overwinter 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.

To learn more about each region, click here.