- In Wyoming, fall knocks gently before it sweeps through the state. It starts with the first sub-50 degree night, even though the days are scorchers. Next, a few yellowing leaves crown the clusters of green branches. One foggy morning gives way to another, and it’s still dark at 6:30 a.m. With each autumnal gesture, a hunter grows more anxious and excited. And finally, it’s time to head afield. The Wyoming 2020 hunting season is here.
“Wyoming has a tremendous hunting season upcoming, and I want to extend a thank you to hunters for their support to conserve our state’s wildlife,” said Brian Nesvik, Wyoming Game and Fish Department director. “Take time to savor the Wyoming outdoors and your hunting trips. Use the regulations as your guide and best of luck in your harvests.”
This fall, Game and Fish is again asking hunters to help with chronic wasting disease management. Hunters can help by providing a lymph node sample from your deer, elk or moose, for chronic wasting disease testing especially if hunting in a CWD priority monitoring area.
“These samples are important to determine and monitor CWD prevalence for the health of the herd,” said Scott Edberg, deputy chief of wildlife. “Follow all carcass transport and disposal regulations to help limit the spread of CWD, both within Wyoming and other states. Hunters are a key part of CWD management. Please read all you can about CWD, how you can help and the requirements for hunters on our website”
New hunters who haven’t been able to take a required hunter safety course can participate in the hunter mentor program. The program gives new hunters or those who have been unable to attend a hunter education course the opportunity to hunt under the close guidance of an experienced mentor. Forms are available on the Game and Fish website.
Hunters finalizing plans can use the Game and Fish Hunt Planner for maps and previous year’s harvest statistics. Maps are available for offline use, making the hunt boundary and land status lines clear for even the most remote hunt areas. 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.
Hunting regulations are available on the Game and Fish website. Public access information is available through Access Yes, including walk-in hunting areas and hunter management areas.
Those with questions about regulations or licensing can call (307) 777-4600.
Casper Region: Antelope herds are in fair condition throughout the region. Most herds are near or below the population management objective while one herd remains above.
“Over the past decade, antelope populations declined following a severe winter and subsequent drought, then rebounded through about 2017, but have since stabilized. Fawn production has generally been below what is needed for population growth in recent years. In addition, some portions of the region have experienced higher-than-normal winter losses of antelope over the past two years, particularly near Sundance and Newcastle and in some areas south of Casper,” said Justin Binfet, Casper region wildlife management coordinator.
Regardless, hunters should experience high success as antelope license issuance is augmented based on population trends, and buck ratios remain strong. Overall, hunters will experience moderate to high antelope densities in areas around Casper, but fairly modest densities in the rest of the region.
“Fortunately, hunters should expect to see better than average horn growth on mature bucks in most areas despite the extraordinary drought conditions occurring in most of the region this year,” Binfet said. “Antelope entered last winter in very good condition due to excellent forage production in 2019, and then experienced relatively mild spring weather this year -- conditions which are ideal for good horn growth.”
In areas west of Casper, many antelope hunters will be asked to have their antelope horns measured and teeth pulled for aging as part of a research project to evaluate optimal buck ratios to balance hunting opportunity with maximum horn growth potential.
The outlook for mule deer is mixed, with many areas now supporting more mule deer than in much of the past 10 years. Other areas continue to harbor lower than desired mule deer densities, especially in the Laramie Range (hunt areas 65 and 66). Buck ratios remain high in most mule deer herds, and hunter success should be good for those hunters hunting on private lands and in limited quota areas.
Those hunting public land in general license areas may experience low to moderate success in the face of higher hunting pressure and below-objective mule deer numbers. Private land hunters in the Cheyenne River area between Lusk and Newcastle should again see relatively good numbers of large antlered bucks as in the past couple of years.
“Hunters lucky enough to draw a license in limited quota conservatively managed areas should see very high buck ratios with modest trophy potential. In these high altitude, desert areas most prime-age mature bucks don’t get exceptionally large compared to some portions of the state,” Binfet said. “However, these herds are managed for strong numbers of older aged bucks and still produce some very nice deer every year.”
White-tailed deer populations continue to do well throughout the region, although hunters are reminded the vast majority of white-tails occupy private lands, with the Black Hills being an exception where high densities can be found on U.S. Forest Service land.
Elk numbers remain at or above objective levels in all herds. Elk seasons therefore continue to be extremely liberal in terms of season length and license issuance. In recent years, elk harvest has approached or exceeded record levels in many of the region’s herds.
“The region continues to provide excellent bull elk hunting opportunities, with many areas continuing to boast high harvest success on any-elk licenses and good mature bull antler quality,” Binfet said.
Antlerless elk hunter success continues to be good in most of the region, although high hunter densities on public lands often result in reduced hunter success in the early fall. In areas with interspersed public and private lands, antlerless elk hunters tend to require more days afield to harvest their elk as large cow/calf groups readily displace off of public land. The 2020 seasons will continue to emphasize female elk harvest throughout the region, while providing good mature bull hunting in most areas. Those hunters willing to expend the effort should continue to enjoy remarkable numbers of elk and good success if the weather cooperates.
Cody Region: Spring and summer conditions throughout the region produced above-average temperatures and little rainfall, posing serious wildfire concerns. Unless there is good late-summer/fall precipitation, the 2020 summer could negatively impact fawn survival over the 2020-2021 winter due to reduced habitat quality and the ability for big game to build necessary fat reserves.
Over 100 adult female pronghorn have been collared since November of 2019 in the Carter Mountain herd. These pronghorn experienced relatively high survival over the 2019-20 winter. While managers haven’t completed their pronghorn field classifications yet -- usually completed by the end of August -- early field observations suggest low fawn production throughout much of the region. Manager’s predict that recruitment in 2020 will again be impacted by poor doe-fawn ratios.
“Pronghorn fawn production appears to be below average throughout much of the Bighorn Basin, though it does appear the western portion of the basin has slightly higher fawn numbers than the eastern portion of the region. Hunters should expect pronghorn hunting conditions and success to be slightly down for the 2020 season,” said Corey Class, Cody Region wildlife management coordinator.
Deer survival appears to be above average throughout the region, with the Clark’s Fork (hunt areas 105, 106, 109) and Upper Shoshone (110-115) herds seeing the highest observed in many years. Collared adult female mule deer in the northern Bighorn Mountains also experienced relatively high winter survival. Mule deer fawn production throughout much of the region appears to be lower than average based on preliminary field observations. Winter deer classification surveys will provide managers with a better idea of what fawn production was for 2020.
“The region saw below average fawn production for a majority of the deer herds, with the exception of a slight increase in fawn ratios in the Clark’s Fork and Upper Shoshone herds. Deer hunters should expect similar or slightly lower hunting conditions and success compared to the 2019 season,” Class said.
Elk survival was high for GPS-collared adult female elk, and calf production for 2020 appears to be at or above average for most herds. Most elk herds continue to perform well, with many herds exceeding their management objective within the region. Elk hunters should experience similar hunting conditions and success as the last few years.
Moose herds with the Cody region are doing better than in past years.
“The Bighorn Mountain moose herd has seen record-high trend counts the past two years. The Absaroka moose herd has observed higher than average calf production through trail camera data this spring/summer in hunt area 11, and managers are observing a slight increase in overall moose numbers in hunt area 9, particularly within the Sunlight Basin area,” Class said.
Moose hunters should expect excellent hunting conditions and similar success in the 2020 season.
Bighorn sheep populations within the Absaroka (hunt areas 1-5) have experienced a decline over the past five years. Managers have decreased licenses in some hunt areas to provide opportunity and maintain a quality sheep hunting experience. Regional sheep managers recently completed an intensive summer sheep survey of the Absaroka sheep herd. Lamb-to-ewe ratios (production) based on preliminary data is above average. Assuming lamb survival is average or above-average from now through winter, this could provide a positive increase in the population. The Devils Canyon (hunt area 12) sheep population continues to do well and produce large rams. Hunters should expect similar hunting conditions and success to the 2019 season.
Mountain goat numbers in hunt area 3 continue to increase. A recent sheep flight documented good numbers of adult goats, and kid production indicating a growing population. Hunt area 1 is experiencing lower than average populations and production over the past several years. Goat hunters in hunt area 3 should expect similar to improved hunting in 2020, whereas hunters in hunt area 1 should expect similar hunting conditions and success to that of the 2019 season.
Managers are reporting increased sightings of broods for pheasants, sage grouse, chukars, huns and forest grouse.
“Upland game bird hunting should be better compared to last year, but hunters should remember that upland bird populations have been down the past three years so it will take a few good years for it to fully recover,” Class said. “Rabbit hunting should be excellent this year based on the high populations of rabbits observed throughout the region.”
Hunters are encouraged to assist wildlife managers in the collection of wildlife disease samples.
“If you receive a brucellosis sample kit in the mail, please carry the sample kit with you and collect a blood sample as soon as you harvest your elk,” said Eric Maichak, Cody Region disease biologist.
Additionally, the Cody region has several priority CWD sample collection hunt areas.
“We ask all hunters who harvest a deer or elk to keep the head and a few inches neck of so Game and Fish can collect a CWD sample,” Class said.
Priority deer hunt areas include; 105, 106, 109, 121, 122, 132, 124, and 165. Elk priority CWD sample hunt areas are; 55, 56, 58-61, and 66. Samples can be collected at a Game and Fish check station or by contacting the regional office at 307-527-7125 and making arrangements.
Meeteetse area hunters are encouraged to take precautions to avoid exposure to the plague, which has been identified in some prairie dog populations within the area. Prevention recommendations include; avoid touching animals found sick or dead, wear insect repellent or permethrin on clothing, harvest only healthy appearing animals, wear gloves when handling harvested game, cook game meat thoroughly, wash hands before eating or using your phone, and to treat pets with a vet-approved flea control product. Hunters are encouraged to call Game and Fish if they observe sick or dead animals while in the field.
Green River Region: In general, hunters will find ample opportunity and numbers of antelope. Hunter success is expected to remain high, which is common for this species. Pronghorn numbers increased a modest amount last year, despite the harsher-than- normal winter.
“The 2020 summer started out mild with good moisture, but since then has dried significantly,” said Mark Zornes, Green River region wildlife management coordinator. “Wetter, upper elevation habitats for the species remain in very good condition and these areas have seen significant reproduction while the lower altitude sagebrush habitats are experiencing drought conditions and hunters will observe fewer fawns.”
Mule deer have done very well this year.
“Fawn production is up and deer numbers are beginning to increase again following four years of severe winters and higher-than-normal winter mortality. Hunters will notice a few missing age classes of bucks that were lost during those years, but numbers of younger-aged males are on the upswing,” Zornes said.
Deer hunting will be better in the higher elevation hunt areas in the Wyoming Range (especially hunt areas 134 and 135), and in the Baggs area in hunt area 82. Hunting in the remainder of the region, older-aged males throughout the rest of the region will be harder to find due to winter losses, but some great bucks remain in all these hunt areas.
Elk hunting will remain very good in nearly the entire region, including the special management herds (Steamboat Area 100 and South Rock Springs hunt areas 30-32).
“Antler growth looks good for this year and hunters are expected to harvest some nice bulls, including areas that are under general management,” Zornes said.
Cow hunting opportunities remain liberal throughout much of the region given populations are above management objectives. Managers are expecting average to above-average elk harvest this fall, depending on weather conditions and hunter effort.
Both small and upland game opportunities are significant in southwestern Wyoming and populations of both appear to be on the upswing.
“Noticeably more cottontails are on the landscape today when compared to the last few years. Upland game bird broods observed this summer have been numerous and large with good chick survival,” Zornes said.
Sage grouse broods observed in much of the region, especially the western portion, have been exceptionally large, even this late in the summer.
“We expect to see significantly higher chicks per hen in wing barrels this fall,” Zornes said.
Hunters are reminded to be careful with campfires and vehicle exhaust this year as fire danger is currently high in much of the region, including the higher elevations.
Jackson Region: The region harbors a small migratory segment of the Sublette antelope herd in hunt area 85. Due to the rather small number of antelope few licenses are offered. Due to the distribution of antelope and public access opportunities, most antelope hunting occurs in the Gros Ventre River drainage. Population estimates for the entire Sublette antelope herd are currently below desired levels, but hunters lucky enough to draw a license in hunt area 85 will have a great hunt and should experience high success rates.
Portions of the Sublette and Wyoming Range mule deer herds are managed in the Jackson Region, including hunt areas 150-152, 155-156 and 144-146.
“Both herds include large populations with special management strategies designed to provide high quality hunting opportunities for older age-class bucks,” said Doug McWhirter, Jackson region wildlife management coordinator. “While recent harsh winters have complicated herd recovery, hunters willing to put in the time and effort should be rewarded with an opportunity to harvest a trophy-class mule deer buck from abundant public lands.”
Antler point restrictions are lifted so hunters will have more flexibility this year. The region also includes the Targhee mule deer herd unt area 149) and hunt area 148 of the Dubois mule deer herd, both of which contain very low deer densities and see limited hunter numbers and harvest.
Small populations of white-tailed deer may be found near riparian habitats throughout the region, and all deer hunt areas offer the opportunity for hunters to harvest white-tails during the general season. In 2020, five hunt areas were combined (hunt areas 148-152) to offer limited-quota Type 3 any white-tailed deer license holders more places to hunt during the Sept. 15-Nov. 30 season.
The region manages four elk herds — Jackson, Fall Creek, Afton and Targhee — that currently contain approximately 17,000 elk. These areas provide a wide range of hunting opportunities, from early season rifle hunts for branch-antlered bulls in the Teton Wilderness to late antlerless elk seasons on private lands in several areas to address elk damage to stored crops and co-mingling with livestock.
All or parts of the Jackson, Sublette and Targhee moose herds are found in the region. All are managed under a special management strategy to provide recreational opportunities while maintaining a harvest of older age-class bulls.
“While moose numbers continue to remain below desired levels, hunters lucky enough to draw a license should experience high success and have a good chance of harvesting an older age class bull,” McWhirter said.
The Jackson (hunt area 7) and Targhee (hunt area 6) bighorn sheep herds are found in the region. Sheep numbers in Area 7 are currently at management objectives, and hunter success and the average age of harvested rams is expected to be high in 2020, as they were in 2019. Sheep in the Targhee herd exist along the crest of the Tetons and hunting access is across difficult and rugged terrain.
Mountain goat numbers in Hunt Area 2 are at desired levels, and hunter success is usually high -- upwards of 90% and made up primarily of older age-class billies.
This will be the second year a Type A license is offered in hunt area 4.
“This hunt area and license type was created to reduce mountain goat numbers in the Teton Range and minimize the expansion of mountain goats into important bighorn sheep habitats of the Targhee herd,” McWhirter said. “Unlike mountain goat Type 1 and Type 2 licenses, Type A licenses are not once-in-a-lifetime, and hunters could potentially draw a license and hunt a mountain goat every year.”
Due to the very difficult terrain, the low number of goats that reside outside of Grand Teton National Park, and the intent of this license, hunters should anticipate expending considerable effort for a chance to harvest a mountain goat in the Tetons.
Bison numbers are currently near the management objective of 500. Recently, mild weather and aversion to hunting pressure on the National Elk Refuge (NER) have resulted in delayed or little to no movement of bison from Grand Teton National Park into the open hunt area on the NER. That makes achieving harvest objectives difficult and can be frustrating for hunters. Some bull hunting occurs on U.S. Forest Service lands, but bison availability there is intermittent and low.
Hunters interested in upland game birds can find some of the best blue (dusky) and ruffed grouse habitats of the state, and seasons run from September through December. Due to the very small and isolated population of sage grouse, no hunting seasons are offered. Small game hunters can pursue cottontails and snowshoe hares until the end of March, though populations can fluctuate dramatically from year to year. Late season hunters need to be mindful of winter range closures in some areas that begin in December.
Lander Region: With expected decreased pronghorn fawn production and known low winter survival, populations decreased throughout the region. The herds in the Rawlins area, including the Red Desert, South Ferris and portions of Beaver Rim were particularly impacted by severe winter conditions and survival rates were low.
“Early observations by field personnel indicate few fawns and pronghorn numbers in these herds are down as expected,” said Daryl Lutz, Lander region wildlife management coordinator.
Buck quality is anticipated to be similar to 2019. Hunters fortunate to have drawn a license should expect good to excellent harvest success.
Mule deer populations markedly declined last year due to harsh winter conditions.
“These conditions resulted in poor fawn survival and increased adult mortality,” Lutz said.
Antler point restrictions were reinstituted in hunt areas near Lander and Rawlins. Elsewhere, hunters will have opportunities for similar harvest success, mostly young bucks. Continued any white-tailed deer seasons are in place in the Dubois, Lander, Riverton and Jeffrey City areas. Hunters should expect similar hunting opportunities and success as last year.
Like much of Wyoming, elk populations are doing well across the region, and all herd units are near objective.
“Calf production remains on par with previous years and should result in continued robust elk numbers,” Lutz said. “Similarly, observed bull numbers remain acceptable to strong. If favorable weather conditions are realized during the fall, hunters should have excellent harvest opportunity and success.”
Moose are below desired levels in the Lander region, and the hunting season framework includes conservative quotas. However, more moose were counted in unt areas 2 and 30, and it appears this population is stable. Winter counts in the Dubois country yielded fewer moose and numbers remain at historically low levels. Overall herd performance and population size in both herd units continue to be monitored closely. Regardless, hunters fortunate enough to draw a license can expect good harvest success in the region.
Lamb production in the Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep population was once again low at 22 lambs per 100 ewes in 2019 and continues to be a concern.
“Lamb productivity has been depressed in the herd unit for over 20 years and while it has certainly impacted population growth, there are still rams available for harvest,” Lutz said. “Those who draw a tag in these areas should expect to see fewer rams than in the past, but should experience reasonable success depending on their expectations.”
The Ferris/Seminoe herd, hunt areas 17 and 26, will be open for the eighth consecutive year in 2020. Hunters will have excellent opportunity to harvest a ram, and for those who put forth the effort have a chance to harvest an exceptional ram.
Extra dry spring and summer conditions likely have impacted upland game birds including sage, blue and ruffed grouse, pheasants, chukars and Hungarian partridge. Hunters will likely have to spend more time searching for upland game birds this fall. Early field observations of sage grouse are revealing few hens with broods.
The Sand Mesa and Ocean Lake Wildlife Habitat Management areas, and the one-day youth hunt at Sand Mesa, continues to be very popular with pheasant hunters. This year’s youth hunt is Nov. 21.
Cottontails, snowshoe hares and red squirrels appear to be similar as in 2019 with favorable conditions.
Laramie Region: Pronghorn population trends and corresponding hunting opportunities vary substantially across the region. Grassland herds in the north and east, including Iron Mountain, Meadowdale, Hawk Springs and Dwyer have declined the past four years, along with notable decreases in fawn production. Game and Fish reduced licenses in hunt areas 11, 34 and 103. In addition, Hunt Area 38 Type 6 licenses will open Nov. 1, a month later than usual. Decent buck numbers remain in these herds, but older animals will be harder to find.
“Hunters should expect pronghorn populations in the Laramie Valley to be similar to previous years with comparable hunting opportunities,” said Embere Hall, Laramie region wildlife management coordinator.
The Medicine Bow and Elk Mountain herds, however, experienced above-average losses over the last two winters and subsequent poor to fair fawn production. Hunters may notice decreased numbers, especially in portions of herd units adjacent to the Interstate 80 corridor.
“Prolonged winter conditions paired with poor spring and summer moisture means hunters likely will encounter bucks with fair horn growth, but trophy quality animals may be difficult to locate,” Hall said. “Due to low summer precipitation in much of the region pronghorn likely will be concentrated near wet meadows and other water sources.”
Mule deer populations in the Sheep Mountain, Platte Valley and Shirley Mountain herds are stable to slightly increasing. The general season was lengthened by four days in the Sheep Mountain herd to align buck ratios with recreational management guidelines, and should provide hunters with additional harvest opportunities. Buck ratios remain high across the Platte Valley.
“If moderate weather conditions continue into the fall, hunters will most likely locate deer in higher-elevation summer and transition ranges,” Hall said.
Poor fawn production coupled with high chronic wasting disease (CWD) prevalence continue to suppress populations in the Goshen Rim and Laramie Mountains herds. Hunters may struggle to find older deer, and should be prepared to hunt harder than normal if they are looking for a trophy buck.
“Game and Fish will be present throughout the season to collect samples for CWD testing. If you harvest an animal, especially from the Goshen Rim or Sheep Mountain herds, please submit a sample or contact the Department for assistance,” Hall said.
Elk populations remain above objective, with ample harvest opportunities throughout the region. Given hunting pressure on public land, hunters should be prepared to pursue elk in areas that are a fair distance from well-traveled roads and trails.
“Look for additional access opportunities on hunter management areas and walk-in areas; be sure to secure a corresponding permission slip,” Hall said.
Bighorn sheep hunting should be excellent throughout the Laramie region. Hunt Areas 18 and 21 are open for the 2020 season following closure in 2019. Hunters typically experience over 90% success in the Douglas Creek, Encampment River and Laramie Peak herds. The same is expected in 2020.
Game and Fish anticipates excellent moose hunting opportunities in the Snowy Range herd.
“Harvest success across both Type 1 and Type 4 licenses continues to be exceptional at 98, and the herd maintains both high bull ratios and good calf production,” Hall said.
Pinedale Region: The region encompasses the northern portion of the Sublette antelope herd, one of the largest in the nation and includes hunt areas 87-91. Population estimates for this herd are currently below desired levels mostly due to recent harsh winters. The 2020 hunting seasons will remain conservative, similar to previous years.
“Hunters lucky enough to draw pronghorn licenses in these areas will have lots of public land to roam and should experience high success rates,” said Brandon Scurlock, Pinedale region wildlife management coordinator.
Portions of the Sublette and Wyoming Range mule deer herds are managed in the Pinedale Region, including hunt areas 130, 138-143, 146, 153 and 154. Both herds include large populations with special management strategies designed to provide high-quality hunting opportunities with older age-class deer and at least 30 bucks per 100 does.
“While recent harsh winters have complicated herd recovery, those hunters willing to put in the time and effort should be rewarded with an opportunity to harvest a trophy-class mule deer buck from abundant public lands in the region,” Scurlock said. “Antler point restrictions have been lifted in 2020, so hunters will have more flexibility for harvest this year.”
While mule deer are far more prevalent than white-tailed deer. Small populations of white-tailed deer may be found generally near riparian habitats, and all deer hunt areas in the region offer the opportunity for hunters to harvest white-tails during the general season. Additionally, 50 limited quota Type 3 licenses provide the opportunity to harvest any white-tailed deer from Oct. 1- Nov. 30 in hunt areas 138-143.
Nearly 10,000 elk in five herd units are managed by the region. Liberal seasons provide hunters with ample opportunities. Bull numbers remain strong, ranging from 18 bulls per 100 cows in the Hoback herd to 40 bulls per 100 cows in the Piney herd. Calf/cow ratios averaged 33 calves per 100 cows among the four herds, indicating healthy and productive populations. Elk harvest was considerably lower in 2019 due to warmer than average conditions during fall and late arrival of snow, but elk hunting in the region should offer excellent opportunities in 2020.
The Sublette moose herd is managed under a ‘special’ management strategy to provide
recreational opportunities while maintaining an average harvest age of 4-years-old for bulls to maintain trophy opportunity. This herd has a winter trend count objective of 1,500 moose, and the population has been stable to slightly increasing over the last decade. A total of 125 bull and 10 antlerless licenses were offered season, and hunter success should be very high.
The Darby Mountain sheep herd and a portion of the Whiskey Mountain herd are managed by the region. While populations in the Whiskey herd continue to be under objective, sheep numbers observed during winter flights in Hunt Area 8 appear to be stable. A total of eight licenses were available in 2020 in Hunt Area 8, providing opportunities for exciting hunts in awe-inspiring country.
Observations of male sage grouse on leks during the spring indicate populations are in the low end of their cycles, so hunters should expect to get plenty of exercise while chasing sage grouse. Decent populations of blue (dusky) and ruffed grouse can be found in the forests, providing hunting opportunities from September through December. Additionally, rabbit hunters can chase cottontails and snowshoe hares until the end of March, though populations appear to be depressed lately. Late season hunters need to be mindful of winter range closures in some areas that begin in November and December.
Sheridan Region: After numerous years of favorable precipitation, the region is experiencing a drought. The United States Drought Monitor reported early-August conditions that ranged from moderate drought in Campbell County to areas of extreme drought in Sheridan and Johnson counties.
“Hunters will help manage herds by achieving harvest objectives to balance herds with less productive habitat prior to the upcoming winter,” said Dan Thiele, Sheridan Region wildlife management coordinator. “Hunters should also note there have already been numerous range fires so extreme caution is advised this fall when taking to the field.”
Hunter densities on many accessible tracts of public land can be high, especially on opening day and weekends. Hunters who plan hunts later in the season often see fewer hunters.
Antelope hunting will be similar to 2019 with most herds near management objectives and most hunt areas supporting high buck ratios.
“Fawn ratios were down slightly in 2019 so herd growth was less than normal,” Thiele said.
Winter was generally mild with herds entering the coldest months in excellent condition following last year’s rainfall. However, some areas experienced disease-related mortality this spring. Even so, most hunt areas have maintained license quotas.
A notable change is in hunt areas 1-6 and 17 where the archery season opening date was standardized to Aug. 15 to match other areas. Hunters should again experience high hunter success, especially when private land access is arranged.
“Those looking for that trophy buck may find fewer to choose from given the extremely dry spring impacting forage conditions,” Thiele said.
Mule deer populations remain well below the population management objectives in all four herds.
“Harvest strategies are designed to provide quality buck hunting opportunities while maintaining conservative antlerless deer harvest to maximize herd growth while addressing localized areas of cropland depredation,” Thiele said.
Higher 2019 postseason fawn ratios, combined with a relatively mild winter, projects slightly higher deer numbers and more yearling bucks this fall. Overall, buck-to-doe ratios are quite high.
White-tailed deer seasons are very liberal with ample opportunity to put venison in the freezer, especially if one secures access to private lands. Nearly all hunt areas offer November hunting seasons and many doe/fawn seasons extend into December to allow maximum harvest to manage this population.
“Securing access to private land increases a hunter’s chance of being successful since most white-tailed deer are found on private land,” Thiele said. “Hunters are reminded that late season hunting is very popular with increasing interest in doe/fawn hunting, so contacting landowners early increases one’s chance to secure access.”
Now is a great time to be an elk hunter — even more for antlerless elk. Long seasons are in place to help achieve desired harvest. Limited-quota any elk licenses continue to be difficult to draw but those lucky in drawing a permit have a reasonable chance at harvesting a mature bull. Several areas have leftover antlerless and cow/calf permits but these tend to be private land areas where access to hunt is limited.
Fall and spring wild turkey seasons in hunt areas 1 and 3 will again offer general license opportunity with Type 3 licenses also available in hunt area 3. Type 3 licenses provide additional opportunity for hunters, particularly for those that get access to private land where most turkeys are found.
Nesting success is key to good fall populations of upland game birds. Favorable spring weather combined with high grasshopper numbers may give upland bird hunters improved hunting over last year. Pheasant hunters will benefit from the Game and Fish’s Sheridan Bird Farm releasing birds on some walk-in areas and other public lands.
Statewide sage grouse: The 2020 greater 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 September 19-30, 2020. A three-day season in northeast Wyoming has been set for September 19-21, 2020 in hunt area 4.
Sage grouse numbers will likely remain similar or slightly lower to that observed in 2019, and hunters should expect similar success.
“Populations appear to be in the midst of a downward swing within their population cycle,” said Leslie Schreiber, Game and Fish sage grouse/sagebrush biologist. The number of birds harvested each year is strongly related to hatching success and over-summer chick survival.
Statewide migratory bird: Wyoming’s healthy winter precipitation has been replaced by warm temperatures and dry to drought conditions over the summer. This may reduce brood success by breeding ducks and geese in all but the western region of the state.
“Hunters can expect average local populations of ducks across Wyoming,” said Noelle Smith, Game and Fish migratory game bird and wetland habitat biologist. “Migration chronology and weather, as well as hunter efforts of scouting for birds and obtaining permission to hunt private land when necessary, will ultimately influence the success of migratory bird hunters throughout the state.”
Migrating ducks in Wyoming come from Canadian and United States prairies. Spring surveys in North Dakota found good to excellent wetland conditions, and overall, duck numbers were similar to last year.
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. Generally, Canada goose numbers during hunting season are driven by winter conditions and there should be plenty of geese present should the weather cooperate.
Mourning dove production was variable with central regions of the state seeing high numbers through the summer.
“The majority of doves will migrate out of the state with the first cold snap, which usually occurs between late-August and mid-September,” Smith said. “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 cranes that migrate through eastern Wyoming in 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 2019 counted 21,290 cranes, slightly below the 2018 count but above the population objective of 17,000-21,000 cranes.
“Cranes in hunt areas 4 and 6 tend to roost and feed in the same general locations every year. Roost locations in Hunt Area 4 are Hidden Valley, Riverview Valley and the south side of Ocean Lake,” Smith said. “Roost locations in Hunt Area 6 are located 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.