Below is a news release from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
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 and game wardens.
A few reminders:
Before heading out be sure to review the 2022 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 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 locating 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.
The Jackson Region harbors a small migratory segment of the Sublette antelope herd in Hunt Area 85. Due to the small number of pronghorn, few licenses are offered, and the distribution of pronghorn and public access opportunities, most hunting occurs in the Gros Ventre River drainage. New for 2022 — Hunt Area 85 hunters will have the opportunity to hunt pronghorn on the National Elk Refuge. The process for obtaining a permit on the refuge is similar to that for elk, and instructions can be found online through the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Access Yes! Hunter Management Area program. Population estimates for the entire Sublette herd are currently below desired levels, but hunters lucky enough to draw licenses in Hunt Area 85 will have a great hunt and should experience high success rates.
Portions of the Sublette and Wyoming Range herds are managed in the 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. While 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 buck from the abundant public lands. Antler-point restrictions were lifted in 2020, so hunters will again have more flexibility in their choice of deer to harvest, while still maintaining older age-class bucks. The Jackson Region also includes the Targhee mule deer herd (Hunt Area 149) and Hunt Area 148 of the Dubois mule deer herd, both of which contain low deer densities and see limited hunter numbers and harvest.
Small populations may be found near riparian habitats throughout the region, and all hunt areas in the region offer the opportunity for hunters to harvest deer during the general season. Seven hunt areas were recently combined (148-152, 155-156) to offer limited quota Type 3 any white-tailed deer and Type 8 doe/fawn white-tailed deer license holders more places to hunt during the Sept. 15-Nov. 30 season. Type 3 and Type 8 hunting opportunities also exist in Hunt Area 145 in the Star Valley.
The region manages four herds (Jackson, Fall Creek, Afton and Targhee) that currently contain at least 18,000 elk and are at management objectives. 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 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 herds are found in the region, and 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 a bull.
The Jackson (Hunt Area 7) and Targhee (Hunt Area 6) bighorn sheep herds are found in the region. Sheep numbers in Hunt Area 7 are currently above management objectives so Type 1 any-sheep license numbers were increased, and a Type 6 ewe/lamb license was created. Past experience in this herd has shown increased potential for a pneumonia outbreak when sheep numbers approach their current levels. Still, hunter success and the average age of harvested rams are expected to be high. Due to the fact most sheep in the Targhee herd reside in Grand Teton National Park and are unavailable to hunters, only one license is issued each year in Hunt Area 6. In 2022 this license will go to a resident hunter. This makes for a very challenging, but exceptional opportunity to hunt sheep in a spectacular setting.
Mountain goat numbers in Hunt Area 2 are at desired levels. Hunter success is usually high at between 90%-100% and made up primarily of older age-class billies. This will be the fourth year for the new Type A license in Hunt Area 4. This 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. 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 mountain goats every year. Due to the success of past hunting seasons in Hunt Area 4 and Grand Teton National Park efforts, mountain goat numbers are extremely low throughout the Teton Range. License numbers were reduced for 2022, but hunter success is still expected to be low in 2022. To provide maximum opportunity and flexibility, in 2022 Hunt Area 4 Type A license holders also will have the opportunity to hunt in Hunt Area 5 and vice versa.
Numbers are currently near the management objective of 500. Mild weather and aversion to hunting pressure on the National Elk Refuge have resulted in delayed or little to no movement of bison from Grand Teton National Park into the open hunt area on the refuge. These conditions make it difficult to achieve harvest objectives and can create challenges for hunters. Some bull hunting occurs on national forest lands, but bison availability there is intermittent and low.
Due to the small and isolated population of sage grouse in the region, no hunting seasons are offered. Hunters interested in upland game birds, however, can find some of the best blue (or dusky) and ruffed grouse habitats in the state, and seasons run from September through December. Late-season hunters need to be mindful of winter range closures in some areas that begin in December.
Although normal summer conditions have begun to dry things out, a wet spring created improved forage conditions in many areas, which could affect the distribution of animals as well as their daily and seasonal movements.
Spring and summer conditions throughout the region have produced above-average precipitation and lower temperatures through July, and the 2021-22 winter was relatively mild. These conditions bode well for wildlife within the region. If conditions continue and there is good late-summer/fall precipitation, wildlife populations should benefit.
The Carter Mountain pronghorn research project concluded with only a few collars still active within the herd. This research project provided excellent insight into pronghorn movements and seasonal ranges. Pronghorn populations and hunting success were down last year in much of the southern portion of the Bighorn Basin, and licenses were reduced for the 2022 season in a majority of these areas. The northern portion of the Bighorn Basin’s pronghorn herds are relatively stable. Early field observations suggest better fawn production throughout much of the region compared to what was observed in 2021. For those who drew pronghorn licenses within the region, hunting should be similar or better than last year.
Winter survival appears to be at or above average throughout much of the region. Mule deer fawn production appears to be better than last year based on preliminary field observations. The region observed below-average fawn production in most of the deer herds during the 2021 deer classifications. A majority of mule deer herds within the region are currently below population management objectives. Hunters should expect conditions and success to be similar or slightly improved compared to 2021. Prolonged drought and increasing chronic wasting disease prevalence have had a negative impact on Bighorn Basin deer herds over the past several years. Managers are hopeful the recent positive trends in precipitation will provide a needed boost to mule deer populations.
Most herds continue to perform well within the region, with many exceeding management objectives. The region developed some new seasons within the Medicine Lodge herd in the Bighorn Mountains — Hunt Areas 41 and 45 — to address this herd being chronically above its population management objective. Elk hunters should experience similar hunting conditions and success as in recent years.
Herds within the region have been performing better over the past several years. The Bighorn Mountain herd continues to record high trend counts for the past four years. Research conducted within Hunt Area 9 in the Absaroka herd suggests good calf production and survival in 2022. Managers are observing a slight increase in moose numbers in Hunt Area 11, particularly within the Sunlight Basin area. Moose hunters should expect good moose hunting conditions and success in 2022.
The Absaroka (Hunt Areas 1-5) and Devils Canyon (Hunt Area 12) herds are located within the region. Sheep numbers are within management objectives for both herds. Hunt Area 3 licenses were reduced slightly based on some public input and reduced harvest success. Those fortunate to have drawn bighorn sheep licenses within the region should enjoy good hunting.
The Beartooth herd (Hunt Areas 1, 3 and 5A) is above its population objectives. The season setting structure has been designed to provide additional harvest opportunity in Hunt Area 3 while maintaining harvest levels within Hunt Area 1. Those fortunate enough to have drawn a goat license should have a good goat hunt.
Upland game/small game
The region has received more precipitation than last year at this time, thus improving upland/small game habitats. Upland bird hunters should expect similar or slightly improved hunting conditions compared to last year. Chukar and Hungarian partridge populations are still on the lower end of their cycles and field managers aren’t seeing as many broods as they normally do when populations are high. Early observations from field managers suggest sage grouse production may have improved from last year. Rabbit hunting should be similar or slightly improved from last season.
Wildlife disease management
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 and collect a blood sample. Additionally, there are several priority chronic wasting disease sample collection hunt areas within the region for hunters who harvest deer or elk to provide Game and Fish with the head and a few inches of the neck to collect a CWD sample. Priority deer Hunt Areas include 124 and 165. Elk priority areas are 41, 45, 47, 48 and 49. Submit samples at a Game and Fish check station or call the regional office at (307) 527-7125 to make arrangements.
License and hunting dynamics in the region have shifted in recent years, with leftover licenses becoming a rarity and draw odds less favorable. The causes are in part due to increasing numbers of license applications and reductions in license quotas. License quota reductions have been a result of persistent and extreme drought conditions, decreasing trends in harvest success metrics, stable to declining trends in annual population abundance estimates, a response to public concerns about hunter crowding and to offset impacts from disease-related mortalities. To varying degrees throughout the region, mortalities due to epizootic hemorrhagic disease and bluetongue virus in 2021 caused population impacts. The level of quota reductions for the 2022 season is sufficient and expect to provide those who draw ample opportunity to have a successful hunt. Spring conditions this year have provided much-needed moisture to the region and should help populations rebound.
Over the long term, trends in mule deer populations vary within the region. Over the short term, mule deer throughout the region have been impacted by severe drought and disease-related mortalities since 2019. Harvest strategies are designed to provide buck hunting opportunities while maintaining conservative antlerless deer harvest. The goal is to maximize herd growth. In many areas, the hunting regulations were changed to no longer allow mule deer doe harvest on private lands. To date, precipitation in 2022 has reduced the drought intensity and the doe-to-fawn ratios should show a positive response to the increased moisture. Chronic wasting disease prevalence estimates in the region’s herd units range from 12-18%. Deer Hunt Areas 1-6 are part of the 2022 chronic wasting disease monitoring focus areas.
These seasons are liberal. Nearly all hunt areas offer November hunting seasons for any white-tailed deer and many doe/fawn seasons extend into December to allow maximum harvest to manage this population. Most white-tailed deer are found on private land. The epizootic hemorrhagic disease and bluetongue outbreak in fall 2021 affected white-tailed deer populations and with CWD prevalence greater than 20 percent, expect some level of population impacts due to disease. License holders in Hunt Areas 27, 29, 30, 32, 33 and 163 are no longer eligible to apply for and receive an unlimited number of limited quota, reduced-price doe/fawn deer licenses after the leftover drawing is complete.
Now is a great time to be an elk hunter with ample opportunity to harvest an animal, especially if you are willing to hunt antlerless elk. There are a lot of changes in the 2022 seasons as compared to previous years in the region, so be sure to refer to the current hunting regulations. Changes in season limitations, opening dates and license types were designed to help achieve desired harvest levels. Limited quota, any-elk licenses continue to be difficult to draw but those lucky to draw a permit have a reasonable chance at harvesting a mature bull. Several areas had leftover antlerless and cow/calf licenses available after the draw, but these tend to be private land areas where access to hunt is limited. Elk Hunt Areas 33-34, 41, 45, 47-19 and 120 are part of the 2022 chronic wasting disease monitoring focus areas.
Spring 2022 precipitation has been more favorable to upland-rearing brood habitats compared to the previous two years. While there is confirmed highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild turkeys, the extent to which this disease may have affected turkey and other upland game species as a whole in the region is unknown. Pheasant production at the Sheridan Bird Farm has been impacted by HPAI and hunters can expect a slightly shorter release season as numbers were down due to disease concerns. Areas that require a Pheasant Management Stamp in Sheridan and Johnson counties will now be open to harvest any pheasant, a new change for the 2022 season.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Population trends and corresponding hunting opportunities vary substantially across the region. Grassland herds in the north and east, including Hunt Areas 38, 11, 34 and 103, have declined over the past five years, along with notable decreases in fawn production. Decent buck numbers remain in these herds, but older animals will be harder to find. Sportspersons should expect to see fewer pronghorn in the Laramie Valley and Shirley Basin compared to previous years with reduced hunting opportunities. However, populations in Hunt Areas 47 and 48 are experiencing an increase. Pronghorn in Hunt Area 50 are performing well. The southwest portion of the Platte Valley, specifically Hunt Area 51, saw a slight reduction in the population so doe/fawn licenses were reduced. Due to low summer precipitation in much of the region, similar to 2021, pronghorn likely will be concentrated near wet meadows and other water sources.
Populations in the Platte Valley and Shirley Mountain herds have been stable to slightly increasing the past four years. The Mullen Fire, which consumed over 176,000 acres in 2020, has greatly altered the landscape in the Snowy Range. The population within the Sheep Mountain herd has been on a steady decline the past several years, however, regeneration of important grass and shrub species indicated the burn will have long-term, positive effects for fawn rearing and survival. Hunters should be prepared for downed timber on the U.S. Forest Service road system. Buck ratios remain high across the Platte Valley, which allows for increases within hunt areas that can afford additional pressure. If moderate weather conditions continue into the fall, hunters will most likely locate deer in higher-elevation summer and transition ranges. Poor fawn production coupled with high chronic wasting disease prevalence continues 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. CWD sample submission is mandatory in Hunt Areas 59, 60 and 64. Check stations and Game and Fish personnel will be present throughout the season to assist with the mandatory collection effort.
Populations remain above objectives with ample harvest opportunities throughout the region. The Mullen Fire will likely contribute to the already over-objective herds by setting plant communities back to an early successional stage, which typically improves calf and adult survival. Hunters are encouraged to hunt south of Wyoming Highway 130 within the Snowy Range herd to take advantage of elk utilizing the burn scar where these vegetation improvements occurred. There were several changes made to the Snowy Range herd hunt areas as well as the Shirley Mountain herd so hunters should become familiar with the dates and limitations prior to going to the field. Given hunting pressure on public land, sportspersons 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 Game and Fish hunter management areas, and walk-in areas, and be sure to secure a permission slip.
Hunting should be excellent throughout the Laramie region. Hunt areas 18 and 21 are open for the 2022 season. Hunters typically experience better than 90% success in the Douglas Creek, Encampment River and Laramie Peak herds. The same is expected this year. The Mullen Fire burned within areas bighorn sheep prefer so habitat is expected to improve within the Douglas Creek herd.
Excellent hunting opportunities are expected in the Snowy Range herd. Harvest success across Type 1 and Type 4 licenses continues to be exceptional, and the herd maintains high bull ratios and good calf production. Regrowth from the Mullen Fire is expected to improve moose habitat.
Average to below-average precipitation across the region will result in marginal brood survival for upland game birds, particularly sharp-tailed grouse, pheasants and sage grouse. Dusky or blue grouse should be in better shape given descent precipitation events in the higher elevations as well as vegetation recovery within the Mullen Fire. The department will continue to stock pheasants for the Springer special hunt as well as for the general season throughout November and a portion of December on areas enrolled in the Access Yes program and the Springer WHMA. Release sites will be available to the public prior to Nov. 1, which is the opening date for the general pheasant season.
Drought conditions in southeast Wyoming were as severe or worse than in 2021, particularly within eastern Albany, Platte, Goshen and Laramie counties. However, further away from those areas there were significantly more precipitation events so hunters can expect to see ungulates more spread out across the landscape. Average to poor juvenile survival is expected which will affect what hunters see on the landscape for big game species.
With continued decreased pronghorn fawn production, populations dropped again throughout the region. Throughout the region it is anticipated buck quality to be similar to 2021. Hunters who drew a license should expect good to excellent harvest success.
Mule deer populations declined in 2019 and 2020 due to harsh winter conditions; whereas in 2021 mild winter conditions should have resulted in increased survival and arrested or slowed population decline. Still, with two age classes missing from those harsh winters, mule deer numbers remain below management objectives. Antler-point restrictions continue for the third year in hunt areas near Lander and Rawlins. Elsewhere, hunters will have opportunities for similar harvest success — mostly with young bucks. Continued any white-tailed deer seasons are in place in the Dubois, Lander, Riverton and Jeffrey City areas. Hunters should expect similar opportunities and success as last year.
Elk populations are doing well across the region and all herd units are near objectives. Calf production remains on par with previous years and should result in continued, robust numbers. Observed bull numbers remain strong. If favorable weather conditions are realized during the fall, hunters should experience excellent harvest opportunities.
Moose are at or below desired levels and the hunting season framework includes conservative quotas. However, more moose were counted in Hunt Areas 2 and 30 the past three years, and it appears this population is stable. Winter counts in the Dubois country yielded fewer moose and remained at historically low levels. Hunters fortunate enough to draw a license can expect good harvest success in the region.
Lamb production in the Whiskey Mountain herd was higher than in previous years, but still low at 36/100 and continues to be a concern. Lamb productivity has been depressed in the herd for more than 20 years and while it has impacted population growth, there are still rams available for harvest. 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 10th consecutive year with 10 licenses issued.
Relatively dry spring and summer conditions will likely impact sage, blue and ruffed grouse, pheasants, chukars and Hungarian partridge. Hunters will likely spend more time searching for birds. Early field observations of sage grouse are revealing few hens with broods as expected.
Pheasant hunting at the Sand Mesa and Ocean Lake Wildlife Habitat Management Areas continues to be popular with hunters from throughout the state. New for 2022 is the one-day youth hunt at Sand Mesa and Ocean Lake on Saturday, Nov. 19. In past years the youth day only occurred at Sand Mesa. Game and Fish will add and move release sites on Sand Mesa to help spread hunters out.
Game and Fish is considering other changes in 2023 to address hunter crowding, which is causing hunter safety concerns and conflict. Changes that may be considered include limiting hunter numbers on select days, continued evaluation of pheasant release site locations and number of sites. Game and Fish will be talking to pheasant hunters this fall and presenting any proposed changes during the 2023 season setting process for public review and comment.
Cottontails, snowshoe hares and red squirrels appear to be similar to 2021 within the region and opportunities for harvest should be good.
The majority of the region does not seem to be suffering from the extreme drought conditions observed in other areas of Wyoming. However, cheatgrass is turning to seed and making the area look more like a wheatfield in many places. Jeffrey City fared a little better in June, but was still below average in terms of precipitation. Many wetlands, wet meadows, ponds and lakes are dry. The Dubois area received normal to slightly above-normal growing season precipitation and conditions are good across most of the area. The Rawlins portion of the region continues to be affected by drought, though there have been a few spotty rain events that have provided much-needed moisture. West and north of Rawlins in the Red Desert, drought conditions are continuing with much lower than average growing season precipitation, which has contributed to decreased forage production and water availability. These drought conditions are considered long-term and are affecting the health and quality of rangelands and wildlife habitats in the area.
Herd performance has been variable in the region in recent years, with herds around Casper now at population management objectives. Numbers in northeast Wyoming from Douglas to Lusk to Sundance remain far below objectives. After a period of strong population growth through about 2018, numbers have declined due to harsh winter conditions for two years coupled with poor fawn survival. Unfortunately, numbers in northeast Wyoming have not rebounded as fawn survival remains poor, especially in Hunt Areas 4-9. Although pronghorn populations have declined in central Wyoming over this timeframe, they were near or over-objective to begin with so numbers remain fair to good in Hunt Areas 32 and 69-73. One exception is in Hunt Areas 30 and 31 between Casper and Douglas where two massive spring snowstorms caused some localized die-offs in March 2021. It will take a few years for pronghorn to recover in these areas. Despite numbers remaining below desired levels in much of the region, hunters should experience average to high harvest success as buck ratios remain strong and license issuance has been reduced significantly. West of Casper many hunters will be asked to have buck horns measured and teeth pulled for aging as part of a research project aimed at optimizing buck ratios to balance hunting opportunity with maximum horn growth.
Populations have decreased or remained stable throughout the region over the past few years, with all populations being below established objectives. Mule deer adult and fawn survival continues to be poor, which can be attributed to summer droughts and habitat conditions, disease in some herds and predation. Despite lower than desired numbers, 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. Hunters on public land within general license areas should experience low to moderate success. Private-land hunters in the Cheyenne River area between Lusk and Newcastle should see some large, antlered bucks as in the past few years. Hunters lucky enough to draw a license in conservatively managed, limited quota areas should see high buck ratios with modest trophy potential. In high-altitude desert Hunt Areas 34 and 89, many prime-age, mature bucks don’t grow large antlers compared to mule deer in other parts of the state. However, these herds are managed for high numbers of older-aged bucks and produce some nice deer every year.
Throughout much of the region white-tailed deer populations experienced substantial die-offs in 2021 due to a severe outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease. This outbreak was more widespread and prolonged than usual due to unseasonably warm, fall conditions that persisted into November. White-tail hunters will see far fewer deer in 2022 compared to recent years, especially in the Douglas and Black Hills areas.
Hunters are reminded the vast majority of white-tailed deer occupy private lands. The notable exception is in the Black Hills, where high numbers occupy the Black Hills National Forest, although numbers are relatively low this year due to EHD.
Numbers remain at or above objectives in all herds in the region. Seasons continue to be liberal in terms of length and license issuance. Modest increases in elk license numbers and liberalized limitations occurred throughout the region, most notably in Hunt Areas 19, 117 and 120. In recent years elk harvest has approached or exceeded record levels in many Casper Region herds. The region continues to provide excellent bull-hunting opportunities, with many areas continuing to boast high harvest success on any-elk licenses and good antler quality. This year the region will expand issuance of Type 2 “raghorn” bull licenses. These opportunities will be in Hunt Areas 7, 113 and 117. License holders will be required to harvest a bull with 5 points or less on either antler. These seasons were instituted to reduce high bull ratios without reducing the number of larger mature bulls. Antlerless elk hunter success continues to be good, although high hunter densities on public lands often result in reduced hunter success in 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 public land. Overall, 2022 seasons will continue to emphasize female elk harvest and provide 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.
The region encompasses the northern portion of the Sublette herd, one of the largest in the nation, and includes Hunt Areas 87-91 and 101. A line-transect population estimate for this herd conducted in June 2021 indicated the population is currently within management objectives at just over 40,000, but drought conditions last summer contributed to only 49 fawns per 100 does counted in August, the lowest ratio documented over the past decade. The 2022 hunting seasons will remain fairly conservative and similar to previous years to promote population growth. Hunters lucky enough to draw pronghorn licenses in these areas will have lots of public land to roam and should experience high success rates.
Portions of the Sublette and Wyoming Range herds are managed in the region, including Hunt Areas 130, 138-143, 146, 153 and 154. Both herds include relatively large populations with special management strategies designed to provide high-quality hunting opportunities and at least 30 bucks per 100 does, and large-antlered, older-aged deer are harvested annually from both herds. While several harsh winters have complicated herd recovery over the last decade, populations are in a current upswing and hunters willing to put in the time and effort should be rewarded with an opportunity to harvest a trophy-class buck from abundant public lands.
Small populations may be found near riparian habitats, and all deer hunt areas in the region offer the opportunity for harvest 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 four herd units are managed in the region. Liberal seasons provide hunters with ample opportunities, especially for antlerless elk, with all general seasons providing opportunity to harvest a cow or calf elk until Nov. 15. Bull numbers remain strong, with ratios ranging from 20 bulls per 100 cows in the Pinedale herd to 26 bulls per 100 cows in the Upper Green River herd. The herds also remain productive, with an average of 35 calves per 100 cows Region-wide, indicating stable to growing populations. While bull harvest in 2021 was around average with many nice bulls taken, cow elk harvest was down due to warmer-than-average conditions during late fall coupled with a lack of snow during the season. Elk hunting in the region during 2022 should offer excellent opportunities.
The Sublette herd is managed under a special management strategy to provide recreational opportunities while maintaining an average harvest age of 4 years for bulls to maintain trophy quality. This herd has a winter trend count objective of 1,500, and the population has been stable to slightly increasing over the last decade. A total of 125 bull and five antlerless licenses were offered in the Pinedale Region for the 2022 hunting season. Hunters are advised to not be discouraged when scouting or hunting for moose during the early season when warm temperatures can drive moose into forested habitats where they are generally less visible. Moose hunters who hunt during the later portion of the season typically encounter more moose. Hunter success for the moose hunt areas in the region averaged 92% over the past five years and should again be high during the 2022 season.
The Darby Mountain herd and a portion of the Whiskey Mountain herd are managed by the region. In 2022 the Darby Mountain herd — Hunt Area 24 — will have two licenses for any ram going to one resident and one non-resident. In the Whiskey Mountain herd, the overall population is struggling due in part to chronic pneumonia and poor lamb recruitment and remains under objectives. However, non-migratory bighorn sheep numbers observed during winter flights in Hunt Area 8 appear to be mostly stable.
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 this fall. Decent populations of dusky or blue and ruffed grouse can be found in the forested habitats and provide hunting opportunities from September through December. Rabbit hunters can chase cottontails and snowshoe hares until the end of March, though populations continue to appear depressed. Late-season hunters need to be mindful of winter range closures in some areas that begin in November and December.
Below average snowfall during the winter has resulted in low soil moisture throughout the region which is predicted to impact plant production, especially leader growth on shrub species. As of mid-June the entire region was within a severe drought with areas along the Wind River front showing signs of extreme drought conditions. Monitoring has shown grass and forb species responded well to spring precipitation, however, this also has resulted in ideal conditions for invasive cheatgrass.
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 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 season changes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Photo credit: Wyoming Game and Fish Department)