Numbers down for hunt season

By: 
Hannah Gross, NLJ Correspondent

It’s that time of year again for hunters to don their camouflage, load up their firearms and bows and head into the quiet serenity of the wilderness to see if they’re lucky enough to bring home wild game. Local Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife biologist Joe Sandrini projected what the 2022 hunting season will look like for those hopefuls in the Weston County area. 

Antelope

Due to the drought and outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease and bluetongue virus in 2021, antelope and deer numbers are down this year, Sandrini said. To manage the declining antelope population, tag numbers have been reduced each year, and this year marks the lowest number of antelope tags available over the course of his 30-year career. 

“For folks lucky enough to draw a tag, hunting should be fair. It will likely be harder to find an antelope than most hunters are accustomed to, and buck quality this year is just average, or a little down on the whole, but there are still a few good bucks around,” he said. 

Deer

The deer population is split into two regions — Region A is the Black Hills area north of U.S.  Highway 16 and Region B is the area south of U.S. 16 — and both regions experienced reduced numbers. 

The EHD and BTV outbreaks hit the white-tail populations pretty hard, with some areas seeing up to a 75% reduction, according to Sandrini. Mule deer weren’t as significantly affected by the disease, but their numbers have dropped due to low fawn production and other factors. 

“The general outlook for deer hunting in the Black Hills is a mixed bag. In some areas, it should be sort of OK, but in other areas it will be genuinely difficult,” Sandrini said. 

Elk

However, elk looks promising. Elk numbers have actually increased, and there has been a problem with too many bulls, resulting in broken antlers and injured bulls during the rut. Game and Fish is working on evening out the ration between bulls and cows, Sandrini said. 

“We have tried to address this the past few years by issuing licenses valid for spike elk. Harvest of spikes on these tags has been modest at best,” Sandrini said. “So, this year we have expanded the opportunity to hunt younger bulls by adding the provision on Type 2 elk licenses to take any bull with  five points or less on one side, or any cow or calf elk.”

Additionally, Game and Fish is running an elk hunter management program in the Black Hills that works with private landowners and hunters. Those interested in the program can contact the hunt management coordinator at (307) 399-3335. 

Wild Turkey and Lions

Wild turkey numbers have “rebounded” the past two years with a “well above average” poult production and survival. 

“Interest in fall hunting of wild turkeys has been slowly declining, but those chasing our largest game bird this fall should have a good hunting season,” Sandrini said. 

Harvest quotas for mountain lions in the Black Hills have remained steady, and the management strategy for maintaining the lion numbers is “generally working,” according to Sandrini. 

Chronic Wasting Disease

One thing that hunters need to be aware of this year is chronic wasting disease. South of Douglas, the prevalence rate is as high as 40%, and although it is much lower in the Black Hills area, there has been a gradual increase, and hunters are encouraged to get their harvested mule deer tested. 

Sandrini said the rate in Weston and Crook counties ranges between 2% and 7% for deer and less than 2% for elk. These numbers are some of the lowest in the state, and Sandrini credits it to the heavy harvest rates for mule deer. 

Unlike EHD and BTV, which are viruses spread by tiny gnats, CWD is a prion, which is a misshapen protein that kills cells. Prions can last a long time, Sandrini explained, so it is important to properly dispose of animal carcasses.

“We do have regulations on carcass disposal,” he said. “To help prevent the spread, dispose of your carcass properly. Please look at the stuff Game and Fish puts out.  … Game and Fish will have some check stations set up to test mule deer from the Black Hills, and hunters can also contact local department personnel.” 

Sandrini said that archery season has already begun in the area for big game animals and wild turkey,  while firearm seasons opened in the Black Hills for bighorn sheep and mountain lion September 1, along with small game seasons. 

Locally, firearm antelope and Region B deer seasons will begin Oct. 1, followed by the Region A deer season opening on Nov. 1. For more information on hunting seasons, visit the Game and Fish website at wgfd.wyo.gov.

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