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Big game populations reduced in Wyoming

JACKSON, Wyoming (KIFI) - Wyoming's hunting season opens September 1, but after a rough winter last year, many tags for the big game species are limited or eliminated altogether.

Wyoming Game and Fish Public Information Specialist Mark Gocke says pronghorn and mule deer were significantly affected by the harsh winter, with conditions where there was "above average snow and below normal temperatures, which is a combination for a significant winter mortality event."

Gocke says pronghorn have suffered a "double whammy," with a recent pneumonia outbreak in the herd. Some of those animals come up to summer in Jackson Hole. Gocke describes how there's about 10% of the usual numbers in Jackson this summer.

"It's just a few hundred animals typically, I think we've counted as high as 700. I think we only counted less than 100 animals this year and just a few fawns."

Meaning, that if you are a pronghorn hunter anywhere in the Jackson area, your chances for a harvest are reduced. That doesn't mean there aren't animals out there, just not as many.

"A lot of times when we have a bad winter like that, a lot of times hunters will take a break and not even pursue those species if they can get a license. And so that's fair. But we feel like, the amount of licenses that we have provided is adequate to allow those herds to rebound. So, yeah, it's going to be tough hunting this year for (mule) deer and pronghorn," Gocke said.

Hunt Area 85 for pronghorn season is closed this hunting season.

If you are a mule deer hunter, the situation will be fairly similar. The deer's high mortality rates last winter means shorter hunting seasons for mule deer, as well as other restrictions.

"We reduced the season length and we restricted harvest to only bucks that have three points or better, just to kind of protect that younger segment of the herd that remains and try and bolster any kind of growth that we could get this year," Gocke said.

White-tailed deer are already limited in the area.

Sturdier species such as elk, moose, and bison, fared better last winter.

"We just didn't see the impacts that you see that we saw on deer and pronghorn from last year's winter. Those seasons are going to stay relatively the same," Gocke said.

Bighorn sheep hunting does have some unique opportunities this season.

"We are offering some ewe licenses again this year, just to try and keep numbers from getting too high, because when they have gotten as high as they are now, we've noticed they suffer a pneumonia outbreak sometimes," Gocke said.

Mountain goat hunters in the area may also have an opportunity. Gocke says Game and Fish would like to reduce mountain goat populations even more since they are a non-native species in the Teton Range. This means hunters can harvest a mountain goat this year "without affecting their once-in-a-lifetime, restriction on mountain goats for the rest of the hunting in Wyoming," Gocke said.

Gocke also had a couple of requests for hunters this season. First, he'd like hunters to carry bear spray as bears are still very active this time of year.

"We typically see more bear conflicts as hunting season starts, just because there are more people out in the bear country, and just by sheer numbers of both hunters and an abundance of bears, they're going to cross paths."

He also reminds them to get their harvest out of the forest as quickly as possible. "When you get an animal down, that's a huge bear attractant," Gocke said.

Gocke says there is one way to know if a bear has gotten to your harvest before you.

"If you have to leave the game and overnight come back to that animal, make sure to glass it real good. I always like to leave. Get a good mental picture when you leave it and cover it with pine boughs and so forth, the carcass. And then when you come back, you should be able to notice if something has changed and or if your carcass happens to be buried - that's what bears like to do. That a bear has claimed that carcass and is probably still in the area," Gocke said.

He says if a bear has claimed your carcass then report it to a game warden or forest ranger.

If you want more information on the hunting season all over Wyoming you can go here.

Article Topic Follows: Outdoor Games

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Braydon Wilson

Braydon is a reporter for Local News 8 and Eyewitness News 3.


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