Regional Offices > Laramie Region > Laramie Region News > 2019 Hunting Forecast for Laramie Region

2019 Hunting Forecast for Laramie Region

August 19, 2019
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With elk populations above objective, moose harvest success high, and pronghorn herds increasing, hunters can anticipate a good season for big game animals in southeast Wyoming.

Laramie - PRONGHORN (antelope)
The majority of pronghorn herds in the Laramie region are either increasing or stable, with 90% at or above population management objectives. This is a positive trend compared to the substantial decrease in pronghorn numbers that the region experienced from 2010-2013.   
Region-wide, the average fawn ratio was 57 fawns: 100 does, an increase over the 2017 estimate. Fawn ratios were low, however, across portions of herds in the eastern side of the region, notably in the Dwyer, Meadowdale and Hawk Springs Herd Units. While the reasons for the decline are unclear, anecdotal observations suggest that hail events in June, lack of timely rain events and some degree of coyote predation may be potential drivers. The estimated average buck ratio across the region was 49 bucks: 100 does, consistent with 2017 estimate (50 bucks: 100 does), and well above the 2016 ratio (41:100). Snowpack during the 2018-19 winter was average to slightly above average, and was bolstered by a severe spring storm. Regional personnel started to see evidence of localized winter mortality in mid-March. While we anticipate that harsh conditions reduced adult survival, these losses may be partially mitigated by increased water on the landscape, productive spring green up and, perhaps, increases in fawn production. We also expect that increased moisture may lead to strong horn growth.
Several thousand acres in the Shirley Basin Herd Unit and surrounding areas are either enrolled in large-scale wind development projects, or are candidates for enrollment in the next few years. To better understand the effects of wind-energy development on pronghorn populations, 101 does were fitted with GPS collars in 2018. As of August 2019, 44 animals died (44%), suggesting a relatively high mortality rate. Preliminary movement data demonstrate substantial variation in habitat use across winters. These patterns may be attributable to differences in winter severity. Additional data will help managers to evaluate the merits of this hypothesis. Collars will remain on animals until 2024.
Based on this information, managers made relatively few changes to pronghorn seasons in 2019. Hunters should expect hunting to be similar to the 2018 season. 
Most mule deer populations in the Laramie Region are below management objectives, with combinations of habitat quality, disease and unfavorable weather conditions likely hindering growth. Buck ratios remained relatively high in 2018, with ratios exceeding 30 bucks :100 does in every herd. The average fawn ratio across the region was 58 fawns :100 does, an increase over both 2016 and 2017 estimates. Snowpack during the 2018-19 winter was average to above-average in most of the region. We anticipate that the additional water on the landscape will yield robust spring forage, potentially favorable fawn production, and exceptional antler growth.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) continues to be a major concern in the region, especially in the Laramie Mountains Herd, where estimated prevalence from hunter-harvested deer exceeds 20% in some hunt areas. Despite an abundance of males (36 bucks: 100 does) there continues to be a very small percentage of Class III bucks (antler width > 26”) in the Laramie Mountains population. The majority of males harvested in 2018 were young to middle-aged animals, with 93% of field-checked animals < Class II (< 25”; n = 156). The Department encourages hunters in the region to have harvested animals tested for CWD.
Recent fire activity in the Laramie Mountains, Snowy Range and Sierra Madre Mountains will likely improve habitat quality for nearly all of the region’s mule deer populations. The Department is engaged with land management partners and local landowners to limit the spread of cheatgrass, a detrimental plant that often invades the landscape following a fire.
The Platte Valley Mule Deer Herd migration corridor was designated in 2018. The designation was based on data collected from 55 does that were collared in the Platte Valley, 2011-2013. To further conserve the corridor, the Department will partner with the public and various stakeholders over the next year to identify potential risks to migration routes and corresponding conservation opportunities.
As part of the Sheep Mountain Mule Deer Herd Initiative 60 does were fitted with GPS collars in 2017. Managers retrieved the collars in April of this year. Preliminary data highlight important areas for wintering herds, and also suggest substantial migratory movements between northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Data from the collars will help managers to better understand the herd’s migration timing, movement corridors, stopover areas, and habitat use patterns. 
Changes to 2019 mule deer seasons are minimal. Managers increased buck opportunity in 2017, and would like to run the current seasons for a few years to evaluate the effects on populations.
Southeast Wyoming white-tailed deer seasons are designed to provide hunting opportunities during the rut, and to reduce damage. Liberal seasons provide abundant opportunity, though the majority of white-tailed deer are found on private land, where access can be difficult. White-tailed deer populations appear to be increasing across the region based on harvest data and landowner observations. White-tailed opportunity was increased in most areas for the 2019 season.  
Most elk populations in the Laramie region are above management objectives. Despite relatively liberal seasons, populations continue to be highly productive, with calf ratios that often exceed 40 calves: 100 cows. Limited public access in herds with a large percentage of private land, such as Iron Mountain, can hinder the Department’s ability to curtail growth. While this makes reaching herd objectives difficult, it provides good opportunities for hunters to harvest elk, especially those with permission to access private land.
Recent research in the Sierra Madre mountains suggests that the bark-beetle epidemic has altered how elk use the landscape during the summer. Marked animals generally avoided beetle-killed forest during the day, in favor of intact conifer stands, resulting in potential habitat loss. Some of these losses however, may be offset by improved habitat conditions following a number of recent fires in 2018, especially in the Sierra Madre and Snowy Range Herd Units.
Laramie region managers continued liberal elk seasons in 2019, with increased opportunity in the Snowy Range Elk Herd. Much of the elk habitat in the Snowy Range Herd overlaps public land, with good hunter access.  
The Snowy Range Herd Unit (Hunt Areas 38/41) stretches across southern Wyoming, along the Colorado border from Baggs to Cheyenne. Moose are found year-round in areas on Pole Mountain, Sierra Madre Mountains and, most notably, the Snowy Range Mountains. Type 1 licenses are highly sought by hunters looking to harvest mature bulls. Harvest success across both Type 1 and Type 4 licenses continues to be exceptional (98%), however antlerless hunters can struggle to find cows without calves at side to harvest.
The initial Snowy Range moose research project that began in 2014 is complete, with final results expected by fall 2019. Preliminary findings suggest that large-scale beetle kill does not have a strong effect on moose habitat use, with animals mostly preferring aspen and riparian areas, regardless of forest condition. Twenty-eight additional cow moose were collared in the Snowy Range in spring 2018 to evaluate habitat use, survival, recruitment and nutritional condition. Preliminary results indicate high adult survival. Of the 28 marked moose, 26 survived to spring 2019. Based on winter ground surveys, 19 of the 26 had a calf at heel. Collars will remain on animals until spring 2021.
As of 2016, this herd is managed under a mid-winter trend count objective. Department personnel completed the third annual count in early 2019, yielding a 3-year average of 163 moose. The Department did not change moose licenses for the 2019 season.
The Laramie Peak Sheep Herd (Hunt Area 19) continues to offer trophy quality rams, with outstanding harvest success (2018 = 100%). Over the past few years there have been several fires in the Herd Unit. Arapahoe, Cow Camp, and Russell’s Camp fires burned over 112,000 acres, with the Britania and School Creek fires adding another 30,320 acres. Perennial forbs, grasses and aspen have re-established post-fire, which should benefit bighorn sheep in the future. The Department has partnered with landowners and several land-management agencies to treat cheatgrass in the affected areas. Substantial moisture during spring and summer yielded strong forage production. We anticipate that robust food availability will likely lead to increased offspring survival, along with notable horn growth.
Sheep licenses will not be available for the Douglas Creek and Encampment River Sheep Herds (Hunt Areas 18/21) this year. These herds do not have large enough populations to be hunted every year. Managers propose hunts within these hunt areas on alternating years to provide opportunity consistent with the resources available.
Sage grouse populations are predicted to decrease this year. Statewide, the 2018 chicks per hen ratio was 0.8 chicks:1 hen. Sage grouse require 1.4-1.6 chicks per hen for population stability. The number of birds harvested each year, however, is related strongly to hatching success and over-summer chick survival. In the Saratoga area, biologists observed a large number of nest/brood failures due to the wet, cold spring conditions. We anticipate a similar trend across most of the region.
Forest grouse hunting should be similar to the 2018 season, though cold conditions during the 2019 nesting and brooding seasons could lead to lower productivity. Populations of pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse in the eastern portion of the region have increased since 2013. Similar to forest grouse, hunting for these species should be comparable to the 2018 season.
Cotton-tailed rabbit numbers increased dramatically in 2016 in the Laramie region. Population growth appears to be slowing, however, with anecdotally fewer numbers on the western slopes of the Snowy Range. Hunters should find pockets of abundant rabbits, but overall anticipate more challenging hunts.
Turkey populations appear to be stable or increasing throughout most of the region. Sportspersons should expect hunting similar to the 2018 season. 
Statewide Overview
Wyoming’s spring weather was inconsistent with numerous spring snow storms and very wet conditions. This often leads to poor production by ground nesting birds such as ducks, but geese tend to fair a little better.  Re-nesting efforts by mallards which failed their first attempt at nesting was likely also good due to favorable conditions, however, other species that tend not to renest likely had very little production.  Hunters can expect average local populations of ducks across the state.  Migration chronology and weather, as well as hunter efforts of scouting for birds and obtaining permission to hunt private land when necessary, will ultimatley influence the success of migratory bird hunters throughout the state.
The annual May breeding survey was again conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2019.  This year’s results produced high numbers of breeding ducks across the survey area within the Dakota’s and Montana. However, prairie Canada including Alberta where the majortity of Wyoming’s migrating ducks come from was very dry and production will be low.  Overall, production and the fall flight are expected to be lower than last year.
Dark Geese
Canada geese harvested in the state come from two populations. The Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) which can be found west of the Continental Divide, in the Wind River and Bighorn River Basins, as well as in western Carbon and Natrona counties.  The RMP population decreased in 2019 but is still at the 5th highest count ever. Large geese found in eastern Wyoming belong to the Hi-Line Population (HLP).  The HLP also decreased in 2019 but the population is at the fourth highest level ever recorded.  Generally, Canada goose numbers across the state are driven by winter conditions, and there should be plenty of geese around should the weather cooperate.
Mourning Doves
Production within the state in 2019 was variable with great numbers in the central portions of the state and lower than average numbers elsewhere.  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.
Sandhill Cranes
Cranes which migrate through eastern Wyoming (Crane 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 which 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 2018 counted 21,801 cranes which was above the 2017  count and above the population objective of 17,000-21,000 cranes. However, the 3-year average used to determine harvest allocation decreased, resulting in a reduction of 105 permits available for Wyoming in 2019.  Cranes in 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. 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 they are using.

- WGFD -

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