Based purely on the data and uncertainty going into this year’s Wyoming mule deer draw this list should probably be blank, however, that does not work well for readers so I will give you the best list possible with the information I have at this time.
With absolutely no doubt in my mind I can honestly say that Wyoming’s mule deer are currently at the absolute lowest point in my nearly 30-year career in this business. And the data backs this statement up as according to the Game and Fish Department the mule deer herd in Wyoming, statewide, is nearly 30% below objective levels. An objective level that was recently adjusted downward possibly in an effort to make the situation look not quite so bad. Too late. In my humble opinion, Wyoming is lacking nearly half the mule deer that should be grazing on our spring landscape as we speak. Needless to say, hunting mule deer in Wyoming in its current capacity is going to probably be less than ideal.
Add to this bad news the fact that many nonresident applicants are getting very, very nervous, to say the least, given the possibility of the proposed 90/10 license allocation change becoming a reality. This proposal would remove half of the nonresident licenses from every quota in every area in the state for the future. Add to that the possibility of an additional 50% of what is left going into an outfitter only draw and nonresident point holders in Wyoming are extremely nervous to continue with Wyoming’s draw system much further into the future. This will cause massive demand on the system this year and next with high point holders forcibly pushed to cash in their points before the change which will cause huge gains in point creep for deer, elk and antelope inside the Wyoming point system. This has already been seen in the recently completed Wyoming elk draw where many areas saw huge gains in point creep with possibly even more to come for next year.
These two situations have placed many applicants between the proverbial rock and a hard place as they weigh out the beyond uncomfortable trade-off between a down year for deer hunting and the possibility of future draw odds quadrupling all while tag costs could more than double in the process. A very tough spot indeed. If you find yourself in the “burn my points now” camp, here are what I feel are the best mule deer hunts Wyoming has to offer, at this point anyway.
1. Region G, The first to die off and probably the first to rebound, or at least we hope. This country is big, rugged and nothing comes easy here, but the bucks here are by far the largest in the state, historically speaking. The winter was very mild on these deer and the buck to doe ratio is very, very good right now. Although the numbers are down here from the objective by about 25%, the big buck potential here should be very, very good this year. The key indicators of a rebound are all lining up for the future on this hunt. I fully expect 10 preference points to be a requirement to hunt here with 100% surety. This is also a decent application choice for a lower point holder, as the 400-tag quota does put enough tags into the random portion of the draw to be worth a shot at about 5%.
2. Area 128-1, I have been very hard on this hunt in the past, however the recent historical data here is very positive, particularly when compared to everything else currently going wrong in Wyoming. This is a very limited, late season hunt with hunt dates during most of the month of November. With only 50 tags on quota, a 20-day season in November and lots of public land to hunt, with a little help from the weather, this hunt should continue to excel well into the future. These are high country bucks that migrate to lower country to rut low country does which can make for a great hunt if you hunt hard and give yourself plenty of time to cover lots and lots of country. Max points are a must to apply for this hunt.
3. Area 130-1, The Big Sandy, late hunt is a true wildcard hunt with some very solid big buck potential. This hunt is one of only two limited quota hunts inside the Region G zone where 15 lucky applicants will hunt for big rut staged high country deer during the final two weeks of the month of October. If the weather hits just right this hunt can produce some very big bucks held up in the sagebrush waiting for the rut to begin. Max points will be required for a chance at this hunt and nearly every hunter (89%) on this hunt walks away with a buck by the end of the season.
4. Region H, This general hunt region consists of a big, rugged region adjacent to the famed Region G area we spoke about above. The Region H hunt can be a very good hunt on the right year for really good bucks. This hunt takes fewer points to draw, mostly because of the larger tag quota (600) and the larger portion of wilderness (21%) inside this region. Historically, the bucks are actually larger in this region than they are in Region G, however they are harder to get to and there are less of them. Public land is not a problem here. This hunt should take about five or six points to draw this year with a random draw of about 10% for those with less than five points. With a mild winter and wet spring, I really think there could be some gems in these hills for those who hunt hard this fall.
5. Area 141-1, The Green River Lakes hunt is a bit more of a long-shot for big bucks, but I just have a bit of a hunch that given the type of country in this area there could be some big bucks this fall to mine out of here for someone who hunts hard. This hunt area is the other limited quota hunt unit inside the general Region G area. Hunter success here can be a bit spotty with an average of 57% success but if a hunter is in good shape and hunts hard, a big buck could be possible here. With 80 tags on quota and an October season, with a little help from some weather, this hunt could create a great opportunity for a big staged up high-country deer during the final five days of the hunt. This hunt should take 12 to 14 points to draw this year.
Area 78-1, The French Creek hunt was turned from a general hunt into a limited quota hunt about ten years ago and the hunt here seems to be getting better and better each year. This area is mountainous and does contain about 25% wilderness at the very top of the unit. Hunter success here has drifted steadily up over the past five years and now nearly reaches about 70% on the best years. This hunt unit sits smack dab in the middle of the famed Carbon County, one of the best trophy producing buck counties in the entire country, and this area sits in the best big buck country in the second best big buck county in the state, what more could you ask for? This hunt can be had with only about six or seven points.
Area 60-1, The Pole Mountain, on forest hunt, is probably the definition of a sleeper hunt unit. Located outside of Laramie this hunt is a bit rough, but nothing like the rugged hunts in the northwest portion of the state. This hunt has been getting better and better each year and now seems to be producing some very consistent results as of the late. This is a very solid hunt in my opinion for the meager three or four point spend. Although a big buck here would be a very tall order, a fun hunt with limited pressure is what this hunt should offer up on a somewhat later season experience.
Region R, The West side of the Bighorns is a mule deer producing factory on a good year. With plenty of deer, a good buck here can be a tough endeavor, but they are here if you know where to look. This hunt is very accessible and roaded with lots of open hillsides and meadows to glass up bucks feeding on the edges. The bowhunting here can be very lucrative. This is a very solid hunt in my opinion for only one or two preference points.
Although the thought of the 90/10 proposal could be very difficult to comprehend for most of you at this point, I really do think if it does in fact happen for deer, elk and antelope, I would be very surprised if it happened before the 2024 hunting season. This might mean we have another year or two to decide on burning those mule deer points. With that said, I hope these choices help you out and this year is what it is. Let’s all try to make the best of it. So far, Wyoming is looking in great shape from the winter and into spring where the weather has been very wet and cool. Cross your fingers for big bucks and good opportunities for the future.