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More Trouble Ahead for Wyoming’s Mule Deer

More Trouble Ahead for Wyoming’s Mule Deer

MD1902-web“Mule deer and pronghorn are already in poor condition going into this fall and there is simply not much for them to eat on their transition and winter ranges. We anticipate increased mortality in many parts of Wyoming even if we have a mild or normal winter.” –Doug Lutz, Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Based on the information in the latest press release by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department it seems as though the mule deer herds in Wyoming just can’t seem to get a break. Coming off of a brutal 10-year drought, Wyoming experienced a few near normal winters causing the deer herds make slight rebound as a result, but this slight uptick was then crushed by the winter of 2010 that decimated the deer herd in some areas by as much as sixty percent. Now it appears like the worst single year drought on record has put our mule deer and antelope herds into a corner where significant losses seem to be inevitable no matter what the winter and spring bring.

“The upcoming winter could present a double-edged sword to mule deer populations. If a heavy snowpack comes, especially in lowland deer wintering areas, significant mortality could occur. If the snowfall is light, the moisture-starved plants will be stressed further and the quality of the habitat will continue to deteriorate.” -WY Game & Fish Dept.

An unfortunately unique situation where a heavy snow year will certainly kill large numbers of deer that are already in poor shape for the winter because of the lack of feed caused by the drought. And on the other hand, if we don’t have a good snow year, which seems to be the case thus far, too many deer will certainly perish as further lack of forage is created by continued drought conditions, a double-edged sword that does not seem to bode well for Wyoming’s deer and antelope herds no matter what the weather brings our way.

If you’re sitting on a load of preference points this year for Wyoming deer and antelope, you might want to seriously consider holding out for a year or two longer to see how this situation turns out. The best-case scenario we can hope for would be a mild winter with good late spring and summer rain clear into early fall, particularly in the lower elevation sage habitats.

“Deer taken at higher elevations had decent fat reserves, but deer at lower elevations were in noticeably poorer condition.” –Lee Knox, Laramie region biologist, WY Game & Fish Dept.

The MRS section of the February/March issue of EHJ should shed some additional light on this dire situation by putting some numbers and statistics to the Wyoming deer and antelope hunting conditions.

-Guy Eastman, Eastmans’ Hunting Journal

About Guy Eastman, Editor-In-Chief

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Following in the footsteps of his father, Guy has taken up the reins and is now at the helm of the Eastmans’ Hunting Journal and the Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal. A fine hunter in his own right, Guy has taken several trophy animals and has become an expert in trophy hunting as well.

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  1. With my self and my nephew sitting on 4 points apiece his are for Mule Deer mine are for Antelope and we figure this is going to be the only chance to go is this year. He is looking at the G Region for his mule deer and I am looking to hunt in the 93, 94, 98 area cause it will be close to region G so we can hunt at the same time in the respectful areas. With your herds hurting the way they are it looks kind of blique. Spending all that money each year for a preference we can’t stop or really keep going for a couple more years. If you have some insight for these areas and hunts your info., would be greatly appreciated. How high up did the Deer have sufficient fat reserves yor biologist didn’t give a height. Last but not least will Eastmans be at the Portland, Oregon Sports show in February.


  2. Guy,

    I live in Pinedale, WY and look forward every late November when the big boys are pulling out of the mountainous areas of Region G and H and start showing up on the winter ranges south of town and down towards Big Piney and Labarge. I can tell you first hand, and, after speaking to some of our local biologists, the outlook if there is a moderately bad winter is not good! Guess what the avg. leader growth on the bitterbrush and mountain mahogany is after this summers drought…its pretty much a big fat 0″. The sagebrush really didn’t even get green this year, just stayed very woody looking. I think deer numbers appear to be up a tick from the fall of 2011, but a moderately bad winter could put the herds back down or even below 2011 levels. I’ve lived in Pinedale since the late ’90s and grew up in western wyoming and don’t ever remember the winter range looking as bad as it is even when we had the bad droughts in the years around 2005. We all need to keep our fingers crossed this winter and then hope for some nice spring rains.

  3. Tyler Matrisciano

    I live in northwest Colorado and have a passion for hunting big mule deer in the fall along with picking up their sheds in the spring and have enjoyed great success doing both until recently. The last couple of years have made me realize how good we really had it the prior 5-10 years when it was nothin to go out and fill the truck bed with sheds in a weekend. Being that Wyoming and Colorado typically experience similar winters the mule deer heard in this region has suffered great losses as well, making for a disappointing couple of seasons here. With that being said however I do not believe that winter and drought are the only causes of this devastation. Roads and predators obviously play a role as well, in fact I spoke to a Division of Wildlife officer prior to the 2012 archery deer season who informed me that the lion quota was cut in half a few years back in turn making a larger than normal impact on the heard. In the “Stop the MADNESS” story, Guy talked about Wyoming going to a points system to reduce the pressure on deer. I think this is a great idea, but as someone commented on that story, it seems like there are an awful lot of politics that come along with the system. I have a hard time believing that the number of tags issued is solely based on the number of deer and has nothing to do with the money. Long story short, harsh winters and droughts are out of our control but there are other measures that can be taken to at least reduce the damage.

  4. HI, My name is Barry from Alabama and me and a few friends where planning on putting in to come hunt area 34 this year for mule deer. We have three preference points and I was woundering if we needed to hold off another year or do you think it will be ok to still try it this year.

    • I work out in this area every day. The numbers of mule deer I’ve seen in the last 5 yrs are greatly deminishing. One thing that we can all hope for is a wet spring and summer to return the vegetation to par or above. Having a wet spring and summer can greatly help the growth of a mule deer herd by providing the much needed nutrition they require. Grasses and forbes are really short so far, but it’s still early and moisture is the requirement we need to stabilize the wildlife. Keep your fingers crossed!

  5. Sandra (Sandi) Criswell

    Hi, my name is Sandi from California and I have hunted Wyoming with my husband and friends over the last 40 yrs., I presently have 12 preference points for Moose and am planning a hunt for area 26 (rifle season). Could you advise me as to whether I should concentrate on late part of Oct. or would it be best to be there Oct. 1st…Do not want to burn my tags as I’m sure I’ll never get another chance. Atleast I’m praying that I get drawn…I haven’t heard anything on the condition of Moose that would be helpful as well. We always hunt on our own on public land / BLM and get permission if needed to go on private property. In your opinion am I choosing the right area for a spectacular bull Moose as I would love to get one bigger than my husband’s. (Little joke)…Thank you for taking time to read this.

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