Tough times for deer, elk hunters in northwestern Wyoming

Elk, which are fed during winter in northwestern Wyoming, fared better as a population but also proved difficult to find. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department photo)

JACKSON, Wyo. — It appears some elk and mule deer hunters in northwest Wyoming had a tough time bagging an animal this past fall, according to preliminary information from wildlife managers.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Wildlife Biologist Gary Fralick said he counted fewer deer and elk at agency check stations for the Wyoming and Salt River ranges than in any other fall since he started the job a quarter-century ago.

“I think that reflects the way the hunt went,” Fralick said, “even regionally, because I’m hearing that there was poor hunter success and very few animals taken throughout the Jackson and Pinedale region during the October and November elk and deer hunts.”

Wildlife managers point to the severe winter of 2016-17, which killed many fawns, for the dearth of hunter-killed mule deer.

Elk, which are fed during winter in northwestern Wyoming, fared better as a population but also proved difficult to find. At the 11 check stations staffed by Fralick and his colleagues, a total of 55 elk were registered. That’s about the number of animals typically checked at a single check station along the Greys River.

Late-season hunts in Jackson Hole proved somewhat more fruitful for elk, though success was sporadic and varied widely by area, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.

The preliminary number of elk that were reported killed on the National Elk Refuge came in at 103, which is among the lowest numbers Refuge Biologist Eric Cole has seen.

“It’s below average, but about what you would expect for the level of elk activity that we had,” Cole said.

Overall numbers of animals observed on the refuge, he said, were “remarkably low” at times.

But there were considerably more animals killed during other late-season hunts, including in Grand Teton National Park, east of the refuge and the ongoing elk hunt on private land between Moose and Wilson.

In those “key hunt areas of interest” as a whole, Cole said, the elk harvest appears normal.

There are some upshots to the relatively low hunter harvest. On the refuge the lack of animals through the fall meant herds were not depleting grasses critical for limiting supplemental feeding in the heart of winter, Cole said.

The low harvest also bodes well for next year’s hunt, Fralick said.

“If we have an open winter on the winter ranges, a lot of those bucks that were not harvested are going to be back on their summer ranges in 2018,” he said.

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