JACKSON — The mornings are getting chilly here in western Wyoming and it’s that time of year when we as outdoor enthusiasts start turning our attention towards the fall hunting seasons.
Each year, local Game and Fish managers produce a fall hunt season forecast which can be read in its entirety here. Here, we will touch on some of the highlights for the upcoming deer and elk seasons as they are generally the most popular in the Jackson Region.
The extremely severe winter of 2016-2017 caused unprecedented mortality in all age classes and drastically reduced the population.
The annual post hunt season surveys in December 2017 indicated that fawn recruitment was low with only 54 fawns:100 does, which is not surprising considering the poor shape the does were in following the 2016-17 winter.
The buck:doe ratios dropped to 29:100 in 2017, a level not seen since 2004.
This drop was caused primarily by the lack of yearling bucks in 2017, as almost all of them died as fawns during the 2016-17 winter.
In February of 2018, managers conducted a “first of its kind” comprehensive aerial survey of all deer winter ranges in the Wyoming Range herd, which yielded a count of 25,317 deer actually seen and a resulting overall population estimate of approximately 29,000 deer in the Wyoming Range deer herd.
This number was actually a bit higher than managers were expecting.
Further good news was that the lower number of animals on the landscape combined with the relatively mild winter of 2017-18 provided a timely break for the deer herd resulting in good body condition and high over-winter survival of both adults and fawns.
Thus far, all indications are that the fawns born in 2018 are robust, healthy and experiencing high summer survival.
This should really jump-start the recovery of this deer herd with overall numbers almost getting back to where they were prior to the severe winter die-off of 2016-17.
It may take a little longer to recover the age structure of adult buck deer, however.
Hunting seasons will remain conservative again this year with the take of antlered deer only and the three-point or better requirement.
Season dates vary some per hunt area but most start September 15 and run through October 6.
Similar to the Wyoming Range, the Sublette Deer Herd which includes many of the hunt areas around Jackson, is recovering from the high deer mortality caused by severe winter of 2016-2017, and it is felt that the same positive indicators of recovery in the Wyoming Range Herd are also occurring in the Sublette Herd.
Seasons in the Jackson area will run from September 15-October 6.
In the Jackson Herd, 10,877 elk were counted during the February 2018 mid-winter survey. While the population is near the objective of 11,000, portions of the herd that migrate from Yellowstone National Park, the Teton Wilderness and the Gros Ventre drainage continue to exhibit low calf recruitment.
Elk that summer in southern Grand Teton National Park and near residential and agricultural areas close to Jackson have nearly double the calf recruitment as the long-distance migratory elk from backcountry areas.
Conservative hunting seasons for Hunt Areas 70, 71, 79, and 81-83 are necessary to address low calf recruitment while trying to maintain bull numbers.
In the southern portion of the herd unit in Hunt Areas 75, 77, 78 and 80, liberal antlerless elk seasons are needed to address growing elk populations that summer along the Snake River corridor in southern Grand Teton National Park and subdivisions in Hunt Area 78.
Due to substantial complaints about hunter crowding during the past November general license season in Hunt Area 80, this season has been replaced with a limited quota antlerless season.
It will run from October 13 to November 11 in the entire area, and be restricted to that portion of Area 80 south of the Curtis Canyon and Sheep Creek Roads from November 12 to November 30.
It is hoped that this will maintain the level of antlerless elk harvest while improving the hunting experience.
The youth elk hunt on the National Elk Refuge had traditionally occurred on opening weekend in mid-October, however few elk are typically on the Refuge in October.
Therefore, the youth hunt will again occur during the Thanksgiving school break from November 22-24, 2018.
Youth hunters holding general or full price limited quota elk licenses can apply for a permit to access the National Elk Refuge during that time.
With the Fall Creek Herd (south of Jackson) at the desired population objective, antlerless hunting opportunities have been scaled back and a limited number of cow/calf licenses being offered.
In order to increase antlerless elk numbers throughout the herd, the general any elk season will open September 26 and close on October 9.
General license antlerled elk, spikes excluded hunting will continue through October 31.
This is the fifth year of general license hunting for any elk with a spikes excluded restriction, which is intended to recruit more yearling bulls into the population.
The rest of the big game (pronghorn, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison) seasons in the Jackson Region are limited quota seasons requiring hunters to have applied and drawn those licenses.
For the status of those populations and the associated hunting seasons being offered, refer to the expanded hunt season forecast posted on the Jackson Region web page here.