From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 39 - 5/25/00
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G&F: 1999 Elk Harvest Down, Mule Deer Success Up

CHEYENNE - As expected due to summer-like weather, fewer Wyoming elk hunters brought home meat in 1999. But although mule deer hunting was predicted to improve in 1999, the 14 percent jump in resident success surpassed expectations.

Overall elk hunting success, resident and nonresident combined, dropped from 40 percent in 1998 to 36 percent last season, according to statistics recently compiled by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The time it took to a harvest an elk increased from 17 days per elk in 1998 to 21 days on average in 1999.

"Despite high elk numbers, '99 shows how critical snow and cool weather are to elk hunting," said Harry Harju, G&F assistant Wildlife Division chief. "Not only was last season and its warm, dry weather one of the worst in recent years for elk hunters, it's been several years since we've had a elk season with good snow cover.

"But a relatively poor elk hunting year in Wyoming still surpasses the success rate in most other states."

Resident success slid from 38 to 35 percent, while the percentage of lucky nonresidents plummeted from 55 to 44. "Even the best guide can't do anything about a dry forest where the animals can hear you coming from a half mile away," Harju said.

Perhaps the most noteworthy 1999 statistic was the rise in resident mule deer success to 49 percent from 35 percent in 1998.

Harju believes the explanation is partly the increased number of deer in central and western Wyoming, "but it goes deeper than that."

"Knowing there were more mule deer, resident deer hunters went hunting with greater optimism and confidence," he said. "With that mindset the hunters I talked to were willing to hunt harder. The 'word-of-mouth' factor also was evident, with some residents buying general licenses after they heard of a friend's success."

Nonresident mule deer success actually dipped 2 percent to 69 percent. "That's probably because most nonresidents hunt in eastern Wyoming and some deer herds in the northeastern part of the state are still recovering from bad spring storms in '96 and '97," Harju said.

Even though only seven out of every 100 antelope hunters didn't find their animal, the overall success was down 3 percent. The drop is not perceived to be significant, and Wyoming's antelope success still leads all states.

The overall 1999 moose harvest success of 87 percent was consistent with 1998. Hunters on average took about two days more to bag their moose, which Harju said reflected the dry, hot weather.

Bighorn sheep success slipped slightly from 73 to 68 percent last year, which is still tremendous success compared to other Rocky Mountain states. Many hunters commented the warm weather had bighorns seeking the shade of timber and hence hard to find.

At this juncture, Harju is optimistic about the 2000 season, while at the same time concerned about some both short- and long-term weather. "This could be the best mule deer year since the early '90s," he predicts. "And if we'd ever have a snowy fall, we could have a banner elk season.

"But this dry winter and spring, particularly in our sagebrush basins, could affect the nutritional quality of browse to the point survival of antelope and deer fawns could be impacted if we don't get considerable moisture soon."

Wyoming harvest statistics are compiled from surveys mailed to hunters. The 1999 Big Game Harvest Report will be available in September July from the G&F for $10.

Victoria Clingman, the G&F's wildlife statistician, says the 1999 harvest survey is an accurate and timely report thanks to assistance of hunters across the continent. "Our response rate is the highest of any state that has volunteer reporting," she said. "That makes the harvest survey a reliable document."

Resident hunters that would like to know the success rate in a hunt area before applying for elk, deer and antelope, can call the G&F at (800) 842-1934. The deadline for resident applications is May 31.

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