Hunting early, especially in archery season, paid off for hunters in the Big Horn Basin.
However, those who waited were often frustrated by a warm fall that kept many deer and elk at higher elevations longer than usual.
That was the view of Corey Class, wildlife management coordinator for the Cody region of Game and Fish.
He said while flights over the winter will determine the counts of area herds and give a more exact view of the seasons – and some seasons are still open – he’s got his impressions on the three main fall big game seasons.
Beyond success rates, Class said it was the second year in a row with increased hunting licenses among both residents and nonresidents.
“A lot of people want to hunt Wyoming, residents and non-residents. People just want to get outside, experience the outdoors and do something different,” he said. “I don’t know that demand for licenses will go down anytime soon.”
The first big game hunt of the fall was generally as highly successful as expected, Class said.
“People hunting later this year noticed more movement, especially in the Carter Mountain herd, which came down a little earlier,” he said. “A mid-October cold snap moved a lot of antelope down. The antelope harvest, based on feel, is probably on track with what we expected.”
He said hunting was tougher in the southern part of the region, as expected, due to a higher prevalence of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, a virus that primarily impacts white-tailed deer and pronghorn.
Class said G&F expected that issue and lowered the number of licenses as a result.
Talking on the second-to-last day of the general deer season in the Cody area, Class said deer hunting had been good in the mountains, slower down in the Big Horn Basin.
“We had more deer harvested and brought through the South Fork check station than last year,” he said. “I think part of that was we removed the point restriction, so people could shoot any buck.”
Class said as the North and South fork deer herds are migrating during the season, the hunt is often a hit-or-miss experience.
“It can be difficult,” he said. “If they’re not moving, you don’t see many deer. If they are moving, you better be out there hunting.”
As with antelope, deer hunting was better in the northern portion of the region, but there were struggles in the southern Bighorns.
The lower success rate throughout the lower regions of the Basin is in part due to the high prevalence of CWD, seen in 20%-40% of the deer in those herds, Class said.
“We also had some EHD in some of southern deer herds, and drought, which certainly didn’t help things either,” he said. “Then we had warmer weather after that October cold snap. Warm and mild doesn’t bode well for deer success.”
Deer move more when it’s cold and snowy as they need to travel to find feed.
“When it’s really warm this time of year, the last thing they want to do is be out in the heat,” Class said.
Archery season opens ahead of rifle season, and for elk hunters getting up early was a boon to their fortunes.
But as long as elk season is, Class said rifle hunters who haven’t wasted time getting onto the mountains have also found success.
“People were killing elk in the Bighorns, people were killing them in Absarokas,” he said. “Warm weather has slowed hunting down a bit, but a lot are still going and getting elk.”
As with deer, Class said the warm, mild weather has led to elk staying higher up in the mountains unlike last year, when early cold weather drove them farther down.