2019 hunting forecast looks good for elk in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. – Wyoming Game and Fish’s fall hunting forecast is out with statewide statistics indicating many elk herds remain above population objectives, mule deer numbers are slowly rebounding, and the pronghorn outlook is good in many places except Jackson. The moose population in the Jackson region remains well below population objectives.

A mild winter in 2017-18 helped ungulates recover from the harsh 2016-17 winter. Hunters in Wyoming are expected to have a good harvest rate for elk even as CWD becomes a growing concern. A slow start to last winter helped to disperse elk early in the season.

Jackson Elk

In the Jackson Elk Herd, 9,627 elk were counted during the February 2019 mid-winter survey, including 6,586 on the National Elk Refuge (NER). Due to the mild early winter conditions, elk were widely distributed when heavy snows commenced in February and remained widely distributed for the remainder of the winter, which definitely affected the sightability of elk.

Although only 86 elk were found in the Gros Ventre during the 2017-18 winter, 2,136 elk were observed there in the 2018-19 winter. Based on movements of radio-collared elk, 500 or more elk left the Gros Ventre to winter on the NER.

Similar to past years, portions of the herd that migrate from Yellowstone National Park, the Teton Wilderness and the Gros Ventre drainage continue to exhibit low calf recruitment compared to elk that summer in southern Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), and near residential and agricultural areas close to Jackson that have about double the calf recruitment as the long-distance migratory elk in backcountry areas. Managing for these widely varying population segments has been and will continue to be a challenge in the Jackson Herd.

Conservative hunting seasons are proposed for Hunt Areas 70, 71 and 81-83 to address low calf recruitment while trying to maintain bull numbers, and area 79 in GTNP will be closed in order to lend more protection to long-distance migrants. In the southern portion of the herd unit in Hunt Areas 75, 77, 78 and 80, antlerless elk seasons are proposed to address growing elk populations that summer along the Snake River corridor in southern Grand Teton National Park and subdivisions in Hunt Area 78.

A slight reduction in Hunt Area 75 licenses is a cautionary response to the lower herd unit trend count and will continue to be evaluated and adjusted as the need to harvest antlerless elk varies.

In Hunt Area 78, Type 1 licenses will be valid off national forest beginning on August 15, and will be valid in the entire hunt area beginning on September 26. For the third year there will be a general license season in Hunt Area 78, valid for antlerless elk on private lands only from August 15 – October 31. Also, for the second year, there will be a Type 2 license for any elk on private lands from August 15-October 31. The Type 7 license will be removed this year due to issues with wounded elk crossing private land boundaries. Hunters who wish to use limited-range weapons may still do so on other license types.

The hunting season in Hunt Area 78 is structured to harvest elk that are causing chronic damage to agricultural lands, disperse animals, and reduce elk numbers. In Hunt Area 75 for 2019, there will be 25 fewer Type 4 and 175 fewer Type 6 licenses as were available in 2018. Type 4 license-holders will not be able to hunt in Hunt Area 79, as it has been closed for the 2019 season, but will still be able to hunt that portion of Hunt Area 81 west of the Shadow Mountain Loop Road.

The area known as the Snake River Bottom in Hunt Area 75 will be closed again this year, but the State Section near Kelly Warm Springs will be opened again for the entire season. As in the past, the Department’s Hunter Management Access system will be used to allocate permits for the National Elk Refuge (Hunt Area 77). The youth hunt is again proposed to occur from November 28 to 30 this year during the Thanksgiving school break. Those with a full price Youth License can apply for a permit to access the National Elk Refuge during that time.

Presumably due to declining opportunities to hunt antlerless elk in other areas around Jackson, many hunters have shifted into Hunt Area 80 creating many complaints of hunter crowding. To address this situation the General Any Elk season ran from September 26 to October 31 in 2018. After that only Hunt Area 80 Type 6 hunters were afield from November 1 to November 30. The customary closure north of the Sheep Creek Road remained in place from November 12-30. Even though elk movements into Hunt Area 80 were less than normal, hunter success was still 38%, and hunter satisfaction improved over that of past years.

It is anticipated that the 2019 hunting season will focus hunting pressure on southern segments of the Jackson elk population that exhibit high calf recruitment and contribute to high numbers on the National Elk Refuge. In addition, lower calf production observed in long-distance migratory segments over the past several years will continue to influence recruitment and contribute to the need for conservative hunting seasons proposed for the backcountry segments of this population.

Elk surveys in the Fall Creek Herd yielded approximately 600 more elk in 2018 compared to the mild winter of 2017. This herd has been slightly below objective and management efforts have been directed at increasing elk numbers and preserving bull ratios. Due to the increased trend count, the general, any elk season will open September 26 and close on October 13, allowing 4 additional days of any elk hunting opportunity compared to 2018. General license antlered 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 should allow more yearling bulls to be recruited into the population. Increases have been made to the Hunt Area 84 Type 6 and the Hunt Area 84, 85 Type 7 licenses in order to provide slightly more opportunity and to assist in addressing damage situations on private lands.

In the Afton Herd, hunting seasons for antlered elk in the lower Greys River (Hunt Area 89) will again be extended through October 31. The increase in hunting recreation in the lower Greys River is a result of higher numbers of elk counted on the Greys River feedground at Alpine and on native winter ranges in Greys River. In Hunt Area 90, liberal seasons into November and limited quota cow or calf tags are again being proposed to address an increase in elk numbers in the Upper Greys River.

The Targhee Elk Herd (Hunt Area 73) is a small population on the west side of the Teton Range that is managed to provide recreational hunting opportunities. Most crucial winter ranges are situated in Idaho and options to allow this population to grow are limited. In 2018, hunters reported a 52% success rate. Proposed hunting seasons in 2019 will be unchanged from 2018 and will include a general license season for antlered elk, spikes excluded from September 20 through October 25. A new, Type 6 license first offered in 2017 will again be valid for cow or calf elk on private land only from August 15–January 31.

Jackson Deer

Photo: USDA

The Wyoming Range Deer Herd (Hunt Areas 134, 135, 143-145) is designated as a special management strategy herd which focuses on providing high quality hunting opportunities, mature age class deer, and high buck:doe ratios (30-45:100). The winter of 2016-2017 was extremely severe, with very heavy losses of fawns and adults documented.

The winter of 2017-2018, however was very mild and even though the 2017 fawn crop was not large, most survived and helped with the recovery of this deer herd. A comprehensive deer abundance survey on all winter ranges of the Wyoming Range deer herd in mid-February 2018 (which required two helicopters and 133 hours of flight time to complete) produced a total of 25,317 deer actually observed and an estimate of 30,500 deer. This survey gave managers more confidence that current methods of estimating deer numbers accurately track the population and will be very helpful in monitoring the recovery of this deer herd.

The southern portion of the herd unit will offer 13 days of antlered deer hunting in Hunt Areas 134 and 135. As in the last two years, an antler point regulation will allow hunters to take antlered mule deer with three points or more on either antler in Area 134. In Area 135, hunters will be permitted to take antlered mule deer or any white-tailed deer. General license hunting opportunity for antlered mule deer will run from September 15 – October 6 for Hunt Areas 143-145. In Hunt Area 145, a total of 50 limited quota Type 3 licenses valid for any white-tailed deer will be in place from November 1 to November 15, and unused Type 3 licenses valid for antlerless white-tailed deer will continue from November 16 to January 31.

Due to the severity of the 2016-2017 winter and associated deer losses, reductions to the nonresident quota were implemented in both Regions G and H in 2017. These quotas remain the same for 2019, and are 400 in Region G and 600 for Region H. Reduced nonresident quotas combined with a shorter general license season for all hunters will help meet the special management criteria of maintaining at least 30 bucks:100 does and assuring older age class bucks remain in the population.

The 2018 hunting season produced some exceptional buck deer, and hunter satisfaction was quite high even though many portions of the Wyoming Range were closed due to wildfire control efforts. Even though late winter conditions in the Jackson area were quite severe, deer winter ranges along the east slope of the Wyoming Range did not experience this, and impacts are not expected to be above normal. Southern portions of the herd unit did experience increased snow depths in late winter that translated into higher than normal levels of fawn losses.

The northern portion of the Sublette Deer Herd includes Hunt Areas 146, 150-152, 155 and 156 in the Jackson Region. Again, due to high deer mortality caused by severe winter conditions in 2016- 2017 and the need to promote population growth, the reduced nonresident quota, shortened season, and antler point restriction will remain in place for 2019. Winter range conditions for some portions of the Sublette Herd were relatively harsh in late winter, although the late onset of severe weather will hopefully minimize impacts.

As the Wyoming Range and Sublette mule deer herds recover from the 2016-2017 winter, and numbers begin to increase, it is the intent to increase hunter opportunity in the form of additional hunting days and appropriate increases in nonresident quotas. In addition, the 3-point or better antler point restriction should be removed to allow more opportunity and reduce hunting pressure placed on adult bucks.

The Targhee Deer Herd (Hunt Area 149) is a small population on the west side of the Teton Range that is managed to provide recreational hunting opportunities. Population growth of this herd is limited by winter range and habitat loss from residential developments. Most crucial winter ranges are situated in Idaho and options to allow this population to grow are limited. In 2018, hunters reported a 19% success rate, but hunter satisfaction remained relatively constant at 57%. Proposed hunting seasons in 2019 include a general license season for antlered deer from September 15 through October 6. A Type 8, limited quota license will be offered again in 2019, valid for doe or fawn white-tailed deer. Fifty licenses will be available. A new, Type 3 license, which was first offered in 2017, will again be valid for any white-tailed deer from September 15 to November 30.

Jackson Moose

Photo: Buckrail // Nick Sulzer

In the Sublette Moose Herd, management direction in the past has focused on maintaining or building moose numbers in Hunt Areas 10, 20, 21 and 23. Mature bulls, that are four years of age or older, are consistently being harvested in these areas. The opportunity to harvest a trophy class Shiras moose has increased in recent years. Throughout these hunt areas the average antler spread continues to approach 40 inches.

In order to maximize success, hunters should plan on hunting when temperatures are the coolest and moose are likely to be feeding—at first light and early evening. Due to a desire to build moose numbers, maintain hunter success, and improve the availability of older age class bulls, the more conservative hunting seasons in Hunt Areas 10 and 21 implemented in 2018 will remain in place for 2019. Only two licenses (1 resident, 1 nonresident) are proposed for Area 21, while eight licenses (7 resident, 1 nonresident) are proposed for Hunt Area 10.

The Targhee Moose Herd is designated for special management and conservative hunting seasons and will be maintained in 2019 in the combined Hunt Areas 16 and 37. Hunter success was 100% in 2018, and the harvest was comprised of primarily older age class bulls. Low moose densities remain a concern in this herd unit, and hunting seasons in 2019 will again offer only five antlered moose licenses for the combined Hunt Area 16 and Hunt Area 37.

The Jackson Moose Herd also continues to be a concern as this herd remains well below the objective of 800 moose (observed during mid-winter trend counts) and seasons will remain very conservative in an effort to build numbers. Although higher numbers of moose (330) were observed during the severe winter of 2016-2017, mild conditions during 2017-2018 resulted in fewer moose being seen (276). In 2018-2019, 258 moose were observed, including more calves and more sets of twins than seen for many years.

Calf ratios were exceptional for this herd, and at 52 calves per 100 cows, the highest seen since 1994. Bull ratios remain high at 91 bulls:100 cows. Although overall moose numbers remain very low, the sustained increase in the calf ratio in recent years is a promising sign that this herd may be increasing.

License quotas in the Jackson Herd have decreased from a high of 495 in 1991 to a low of 10 licenses in 2013. In 2011, Hunt Areas 7, 14, 15 and 32 were closed because of low calf:cow ratios and declining population trends. Hunt Areas 17 and 28 were combined in 2012 and will again offer five antlered moose licenses in 2019. In the upper Gros Ventre drainage, Hunt Area 18 will remain at five licenses for antlered moose and open on October 1. Conservative seasons are again proposed to address low herd numbers, and to provide quality hunting opportunities.

This herd will be closely monitored in future years to evaluate population numbers and determine whether additional hunting opportunities can be offered.

Jackson Antelope

In the Jackson Region, the northernmost subunit of the Sublette Antelope Herd includes Hunt Area 85 (Gros Ventre). Although hunter success is good, there are very limited hunting opportunities. Only 20 licenses will be offered for the 2019 season, similar to recent years.

Although the winter was very tough on any antelope that chose to remain in Jackson Hole (few if any did this past winter), most antelope in Hunt Area 85 during the hunting season migrate from the Green River drainage and are therefore not affected by severe winter conditions in Jackson.

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