JACKSON, Wyo. — The Jackson Region is experiencing severe drought conditions reducing forage growth in many areas, which could affect the distribution of animals, as well as their daily and seasonal movements. If exceptionally warm temperatures persist, this too could affect the daily patterns of big game and may require hunters to devote additional efforts to scouring the timber, and focusing on north-facing slopes.
The Jackson Region harbors a small migratory segment of the Sublette antelope herd in Hunt Area 85. Due to the rather small number of antelope, few licenses are offered. Because of the distribution of antelope and public access opportunities, most antelope hunting occurs in the Gros Ventre River drainage. Population estimates for the entire Sublette antelope herd are currently below desired levels, but hunters lucky enough to draw pronghorn licenses in hunt area 85 will have a great hunt and should experience high success rates.
Portions of the Sublette and Wyoming Range mule deer herds are managed in the Jackson Region, including Hunt Areas 150-152, 155-156 and 144-146. Both herds include large populations with special management strategies designed to provide high-quality hunting opportunities for older age-class bucks.
While harsh winters have complicated herd recovery, hunters willing to put in the time and effort should be rewarded with an opportunity to harvest a trophy-class mule deer buck from the abundant public lands in the Region. Antler point restrictions were lifted in 2020, so hunters will again have more flexibility in their choice of deer to harvest, while still maintaining older age class bucks. The Jackson Region also includes the Targhee mule deer herd (Hunt Area 149) and Hunt Area 148 of the Dubois mule deer herd, both of which contain very low deer densities, and as a result see limited hunter numbers and harvest.
Small populations of white-tailed deer may be found near riparian habitats throughout the Jackson Region, and all deer hunt areas in the region offer the opportunity for hunters to harvest whitetails during the general season. For 2021, seven hunt areas were combined (148-152, 155-156) to offer limited-quota Type 3, any white-tailed deer license holders more places to hunt during the Sept. 15 to Nov. 30 season. This same expansion of opportunity was made for Type 8, doe/fawn white-tailed deer licenses.
The Jackson Region manages four elk herds (Jackson, Fall Creek, Afton and Targhee), that currently contain approximately 17,000 elk, and are all at management objectives. These areas provide a wide range of hunting opportunities, from early-season rifle hunts for branch-antlered bulls in the Teton Wilderness to late antlerless elk seasons on private lands in several areas to address elk damage to stored crops and comingling with livestock.
All or parts of the Jackson, Sublette and Targhee moose herds are found in the Jackson Region, and each are managed under a special management strategy to provide recreational opportunities while maintaining a harvest of older age class bulls. While moose numbers continue to remain below desired levels, hunters lucky enough to draw a license should experience high success and have a good chance of harvesting an older age class bull.
The Jackson (Hunt Area 7) and Targhee (Hunt Area 6) bighorn sheep herds are found in the Jackson Region. Sheep numbers in Hunt Area 7 are currently above management objectives, and hunter success and the average age of harvested rams is expected to be high in 2021. Because most sheep in the Targhee herd resides in Grand Teton National Park, and are therefore unavailable to hunters, only one license is issued each year in Hunt Area 6. In 2021, this license went to a resident hunter. This makes for a very challenging, but exceptional opportunity to hunt sheep in a spectacular setting.
Mountain goat numbers in Hunt Area 2 are at desired levels, and hunter success is usually very high at 90-100% and made up primarily of older age class billies.
This will be the third year for the Type A license in Hunt Area 4. This hunt area and license type was created to reduce mountain goat numbers in the Teton Range and minimize the expansion of mountain goats into important bighorn sheep habitats of the Targhee herd. Unlike mountain goat Type 1 and Type 2 licenses, Type A licenses are not once-in-a-lifetime, and hunters could potentially draw a license and harvest a mountain goat every year. Due to the very difficult terrain, the low number of goats that reside outside of Grand Teton National Park and the intent of this license, hunter success could be quite low in 2021.
Bison numbers are currently very near the management objective of 500. Recently, mild weather and aversion to hunting pressure on the National Elk Refuge (NER) have resulted in delayed or little to no movement of bison from Grand Teton National Park into the open hunt area on the NER. These conditions make it difficult to achieve harvest objectives and can create challenges for hunters. Some bull hunting occurs on national forest lands, but bison availability there is intermittent and low.
Due to the very small and isolated population of sage grouse in the Jackson Region, no hunting seasons are offered. Hunters interested in upland game birds, however, can find some of the best blue (or dusky) and ruffed grouse habitats in the state, and seasons run from September through December. Small game hunters can pursue cottontails and snowshoe hares until the end of March, though populations can fluctuate dramatically from year to year. Late-season hunters need to be mindful of winter range closures in some areas that begin in December.
The 2021 greater sage grouse hunting seasons for Wyoming are similar to last year with the exception of a date shift to keep opening day anchored to the third Saturday in September. Hunt Area 1 covers most of the state and is open Sept. 18-30. A three-day season in northeast Wyoming has been set for Sept. 18-20 in Hunt Area 4.
Sage grouse numbers will be down compared to the last few years, and hunters should expect low rates of success. Sage grouse populations appear to be in the midst of a downward swing within their population cycle. The number of birds harvested each year is strongly related to hatching success and over-summer chick survival. The drought across much of the state this year will severely limit over-summer chick survival.