WYOMING — Starting next week the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) will begin aerial captures of mule deer in the North Bighorn Mountains as part of the new statewide Mule Deer Monitoring Project.

According to WGFD, the mule deer population has declined in Wyoming and throughout the West in recent decades. Its most recent population peak was 578,000 in 1991 and now an estimated 396,000 mule deer inhabit the state. The Mule Deer Monitoring Project, initiated by WGFD was started to help seek answers to why this decline has been occurring and identify some potential solutions. Through various methods, the project will collect data on five focal mule deer herds around Wyoming for the next five years. 

In addition to increased ground and aerial population surveys, just over 1,000 animals will be fitted with GPS collars. Of those, 210 will be collared in the Northern Bighorns, which encompasses Deer Hunt Areas 24, 25, 27, 28 and 50-53. As with past research, animals will be netted from a helicopter by a professional wildlife capture crew, fitted with a GPS collar at the capture site and released. Captures will take place on both public and private land.

The goal is to place GPS collars on 80 does, 30 bucks and 100 juveniles. The Mule Deer Monitoring Project is separate from but will build on, the current study of the North Bighorns herd that began in March 2020. That study, which uses data from 140 GPS-collared deer, is identifying mule deer movements, evaluating seasonal range and habitat use, identifying habitat improvement and conservation opportunities as part of a University of Wyoming student’s graduate work.

The Mule Deer Monitoring Project was designed to look more at six areas of mule deer management: abundance, data management, survival, herd health, harvest management and composition of herds, which is the number of buck, does and juveniles. 

Buckrail @ Toby

Toby Koekkoek is a Community News Reporter, and a recent resident of Teton Valley. He enjoys writing about our region's community events and the movers and shakers that make up the culture of this unique mountain town. He enjoys deep powder, and deep thoughts, skateboarding, playing racquet sports, riding his bike, and nerding out on music. Toby also coaches freeride skiing for the Jackson Hole Ski Club and runs skateboard camps in the summer.