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Maybe you didn’t draw the tag you wanted, or maybe you want to try something new. Either way, Wyoming has you covered
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Maybe you didn’t draw the tag you wanted, or maybe you want to try something new. Either way, Wyoming has you covered

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Hunting in Wyoming has always been popular. It’s how many residents in the least populated state in the nation connect with nature and feed their families. And that popularity is only increasing.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department had record applicants again this year for elk, deer, pronghorn and other species. The result is a public more involved in wildlife management, and more aware of conservation. It also means hunt areas with limited quotas are just getting harder to draw.

But instead of despairing over not drawing that Area 100 elk tag – which only about 3 percent of applicants draw each year – biologists recommend turning your sights toward many of the other hunting opportunities in the state.

“There are lots of things to do in Wyoming hunting wise,” said Mark Zornes, Game and Fish’s Green River wildlife supervisor. “We are spoiled.”

If you don’t have a hunting plan this fall, or if you do but could use some variety in your weekend planner, consider these thoughts from some of Game and Fish’s wildlife biologists.

Big game

First, the bad news. If you didn’t draw a pronghorn tag, your chances of hunting pronghorn this year are not great. All pronghorn areas are limited quota, and the few remaining leftover licenses are almost entirely on private land, said Justin Binfet, Game and Fish’s Casper regional wildlife coordinator.

Don’t even think about a moose or bighorn sheep.

But there are still plenty of big game options.

Consider a general elk or mule deer area. Will your chance of success be as high as it would in a limited quota area? No. But could you still find plenty of healthy animals? Absolutely.

“One of the beauties of being a Wyoming resident is you have the ability to hunt some of these unlimited areas,” Binfet said. “But one of the tradeoffs is there is higher hunting pressure and typically lower hunter success in those areas.”

Areas like the Snowy Range in southeast Wyoming and Wyoming Range in southwest Wyoming are general because of the steep topography and difficult-to-hunt terrain. But that being said, the Wyoming Range is still one of the premier areas in the county to hunt big buck deer, Binfet added.

Game birds

Anecdotally, blue grouse, ruffed grouse and even sage grouse numbers in central Wyoming may well be on a bit of an uptick, said Heather O’Brien, wildlife biologist with Game and Fish.

“Chick numbers seem to be good this year even though it’s been dry and droughty,” she said about sage grouse. “The grasshopper population was through the roof, and I’ve seen grouse frequently without trying to find them.”

The same applies to all upland game birds. The warm, dry spring gave chicks prime nesting conditions and they hatched and survived well compared to recent years.

Sage grouse season opens Sept. 16 and closes either Sept. 21 or Sept. 30 depending on the area. But ruffed and blue grouse seasons are open from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 in most of the state.

Look for ruffed grouse in the Black Hills, Big Horn Range, Wind River Range, Absaroka Range, the Gros Ventre, the Wyoming Range and the north slope of the Uintas, said Mark Zornes, Game and Fish’s Green River’s wildlife supervisor. Find blue grouse nearly everywhere but the north slope of the Uintas and the Black Hills.

Blue grouse are more often on conifer-covered ridgetops. Roughed grouse are often in willow and aspen areas or where those mix with conifers.

Hunt sharp-tailed grouse east of the Continental Divide from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31.

Chukar and gray partridge seasons are open from Sept. 15 through Jan. 31. Pheasant seasons vary, but most don’t open until Nov. 7 and close in December.

And don’t forget about fall turkeys. Hunters can shoot toms or hens in the fall. It’s not the same as spring turkey hunts – toms won’t likely respond to calls – but plenty of hunters find them.

Small game

Sure, it’s tempting to scoff at squirrel hunters, but fox, grey and red squirrels are considered a game species in Wyoming, and the season is open from Sept. 1 to March 31.

Red squirrel, Zornes said, can taste like turpentine, but fox squirrels are “exceptional.” Look for fox squirrels in eastern Wyoming along places like the North Platte River valley.

“They’re mostly associated with town, but every now and again you find a place where they’re out of town,” he said. “Limits are generous and not many people hunt them. If you choose to chase that species, you are kinda all by yourself.”

Cottontail and snowshoe rabbit seasons also opened Sept. 1 and will stay open through March 31. Zornes cautions anyone new to rabbit hunting that earlier in the season the creatures tend to have more internal and external parasites that often are gone with colder weather.

 
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