Wyoming sees decline in mule deer buck harvest this season
This fall, fewer big bucks are being harvested in Wyoming. Biologists running check stations across the state are seeing a trend likely connected with the severe winter of 2022-2023. Deep snow and little food led to high mortality rates in mule deer, antelope and elk. Specifically, in the Wyoming Range, 80% of adult mule deer and the majority of new fawns were “essentially wiped out,” decimating what’s considered one of the most prized herds in the West.
And, unfortunately, that means lower harvest numbers – and available bucks to harvest – this season.
“This is the slowest hunt since 1993, without a doubt,” said Gary Fralick, a biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD).
Typical fall harvest numbers for the Greys River check station fall above a hundred. In 2022, the count was 120 bucks. This year’s number sits at only 31, according to WyoFile.
“That’s a 74% decline,” said Fralick.
Other areas were hit harder. In Unit 144, for example, 100 mule deer were harvested in 2022; this year, only 17 have been killed, resulting in a 83% decrease, according to WyoFile.
While disappointing, Fralick believes there is a turnaround in the near future. As a seasoned biologist, he’s witnessed “big fluctuations in deer populations and hunter success” for the past three decades he’s worked the Greys River. However, it will take a bit more time to recover from last winter’s tole on mule deer herds.
“The trajectory of the herd is dictated by does producing fawns, and fawns surviving,” said Fralick. “It’s not based on bucks at all. If we have at least two years of high overwinter survival, we’ll start seeing an uptick.”