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Update on the 2017 mule deer winter kill in Wyoming's Region G and H

 

Wyoming mule deer in the winter range
Source: USFWS

The Wyoming nonresident application deadline for deer and antelope is still two months away, and this year... that's a good thing. The reason? Everyone is waiting out the damage of the 2017 winter kill. Due to the harsh winter in the west, I highly suggest waiting until the last two weeks in May to apply for Wyoming deer and antelope. Waiting will hopefully give a better picture on the winter kill before you burn your points.

If you caught the last state-by-state winter kill article, you saw that most areas in the west are experiencing record precipitation levels. This week, Wyoming Game and Fish (WGF) had a series of commission meetings and some interesting notes came out of the meetings. 

Wyoming Range mule deer study preliminary results

Results are starting to come in on radio collared mule deer on the Wyoming Range. WGF reported that of the 70 fawns with radio collars, 99% of them have died and there is only one collared fawn remaining. These are fawns that were born in 2016. Also, they aren't expecting many new fawns to drop this spring. That is due to the extremely low body fat (2-3%) recorded on mule deer does, which is the worst they have ever seen. Not only will the pregnancy rate be drastically decreased, based on ultrasound measurements, the unborn fawns in the pregnant does are smaller than average. Lighter fawns might have a difficult time surviving once born in the later part of spring. With this much mortality on the fawns, in a few years there is going to be a severe lack of mature deer in these impacted areas of Wyoming.

On top of the fawn death, they saw 25% collared doe mortality and there are talks of a 60% die off on does that are 6 plus years old (average age of mortality was 9.7). Update 3/26/17: the original 60% number I received mentioned bucks and that number was discussed in the evening of the commission meetings. I got this number from a friend of mine that is a Wyoming biologist. I did find this number to be very high, and I double checked with my source that they were referring to bucks. It came to my attention that the number is referring to does. I strive for accuracy in all of my articles, so I want to thank certain individuals for sending me the report.

Either way, it's never a good sign when you have a mortality this high whether it's bucks or does. Based on those numbers you could assume that a high amount of mortality is going on in the other sex. Radio collar research studies like these are very important and hopefully they can continue in 2017 so they can collar more deer. March through May is still the danger zone for deer. A severe spring storm could be even more devastating to this already fragile population. The vegetation that is starting to become available due to warmer weather, isn't the highest in nutritional content, so the weather needs to cooperate in order for deer to recover their low fat reserves.

Keep in mind, that even with this high morality from a radio collared survey and nonresident tag cuts, it doesn't mean that everyone should avoid hunting Wyoming in 2017. Yes a higher than average of mature does and bucks might be impacted from the winter, but a lot of younger two, three and four year old deer could survive the winter. The amount of moisture in the mountains is going to be way above average, so deer might be able to restore fat easier. Like mentioned above, with the amount of fawn mortality, in three to four years Wyoming could definitely see a gap in age classes. Just a few things to keep in mind as you prepare to apply for tags in 2017.

Continued below.

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2017 tag allocation cuts

Currently there are talks about cutting the nonresident tags in Region G and Region H due to the high amount of deer mortality in the surrounding winter ranges. Both could receive roughly 200 less tags. Nothing is set in stone yet and more changes could still be made. We saw this same tag cut after the severe 2011 winter. Is cutting back only nonresident tags the best answer? Will this winter die off cause Wyoming to apply a limit on the amount of resident hunters on a region by region basis? 

Region G nonresident tag allocation

Year Tag quota
2017 400*
2016 600
2015 600
2014 600
2013 600
2012 600
2011 800
2010 800

* Possible tag quota for 2017
 

Region H nonresident tag allocation

Year Tag quota
2017 600*
2016 800
2015 800
2014 800
2013 800
2012 800
2011 1200
2010 1200

* Possible tag quota for 2017

Comparing Wyoming SNOTEL data

2017 saw Wyoming's highest precipitation period from November to February in 122 years! Based on the graph below, you'll notice that anytime the average November to February precipitation goes above 5", we have a severe winter kill year for deer. You will see this trend in 2011 and also 1997. Both years the west had severe winter kill.

Below you'll see a historic look at the snow water equivalent percent of normal the past seven years. You can see that even though the 2016/17 winter was severe, it really isn't that out of the norm for some areas of the state. You can use the graphs to help judge if it will be worth burning points to hunt some of the Regions in Wyoming in 2017.

2017 Snow Water Equivalent Percent of Normal

March 2017 snow water equivalent for Wyoming
Image date: 3/1/2017 Source: NRCS National Water and Climate Center

2016 Snow Water Equivalent Percent of Normal

February 2016 snow water equivalent for Wyoming
Image date: 2/29/2016 Source: NRCS National Water and Climate Center

2015 Snow Water Equivalent Percent of Normal

March 2015 snow water equivalent for Wyoming
Image date: 3/2/2015 Source: NRCS National Water and Climate Center

2014 Snow Water Equivalent Percent of Normal

March 2014 snow water equivalent for Wyoming
Image date: 3/2/2014 Source: NRCS National Water and Climate Center

2013 Snow Water Equivalent Percent of Normal

March 2013 snow water equivalent for Wyoming
Image date: 3/1/2013 Source: NRCS National Water and Climate Center

2012 Snow Water Equivalent Percent of Normal

March 2012 snow water equivalent for Wyoming
Image date: 3/7/2012 Source: NRCS National Water and Climate Center

2011 Snow Water Equivalent Percent of Normal

March 2011 snow water equivalent for Wyoming
Image date: 3/7/2011 Source: NRCS National Water and Climate Center

 

 

 

 

12 Comments

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Nick n. - posted 2 years ago on 04-17-2017 03:59:32 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Is there any updates on tag cuts for nonresidents Region H?

Andrew L. - posted 2 years ago on 03-27-2017 06:34:45 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Eric B. I know the areas are resident general,but why only cut the non-resident,if its a real problem they should put limits proportionetly for everyone

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 2 years ago on 03-27-2017 10:13:24 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Haha!!! Gotta love Mondays. For a second I thought you might have been referring to the Bighorn Mountains, but then another part of me thought you were referring to the sheep herds. I had an email over the weekend asking about sheep conditions in Wyoming. Definitely my main focus of this article was mule deer :) Let's hope that deer can avoid all other diseases. They have a hard enough time as it is. Maybe it's time for more coffee for me?

In regards to the Bighorn mountains, I heard from a friend that the deer are not doing as bad there. Decent winter ranges, and they didn't get that much more snowpack than a typical year in certain areas. NE of Cody along the Bighorns the did have some severe conditions. But... near Cody the snow cover decreased from 100% to about 20% in the basin in mid-February. The Sheridan side of the Bighorns saw winter conditions more severe than normal. On top of the winter, this region also saw abnormally cold temperatures. Deepest snows were near Dayton and the WY/MT border.

Neil J. - posted 2 years ago on 03-27-2017 10:01:33 am
goHUNT INSIDER

@Brad-
That is hilarious. I was asking about the Bighorn mountains...how is the snow and how are the animals doing in the Bighorn (mountains). I was assuming the whole conversation was surrounding Mule deer. Did I suddenly lose sight of some new disease transmitted by sheep to mule deer? LOL. Sorry for the confusion.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 2 years ago on 03-27-2017 09:51:00 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

No worries at all Neil. Pneumonia is the number one cause of bighorn deaths. Bighorns can get pneumonia from domestic sheep. Some reports mention that up to 90% of the herd may die when they get pneumonia from domestic sheep. There is a lot of current research out there trying to prevent the spread.

Neil J. - posted 2 years ago on 03-27-2017 09:37:22 am
goHUNT INSIDER

@Brady-
Forgive my total ignorance, but why should I be concerned about contact with domestic sheep? Disease?

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 2 years ago on 03-27-2017 09:35:37 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Hi Erik. Wyoming Fish and Game mentioned that elk will be less impacted by this winter and all of the elk on feedgrounds will likely suffer little winter storm related mortality. So that is a very good sign. The Cody region (56 & 59), the deepest snowfall was in the NW portion (more like in 51 and 53). But they didn't even mention any elk mortality. So you can be you'll be safe there.

They did however anticipate elevated antelope mortality, and most likely some quotas will be impacted.

I'll keep you updated if I hear of anything else.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 2 years ago on 03-27-2017 09:31:15 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

@Neil. All of the reports I read said the bighorns are not going to be greatly impacted by this winter. They normally survive in wind blown areas and do very well. Biggest thing would be hoping they didn't migrate off a mountain range and come in contact with domestic sheep.

Erik Bailey_10206634247775115
Erik B. - posted 2 years ago on 03-27-2017 04:53:38 am

What about the elk? I'm glad I hunted deer last year (got a corker), but have a Gen. Bull tag this year. MY normal stomping grounds are elk areas 85, 84 and 92, but have an opportunity to hunt 56 & 59 this year. Those are supposedly "better" elk areas, and your map show s they got less (still a massive amount) snow than the others listed. BUT, the 84-92 areas are served by feedgrounds, which may make the difference. Any word on which areas are fairing better for NW WY elk?

Erik Bailey_10206634247775115
Erik B. - posted 2 years ago on 03-27-2017 04:49:48 am

@Andrew L, because those areas are covered under a Resident General Tag, which is OTC.

Neil J. - posted 2 years ago on 03-26-2017 07:15:33 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Anybody know how the Bighorns are fairing?

Andrew L. - posted 2 years ago on 03-26-2017 05:44:43 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Why is it only non-resident cuts????