CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Hunting guide Mike Clark normally has more than 20 clients lined up each fall for trips deep into Wyoming’s western wilderness to shoot mule deer, prized by hunters for their size and impressive antlers.
But unusually cold weather and heavy snowfall that blanketed much of the Western U.S. last winter killed off many young deer. And that prompted wildlife officials throughout the Rocky Mountain states to take measures such as reducing the number of hunting permits to try to help devastated wildlife populations rebound.
Clark took only six mule deer hunters out in September and October who were lucky enough to get permits. He estimated that he lost 40 percent of his income as a result. If it wasn’t for the hunters he was guiding this year to shoot elk that generally survived the brutal winter, Clark said, “We’d pretty much be selling out.”
In one remote part of Wyoming’s backcountry where peaks soar to 11,000 feet, state wildlife managers documented the loss of all fawns they had been monitoring in a mule deer herd.
To help the herd recover, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission reduced the number of deer permits for out-of-state residents from 600 to 400 in the area where Clark operates, cut the hunting season to 22 days and limited hunters to killing older bucks.
Officials won’t know how effective their efforts will be until hunting season ends in January and hunters submit reports saying how many deer they killed.
Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington state also imposed hunting limits to help isolated wildlife herds recover from the winter. Deer were hit hardest in most of those states, while Washington had severe losses among several of its elk herds.
In southern and central Idaho, last winter’s fawn survival rate was just 30 percent, prompting a reduction in deer hunting permits to help herds boost their numbers, said Mike Keckler, spokesman for the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
“We’re trying to bring them back up,” he said.
In Washington state, the number of elk hunting permits was cut drastically in some parts of the state where elk died in droves, said Brock Hoenes, statewide elk specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reported in October that the previous winter had decimated mule deer fawn populations in herds in northern and northeastern Utah, particularly in the Cache and South Slope hunting units.
DWR officials set up an emergency feeding program to help the deer, but 70 percent to 90 percent of the fawns born during spring 2016 still died. For that reason, members of the Utah Wildlife Board lowered the number of hunting permits available for the Cache and South Slope units this fall.
“Hunters probably won’t see many one-year-old bucks on those units,” said Justin Shannon, Wildlife Section chief for the DWR. “Some older bucks should still be available, though.”
Despite the loss of fawns among northern herds in the state, Utah wildlife officials were nonetheless optimistic about this year’s deer hunting season overall as the number of bucks per 100 does is at or above objective for every deer hunting unit in Utah.
The 2016 hunting season was the best since 1996, Shannon said. Hunters took a total of 32,000 bucks in 2016 compared to 1996’s 33,000.
During the 2016 hunt, though, 17,000 fewer hunters were in the field. “The success rate for 2016 was 37 percent,” Shannon said, “compared to 32 percent for the 1996 hunt.”
There were 104,000 hunters spread across the archery, muzzleloader and general rifle hunts in 1996. Last year’s hunts drew 87,000 hunters.
Story by BOB MOEN of the Associated Press | Utah segment contributed by St. George News senior reporter Mori Kessler.
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