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explore the Snowy Range, Sierra Madre Mountain Range & Upper North Platte River Valley
HUNTING & WILDLIFE
The Snowy Range, Sierra Madre Range and surrounding areas offer some of the best hunting opportunities in Wyoming.
Southern Wyoming has long been known as a premier destination for hunting big game species. It has a huge diversity of terrain and habitat with a large variety of big and small game. Pronghorn antelope, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep are the big game animals. Black bear and mountain lion are the trophy game animals. Blue grouse, sage grouse, ducks, geese, wild turkey, morning doves and cottontail rabbits are the common small game.
BLM, National Forest and State lands offer plenty of accessible public lands, from high mountain forests to miles of sagebrush prairies.
Non-resident and many resident big game licenses are distributed by lottery system. Odds at drawing a license vary depending on hunt areas and the number of preference points a hunter has accumulated over time. Preference points give hunters with more points a better chance of drawing. The odds and numbers of points needed to draw for each area, applications, deadlines and other hunting information are available from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department online or by calling 307-777-4600.
Hunting applications must be submitted January through March. To apply online for preference points only, non-residents can submit an application July through September.
Game bird and small game licenses may also be purchased from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, local sporting goods stores, outdoor shops and retailers.
Pronghorn Antelope are common throughout Wyoming’s prairies, which hold the largest antelope population of any state. The Platte River Valley is home to more than 15,000 pronghorn.
Named after a feature on the male’s head, Pronghorn Antelope are the only creature in the world to shed a branched horn each year. Both bucks and does have horns, but the female’s are only tiny spikes. Their eyes measure about two inches in diameter and are bigger than those of a horse and are nearly as large as an elephant’s.
Pronghorns are the fastest land animals in North America and rely on speed to escape their enemies. They can sprint for a short distance at 60 miles per hour and are known to run for long distances at speeds of 30-40 mph.
Forbs, sagebrush and other shrubs like bitterbrush, chokecherry and mountain mahogany make up this animal’s diet. Sagebrush is more than just food--it’s also a hiding place for fawns, and shelter from winter winds and predators. Fawns are born early-June and about 60% of the births are twins.
Before settlement of the country, elk ranged from the eastern states through central and western North America. As settlers pushed westward, the distribution of the elk was rapidly reduced to the western mountains. Today, there are more than 15,000 elk in the mountains of Southern Wyoming.
Elk are ungulates (hooved animals) that belong to the deer family. They have a dark head, neck and legs, with a lighter brown body and cream-colored rump. “Wapiti,” is the Shawnee Indian name for “white rump.” Elk primarily eat at dawn and dusk, grazing on lush grasses and wildflowers. They spread out during the summer and gather back together in groups for the rut, the breeding season, in the fall.
Bull elk emit a high-pitched whistling sound (bugle), followed by grunts, as part of the mating ritual. Rival males respond by bugling back. Bulls may spar with challengers after demonstrating threat postures and thrashing the ground with their antlers. Antlers are shed March-April each year. New antler growth begins within a week and continues until late August when the antlers are full sized. During the peak period of growth in the summer, antlers may grow one inch per day.
Mule deer get their name from the size of their uniquely large ears. They are similar to white-tailed deer, but differ mainly in their tails, ears and antlers. Mule deer have a white rump with a narrow black tipped tail. When running, they keep their trails down, unlike the white-tailed deer whose fluffy white tail acts much like a flag.
Mule deer antlers, found only on bucks, have a main beam and fork once with each fork dividing again in mature bucks. The antlers begin growing in late winter and are covered with “velvet” until they reach full growth and harden, usually by Fall. Typically, mule deer shed their antlers February through March.
Mule deer can “stott”, their combination of running and jumping, up to 45 mph. There are approximately 40,000 mule deer in the Snowy Range and Sierra Madre mountains and surrounding area.
Like pronghorns, mule deer are browsers with over half of their diet consisting of shrubs, especially sagebrush. Fawns are born in June or July and are covered with white spots that fade by the time they are three months old.
Until the late 1970s, only a few stray moose wandered into Southern Wyoming in an indirect route from Yellowstone through Idaho, Utah and Colorado. To help boost populations, moose were transplanted to Colo-rado’s North Park region in 1978. Reproducing quickly, moose began to move northward and expand into the mountains of southern Wyoming. More than 150 moose reside in here today.
“Moose” comes from the Algonquin Indian word meaning “eater of twigs”. The most common place to find moose is in the willow bottoms and forests, although they have been sighted just about everywhere. Adult moose weigh 800-1,200 pounds and do not herd into large groups as do many species of big game, even in winter. They prefer to travel in small family groups or to remain secluded.
The greatest threat to moose are people. Because of their docile demeanour and general “big game” appearance, moose are common victims of poaching and accidental kills. Be sure to identify deer, elk, and moose by looking at body size and color, head and antlers. Moose have a dark, black-brown body with an overhanging snout, a bell on the throat and whitish, gray legs. Bulls have broad antlers that they shed each winter. Females (or cows) do not have antlers, but look similar in size and shape.
Bighorn rams get their name from their massive, curled horns that curve upward and back. The horns are thickly ridged with growth rings that help determine the age of the sheep. Ewes have shorter, smaller horns.
In the fall, the rams engage in dramatic battles for dominance by charging each other at speeds of more than 20 mph. They butt heads with a crack that can be heard more than a mile away.
Bighorn sheep have excellent eyesight and can see other animals from up to a mile away. They are also are sure-footed, expert climbers with hooves that are very well adapted to their climbing on rock ledges and cliffs. Bighorn sheep prefer the highest parts of the mountains where the terrain is steep, rocky and remote, but not far from water and timber for shade and cover. This high elevation habitat allows for quick escape from mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes.
The majority of their diet is grasses, however bighorn sheep also eat significant amounts of willow, sage and rabbit brush. There are approximately 100 bighorn sheep in the Snowy Range and 50 bighorn sheep in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range.
There are no known grizzly bears in Southern Wyoming, however there are more than 200 black bears.
Black bears can be hunted twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. Seasons close in each black bear hunt area or group of hunt areas when the female (or sow) mortality quota has been reached. It is the hunter’s responsibility to confirm that their hunt area is open by calling 1-800-264-1280.
Remember, black is a species--not a color. Many are blond, honey-colored, cinnamon or brown. Most are active mid-March through early November with the goal of eating enough to live through the winter. Since their diet is mainly grasses, berries, nuts and insects, black bears like areas where there is Gambel oak and aspen, near open areas of chokecherry and serviceberry bushes.
Properly prepare for hunting in bear country by taking along the following: bear spray (at least 1 canister per hunter), pulley systems and ropes for hanging game and food, and gloves and an apron for handling game.
Black Bear, Greg Bergquist Photo
Mountain lions are generally a gray to light tan color with black-tipped ears and tail. Adult males can be more than 8’ in length and weigh about 150 lbs. Adult females are slightly smaller and can be up to 7’ long and weigh about 90 lbs. Their tails are approximately one-third of their total length.
Other than humans, mountain lions have the largest geographic range of any native American mammal. There are more than 50 lions in Southern Wyoming. They are commonly found in areas where deer are plentiful.
Hunter harvest within individual hunt areas is regulated through a mortality limit. If the limit is reached, the season closes. It is the hunter’s responsibility to determine if an area is still open prior to hunting by calling the mountain lion area mortality quota hotline at 1-800-264-1280.
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